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New installation puts artist and her students ‘On the Wall’

Work by artist and Art + Design Lecturer Sophia Ainslie is currently featured in the group exhibition On the Wall, which sees Newbury Street’s Gallery NAGA transformed into a collection of site-specific installations through July 11. We asked Sophia and her assistants – Northeastern students Yuqi Huang, DMSB’17, and Jill Rosenberg, AMD’17, – about the genesis of the project and what is was like collaborating on the installation.

Tell us about the installation at Gallery NAGA.

Sophia Ainslie: The shapes and marks are inspired by, and a result of, combining a single x-ray of my late mother’s abdomen, with territorial mapping and sketches of places I’ve experienced in my immediate environment. Over the last four years, I’ve developed a visual language that, for this installation at Gallery NAGA, I recycled through. With the help of a computer, I’ve cut and dissected fragments, “collaging” elements that are reconstituted and mapped through light projection. The work is painted with latex wall paint.

I’m interested in creating a collage-like feel that reflects the relationship between the body and land, inside and outside, absence and presence, black mark making and flat color. Drawing becomes a tool where observation and imagination intersect.

 

What role did Yuqi and Jill play in the project?

SA: Yuqi has been my wonderful co-op over the past five months. She was very excited to participate in the installation right from the beginning. She is my rock and a joy to work with. Jill has been a student of mine over the last two years or so. At the end of the spring semester, I sent out an email asking if any one student was interested in participating. Jill responded immediately. I was delighted, since I’d observed her work ethic and painting ability and knew she’d be great! They both came in as assistants. Yuqi helped in getting the image onto the wall. Then both Yuqi and Jill assisted with painting. It took us four days working from 9am to 5pm or 6pm. They both have a remarkable amount of focus and energy.

 

How does your role as a teacher inform your art-making?

SA: I think it’s an ebb and flow between studio work informing my teaching, and then teaching, and my students, informing my studio work. I couldn’t teach without the experience of being in the studio. I develop particular exercises for my teaching from struggles and celebration within the studio. At times I find solutions or get ideas through discussions with my students about their own work, struggles and celebrations. I suppose in part it’s about focus and attention. It’s hard not to be influenced by what one focuses on, for example, teaching color influenced my use of color; teaching drawing helped me understand the identity of mark making and the singularity of media.

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How did you start working with Sophia?

Jill Rosenberg : I have taken Drawing, 2D Foundations, and Color with Sophia. All these classes were required for my major but I kept electing to take classes with Sophia because I enjoyed them so much.

Yuqi Huang: I met Sophia because I was looking for a co-op experience. I found the part-time job she posted online, and I really wanted to go for it. So I contacted her and asked if she could make the job full-time. She is very nice, and she asked me to bring examples of art work I had done to see my ability. The results turned out quite well. I really enjoyed talking with her about the job, and what we were going to do for the next six months.

What was it like to work on the installation at Gallery NAGA?

JR: It was a great opportunity to finally use concepts learned in class in something much bigger outside of the classroom. Also, it was interesting to get to talk to other artists working on installations about what they do for careers and the opportunities there are right here in Boston. I loved seeing how everyone’s work came together in the end to make one show even thought there were many different processes.

YH: It was exciting! I hadn’t done any wall painting before. It was a fantastic experience to work with Sophia and Jill, and the other artists who did installations at the same time as we did. I learned a lot not only from Sophia in the last five months, but also from the other artists in the exhibition. The way they created their artwork on the wall is so amazing. Every piece of their work contains a certain meaning. They worked so hard. Also, the directors Meg White and Andrea Dabrila from Gallery NAGA helped us a lot during the installation. I felt so lucky to have met all of them, and learned from them. I would like to thank all the people who made the effort to make this group exhibition so successful. Thank you for giving me this unforgettable experience.

What are your plans for the future?

JR: I would love to have my own studio space someday and be lucky enough to get a job that I love. For now, though, I’ll be returning to Northeastern for classes in the fall. It was a great opportunity and fun to take part in and makes me motivated to go back to school and learn as much as I can.

YH: In the future, I want to be a fashion designer so I am looking forward to learning figurative drawing and how to sew clothes as part of my minor. I know it is always hard to keep our dreams alive, but eventually it will come true if we try our best to make it happen.

All photos by Yuqi Huang.