On the evening of April 17, people found an unusual sight in the Tyler School of Art on 13th and Norris streets: adults in the middle of an art gallery tinkering with a set of children’s toys.
“I left them out at the show and said, ‘Play with these, just be careful,’ and it was tight because there were all sorts of crazy configurations,” MFA student Zan Barnett said.
The pocket-sized pieces connected magnetically, giving users the opportunity to create each letter of the alphabet. Barnett designed “Alphabones” using what he referred to as “the sickest resources” from Tyler: laser cutters, vinyl cutters and 3-D printers. Barnett created the pieces for a class in which graduate students were required to invent a toy or game.
“One thing I really love about Tyler is we build everything ourselves,” Barnett said.
“Alphabones” was one of 10 works by Barnett featured in “Process,” the 2015 MFA Graphic & Interactive Design Exhibition held at Temple Contemporary. The show provided an overview of two years of academic work by Barnett, Stephanie Werning, Josh Schott and Nikki Eastman.
Tyler’s website, which Barnett manages 20 hours a week for an assistantship, defines graphic and interactive design as the “communication of information and ideas through visual language,” granting the final exhibition a virtually limitless playing field.
After he attended Southern Utah University in a town of less than 30,000 residents, Barnett applied exclusively to graduate schools in big cities – Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle. He chose Tyler before he’d even visited Philadelphia. The culture shock, he said, was intimidating.
“The East Coast is kind of like a different vibe; everyone moves faster and people chill a little bit less,” Barnett said.
Werning, who is from the Washington area, received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design with a minor in printmaking, and a Bachelor of Arts in English, both from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Like Barnett, she chose Tyler before visiting, and she experienced a social shift when she stepped on Main Campus.
“There is definitely a big-city, East Coast attitude that sharply contrasts with the ‘Iowa nice’ you get used to out there,” Werning said. “It’s a little more rough-and-tough in Philly, but I think it’s fun.”
Recently, illustration work has played a large role in Werning’s career – something that was reflected in the “Process” exhibition, which included two books she wrote, designed and illustrated.
“The Pretty Ugly Dog,” based on a pet owned by Werning’s mother, provided an interactive component where users were able to read the story through differing points of view – literally.
“Readers get to use two different pair of glasses to navigate the story; depending on which color you wear, the images and words change to offer either my mother’s perspective on her precious dog, or, alternatively, my not-so-complimentary viewpoint,” Werning said.
Werning also included “Ex, Y, Z: An Alphabet Book of Regrettable Boyfriends.” She created the semi-autobiographical book to bring light and laughter to those who had dealt with unfortunate relationships.
“I figured, hell, why not use my experiences to make people laugh?” Werning said. Currently, Werning is preparing to send the books to publishers.
Barnett was no stranger to constructing books either. “Hip Hoptimism” included an alphabetical display of inspiring aphorisms in rap music. Barnett quoted artists beginning with Andre 3000, Big K.R.I.T. and Common, until he reached the end of his musical alphabet – Jay-Z.
Barnett explored his interest in hip-hop further when he created an app in a Hybrid Design class, one of his favorite courses at Temple. Barnett’s “My Adidas” app, named after the iconic Run-D.M.C. song, provided an interactive timeline of the relationship between hip-hop and sneakers.
“I don’t know how to present it in my portfolio if I want to apply to Nike,” Barnett said, speaking of the company for which he would like to work some day.
Werning did not hesitate to incorporate societal motivation into her works. Her most recent project in the series, “Paperheroes,” comprised a smattering of female paper dolls dressed as astronauts, biochemists, paleontologists, programmers and architects.
“The whole point is to get young girls to connect their own skills and interests with future career possibilities,” Werning said. “I’d like the next generation of girls to grow up knowing they can succeed in STEM careers, and can be great leaders in these fields.”
As the end of the semester nears, each artist has post-graduate aspirations. While Werning leans toward book illustration, Barnett wishes to create recognizable logos – something, maybe, like the symbol for Temple.
“It’s geometric and recognizable, like instantly recognizable,” Barnett said. “It’s just fly, and I love Temple, I’m really into college, I love school.”
Angela Gervasi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.