Whether they feature previously seen works or newly created ones, art exhibitions revolve around a concept: an aesthetic or thematic thread that ties everything together. Sometimes the very space where the exhibit is held is integral to the concept — and University Galleries in Uptown Normal has shown a penchant for site-specific installations, such as “Katie Bell: Standing Arrangement.”
But putting together something like the “2020 Faculty Biennial” is a different kind of challenge. Not only were these works not created to be seen together, they were created by 38 different faculty members teaching during the 2019–2020 academic year in the Illinois State University Wonsook Kim School of Art and the Program in Creative Technologies.
Kendra Paitz, the University Galleries director and chief curator, managed to find connections between these disparate pieces. An abundance of tech-driven works made it easy to design an entirely interactive gallery. Here you could finds pieces such as an interactive video activated by touchscreen that explores various facets of the contemporary version of Caesar performed at the 2019 Illinois Shakespeare Festival; Ladam Bamani’s Who is We?, an interactive projection; and STEAM, a study by Kelly Gross that aimed to develop a new Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math curriculum by having elementary school students learn coding by designing and animating light arrays.
Another grouping was subtly conceptual. A smaller, sun-bathed gallery with ample views of Uptown Normal housed several works dealing with nature, particularly plant life — including a painting by Melissa Oresky, whose work was showcased earlier this year in the “Growing Time” solo exhibition at the McLean County Arts Center.
But the exhibit was just as compelling when Paitz eschewed concept and simply laid out each piece in whatever space suited it best. Sometimes the results were whimsical; tucked into an alcove off of one of the two larger galleries was Annie Sungkajun’s Rainy Garden, a series of hanging interactive umbrellas that light up when touched.
Some of the works were experimental in nature and requiring prolonged contemplation to appreciate, such as the videos What I Gave My Daughters: A Gathering of Wisdom for Black Girls by Kantara Souffrant, and A Personal anthology of Men 2009-2020 by Mariam Graff.
Photography, textiles, printmaking, ceramics, glass, wood, sculpture and graphic design were among the many other media included in the exhibition, which more than fulfilled its mission of showcasing the creativity of ISU faculty who have exhibited their work nationally and internationally, and with from prestigious including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Fulbright Scholar Program and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The “2020 Faculty Biennial” closed on March 22.
Photos by Sergio Barreto