The VAC's Artist-In-Residence Program Provides Space and Freedom to Create

Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Nikita Gale's EASY LISTENING exhibition

A bird's eye view of Nikita Gale's EASY LISTENING exhibition at the Visual Arts Center (VAC), on display through Dec. 6. Gale was the VAC's fall 2019 visiting artist through its artist-in-residence program. Photo by Sandy Carson

One of the many things that drew MacKenzie Stevens to the Visual Arts Center (VAC) in fall 2018 as its new director was its robust artist-in-residence program.

Housed in the Art Building and part of the Department of Art and Art History, the VAC is an exhibition and teaching space that is free and open to the general public. Its residency program has been one of its signature programs since the VAC opened in 2010, and focuses on emerging artists (those not at the beginning of their careers but not yet solidly established) by providing them both time and space to create new work.

Each semester, Stevens invites an artist to spend two to four weeks on campus, where they are encouraged to dig in to the resources offered throughout our university and to create and exhibit work in the VAC’s largest gallery. Artists have few commitments to complete their residency—aside from making and exhibiting work and spending time with students—and are given an honorarium, housing and freedom to experiment and explore ideas.

This fall, with support from the Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation, Los Angeles-based artist Nikita Gale used the residency to create EASY LISTENING, an exhibition that explores ways to visually articulate sound and examine histories of protest and the urban landscape, the politics of “the crowd,” and theories about mass communication, social relationships and listening. 

audience members interact in Nikita Gale's EASY LISTENING exhibition

Audience members gather inside Nikita Gale's EASY LISTENING exhibition during the VAC opening reception, Sept. 20. Gale's use of a circular seating area and access to a printed publication encouraged visitors to spend time within the space and with each other. Photo by Sandy Carson

Gale engaged with a number of departments to create EASY LISTENING, which is on view at the VAC through Dec. 6. Gale spent time in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s echo-free anechoic chamber to create photos used in an accompanying publication, and facilitated a listening session inside the exhibition space with Associate Professor of Anthropology Marina Peterson and Austin-based artist Vanessa Gelvin, who created audio pieces made of found footage and avant-garde, experimental noise in response to different themes in Gale’s work. Barricades were rented from UT facilities and some were vertically affixed to the walls, dramatically changing their form and function from objects used to restrain and control into objects meant to be climbed. Blocks of foam, folding chairs and other everyday objects were also incorporated into the installation to create a circular space for active participation. Each day as students, staff and faculty members passed by the VAC windows they could see Gale’s work progressing in real time.

Nikita Gale standing in an anechoic chamber at UT. The room is covered in various shapes of foam and cardboard

Artist Nikita Gale in the Cockrell School of Engineering's echo-free, anechoic chamber. Photo by MacKenzie Stevens

“Many art world processes are shrouded in mystery for students, making it challenging for those who wish to become artists to leave school and understand how to make work and sustain their creative life,” says Beverly Acha, Assistant Professor in Print. “It’s exciting to see how the residency program activates the Art Building and provides a glimpse into the life of a professional artist.”

When Acha learned that Gale would be on campus for the VAC’s residency, she invited Gale to create prints through the Guest Artist in Print Program (GAPP). The GAPP brings artists who work in print to campus to develop a print project, give studio visits, and provide a public lecture over the course of four to six days. Gale would be here for four weeks, which meant Acha’s students would have access to the artist and the work long after the printing process was complete.

“The work was really interesting in that it became more familiar and comfortable as we were able to get to know the artist a bit and work with Gale,” says Logan Larsen, a Studio Art and Art History double major who helped Gale create an edition of 17 screenprints utilizing six images Gale took of the anechoic chamber at UT. Gale also worked with the Riso Fellows that run the Riso Room to print a “take-away” poster available in the exhibition for visitors to take home. Gale had little experience with screen printing, but was able to collaborate with faculty members and students like Larsen to create the piece. In return, Gale gave each of them a print for their help, following in the print tradition of gifting printers proofs to active assistants on the project.

Stevens says Gale’s approach to collaboration, productivity, and interdisciplinary work is exactly how she hopes artists respond to the residency.

“Artists can really focus and stretch themselves in new ways,” says Stevens. “This is the kind of work that I think is the most exciting.”

The VAC spring artist-in-residence is Carmen Argote. Argote will be in residence for the entire month of January, and her exhibition opens to the public Jan. 24. It will be on view through March 6.

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