Clark University’s Higgins School of Humanities will conclude its yearlong symposium on “Bodies” with an exhibition featuring work by 15 artists that explore bodies in their many forms and the aspects of life that affect them.
The show, curated by students in the spring 2020 Gallery Culture and Practice class, is now on display online and in the Schiltkamp Gallery. Originally slated for March, the exhibition was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Clark closing its campus a day before installation was set to begin.
“We never could have known the heightened significance that our ‘Bodies’ symposium would take on in light of the pandemic. It forced each of us to consider our body in a new way — its vulnerabilities; its strengths; its undeniable connection to the larger world,” says Jennifer McGugan, associate director of the Higgins School. “Everyone involved in the planning was disappointed to postpone the Schiltkamp Gallery exhibit, but perhaps it’s arriving at exactly the right moment. We need this opportunity to reflect not just on our body, but on every body to find the humanity within.”
The exhibition, which runs through Nov. 15, features unique interpretations of bodies by 15 artists working in a variety of media — from embroidery to oil paintings and beyond. The show is both invitational and juried, with members of Professor Elli Crocker’s Gallery Culture and Practice class selecting each piece of artwork on display. The show includes work by Clark faculty members Valerie Claff and Toby Sisson, and Clark alumni Alexandra Gray ’17 and Michael Moore ’08.
After putting out an open call, the class — composed of Sky Deitch ’23, Lilah Feitner ’22, Gittel Heschel-Aronson ’22, Amy (Chaoqun) Li ’20, Tommy Li ’21, Esha Shetty ’22, and Anna Svensen ’22 — received submissions from about 50 artists from across the country.
“The students went through the artwork and chose the pieces. They were incredibly careful about those selections to make sure there was a balance of media, conceptual approaches, and aesthetics,” Crocker says. “They did a great job with that. There’s a nice mix of three-dimensional, two-dimensional, and a video installation, as well. It’s a great eclectic mix to approach the topic of bodies.”
Several of the students reconvened this semester to install the exhibit in the Schiltkamp Gallery. Because the space is currently only open to members of the Clark community due to Healthy Clark guidelines, the decision was made to create a website dedicated to the exhibition. There, members of the public can view the artwork, watch video interviews, and learn more about each artist. Going forward, Crocker says she hopes to incorporate a virtual gallery component to make future exhibits more accessible to the wider community.
“All the art here on campus had been shipped from places as far away as Oklahoma and we had an obligation to honor the work that had been done by the artists, as well as by the students in this class who planned the exhibition,” she says. “We wanted very much for the Clark community to be able to see it.”
The yearlong “Bodies” symposium began last fall with “In the Flesh,” an exhibit by Crocker in the Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons. Over the following months, the Higgins School of Humanities held a number of lectures, events, and exhibits as part of the symposium — ranging from a talk and performance by Heidi Latsky and Donald Lee ’95 of Heidi Latsky Dance to a conversation with renowned author and sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom. The symposium also featured several lectures by Clark faculty, including “Urban and Unruly” by Asha Best, assistant professor of geography, which explored the intimacies of urban life through the works of Black women artists and intellectuals, and “Declarations of Disgust” by Benjamin Korstvedt, professor of music, which reflected on how the language of criticism engaged with the turbulent cultural politics of German-speaking Europe at the end of the 19th century.
Professor Meredith Neuman, former director of the Higgins School, recalls the screening of “With Dad,” a short film produced and directed by screen studies professor Soren Sorenson, that was shown as part of the symposium last spring. The screening of the documentary, which is based on Professor Stephen DiRado’s photographic journal his father’s decline into Alzheimer’s, packed the Higgins Lounge — a feat that’s difficult to image in today’s COVID-19 world.
“There’s the irony of a pandemic and global health crisis that causes the shortening of a whole year’s worth of discussion of bodies,” Neuman says. “There’s also this odd thing that happened now that all of our bodies are in different places and more isolated than before, and Higgins and Clark and looking for ways to connect across those boundaries.”
The “Bodies” exhibition will be on display on campus through Nov. 15 and will remain available online. Exhibiting artists include Alaine Becker, Douglas Breault, Megan Christiansen, Valerie Claff, Michael Costello, Alex Gray ’17, Yoav Horesh, Howard Johnson, Alex Mancini, Michael Moore ’08, Kat O’Connor, Josh Ruder, Leslie Schomp, Toby Sisson, and Jessica Teckemeyer.