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Senior Profile: Paper Nostalgia with Gracie Farley ’17

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Trudging into Science Center Tuesday night I could feel a lot of weight on my back. Exams, essays, the fact I wore flip-flops when there was three inches of rain on the ground, all seemed to drag me into a state of mind identical to the quagmire outside. Sitting down to talk with Grace Farley ’17, however, I found myself forgetting all of that. For a little while, I was lucky enough to just listen to an extremely talented person talk about their unique experience with art and the art department.

For many students here at Swarthmore the task of finding a real place within any department can be tricky. The sense of belonging students can sometimes find by devoting time and effort to a study they truly care about can be hard enough to get from one major, but Gracie has had the extra challenge of finding a home in two seemingly different fields, art and biology.

“For my past three years here I haven’t really felt like an art major. Since I’m doing biology as well, that’s received a lot of my time and focus. Up until recently, I’ve really struggled finding my own style and motivation to create art until last summer during senior studio,” Farley said.

Starting her senior fall, however, she experienced her “switch.” Reflecting on the past year, a small smile crept onto her face as she reflected on how she finally developed her identity as an artist.

“I really started feeling comfortable as someone who could create art. I’m really kind of sad to be leaving right as I discovered this aspect of myself,” said Farley.

With her time at Swarthmore coming to a close, Farley’s senior thesis exhibition felt like a special treat. A series she titled “Paper Spaces,” her exhibition comprised of paper collages depicting scenes from her family life as well as more fantastical designs. Through trimmed and colored paper, she shaped storybook scenes of fish darting through a field of stars and little girls on tiny moon who throw flowers into the cosmos. While her galactic fairy tale definitely holds a real sense of joy, her other works that depict the quiet moments taken from the life her parents and grandparents have their own quiet charm.

“I was basing all these works off of old family photos, so I think there’s a lot of nostalgia that comes through in these collages,” she said.

Despite working from photographs, many of her family scenes feel like they were done in the style of memory. She cut out only the suggestion of facial features for many of her relatives. A slightly darker tan where a nose would cast a shadow or the white fringe of eyebrows could be all there is on a face as if it existed in a childhood memory that could only be half remembered. However, the atmosphere of all these scenes are easy to pinpoint. The tranquil moments that seem to hold their own special sort of emotion are reconstructed with trimmed paper. A summer day walking along the beach, a worn couch filled with children posing for a camera, late winter afternoon spent sledding, and many of the other little moments she created felt so easy sweet and familiar.

“It’s actually a little funny though. There’s one piece of a family with a sled that’s actually taken from a picture where one of the children in the photo is my mom. I just never imagined my mom’s family going on a trip to go sledding or ice skating at all,” she said.

“I think for me, my family is really important to my identity. As someone who is multiracial, they have played a big part of sculpting my identity in terms of where I come from, who I am, and what spaces I feel comfortable speaking up in. I think for me, reflecting on my family, I’ve come to a point where I don’t really see it as something with two distinct parts, like an Asian side of my family and a white side of my family. My family is multiracial just like I’m multiracial just kind of in more discreet units. I just found that realization as I was working on these family photos really cathartic.”

Looking towards her life after Swarthmore, Gracie sees her future in the laboratory slightly more than the studio.

“I got asked what I wanted my future with art to be in my senior critique the other day, but I think because I only started to feel like an artist recently I never really considered art as a career. Right now, I probably see myself as a lab technician somewhere. I really do want to continue producing art especially since I’ve built up so much momentum these last few months and I don’t want to lose that.”

Though the road ahead may seem to be dominated more by pipets than paintbrushes, Farley admitted that is getting a little extra push to keep creating art from a familiar source.

“At the moment I have a few family members who want some commissions,” she said with a smile.

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