Summoning Sojourners

It's the start of the "Solstice" over in Green Hall.
It's the start of the "Solstice" over in Green Hall. // Annelisa Leinbach

“Okay, but what do you want me to do about it?” I ask the woman in the pink dress. She stares tiredly at me, her head resting on her fist. There’s a man in a white and blue polo shirt leaning in behind her, his lips parted just a few inches from her ear as he sweeps her hair aside. I’ve trespassed — I’m embarrassed, and I apologize. And then I remind her (and myself) that her moment is suspended from a white wall by thumbtacks and binder clips. I’m grateful to be off the hook.

It’s easy to forget that my feet are planted firmly on the scuffed gray floor of the Yale School of Art’s “Solstice” Undergraduate Art Show. The exhibit, on view until Oct. 4, features pieces from undergraduate art majors and summer session students. There are a few names, titles and project descriptions taped up around the gallery, but the theme is left undefined. “Solstice” is a celebration of individual journeys brought together on crisp white walls beneath soft white lights. It is a successful quest for moments that harness everyday beauty. I’m not sure where to start, so when a young man passes through the gallery, his arms laden with papers, I ask him if he’s affiliated with the exhibit. He pauses for a long moment, and then smiles timidly and shakes his head. And so I set off unguided on my sojourn to meet the lady in the pink dress and all her friends.

The upper part of the gallery is dedicated to work from undergraduate art majors and Norfolk summer session students. Their pieces are playful, nostalgic, awestruck, caught-in-the-act, corporal. Down the wall from the woman in pink, a comic page by Madeleine Witt ’15 narrates the tale of a successful local video store. There’s a floor-to-ceiling sketch of what appears to be a dinosaur, a photograph of a man with his fist stuffed into his mouth and a series of paintings of a young woman wearing a tank top that bears the word, “Tender-Loin.” The Norfolk summer session pieces include an emphasis on found objects, as in Martina Crouch’s ’14 unnervingly extensive display of “Selected Photographs and Postcards of Marion Christ.”

The lower level of the gallery features projects from the Auvillar summer session. Here, the focus is architectural — each student investigated a motif, such as a piece of wood, a brick wall or an arched entryway. I had the opportunity to speak with Auvillar session artist Mariah Xu ’16, who identified her pieces around the room and her contemplation of an art studio window and the journey toward it. “It’s the idea of wanting to go somewhere,” she explains as she points out the foreboding obstacles looming before the window in one of her pieces. I’m tempted to tread down those shadowed floorboards, past the stacked cardboard sheets, toward the narrow white window in the distance of this moment she has brought back from Auvillar.

When I walk back up the stairs into the upper floor of the gallery, a pair of beckoning black-and-white photographs calls me in. The first image captures two young men sitting in the urban shadows of a decaying building. One of them peers out at me from beneath the drooping hood of his white sweatshirt. Unlike the woman in the pink dress, he doesn’t seem to want anything from me; instead, he just watches me pass. To the right is an image of a third young man, sitting on a concrete bench beside the highway and staring into the darkness beneath. I’d like to think that he, too, is a sojourner, peering into the human and the architectural everyday to find the beautiful. He sees something in this moment of his own journey, and it has captured his imagination. This inquiry is what the “Solstice” artists have done so well.

We, too, can be sojourners. Go visit the young men sitting in the shadows. Go marvel at those arches from Auvillar. Go support the undergraduate artists who stapled up their work and their travels for us to explore in the silence of those clean white lights. And when you meet the woman in the pink dress, please give her my best regards, and say, “Hey, you’re not alone. I see you.”

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