Augmenting the Exhibition: Design

 

As the culmination of my two years at the Gallery, I was invited to propose, curate, and realize a month-long exhibition at the University of Maryland Art Gallery. Currently on view, the exhibition Manhua + Manga features a selection of Chinese and Japanese comics, cartoons, and caricature from the 1930s. I curated this exhibition as part of my doctoral dissertation process. My dissertation examines the covers of various journals and magazines printed in Shanghai in the 1930s in an effort to understand the visual experience and landscape of the city.

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“Manhua + Manga” exhibit in the University of Maryland Art Gallery. View of Chinese journal covers. Photo courtesy of John Consoli, Between The Columns, April 2016.

For the exhibition I wanted to explore a tangential subject matter: the connection (or lack of one) between Chinese and Japanese comics during this period. It was important to me to show that these two mediums, China’s manhua and Japan’s manga, were distinct and rooted in local conditions, as well as drawing attention to the various transcultural flows between the two countries. China and Japan have a long history of shared cultural exchange, and this continued into the 1930s even under the threat of war.

How could I make this happen in a way that was respectful to the objects and cultures involved? I proposed to my supervisor “splitting” the Gallery in two: China on one side and Japan on the other. In this sense, the visitor could make their own connections while appreciating the differences between the two. During this initial discussion, he proposed constructing a map to display the objects upon. In place of traditional podiums, we would build tables that mimicked China’s coastline and Japan’s archipelago. To make this happen, we hired artist and designer Rob Hackett, a recent graduate of UMD’s MFA program. After a few meetings, the exhibition was sketched out and viewing cases ordered.

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“Manhua + Manga” at the University of Maryland Art Gallery. Chinese and Japanese comics and cartoons on display. Photo Courtesy of John Consoli, Between The Columns, April 2016.

The design of this exhibition is my second favorite aspect of the show- second to the objects on display. (The pop-up library and the augmented reality component are a close third.) When the visitor enters the Gallery, they can either go to the left, the right, or proceed down the middle of the room between the two display tables. If he or she chooses the latter, he or she is standing in a figurative East China Sea. From there they can examine the work of each country as separate and distinct, as well as grasp the cultural proximity between the two art forms. To further reinforce the geographical context, we placed labels and dots closely approximating the artistic and publishing centers of Shanghai and Tokyo.

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“Manhua + Manga” at the University of Maryland Art Gallery. Chinese and Japanese comics and cartoons on display. Photo courtesy of John Consoli, Between The Columns, April 2016.

Present to See the Fall: Thoughts on Aeneas Wilder’s Kick at Temporality

With a kick Aeneas Wilder’s sculptural installation “#156”, nearly two stories tall, collapses in a loud, eerie decent. It is as if in the moment of collapse we are interacting with the death of a thing, but it’s just atoms shifting place. The opening for Wood, Paper & Fiber was unusual even in contemporary art standards. It offered both an opportunity to see new, vibrant work, and the opportunity to experience a larger spectrum of what a show is beyond mere observation. There is something enthralling about the destruction, the temporal and being part of it, even as an observer. Students, faculty, artists and patrons all lined up to watch in their respective ways. As encounter, something more than a performance, the moment lacks any substantial verbal dialogue. There is a grace to it, a meditative quality. I’m tempted to argue that this is a meaning of visual art, or that this is an interaction between the material world and the world of aesthetics, but the Greeks have hashed that argument out enough (Plato’s Republic, Book X in particular). I can’t help but feel that more importance must be given to the questions this piece, this moment conjures: why are we drawn to these dialogues? Maybe not everyone is, but those who were present to see the fall seem to carry a little that moment even after. What seems most strange is the premeditation of the whole event. The pieces may or may not outlive the time it took to construct them and for the most part that is premeditated. Aeneas exudes a Zen-like state while constructing these pieces. He has his music (an epic grouping of eclectic and worldly songs and sounds), a careful and mathematical layout; he measures with precision and care. He keeps the lines straight and level. When it’s done and time to let the pieces submit to gravity there is a tense silence. The divide between the artist and his work seems to resonate and expand. Maybe the performance speaks as allegory for life, chaos and uncertainty. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. It’s a moment I carry around and think about every time I see the circle-pile of wood outside the Gallery office. I wonder if it’s the lack of dialogue that brings me back to that moment, trying to decipher why it feels so important and why I trust that feeling.

– Rachel Carstens
MFA student, Creative Writing