At the conclusion of the 2021 fall semester, the students in Gwyneth Shanks’s course, Performing the Museum, staged a performance exhibition entitled otherwise, or temporary moves towards utopia at the Colby Museum of Art. For the exhibition, students Jensen Ghidella ’22, Domenica Gomez ’25, Sakina Mustafa ’22, Brian Vera ’25, and Madeleine Zullow ’24 conceived and performed original works of art. The students also wrote curatorial statements on the work of another artist in class, as well as artist statements on their own work. This is the second of two articles on The Lantern featuring their statements, paired with documentation of their performances. Read their artist statements below:
In the early 1950s, Colby College, a small liberal arts institution in Waterville, Maine, was given a special gift. The college, which had recently moved from its original location in downtown Waterville to its current Mayflower Hill campus, both pieces of Wabanaki Confederacy land, received a collection of William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, and Andrew Wyeth paintings from sisters Adeline and Caroline Wing. The two heiresses donated art to not only Colby College, but also to the University of Maine and their alma mater Smith College. Years later, in 1956, Colby College accepted the Jetté family’s American Heritage Collection, 76 works of American folk art. Ellerton Jetté was the former president of the C.F. Hathaway Company, a shirt manufacturing company with a factory located in Waterville, Maine. The C.F. Hathaway Company operated in the town for over 160 years until 2002, after it was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway.
In 1957, Colby College was given the Helen Warren and Willard Howe Cummings collection, which included paintings and watercolors by American artists. Willard Howe Cummings was a textile mill owner and Helen Warren Cummings was a member of Colby College’s class of 1911. These combined donations led to the founding of the Colby College Museum of Art in 1959.
From its inception in the Bixler Art and Music Center, the Colby College Art Museum has since grown to five wings and over 38 thousand square feet of exhibition space. Notable collections include but are not limited to those of John Marin, Alex Katz, and Richard Serra. The John Marin collected was donated by Norma B. Marin and John Marin Jr., the son and daughter–in–law of the late artist. The couple had a home and temporary art gallery in Cape Split, which once belonged to John Marin. The Alex Katz collection was donated to the Colby College Museum of Art by the artist himself, who studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and has a summer home in Lincolnville, Maine. The Richard Serra collection was donated in 2006 by Paul J. Schupf, founder of Paul J. Schupf Associates, a private investment firm and avid art collector. The Paul J. Schupf Sculpture Court, Paul J. Schupf Wing, and the recently completed Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville are named after him. A graphite sketch of Schupf drawn by Alex Katz is also part of the Museum’s collection.
The museum currently holds almost 10 thousand pieces and serves as a learning center for both the college and the Maine community. Admission to the Museum is free. I’m excited to explore the museum with you. Let’s begin.
From the Colby College Museum of Art website:
General Museum Visitor Guidelines
Do not touch works of art.
When the cameras are on and the people are watching, how do we choose to perform?
As you look at the art, stay at least two arm-lengths away from it.
What happens to us inside our docile bodies when we enter the museum space?
Use only pencils (no pens) in the museum. And, please do not point at the art with your pencil or other objects.
How do our inner child and our inner security guard interact?
Do not lean on walls or cases, either to write or for physical support, so you don’t accidentally jiggle an object.
No food, drink, or gum is allowed in the museum.
How many times can you tell a human body “no”?
Do not run, push, or roughhouse in the museum.
Before it realizes it will never be as precious as the inanimate objects surrounding it?
Bags larger than 11 x 14 inches and all backpacks need to be hung in the designated area by the welcome desk.
How does the body measure its capacity to threaten?
Pets, with the exception of trained service animals, are prohibited in the museum.
The museum, while a space of exploration and learning, is also a place of restriction and obedience. In order to protect and preserve the art that you see, the museum demands that you monitor your every step and gesture. There are cameras in every gallery; there are security guards in every wing. You are a danger to the art and you are treated as such. How does it feel to have your discipline in the galleries valued more than your interest in the objects displayed within them?
These objects describe the human tendency to place meaning on objects. As people, we experience so many happy and joyful moments, and although our memories might fade us in remembering or thinking about them, objects will stay the same. Objects have the power to bring us back to certain experiences, remind us of a feeling, or bring energy into a space. They hold so much. With this installation specifically focused around objects that signify happiness to others, I’m interested in the emotions that they bring to a separate group of others. These might be happiness, sadness, excitement, or even nothingness. I want to foster a space of interaction with the objects and the space that creates a new experience for these objects to hold, and a new way for them to affect others. The objects shown here are from a variety of people, but all people who I know. I’m hoping that the visitors who interact with the objects are a bit removed from the owners of the objects, so that the memorabilia can truly speak for itself. How do we communicate happiness without language? Can happiness be transferred so that two distinct people can both feel joyful emotions in the same way? Can happiness be curated through energy? What will people make of these relics to which so many mental connections could be predicted? These are questions that I’m hoping to explore through Happy Pieces. At the very least, I simply want people to feel something. To be communicated to through these things.
In my very short time in Colby College I have seen firsthand how badly PWI fails students who do not fit their standard. Initially through conversation with some older students I heard about their many grievances with this institution but I refused to listen to what I believed to just be their “negativity”. Then as my semester progressed I started to feel that disconnect between myself and that six foot two blue eyed kid from a Boston private school whose parents made more than $200,000 a year. These kids had been groomed to be successful and achieve highly while me and many others like me had worked endlessly just to get into this school. There was no plan for when we got here as our only goal up till now was to just get here. But now we are here and we cannot seem to fit in with most of the other students, it feels like we are always swimming against the current. We have familial pressure to be academically successful yet we struggle endlessly just to come short. When we have time off we remain in school because travel is too expensive during these times but the others return home and get to recharge and recover from their grueling time here. People of color and first gen low income students are never even standing with the majority of their peers yet they are expected to succeed just as much. They carry around the weight of generations of poverty, many are the children of immigrants and hear the phrase “I left everything behind to give you an education”. Well now we are here getting that education and yet it feels wrong. Something is not right. We are put in a position to fail by these institutions whether they do it intentionally or not. We are brought here because we are statistics that make them look good. We are their ‘diversity” and yet once we get here we are given nothing. This is not just some attempt to victimize ourselves; through interactions I have met people who were broken down by this place. People who hardly even believed in mental struggles less than a year ago are now seeking any possible method of mental health help. They struggle with depression, imposter syndrome and many other mental health issues which all miraculously appeared after they came to this institution. No one is looking for handouts. All these students are looking for is help not feeling miserable everyday they wake up and are still here. That is why, in my performance, I want to give a platform for these struggles of my peers and so many others in institutions all over this country.
As an artist and Colby first-year student from Houston, TX, adjusting to college life has had its ups and downs, both in and out of the classroom. I was inspired by all the events and experiences college students encounter during their university years, especially students of color. I have only attended Colby for four months, yet I have witnessed things that I did not expect to live through during my four years here. I have observed the effects that racism and classism has upon first generation students. Important women and peers in my life have experienced sexual violence during their first semester. I have noticed my friends’ mental health slowly decline because sometimes counseling is simply not enough help. I have watched the administration fail to address certain issues on our campus like limited housing. I have developed unhealthy eating habits due to various reasons such as the limited dining hall food selection. I know that I do not sleep enough hours, but most of all my friends and I have struggled to adjust to living so far away from home.
However, college life is not always unpleasant. In fact, I like to remind myself about the wonderful experiences and opportunities that I have been granted at Colby whenever I feel down. My Colby friends and my friends attending other universities across the country also seem to easily recall great moments they have had at their colleges too. Often, I need to put things into perspective and think about how it only takes five positive experiences to outweigh one negative incident. There have definitely been more than five special moments here. I have formed healthy and supportive friendships with people from all backgrounds, I was accepted into a study abroad program in Spain, and I was hired by the Pugh Center of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion where I love to work. Additionally, I have founded the Colby Spanish Club and I spent my fall break enjoying life with my best friends in Portland, ME and at The Apple Farm.
College can be hard, and when things happen outside of my control it can be difficult to accept that. Nevertheless, I try to appreciate things or events I can control, and with that mindset, I have made great memories here at Colby. Try your best to understand what you can from my performance, and what you can’t, well then the meaning is lost in translation isn’t it?