Assigned Seating, a recent Borland Gallery exhibition of mixed-media works by students in School of Visual Arts faculty member Shannon Goff’s class, featured work that fell somewhere between designed objects and sculptural objects. The exhibition was the result of an assignment by Goff, assistant professor of art. In her class, Beginning Sculpture, the students were tasked with transforming salvaged oak chairs formerly used in the University’s libraries.
In project SEAT, each student was given two identical chairs and asked to consider the body and how it moves in, around, and through space. SEAT required them to channel Dr. J's legendary play against Kareem Abdul Jabaar and engage in an act that is "the product of talent and will accommodate itself to liberating the rules” [Dave Hickey, "The Heresy of Zone Defense" (From Air Guitar, Los Angeles: Art Issues Press) 155].
The real challenges for the eight undergraduates were the parameters that Goff established. “The seats may not be used as a seat. The backs may not be used as a back. The legs may not be used as legs. Every part of the chairs must be used. Your SEAT must be able to support your body in some way.”
The students participating in the exhibition were B.F.A. candidates Victoria Brown, Christine Fashion, Hollace Kutay, Orly Mayer, Yasser Mahmoud, and Corey Pratt; Interdisciplinary Digital Studio candidate Abby Bosley; and Josey Lee, a B.A. candidate in art and sociology.
Below are comments from some of the participating artists:
"This project was the kind that just happened for me. I can't speak for everyone but I had to figure things out as I went along and let the idea develop and grow. When you have such strict guidelines, having an idea off the bat is nearly impossible for me. Instead I find a general direction and start building; as I make one part, the next thing to do becomes very clear. The seed that started and ended my piece was and is interaction between the work, the viewer, and myself. I strive to develop the relationship between the viewer and the work. This results in me becoming closer to my work."
"In terms of knowledge, I think this project showed me that simplicity is often much more successful. Watching a 2.5 year old interact with my work was an eye opener. Thinking about how a 2.5-yr-old interacts with a piece can be extremely helpful in making it more accessible to everyone—make it so even a 4-year-old can get it."
"During this project, I learned a lot about working with wood and working in the wood shop. At first I was really worried about thinking up an idea that was impossible to make out of wood, but Matt Olson was really helpful and basically told me that whatever I wanted to do, it was possible to make. I can't even see the old library chairs in my seat, I just see my seat, which is incredible that I learned to work with the material in such a way that I could really do anything with it."
"My experience with this project mainly concerned a struggle, which is characteristic of art-making. Trying to think of two chairs as something completely different wasn't that difficult, but executing my idea in wood within the constraints of time and my ability wasn't easy, especially since my idea changed and I started to form the structure's function around its capabilities, especially when thinking of installation. So what I ended up with was not what I originally planned. For me, making a new seat reminded me that while I can manipulate a structure and a material, it can also alter my own ideas."
"This project allowed me to gain a lot of confidence working in the wood shop, and helped me gain technical skills that should be very useful in the future as well."
"As a result of the SEAT project, I learned how to work with a different medium. As a painter, it forced me to open my mind and skills to something else and showed me that I can do anything I put my mind to.... I originally wanted to create a character, but as time went on my idea changed. Love is a recurring subject in my art and it naturally presented itself, as Matt from the wood shop showed me that we could put a bolt in between my chairs as a hinge to make them open and close. I learned that I really like the idea of coming up with an idea and plan for the project in the beginning but realizing it's okay if my ideas change. I appreciate and learn from mistakes."
"My major challenge with this piece was trying to re-imagine the existing chair. As an artist, I've always strived to create original pieces or original takes on old ideas—to take an existing object and re-imagine it as a different version of the same object, then, was a complete turn-around from my normal workflow. Each piece in the show was, of course, original in its own way, but the end goal remained to take a seat and keep that idea alive through the final product, which was new to me and my classmates. . . . In the end, however, it was really interesting not only to see the finished product, but the process that it took to get it there. I do my sculpture work almost entirely in scrap, which I have a talent for collecting. However, not everyone works that way; even in my case, I deconstruct my scrap long before I add it to the pile—when it comes time to sculpt, it's from raw materials, not a structured object. It was really cool to see how each person handled not only construction, but deconstruction over a wide range of tools."