Student exhibit colorfully explores the animal form

Julia Carleton/The Phoenix

Crashing through walls and breaking from bell jars, Tasha Lewis’s senior thesis “Naturea Curiosa” transformed the List Gallery this past weekend into a collector’s catalogue of movement and vitality. Subverting traditional taxonomy while drawing from 19th century photographic methods, Lewis provocatively deconstructed the sterility of preservation in her manipulation of form and image.

Andrea Packard, Director of the List Gallery, found both Lewis’s pieces and gallery arrangement inventive and evocative — a fantastic kick-off to the senior honors thesis gallery exhibitions. “Her work is full of big ideas,” she commented while looking about the exhibition. “She’s been very successful in implying a rupture in the gallery space, and causing viewers to suspend disbelief … it’s lyrical, and it’s superior work.”

The forms on display — created using newspaper, wire and tape — featured hides of quilted cyanotype photographs. According to Lewis, the cyanotype process was one of the earliest approaches to “capture” botanical species. Silhouettes form as an object, like a plant or a leaf, shadows the chemically-treated cloth directly beneath it from sunlight; the exposed cloth turns bright blue while the silhouette remains white. Once the images are formed, Lewis stitches together a patchwork skin of pictures. She has been working with the cyanotype process for five years, introduced to the medium during a summer program at Maine Media Workshops before her senior year in high school. A return to the Workshop as a teaching assistant this past summer prompted exploration in escapist natural forms.

Julia Carleton/The Phoenix

Lewis’s experimental sculptures evolved from breaking through walls to rupturing glass confines. While engineering a way to hang small hooves on the wall for her piece “The Herd,” featuring deer crashing through a barrier, Lewis discovered the small, powerful magnets she later exploited in freeing her sculptures from glass boundaries. “Tarantula,” “Octopus,” and “Fish Tank” feature their respective critters partially escaping from glass bowls and jars into the List Gallery.

“A lot of my earlier pieces have this magical lyricism I tried to push,” Lewis said of pieces like “The Herd.” “Once I discovered [the magnets], I could take that [lyricism] even further.”

The discovery of the magnets also shaped Lewis’s future visions of what she hopes to do with this form. “The magnets have no impact on the environment I’m working in,” she said. “I’ve thought about creating a whole flock of birds coming through a window, or a whole school of fish. It allows me to create things which inhabit but are never bound by their environment.”

The challenge Lewis faced in creating her honors thesis wasn’t limited to creating the sculptures, but instead extended all the way to conceptualizing and designing the exhibition space in the List Gallery. Modeled after a curiosity cabinet, the exhibit seeks to explore human fascination with collection and preservation while also maintaining a subversive vitality in the forms. “I love the gallery installation,” Packard said. “She did a great job — she’s created a symphony here. The installation is a work of art, because she’s taken the gallery and transformed it into a modern cabinet of curiosities … not many transform the gallery to this extent.”

Julia Carleton/The Phoenix

The question of whether the sculptures succeed in deconstructing their imposed taxonomic structures is up to interpretation. “[Lewis is] trying to show these natural forms breaking out of the rigid display classification of science,” Alexander Noyes ’15 commented, considering “The Herd.” “On the wall you have these deer which are usually presented as trophies, that are now kind of like writhing and trying to escape from the wall, but even though the art can show these forms trying to escape, they’re still ultimately pieces of art that are still on display … the art can give this illusory attempt of natural forms escaping, unlike science which shows things being very overtly trapped by human beings, but even in art, there isn’t freedom. These forms are still overtaken by human subjectivity and oppressed in that way.”

In addition to her cyanotype creatures, Lewis’s exhibition also included cyanotype prints and panels, as well as pottery designed with the medium. A segment of the front of the gallery was devoted to whaling, featuring the prow of a ship breaking into the gallery and prints depicting the whaling era, found in the Friends Historical Library. The inspiration for this part of the exhibit came from senior Amelia Possanza’s poem “Afternoon with a Sociopath,” which was displayed on silk in the gallery.

Lewis plans to eventually create whole environments with her cyanotype creatures. After graduation, she hopes to enter the corporate world, designing window displays for the women’s clothing store Anthropologie, before going on to graduate school. Now that her honors thesis in art is complete, she’s working on finishing up her English Literature honors thesis for a double major.

“I’m definitely really excited about the show,” Lewis said. “It’s amazing, the level of professionalism we can have here at Swarthmore.”

To learn more about Lewis and her art, visit her website at Stop by the List Gallery this weekend to see the Studio Art honors theses of Anthony Yoshimura ’12 and Thomas Soares ’12, which will be on display from the 13th to the 15th and feature oil landscapes and drawings of the human body. There will be a fast turnover in exhibits as senior studio art majors install and display the culmination of their experience in the department at Swarthmore, so be sure to catch each exhibition while it’s here!

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