Student-run exhibit focuses on the human experience

Two Tyler School of Art students put together an exhibit featuring more than 35 artists.

Senior painting majors Samantha Herman and Gillian Mead have followed nearly identical paths since they started their freshman year.

They took the same classes, chose the same major and studied abroad in Rome together this past summer — where they decided to collaborate on an art exhibit.

The resulting exhibit, “Muscle Memory,” features works from 37 artists and runs Wednesday to Saturday in the Stella Elkins Tyler Gallery. A special opening reception with performances by three artists is on Friday.

“We thought [the human experience] was a good abstract jumping-off point that wasn’t so set in stone that we would just get the same kinds of works submitted over and over,” Mead said.

Herman and Mead said people use muscle memory day after day without even thinking about it.

To gather submissions for the show, Herman said they created a Facebook event with a brief description of their concept. They asked artists to submit up to three works based on the concept of rituals, or acts of muscle memory.

Kari Scott, assistant director of Tyler Student Life and Stella Elkins Tyler Gallery coordinator, promoted “Muscle Memory” in her weekly newsletter. About 80 local and national artists submitted work, Herman said.

The chosen artists are a combination of current and former Tyler students, as well as artists from New York City, Baltimore and Chicago, Mead said. The artists’ mediums range from dance to paintings, printmaking and photography.

“We wanted to include this wide variety of mediums including performance, video, sculpture, multimedia,” Herman said. “We didn’t want equal parts of each medium being shown…but we wanted to strike some sort of balance between these different visuals.”

Mehves Lelic, a Chicago-based photographer exhibited in the show, applied through the open call posted online. She will show two photographs in the exhibit. One is of a vase of flowers on a table with the shadow of a hand parting window blinds on the wall behind it. The other is an orange-lit photograph of half-peeled artichokes sitting on a cutting board on a kitchen island.

Lelic began creating visual art in her teenage years, she said, and likes how she can explore the theme of muscle memory through the setup of interior spaces.

“Muscle memory is a longing, a relationship between what belongs to us and how we belong to a place,” she said. “I like ordinary things and what they imply. Sustenance, orderliness and permanence.”

Herman and Mead said they were surprised by the large number of submissions they received. They wanted to keep the prompt — muscle memory — vague enough to attract a varied amount of art and art mediums.

“I was worried that it was just gonna be a conversation between everybody we already know in Tyler,” Herman said. “But it turned out to not be that at all.”

Senior photography major Evan Murphy is presenting a photograph for the exhibition that “perfectly shows” his interpretation of ritual, he said.

The photo depicts a woman he encountered in Naples, Italy, while he was studying abroad with Herman. She is standing in the doorway of a beauty salon with foil on her hair, a cape around her shoulders and a cigarette in her hand, completely oblivious to the camera.

“I think that, especially for a woman that age, getting her hair done is this really routine thing,” he said. “It was for my grandmother, and my mother to an extent. And smoking is obviously this whole other ritualistic thing.”

Having lived in Philadelphia for more than two years, Herman said her semester abroad in Rome opened her up to new ideas beyond the city’s borders, inspiring her to create an exhibit that could “join conversations from other cities.”

“Being in one space for a while, like here at Tyler, you get stuck in a bubble a little bit,” Herman said. “All of a sudden, taking a semester away from this, you start to think about how the conversation that you’re trying to be a part of is a lot bigger than you previously imagined.”

But for some of the exhibit’s participants, this is a return to their old home, Herman said.

“It’s such a wide net we’ve cast across the country and they all seem to have this connection back to Tyler,” she said. “They ask us all the time about their old professors. Some people, when they dropped their art off, went up to the offices to see their old teachers.”

“Thinking of muscle memory has so many connections to things relative to the body and to music and performance and art-making in general,” she said. “It was kind of this catch-all for something so many of us understand in this certain way, or maybe just know happens.”

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