The Spring 2017 Mellby Lecture was delivered by Professor of Art and Associate Dean of Fine Arts Mary Griep. Continue reading “Mellby Lecture engages sacred places through art”
On April 4, the Center for Art and Dance’s Object Study room filled with curious onlookers: those interested in the center’s Richard N. Tetlie collection, and passersby wondering what the commotion was about. The occasion was the opening reception of “A Collector’s Obsession: The Lost Masterpiece,” an exhibit curated by Professor Vanessa Rousseau’s Museum Studies class and on display until April 23. Each student selected a work to show, researched the piece, wrote a museum label about it and helped prepare the exhibit and reception.
“A Collector’s Obsession” is a selection of works from the Richard N. Tetlie collection. Tetlie ’43 has deep ties to the college. His father Rev. Joseph Tetlie ’09 was St. Olaf’s first Rhodes Scholar. His grandfather Professor Halvor T. Ytterboe saved St. Olaf from financial ruin during the 1890s Depression, and his great-uncle was Thorbjorn Mohn, the college’s first president. With such big shoes to fill, Tetlie desired to leave his own legacy by amassing his own collection of artwork.
Tetlie worked as an art dealer and self-declared connoisseur from the 1960s to the 1980s, collecting over two thousand pieces that were donated to St. Olaf upon his death in 1999.
“He had a town house chock full of paintings stacked on paintings that were then bequeathed to college,” Josh Torkelson ’17, a student working on the reception, said. “He spent so much money on art that his own house dripped and needed repairs, and he had storage units of more paintings.”
Torkelson added that the Tetlie collection is the single largest collection in the school’s possession. The massive collection required many volunteers to sort through the pieces. One dedicated volunteer is Kathy Born, who delivered a talk about Tetlie’s life and work at the reception. Born read an excerpt of a July 1986 journal entry Tetlie wrote about his desire to “leave as broad a collection I can manage” and his enthusiasm for every piece in his collection, regardless of authenticity.
Indeed, one of the most surprising things about the exhibit is the sheer number of inauthentic pieces in the collection. There are many paintings credited to great artists such as Goya, Rubens and Poussin that are either unable to be authenticated or are clearly fakes. However, others that students selected are genuine, such as an early landscape by Edvard Munch selected by Natalie Shea ’19.
“It’s the first instance of an empty boat as loneliness,” Shea said. “It’s not expressive and bold like his later style but you can see it in this piece.”
Regardless of whether a piece is an authentic Munch, a life mask of George Washington, an ancient statue or a fake Kandinsky, Tetlie treated each work in his collection like a treasure, calling them priceless masterpieces in his letters. An exhibit like “A Collector’s Obsession” would certainly please Tetlie and his desire for legacy, as Born pointed out.
“It’s a teaching collection,” she said. “Kids now can have a chance to study as much as they can … The exhibit is terrific. It’s exactly what Tetlie hoped, that kids would have works to look at and study.”
Shea, for one, certainly appreciated the experience of studying the works in Tetlie’s collection and putting together the installation.
“It’s cool to see all the work together, and to do something in a class that reaches the entire community,” she said.
On March 9, St. Olaf students voted to determine who will serve in key Student Government Association (SGA) roles during the 2017-2018 school year. With roughly 50 percent of students participating, Jauza Khaleel ’18 and Tim Bergeland ’18 were elected SGA President and Vice President, respectively, with 1,105 votes and roughly 77 percent of the vote.
Many see the election as a symbol of the change that Oles desire.
“The elected executive team is already such a great group of people with great ideas who are willing to challenge a set of rules and traditions and status quo,” Rhea Rajan ’18 said. Rajan was elected to be one of the new Lion’s Pause co-coordinators. “We see that through Jauza and Tim, as well as other branches. There’s an environment of change and we’re happy to participate in it.”
Next year’s Political Awareness Committee (PAC) coordinator Abdul Wake ’19 agreed.
“I think a lot of people wanted to see a different sort of change, not just with my position but especially with president and vice president. I’m super excited to work with Tim and Jauza and everyone else.”
Khaleel and Bergeland expressed gratitude for the opportunity to hear from a variety of students during their campaign. “Coming into the campaign, we had values and ideas of things to change, but meeting with people and talking with different student orgs, we were enlightened by a lot of other ideas,” Bergeland said, specifically citing conversations with club sports players and transfer students. “There were different stories I had never engaged with or heard, but during this process [of] getting outside of our social circles, you learn so much.”
The new president and vice president encourage anyone with questions, suggestions or concerns to reach out to them. Khaleel and Bergeland want to have a warm and open relationship with students, as well as the ability to have difficult conversations with administration if necessary.
“We definitely want to have a positive relationship, but we want to be a voice of students to administration, not the other way around,” Khaleel said.
One of these difficult conversations surrounds race on campus.
“Racism on campus is just horrible,” Bergeland said. “We both want to be willing to push back against [the] administration, and … getting [the] administration to better recognize that there is a culture of racism here and that acts of racism that have happened shouldn’t be framed as an exception to the rule, but something all Oles need to be critically self-reflective about.”
Khaleel and Bergeland were not the only ones who enjoyed campaigning. Rajan and fellow Pause co-coordinator-elect Mazen Abu-Sharkh ’18 were also grateful for the opportunity to gather more ideas for improving the Pause. These ideas have already begun to be implemented as Abu-Sharkh and Rajan gather feedback from their website and campaign page. The feedback includes suggestions for pizzas, one of which will become next September’s special. In the long term, the duo hopes to invest in new technological equipment for the Pause (including lighting equipment) and continue existing efforts to make Pause dances safer. Abu-Sharkh said these efforts have already started with initiatives to keep the lights brighter and allow fewer people into the Pause at a time.
“We want it to be more engaging, and for the DJ to have students interact,” Abu-Sharkh added. “There will not only be music and dancing in the dark, there will be intermissions.”
Other areas of campus will likely undergo changes next year. Wake emphasized his desire to bring a wider variety of political voices to campus, especially those outside of the two-party system and experts on foreign policy. However, he also wants to ensure that the speakers PAC invites next year will be respectful of the student body.
“I would like to emphasize that ideas presented at events and speakers will uphold [the] value of respecting people’s humanity,” Wake said. “That’s the most important thing to me, and I think that’ll be the thing I look back on and say, ‘The people who were here on my watch will have respected people’s right to self-determination.’”
The SGA elections and the platforms of the winners suggest that the 2017-2018 school year will be one of embracing change, having valuable conversations and continuing to make campus a safer place for all Oles. Many winners reiterated the charge of staying connected with the campus community.
“It’s a very versatile job. It’s not just sitting in an office, but also doing hands-on work, providing help that’s needed, instead of being a reactionary thing,” Khaleel said. “We want to be more proactive to do things, and to always be aware, and that comes with being connected with [the] student body.”
President Donald Trump cannot seem to go more than two days without causing a new storm of controversy. The latest firestorm, unsurprisingly, arose from a Tweet.
“I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this year,” Trump wrote on Saturday, Feb. 25. “Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) is a black-tie event attended by the president, journalists and other celebrities. The event honors political journalism, though headlines covering the WHCD tend to focus on jokes told by the president and a headlining comedian. Trump’s decision not to attend is very rare; the last president to skip was Ronald Reagan in 1981, as he was recovering from an assassination attempt. While this is obviously an unusual incident, some may wonder why Trump’s absence is such a big deal. Everyone, regardless of party affiliation, can probably agree that one man’s absence at a black-tie dinner party pales in comparison to the other issues this country currently faces. But this event should not be ignored, even if there are other, seemingly more pressing problems within the Trump administration.
His absence has two possible motives. This is either symbolic of Trump’s deteriorating relationship with the media, or of his thin skin and resistance to critique. Neither reason should inspire confidence. Regardless of his reasons for skipping the WHCD, this decision will backfire on him and his presidency.
Let’s first look at the issue of Trump trying to save his pride. We know that humor at Trump’s expense bothers him. For proof, look no further than his constant rants against everything from his portrayal on “Saturday Night Live” to comments made by celebrities such as Meryl Streep or the cast of “Hamilton.” We also know that skewering the president with pointed humor is a tradition at the WHCD, and Trump can expect some jokes at his expense. It seems more than plausible that his absence is an attempt to save his pride and ensure that he doesn’t have to be there to be roasted, or to somehow prove that he is “above” the jokes that will come. However, if this were the goal then it has already begun to backfire. Not facing his critics at the dinner presents an image problem for someone as image-obsessed as Trump. We are left to wonder if he’s skipping because he’s afraid of what will be said that night. In addition, Alec Baldwin – who has played Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live” since October – is hinting that he will appear in character if Trump doesn’t show up at the dinner. This will almost certainly create a bigger problem for Trump’s image than showing up would.
To be fair, this decision is not exactly surprising considering Trump’s steadily worsening relationship with the media and the White House Correspondents’ Association. From day one, Trump’s administration has attacked the press, from the much-lampooned press conference where Sean Spicer attacked news coverage of Trump’s inauguration, to banning certain media outlets from attending press briefings, to calling the media the “enemy of the people.” This behavior was already highly irregular, and not attending the dinner is just another sign of the poor relationship between Trump and the press. It may be intended as a power play to show that Trump isn’t willing to cooperate with the media’s expectations of him, but instead continues to stoke fears about freedom of the press. After all, if he can’t even attend a dinner with journalists, who is to say he will cooperate with them and let them do their jobs?
Those who are against the WHCD consider it merely an irrelevant “celebrity lovefest,” in the words of Doree Lewak of the New York Post. It is true that the event has become more focused on fashion and humor, and less so on good journalism. It is also true that journalists and politicians should be careful about becoming too close in order to ensure objective political coverage. However, it is still important that Trump is not attending this year’s dinner. No matter the reason for skipping, his absence speaks volumes and reflects much about his character and relationship to the United States media and, potentially, the legacy of the freedom of the press under his presidency.
Dylan Walker ’18 (email@example.com) is from Mountain Grove, Mo. They major in classics with concentrations in film studies and women’s and gender studies.
“During California’s Great Bakersfield Dust Storm of 1977 a warm winter wind sped to 192 miles per hour. Dust rose to 5,000 feet. The sun went black.”
So reads the artist statement printed on a panel in the Flaten Art Museum for “Black Sun: Rini Yun Keagy with Miljohn Ruperto.” The exhibit opened in on Friday, Feb. 17 with a reception by Keagy and Flaton Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson. It will stay exhibited at St. Olaf until April 16.
“Black Sun” features the work of two accomplished artists: Rini Yun Keagy and Miljohn Ruperto. Keagy is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at Carleton College. Her work in video and 16mm film focuses on “race and labor, disease, and sites of psychological trauma,” according to the artist bio on the Flaten Art Museum website. Her work has been screened at numerous film festivals and the film and video art international cable TV station, Souvenirs from Earth.
Ruperto is an artist based in Los Angeles. His art has been exhibited in a variety of places, from the Whitney Museum of American Art to Berlin’s contemporary art museum Haus der Kulturen der Welt. He works with photography, videography, performance and digital animation. Themes of his work include historical and anecdotal occurrences, the nature of assumed facts and perception-challenging illusions.
The themes each artist works with intersect perfectly in “Black Sun.” The exhibit is based on their collaborative experimental documentary short film, “Ordinal (SW/NE).” The film examines a soil-dwelling fungus, coccidioides immitis, and its associated lung infection valley fever. The spores that cause valley fever are found in specific regional areas (Keagy and Ruperto focus on California’s Central Valley) and are stirred up by anything that disrupts soil, from human acts like farming and construction to natural events like wind – or dust storms.
Upon entering the gallery, one will see film stills, video, animation and physical objects from “Ordinal (SW/NE).” Pieces tend to fall into a few themes: examinations of valley fever itself, the way humans use land and the consequences of that land use. They also make unexpected connections from a wide variety of sources such as ancient Assyrian mythology, “The Grapes of Wrath” and “The Exorcist.”
Walking around Flaten is a visually striking experience, whether one is watching juxtaposed videos of oil rigs working in an orange orchard and a monotonous rotating residential sprinkler, or peering at an animation of Coccidiodes immitis spores replicating in a lung.
But the most chilling part of the exhibit is its namesake piece, “Black Sun.” To experience “Black Sun,” one must stand on a black carpet under a speaker hidden inside a dome. The audio piece recreates the sound of the 1977 Great Bakersfield Dust Storm, with distorted black metal music and the howl of hyenas and jackals. The experience is chilling – meant to recreate the underworld of demons according to Assyrian cosmology. It succeeds in its task.
Overall, “Black Sun” is a sensorily striking examination of the ways nature affects humanity, or – perhaps more importantly – how humanity affects nature.
Be sure to check out the exhibit, as well as some other related events: on Feb. 25, Keagy and a panel of local scholars and filmmakers will present works and scholarship at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Closer to home, Oles can catch a screening of the film that inspired “Black Sun,” “Ordinal (SW/NE),” on April 6, in Viking Theater at 7:30 pm. Both Keagy and Ruperto will be in attendance.