Krista Sheneman, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design

Collaborators: Carly Lowe, Art and Architecture Woodshop Staff; Tom Bray, Converging Media and Technology Specialist; Adam Schmidt, PAT, SMTD; Tanite Chahwan, FTVM, LSA

Faculty Advisor: Anne Mondro, Associate Professor, Stamps

“Sifting” is a multisensory installation that consists of an eight-hour video performance work projected on a 10.5 foot wide 180-degree panoramic curved wall, two benches that have embedded sound. This project includes film, woodworking, physics, and sound while continuing my research around accessibility within gallery spaces.

The assembly and curation of this work will continue the ongoing exploration of 86.5 pounds of river mud collected from the banks of my hometown. This mud is important because it represents me. I think of this mud as between city and water, something that can not exist without the other.

While the intricate layers of this sediment serve as a metaphor for the diverse experiences and the interconnectedness of one’s roots and personal evolution. Through the use of a multitude of contemplative labors, I have been investigating the ways in which these landscapes shape and impact identity.

Last April, I journeyed to my hometown, embarking on a mission to collect river mud. For eight immersive hours, I waded into the river, digging into its bed, and extracting armfuls of mud, each attempt surpassing the last until my capacity reached its limits. After wrapping the mud into bundles, I placed them in a duffle bag and checked it for my flight back to Ann Arbor.

Upon returning, I pressed the mud onto the gallery wall, projecting a condensed video performance onto its surface. As the exhibition unfolded, the mud dried and gracefully descended onto the gallery floor. Upon completion, I carefully swept it up, returning it to the original duffle bag from whence it came.

This collection performance will form the core narrative of the video installation that is projected onto the curved wall. Over a span of two months, I methodically sifted through the river dirt, employing handwoven copper sieves crafted from the negative spaces of my own body.

This deliberate sifting process provided a temporal canvas for scrutinizing the transformed earth. As I accumulated small dirt piles across the gallery floor, each meticulously documented with a polaroid. The photo was then stored in a carefully crafted set of handmade wooden drawers.

This systematic approach allowed me to view the dirt not just as soil but as a nuanced reflection on the passage of time. Simultaneously, as the dirt underwent its examination, contactless microphones captured the subtle sounds of particles passing through the delicate sieves. These recorded sounds have since been edited to resonate within the upper and lower abdomen of a human body, dynamically responding to the labor intensity portrayed in the corresponding film mentioned earlier.

This body of work and its underlying research delve into themes of identity utilizing the act of contemplative labor to foster a deeper understanding of the significance our roots have in shaping who we are. Sifting elevates the viewer into a realm of immersion and sensory exploration that pushes boundaries within the visual art field by redefining the artist-viewer relationship, encouraging experimentation, and expanding the accessibility of art to a wider and more diverse audience.

By enveloping the viewer in this unique project space, it challenges the status quo and offers a more profound and impactful encounter, showcasing the potential for interdisciplinary research within the arts to yield transformative and meaningful experiences.

Having spent the majority of my creative career dedicated to researching how the human body will interact with my work, I believe including the audience within this work will be impactful because it adds a collaborative narrative that not only captures the essence of this temporal journey but allows for fresh perspectives to enter the art world.

By incorporating the sounds of sifting, I introduce the notion that the repetitive action within contemplative labor allows your mind to contemplate challenging topics. By providing benches, I encourage viewers to sit and engage with the artwork, allowing the sound to resonate within their bodies provided by hidden speakers within the seat of these benches.

This approach not only fosters a serene environment for relaxation but also invites a deep and meaningful connection, as the benches activate only when someone takes a seat. By allowing these sounds to resonate through the sitter’s body, I ask them to contemplate the meaningful actions they might undertake to explore their own identities.

By prompting viewers to critically reevaluate their perceptions of these aspects of human existence, I ask for a deeper understanding of how our collective values and judgments influence our lives and interactions with others. This combined approach leverages the power of art to both transform individual perceptions and facilitate conversations about challenging topics, offering a unique and engaging platform for dialogue and introspection.

The presence of artists who share a vested interest in fostering these interactions becomes paramount in cultivating a diverse and engaged audience. This installation utilizes craft and technology aspects as a means of challenging traditional notions of how art is perceived and interacted with. My intention is to reinvigorate traditional art spaces by infusing them with curiosity while creating dynamic hubs for exploration and appreciation that broaden the scope of what art can achieve.

The project aims for completion by early March. To achieve this, securing 4 matched projectors from the Stamps gallery is underway, while the acquisition of 6 media players remains a crucial step. While the project has received partial funding through a microgrant, an additional grant is sought to fortify the realization of my thesis goals.

This March deadline is non-negotiable, given its role as the focal point of my MFA thesis show at the Stamps Gallery. Stamps actively promotes this annual exhibition, generating significant anticipation as it represents a pivotal juncture in a graduate student’s artistic journey, marking a crucial milestone within my own career.

Collaboration with dedicated faculty, supportive staff, and fellow graduate students has proven instrumental, elevating the project to new heights and reinforcing a robust foundation for artistic exploration. This endeavor seamlessly weaves elements from film, woodworking, physics, and sound design, showcasing a harmonious fusion of diverse disciplines within the visual arts.

Beyond pushing the boundaries of artistic mediums, it contributes to ongoing conversations about accessibility within gallery spaces, emphasizing inclusivity in the art world. Sifting not only blurs conventional lines between art forms but also establishes a precedent for the evolving nature of the visual arts field. By championing innovation and inclusivity, it sets the stage for continued evolution, engaging and challenging both artists and audiences alike.

This supplementary funding will play a pivotal role in facilitating the construction of the entirety of the curved wall and the remainder of the benches, thereby contributing significantly to the overall success and impact of the initiative. Your support is crucial in propelling this project towards its timely and successful completion.