Two Art Majors win Calvert Awards
The Calvert Award recognizes undergraduate students who demonstrate sophistication and originality in research projects.
There are two Calvert winners from ART--Clarice for Power Suit and Winnie Wu for her paper "Julia Margaret Cameron's Photographs as Paintings." Clarice won the creative award, Winnie an Advanced Undergraduate Researcher award.
It’s Winnie’s further research on the history of one particular Cameron subject—the housemaid Mary Hillier—that really knocks this paper out of the park. Having set up the conversion of photography into art via aesthetic convention, Winnie then shows how Cameron’s elevation of working-class subjects in her construction of a photographic tableau following Tennyson’s poem “Idylls of the King” actually theorizes photography against convention. Whereas historians conceive 19th century photography as a century of exercises in the visual assembly of truth in evidentiary form, Winnie argues through her case study that Cameron’s work showcases how photography was considered an instrumental blend of fact and fiction, particularly when it came to addressing class and identity in the space of fantasy. That is a big, rich, argument, and Winnie’s paper makes it with incredibly thorough, nimble research from both scholarly sources and, most importantly, from the art historian’s main primary source: the work of art itself. Winnie wrote this research paper for my F17 History of Photography class, and in it she considers how photography (in the 19th c defined as a technology of truth rather than an art) was used to create fictional identities that played out in an illumination of literature, rearrangements of social class, and to position itself as a major art form like painting or sculpture. Winnie's research is incredibly thorough, her analysis nuanced at the level of a graduate student, and her writing graceful and precise.
Her final project for Art Theory, from which Power Suit derives, is a two-part performance and research paper that examines historical uses of hair in processes of mourning and remembrance. Through her research, Clarice uncovered the Victorian-era American folk art tradition of hair-work, wherein husbands and wives would wear jewelry, watchbands, and mementoes to faith and fidelity made out of each other’s hair. Some of these hair-work pieces were quite elaborate, built into stiff-lace personal altarpieces or crowns, indicating the macabre intertwining of the physical body and the psychology of loss (often these items were passed down through generations, and became particular signs of mourning when worn after the death of a loved one). Within this historical (and abject) framework of marriage and mortality, pain and devotion substantiated by Clarice’s research, Power Suit becomes more than a sight-gag: it is an irritant memorial to loss and love, however disentangled. When you factor in its use of acrylic hair—the fake, straight stuff used to enhance beauty, remake its standards, and as a globally-practiced form of performance (witness hair weaves, wigs, and African box braiding, for example)—the work takes on a new sophistication, adding a knowing cultural wink at the sanctimony of all those Victorians and all these current-day art fanatics with their addiction to the “original” at the expense of the meaningful. Clarice's sculpture caps off a year of studying why and how materials matter and carry meaning even in their new forms as sculpture. She blends meticulous research on historical and contemporary art forms, as well as cultural traditions, to make sculptures that evoke decades of experience and material meaning.
Attached below are the essays submitted by both students when applying for the award.