MFA Faculty Adriane Herman

'To do' lists highlight the ever-evolving line between wants and needs.

What differentiates MECA from your own college and grad school experience?
MECA’s intimate scale facilitates symbiotic flow between faculty and students. Of course, significant connections evolve at all schools. However, I doubt I had nearly the influence on my instructors in college or grad school that my extraordinary students have on me. They continually enrich my life and expand my views of how art functions for us individually and culturally, ever-increasing the consciousness I bring to teaching, making, and being.

Was there a professor who stands out in your mind as having influenced you?
One salient influence was Stanley Lewis. After studying drawing with him, I avidly took his painting classes, which included a good dose of art history. Like me, Lewis thinks and speaks in non-linear fashion, so he issued me a series of permission slips. He went beyond teacher to mentor for me while some peers chafed against his teaching style. No teacher can be all things to all students, or perhaps not even one thing to all students. However, when a teacher’s emitters hit a given student’s receptors, that artist can take what is received and run with it, likely being further ignited by something another instructor, peer, or influential experience offers down the line, and in turn inspiring others. The whole deal is a marvelous Rube Goldbergian delight.

Why do you work in the medium you do?
I make mountains out of molehills and traffic in human aspirations, tastes, and accomplishments, choosing media best suited to a given concept. “To do” lists highlight the ever-evolving line between wants and needs, with wilder fluctuations across cultural borders. What may be a pressing need in one part of the world, such as potable water or access to health care, may not even be on the radar for someone where such things are taken for granted until an emergency. By examining the lists others make, my viewers often identify with some of the wants or needs of other people. Small details hand-written on the list of a stranger might remind us of the struggles others have that we don’t, or perhaps challenges we have surmounted, generating compassion for others and ourselves.

What do you do when you hit a creative wall?
Sorry, that question does not compute. I hit lots of walls—few of them creative. Yes, they are constructed, but most (if not all) of them are illusions.

How do global events and issues, whether contemporary or past, inform your practice?
I research what humans do with their time, energy, and attention today. Global events and issues take a lot of those three resources to absorb, yet they can also infuse us with energy as well as clarify priorities. That in turn certainly trickles down to our “to do” lists. I mine the extraordinary by immersing myself in the [purportedly] ordinary.

Have you ever worked / presented outside of the U.S.?
For a 2008 exhibition organized by Professor Ling-Wen Tsai called The Crossing of Time and Environment, in Toshei Village, Taiwan, I issued a call for photos of plastic bags snagged in trees and implicated myself as part of the problem by laminating images I gathered, and hanging them in trees on the “chosen barren land” where installation occurred. Recently I was invited to design a two-sided banner installed on lampposts in tiny towns in Denmark. The website ET4U.DK documents this exciting public art project bringing diverse work— much of it politically charged—to quiet streets traveled by tractors, school buses, bicyclists, and families turning into their driveways. I only understood the magnitude and potential of this project by walking the streets of these towns this summer. Seeing work virtually is simply not a full-bodied substitute for experiencing it in the flesh, and I encourage students to experience art directly.

What country, that you have never visited, would you like to visit?
The red and black palette of my inlaid burnishing clay panels derives from ancient Greek ceramics. I would love to find some lists hand-written today in Greek, a language we associate with ancient times and remote priorities, and yet spoken and written today in a country experiencing economic upheaval and thus constantly shifting priorities. I also welcome any lists readers wish to mail me care of MECA!