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MIT blogger Sabrina M. '21

A World of Pure Curation by Sabrina M. '21

an interview with holly h. 18'

In February, I interviewed Holly H. ’18, about her art gallery in the Student Center. Holly is a Comparative Media Studies major, skilled photographer, writer, fimographer, and visual artist. On top of that, she is also an MIT Arts Scholar. So, what do you get when you combine these all together? One multimedia experience that is both a deeper look into her personal life, and strikingly politically charged. The exhibit, which was up for the month of February, was created and curated by her (with some art contributions from another student). Our interview is transcribed below, but first, here’s some notable parts and video work of the exhibition:



What’s the name of your gallery, Holly?

  • Holly: Well it’s funny you ask. I couldn’t think of what to call it, and so it became desperate because it was like the day before, and so I Googled “How to Name your Exhibition”, and apparently there’s a WikiHow article called “WikiHow: How to Name Your Solo Exhibition”. And so I decided that was good enough.
  • Did people comment on the name at all?
  • Holly: A couple people sent me photos of that, as like a way of showing me that they were there. Or like, a couple of people were like “woah, hehe,” but nothing too exciting. I don’t know; you just have to name it something, I guess, right?
  • Yeah, names do matter but… not so much. Unless you want them to.
  • Holly: It’s really hard for me; it seems really Meta to me to not only make a body of work, but also have to make, to comment upon that in like one word or phrase.
  • A theme.
  • Holly: Yeah, like to give it a theme or to give it a name, so, you want me to make all this, and deeply have analyzed all of this, and also analyze how it all fits together. If I knew how to do that, I’d know myself really f***ing well, I guess.
  • Not at that level yet. Maybe some day.
  • Holly: Yeah, I guess. I hope. I don’t know. I don’t want to interpret my own art too much.

What are the logistics behind this? How did you actually- did you talk to someone?

  • Holly: Oh, well, first, I’ll let you know that it’s open from now until the end of February 2017. It’s in the new Weisner Gallery located in the Student Center on the second floor, which is owned by the MIT Art Scholars, who recently renovated the gallery. And, just before this show, there was the Art Scholars Co-Exhibistion, which was really cool, and so I helped to curate that show, and then I curated this show, my own show, which was actually part of a final project for an independent study I did last semester.
  • So, this other one that you did, what was it again?
  • Holly: It was the MIT Art Scholars, which is a group of people at MIT of all ages, of all class years, every single dorm, it’s very diverse, who just do some form of arts. And, that goes from everything from making ice skating uniforms by hand, to vocals or piano, to like visual arts, so really cool. And that show was very interesting. It was the first show in the gallery since it was renovated.
  • You did something else last year, in Kresge? In the basement? Do you remember?
  • Holly: Yes, yes, yes. That was with the MIT Art Scholars, so that was like a group show. Mostly to show the Art Scholars each other’s work, because we had like vague ideas of what we were interested in, but hadn’t gotten to see anything. It was very cool.

What does it feel like to put your art out there in the world? 

  • Holly: It feels really powerful; it’s something that I’ve been trying to do more, in the past, like, six months especially. This summer, I decided to start constantly be making things, and after a while I just had too many things in my apartment to live around them anymore. So, I realized I had to take them somewhere. And so, I went and took them to a bar that I went to often times, and I hung them up, and that was really fun. So, it was my first time putting my art out publicly at all, but in a very low stress way. And then, at the end of the summer, I still had a bunch of art in my apartment that hadn’t sold, and so I just like, set it on the street corner and wrote a “FREE” sign, because there was nothing I could do, and it was on these, like, gigantic planks of wood. So, in that way, in that time period, I had to be so unfeeling, I guess. I just couldn’t even think about the fact that I was just leaving it out, but I knew that it was out in the world, so then like, I guess it became more important for me to just get this s**t out than anything, just because it feels powerful to kind of not know where it’s going to go, or how it’s going to affect people. So, it feels really good, but it also feels super vulnerable, especially because it’s like on display for the MIT audience, so it’s not just strangers who could connect with it as they would, you know, a more anonymous person, but it’s my peers.
  • Yeah, that know you.
  • Holly: Yeah, and can come up and talk to me about it. Oh my god, I had such a crazy experience yesterday; I was talking to someone, and they were like “Oh, when were these pictures taken?” or something like that. And I said, “Oh, it was when blah blah blah,” and they were like, “Oh, was that before or after this event in your life?” And, I was like “How do you know that?” and they had read it in my journal, in the gallery.
  • Oh man.
  • Holly: And I was like, that was too f***ing weird, that was like they were storing my memories for me, or something. I don’t know, it became very weird.
  • Did you expect that to happen? I mean, you did put a whole journal.
  • Holly: Yeah, I expected to have conversations with people about the art, but like, it was a different thing to have someone reference something… like, I don’t know. It wasn’t a bad experience, but it was weird. But so, the way that I ended up doing this exhibition opening was through an independent study. So, I’m a Comparative Media Studies major, which is like a really awesome department, and I really enjoy Media Studies. But so, that allows me to be very broad and explore a number of different types of media within CMS. And so, in the past, things I’ve looked at are video art and video production, or photography, which are like the visual arts. But then also like, I spent a long time researching the music industry and the shape of hip-hop, and the death of the music industry post-digitization of music. And then, CMS also has let me look at journalism and the news system, which I find very interesting.
  • What about it?
  • Holly: Particularly now, well. So, first of all, the news system, similar to the music industry, has been completely revolutionized by the internet. Because it makes it so the product, which is, like, inherently a physical product, is now able to be accessed in an unlimited capacity, which takes away the control of the pay. And so, news systems are having to figure out new funding, and new ways to represent people, and I hope that this is moving to less hegemonic ways, and it is moving towards more independent media. I think that’s very interesting. And, the whole thing with like, fake news; it’s a big thing. So now, what I’m interested in within CMS is more contemporary art, particularly like, political or radical, like revolutionary art. And so, I kind of started seeing really good contemporary art when I was in Paris last summer, and that opened in me an interest for this. And so, CMS is really cool, because something I’ve been able to do is independent study. And so, this independent study was in curation and exhibition, and I got to do it under my mentor, Jay Scheib. It was a really cool experience. I got to talk to the curator of the List, and curate two exhibitions, and do a lot of cool reading, and visit a lot of different exhibitions around Boston and New York. And I loved it; I learned so much from it. And to be able to do a final project in a form like this exhibition opening was unparalleled.
  • Yeah, that sounds pretty awesome.

So, what would you say- are there any overarching themes in your gallery?

  • Holly: It’s hard to speak to themes, per say, but I guess, I was really interested in representing femininity and youthfulness and queerness, and trying to, like, talk politically, and represent kind of unusual people. Definitely non-hegemonic, but also just, a lot of the characters I draw are just kind of strange. Yeah, I’d say queerness, youthfulness, femininity and… hm, I don’t know. There’s something else there. It was really interesting in a conversation with Daniela, my best friend, she was talking about how- we were talking about how a lot of people would come up to me and ask me, like, “So, I see that there’s something that relates all of these, and they look like they fit together, but what is that thing? I don’t understand, like what would you say, what ties them all together?” and I was like, “I don’t know, I guess that’s just like my style,” but Daniela mentioned that the people who didn’t know me wouldn’t be able to discern what that was, because they wouldn’t know my style, and so they would just be like “What is this, this weird cohesion?” So yeah. That’s a lot, about things.

What kind of messages are you trying to portray in your art, or what are you trying to talk about?

  • Holly: I definitely want to talk about intersectional feminism, and race issues, and United States specific issues. I want to talk about what being queer is, and different types of queer people. I want to talk about sex, because I grew up in a place where sex was super repressed. I want to try and normalize sex. Also, just like… to be sexual is to be lively, and in some ways even that feels radical, when the administration inspires despair.
  • And it shouldn’t be like that.
  • Holly: And, I want to talk about my feelings. Mental illness. And the power of being female, and how awesome f***ing women are, and how awesome we can all be together.

Which artist are you most inspired by?

  • Holly: I think the most interesting artist to me right now is this guy named Bryant Giles who lives in Chicago, and he makes, like, really gorgeous drawings that I take a lot of inspiration from. He just started a unisex clothing line that’s very like, high end and original, so I think he’s really dope, and he’s definitely an inspiration. But, I also look to, non-visual artists for inspiration. I really love Frank Ocean, like everyone who ever existed does, because he just is so, so meticulous in his process, and so thoughtful, and still maintains really strong affect, while making an extremely technically meticulous work. I think he’s really, really good. And so, I try to think of him. And then I think, I love Van Gogh and Basquiat, to hit some art history.
  • So would you say you’re inspired by impressionist art?
  • Holly: I think in the way that I try to add color, and the way I try to oil paint, I definitely like impressionist, where it’s like, thicker paint. But also, it’s supposed to be more fleeting in the light. I don’t know; I really like impressionism.

So, how did you decide the order, and how to place the pieces in the gallery?

  • Holly: So, I wanted to have my oil paintings and my favorite set of photographs towards the back wall, so that you would have the biggest kind of visual experience as you were the furthest into the room. And, so there I put my Italy, Tennessee, and Idaho Falls pictures, and also all of the oil paintings over the past semester. And so that was, like, the first decision. And then, I had the three panels of video, so that was obvious. And that left standing space, and this first panel on the left. I still had photographs I wanted to put up, and two small sculptural things, so those went well together, and kind of were a soft introduction, because it was just more lighthearted quick-make sort of things. Then, I had three sketchbooks, and so I knew I wanted those to be on a desk, and the gallery is really, really big. So, I wanted to try and fill some of the space, so I put it right in the middle, and put those there so it could be kind of like a dividing point, to make the space seem smaller, and for people to gather around.
  • I think it worked really well.
  • Holly: Thank you. Then, the rock glass case is just to the side of that, to act as a further division. I wanted Cyn, Cynthia Odu’s paintings to be right in the front, and right in their own space, because they’re very commanding, and I wanted to distinguish them from my oil paintings, and also give them a very immediate space.