Artist returns to talk craft

Anna-Geskell_work
Photo by Anna Geskell.

Photographs of snow, sunlight and children in dark funeral outfits served as the backdrop to a Tuesday lecture at Green Hall by visiting artist in photography Anna Gaskell ART ’95.

Gaskell spoke about depicting movement and narrative in images to an audience of 20 graduate students in photography studying with professor Gregory Crewdson. The artist discussed two series of photographs and a 30-minute film, presenting and commenting on each work in turn.

The first collection of pictures Gaskell showed, called “Turns Gravity,” dates from 2010 and is the artist’s take on a cult, she said.

“The children in the photographs are struggling between being [indoctrinated] or not,” Gaskell said. She added that snow and the all-black clothing are meant to convey spiritual bankruptcy in a recognizable landscape.

The second series comprised photographs of fighting ballerinas, reflecting a pursuit of perfection in dance that Gaskell said she finds disturbing but intriguing.

“What I find fascinating here is the femininity of a dancer,” she said. “In ballet, there’s such a thing as ‘perfect.’ You don’t have that in any other art form.”

She added that this work is still developing, noting that she only took the photographs last week.

Gaskell said she took her first foray into the representation of dancing with the movie “SOSW Ballet,” which she played for the audience. She made the film by staging a ballet with special needs children between the ages of eight and eighteen at the Special School of Podgórki in Poland, which she visited last October at a friend’s suggestion. This school had particular resonance for her, Gaskell said, because she felt that it represented the blossoming of acceptance for those with special needs in Poland.

“I was excited about how the kids didn’t know what they couldn’t do,” she said. “And since I don’t speak Polish and they don’t speak English, dance [seemed to be] the most organic way to make something with them.”

Gaskell said that film and still photography serve different purposes in her work as an artist. While photography allows the viewer a glimpse of a scene, inviting him or her to build around it in their heads, Gaskell said video helps her when she has a broader message that cannot be communicated via still work.

The artist said that while she varies her media, she consistently shows an interest in depicting children as symbols in her art.

“Kids bring a lot to the work in a way adults can’t, just because you can’t control them. There’s always the risk of an accident,” Gaskell said. “I love how they’re doing whatever the hell they want to do, and so it doesn’t look so staged.”

Because of this aversion to photographs that appear staged, Gaskell said she would hate to work with a professional actor.

While Gaskell did not reveal the specific details of her next project, she did say that it would involve working with a choreographer again, this time to perform Vaslav Nijinsky’s dances from “The Rite of Spring” in both a film and an actual performance.

Gaskell has shown her work at museums such as the Guggenheim and the Brooklyn Museum in New York and received the award for Best Documentary Short Film at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.

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