2019 is a big year for SCAD.
It’s the university's 40th anniversary as well as the 10th anniversary of one of its signature events, deFINE ART.
The highly anticipated event this year features 14 exhibitions, including SCAD ’96 alum Monica Cook in the Emerging Artist Gallery. SCAD will also honor renowned conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner and present the annual SCAD 40 prize to artist Le’Andra LeSeur.
We spoke with curator Humberto Moro and featured artist Monica Cook about this year’s deFINE ART.
Tell me about how you chose the featured deFINE artists this year.
Moro: The exhibiting artist that you will find at the SCAD Museum of Art for this coming deFINE ART 2019 are the result of a thoughtful and deep conversation within the curatorial department at the museum. Along with executive director Kari Herin, head curator Storm Janse van Rensburg, assistant curator Ben Tollefson, and ongoing guidance from SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace, we devote a substantial time of work to research and discussion of the program and how it communicates with SCAD students and the Savannah community at large. We are constantly exploring what discourses and artistic practices are relevant and why, and how can these enrich the pedagogical process of SCAD.
There is a lot of thought and many people evaluating what to exhibit each year for this significant arts event. There’s something incredible that arises when you visit both SCAD Museum of Art and SCAD FASH Museum in Atlanta, as you discover the nuances between artists and artworks. This year’s deFINE ART has international artists from around the world visiting both of SCAD’s Georgia campuses. These artists will be exhibiting, performing, and in-conversation providing valuable interaction and exposure for SCAD students, alumni, and our university’s local communities.
How does it feel for SCAD to be marking its 10th year of deFINE?
I think that SCAD has incredibly solid signature events that mark the life of thousands of students. For generations they remember the excitement about the deFINE week and connecting with artists and witnessing practices that would be otherwise inaccessible to them.
For example, I just met two SCAD alumni who graduated a few years ago, and they were telling me about the different exhibitions and interactions they remember from deFINE ART 2014, and how that impacted their process while studying here. Learning about these invaluable experiences makes me aware of all the work and dedication that SCAD has provided and how that truly translates in life lasting experiences. I have not been here for the entire decade of deFINE, but it is wonderful to currently be part of this important event.
SCAD is also celebrating its 40th anniversary.
It is remarkable what President Wallace and SCAD has accomplished in these past 40 years. The university has launched the creative careers of thousands of students as well as provided significant economic impact and arts and design exposure to all of the university’s local communities. It is very special to be part of this significant anniversary and I’m looking forward to what is yet to come.
What are you especially excited for the SCAD community to see at deFINE?
All our shows reveal an outstanding perspective. I am particularly excited for Carla Fernández and Pedro Reyes’ exhibition. They are life partners whose work come from their own dynamic artistic universe—Carla from fashion, and Pedro from contemporary art and design—their exhibition presents artworks, garments, films, music records, and a plethora of objects. The artists make a strong statement about the logic of contemporary life, consumption and blur preconditions about what the relationship between art and life should be. They think about the transmission of culture, the role of technology and the transformative power that art has in our society.
What can attendees expect?
I’m very proud to say that the SCAD Museum of Art is has one of the most cutting-edge, innovative museum programs in the U.S. We are bringing exhibitions that really represent a diversity of voices, nationalities and life visions. The international artists provide attendees with numerous mediums to explore. We also have amazing shows from leading SCAD alumni at both of our campuses that will be on display. Visitors can expect to experience exhibitions and programming at the level of any other art capital in the world, discussing important matters of our time.
I believe that you are never the same when you have a meaningful experience, and I hope that SCAD students and visitors are amused, entertained, questioned, moved, and thrilled by the exhibitions.
Tell me about your time at SCAD.
Cook: I graduated in '96, and I studied painting. When I was probably a couple semesters into painting, I started dabbling in fibers. When I was in school, fibers and painting were in the same building, so I started eking over into fibers because I saw all these cool things they were doing. I asked my advisor if I could switch over to fibers, and I was a little too far in to make the switch, but SCAD was really open to me experimenting.
I took some classes [in fibers] and I just loved the materiality of it. I’d be the only one doing sculpture in my painting classes. It was great—they were open enough, and I feel like they all feed each other. And there are certain materials that can say what you need to say better than others.
You use animals frequently in your work. What’s the motivation?
That’s something I’ve carried through my work for a while. I think it comes from when I was a little girl and I lived in San Diego, and my mom took me to the zoo. They had this little monkey hospital with little baby monkeys who weren’t fully developed, and there were incubators and hats for them. As a little girl, my biggest dream for most of my young life was to be one of those monkey nurses, and I spent most of my adult life making monkeys that needed nursing.
How else does that nurture manifest in your work?
I found this street sweeper piece and I was fascinated with the material of it. I collect materials, and when I found the piece it reminded me of a whale baleen. I designed this boat based off the street sweeper, and I was doing research on whales at the time. I made molds of corn and cast it in rubber and it looked like the inside of the whale’s mouth.
It’s important for me to take objects that I find interesting and transform them in a way for people to see what has drawn me to them, to have people see it a new way.
When did you begin working with glass?
I got a fellowship at UrbanGlass in Brooklyn. They give three artists the funds and a year’s time to be able to work with glass. They take people who don’t know anything about glass. It’s something that always felt out of reach to me—it’s very expensive and seemed very scary. I worked with borosilicate. It’s a different type of glass than what you would think of when blowing glass.
It’s beautiful because you’re sculpting it with your breath. It’s my new love, for sure. I feel like glass has that connotation of being really precious. I wanted to try to find a way I could bring it in and take the preciousness out, where it felt like it was more excavated or part of something bigger, had a little less power.
Glass is so fragile but it’s so strong. I wanted [the pieces] to feel familiar in one way and alien in another way. They hold a power of some kind of a purpose that’s not really defined.