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String Theory

  • Annie Grosscup preparing work for exhibit in Kohl Gallery as her SCE project
    Annie Grosscup preparing work for exhibit in Kohl Gallery as her SCE project
March 13, 2018
Studio Art junior Aaron Wallace-Holland interviews senior Annie Grosscup about her process, her artwork, and her plans for her upcoming SCE exhibit in Kohl Gallery.

Art and Art History majors who choose a Studio Art concentration spend the entire senior year working toward a comprehensive body of work to be presented in a culminating SCE exhibit in Kohl Gallery. Seniors have individual studio spaces in a college-owned house on the edge of campus, and meet with Studio Art faculty and their cohort of peers weekly to discuss progress and ideas.

The Studio Art Junior Seminar, titled Contemporary Practices, provides students in their junior year with a broad understanding of opportunities and strategies for success in creative endeavors beyond graduation. As part of the Junior Seminar coursework, all Studio Art juniors interview a Studio Art senior about their work and their experience in the intensive senior year. Here, junior Aaron Wallace-Holland sheds light on the experience through the eyes of current senior Annie Grosscup, as Annie enters the final preparations for her April SCE exhibit.

Studio Art senior Annie Grosscup (’18) in her studioStudio Art senior Annie Grosscup (’18) in her studio

Interview by Aaron Wallace-Holland:

Annie Grosscup is an artist attending Washington College. Currently in her senior year, she is working toward the completion of her Senior Capstone Experience, which will be exhibited with the theses of other Studio Art seniors in the Kohl Gallery. She focuses mainly on large installation pieces, particularly those that are immersive and require some sort of action (or a provoked reaction) from the audience. In terms of materials, a substantial portion of her body of work incorporates string, which she values for its tactility as well as its appearance.

Aaron:  So. Before I ask any more specific questions, could you talk about what you’re doing with your SCE, where your ideas came from, and stuff like that. Progress, and so on.

Annie:  Alright! Well, for my SCE, my ideas came from… I was in a kinetics class last semester, and I knew I wanted to do a large-scale installation piece. I always liked the idea of a piece that engulfs people, like, it forces them to interact with it. There was a piece at the Baltimore Museum of Art, a bed that was huge and you could crawl on it and lay on it. It was really cool, and I love pieces like that.

My original idea was to make a dreamcatcher that you could lay under, and then it kind of morphed. Throughout last semester I was doing a bunch of projects with string, because I just love the texture. It started off with one project I did where there was a motor that made the string move. I was cleaning it off so I cut all the string off the motor, and it ended up making a curtain. I took my arm and collected it up, and I was like “wow, that was really fun.” It was really soft and created a cool sensation, and it made me feel like I was walking through a field and doing, like, this. [mimics running hand across grass]. And I was like no, I’m going to do a sensory type piece, and that’s how I did the first piece of all the hanging string.

And then I was deciding whether or not I wanted to do a piece that’s more exploring ideas or the materials, and I am leaning more toward exploring the materials. The material is kind of bringing up ideas, like… playing is a big word I’m using. I love to say ‘go play,’ because when you say ‘go play’ everyone says ‘okay’ and they go touch it, and run through it, and I like to see people interact with it. A lot of people think it’s really fun to interact with. And some people think it’s a… weird sensation. [Another student] mentioned it felt like there was a spiderweb on her, and I think it’s funny. I like how people act differently when they interact with it. Right now, I’m moving toward ways I can make the string more playful. I do like making it feel like something else is happening with the string, like making it feel like it’s walls, rain, waterfalls… all those things. I like to make the string feel more solid than it really is, because it’s such a delicate object, and it’s so easy to break or move or manipulate the way it flows.

Aaron:  Yeah. When I was there Tuesday, I definitely got that feeling. Especially with the little beads that were in it. That was my favorite part of it. Just finding them, because I saw one and thought ‘this is weird,’ and then I saw another one, and then noticed there were multiple. That was really fun.

Annie:  Kind of like an I Spy game.

Aaron:  Yeah! And, I don’t know if you ever saw it, I don’t know if it’s still there, but you mentioned the Baltimore Museum of Art. There’s something there that’s like a curtain of blue beads that you have to pass through to get between rooms. [Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled (Water).]

Annie:  I know the artist.

Aaron:  Yeah, that’s what it reminded me of. Because whenever I would walk through it, I would feel the urge to play with it and make the beads hit each other and make noise against each other.

So, I had a question that was about whether your SCE had changed since you first conceived of it. And you mentioned that you had originally had a dreamcatcher idea that you would lay under. So what provoked changing your idea?

Annie:  It started off with that. It changed because I wasn’t happy with how people were interacting with the dreamcatcher. It wasn’t satisfying to me. I was bringing in different pieces that I knew were satisfying to me and was trying to figure out what I liked about them. I knew it was the movement of the string that was really satisfying. I liked that when people could see the string moving they would be mesmerized by it. There was kind of a— I’m using the word again— playfulness about it. So, I knew the string had to move.

The motor was nice because people liked watching it move, but the one where you could move it yourself seemed like the most successful piece to me. I knew I wanted to build everything I would do off of that piece, because that was the one I could do more things with and enjoyed. I kept hitting walls with the dreamcatcher idea. It was a lot of half-baked ideas. I couldn’t really get it out, and I just threw out the idea and started something new. Sometimes it helps to just start over. Probably not the day before the gallery opening. (laughs) But starting over when you have time is a good thing to do.

Aaron:  In terms of ideas and things changing and all that… Over a larger span of time, do you think that you’ve changed a lot as an artist while you’ve been at college? How were things at the beginning with your art versus how they are now?

Annie:  Most definitely, I’ve changed since I started college. Before college, I was very drawing-oriented, and a little bit of painting. Not a lot of painting. Painting was more of a colored background aspect or something, and I would draw over it. And then when I got to college I did more sculptures and materials that aren’t ‘normal.’ And that kind of led to the string obsession I have right now, which is good. I still love to paint and draw, and I do that as a side thing. I have ideas to incorporate painting and drawing, but I have moved toward more sculpture and other pieces that aren’t typical.

Aaron:  A lot of what you were talking about with your string project indicates that you would be more unsatisfied if people didn’t interact with it a certain way, like… the experience of the people interacting with it is more important than the visual experience of it alone as an object.

Annie:  I feel like the piece isn’t complete unless it’s activated by the people. I want to elicit a sensation through the piece, and I feel like if you don’t touch or interact with it, you don’t get the sensations that I want you to have. For this specific piece, if you don’t interact with it, you’re not… the piece doesn’t live up to its full potential. The piece actually becomes its full self when people are in it, playing with it, and activating it. If it’s just sitting there, it’s there, it’s ready, but it’s not ‘going.’ It’s not fully there.

Aaron:  So. Since I am a junior and I am not doing SCE things yet, do you have anything that you wish you knew when you were a junior? Advice you would give, or anything of that sort. 

Annie:  I would definitely say… if I could tell my junior self something… the time over the summer, I would say to utilize it more. And journaling. I just started journaling more this semester, because journaling is really important. I’ve started journaling ideas. And while I’m creating pieces, I would take notes of things that are going wrong or things that I’d possibly like to change.

And then… don’t be afraid to do a lot of trial and errors. The professors were saying it since the beginning of last semester. The more you do things and experiment… the original string piece had all the same levels and stuff, and then I started to experiment. I was afraid to experiment because I thought people would get tangled in it. But it was actually more fun when people got tangled in it. The trial and error definitely helped. Even trying pieces that I thought were going to be awful is good. Just doing production was a big thing. Quantity is a good thing, because it helps you get out ideas you didn’t realize you had. And… following deadlines. That helps too. And not being afraid to, when I’m stuck, talk to professors.

And then a really big thing that I wish I had told myself was not to take criticisms as denial. Not just me, but other seniors deal with this– when we were doing something, the professor might say ‘I don’t like it,’ and I would say ‘I need to change it.’ But what I realized I actually needed to do is, if I wanted it that way, I need to own it and make it more ‘my way.’ Just because the professor doesn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not okay. Take criticism as suggestion rather than denial.

Aaron:  A lot of people, including me, have trouble with that. A lot of people don’t have as much ownership as they should over their artistic vision. They know more about how they want their work to look than other people do. It’s good to listen to your audience, they’re the people receiving your work, but… don’t take it so close to heart, I guess.


Annie Grosscup (’18) is a Studio Art senior double-majoring in Studio Art and Spanish. Her work will be on view alongside the work of her fellow seniors in the annual SCE exhibit, from April 19-May 10, 2018, in Kohl Gallery in Gibson Center for the Arts.

Aaron Wallace-Holland (’19) is a Studio Art junior preparing for the SCE year in 2018-19.

Last modified on Mar. 14th, 2018 at 8:53am by Julie Wills.