By Erica Quinones
Everyday life at Washington College continues to evolve as the Kohl Gallery goes digital.
Kohl Gallery Director and Curator Tara Gladden announced that the gallery would produce digital exhibits for the final two student exhibits of spring 2020 in an April 1 email.
The first digital exhibit is the annual 100 PROOF juried student exhibit, launched on April 3. It was supposed to be the second exhibit after spring break, following senior Casey Wolhar’s “Love Letters” performance art event and exhibit, originally scheduled for March 20 to 27.
Wolhar’s exhibit was for their communications Senior Capstone Experience and would serve “as a response to the under-representation of woman-identifying artists in museums and galleries,” according to Gladden.
“It was an excruciating decision to make, given all of the hard work that Casey put into it, but I saw no other choice at [the] time,” Gladden said.
The exhibit was rescheduled for Spring 2021 when Wolhar will return to WC as a visiting professional curator after graduation.
The gallery decided to continue with 100 PROOF because they already received the applicants and Gladden forwarded them to the juror, Kyle Hackett, who was “very supportive” of being the juror for a virtual exhibit, according to Gladden.
But “the deciding factor” in going forward with a digital exhibit “was that I wanted to move forward with our scheduled programming in order to highlight and honor all the students that applied to 100 PROOF,” Gladden said.
Gladden made the digital exhibit on a website called ARTSTEPS, which allows creators to upload digital content – including images, videos, text, music, narration, and 3D models – and build a virtual reality space.
The website uses an open source software called UNITY, through which Gladden built a model of the actual Kohl Gallery. She then plugged the students’ artwork into the environment.
While Gladden has promoted many exhibits through social media and email, including 100 PROOF in her contemporary student spotlights, this was the first time she curated an online exhibit.
“I found it fun to build and to navigate an exhibit the way one might experience a game environment,” Gladden said. “But since the artwork in the exhibit was not originally conceptualized to be experienced in a virtual environment – meaning what is being presented in the exhibit are images of actual physical artworks – it is not the same as being able to get up close and experience the actual color, texture, size, and spirit of the artworks in person.”
After 100 PROOF, they will host one more digital exhibit in collaboration with the Department of Art & Art History. The final exhibit is for the Studio Art senior capstone experience projects.
Gladden is working with Chair of the Department of Art & Art History, Associate Professor of Art, and Studio Art Coordinator Heather Harvey, and Assistant Professor of Studio Art Julie Wills to create a suitable format for the SCE process.
Wills is creating a website and catalog for the projects while Gladden conducts interviews with students and writes a curatorial statement for the exhibit.
Gladden said that all the content and artwork will be uploaded to the website. The artwork will also be printed in a hardback catalog so “students will have excellent documentation of all their hard work in both print and online formats,” according to Gladden.
While this was “an opportunity” to try new tools and explore new formats for art exhibits, according to Gladden, she said that there is no “real substitute for the experience of something in person.”
“No one knows where we are heading post-COVID 19; many are referencing the idea of a new normal and wondering what that will look like. And while I think there is a tremendous capacity and a vital need for many things in society to change, I hope we can return to real gallery exhibitions where you can get up close to the artwork, participate in live events that offer visceral experiences, and in-person interactions that support our shared human connection.”