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Final site-specific art projects critiqued by renowned environmental artist

RELEASED: Dec. 15, 2010

EAU CLAIRE — Art majors from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire recently displayed their final projects for a new sculpture course. Roy Staab, an environmental artist who visited campus in late September to work on an installation with students and faculty from the department of art & design, returned to campus to critique their work.

Laura Kelleher's final project, "Drunk Actions"
Laura Kelleher's final project, titled "Drunk Actions"

"Site-Specific Art," a new course taught by Jason Lanka, assistant professor of art & design, culminated in a final project in which students used all they learned about intervening at a site and creating a piece to convey their vision or statement in a public setting.

"Site-specific art is about learning to work with your space and problem solving. It's different from the gallery model of displaying artwork and I think it's important that students are exposed to this and can see that it can be a viable way to make a living," said Lanka.

Roy Staab with students on tour of art
Visiting artist Roy Staab returned to critique students' work. Roy, Laura Kelleher, Dan Olson, Kyle Pherson, and Ivan Ventzke walk the bike path to discuss Ventzke's installation.

When Staab led an installation on the Chippewa River at the university footbridge, the river was at a flood stage, necessitating some changes in order to work with nature.

"It was a great moment," Lanka said. "We get a lot of visiting artists, but with Roy the students had a relationship with him after working with him. Their final project was not just a critique but a dialogue among artists."

Staab said he was proudly surprised by the work of the students he met during his September visit and commended them for experimenting.

"In some cases it was their first presentation of their art to a person like me," Staab said, making special mention of senior Kim Vaughter, Stevens Point, for her initiative in the research of her paintings and senior Dan Olson, Bloomington, Minn., for his exploration of carbon footprint in a series of ceramic cups.

"This was artwork out of the garret and before an audience, which is an important idea, because many of the works required participation. It was a good day; a thinking day."

Much of the work of senior Kyle Pherson, Cumberland, employs pixelation in 3D. His final project attempted to create a "visual dialogue" between a portrait on the wall and a sculpture in a display case that represented the objectification and hypersexuality of female figures in contemporary media.

"Through the use of found objects and imagery within the piece I am attempting to raise awareness and inform the viewer as to the methods the video game industry employs in order to represent so-called 'female ideality,'" Pherson said.

Senior Ivan Ventzke, Merrill, chose left-handedness as his project theme, hoping that participants would experience what left-handed people go through while living in a world dominated by right-handedness.

"I have definitely developed as an artist because of this course," Ventzke said. "Site specific art allows the artist to take art to the viewer, making its placement just as much a part of the work as the object or objects. This is exciting because it opens up so many opportunities for the artist to voice their ideas or opinions."

Site-specific art has come to the forefront over the past 30 years, in part due to corporations commissioning work as an investment or a public service, or an artist wanting to make a statement or assist with a specific cultural group. It has its roots in the creation of monuments, which commemorate specific sites tied to events or people, and often elicit an emotional response from visitors.

"But where the monument tends to control and alter the site, site-specific art is a more focused integration with site," said Lanka. "The tendency in site-specific art is to create a piece that is impermanent."

According to Lanka, the form does not identify with a particular medium, but instead utilizes the artist's creativity to communicate with the general public in the natural world. Much of Lanka's work is in the category of site-specific artwork and may be viewed on his website. The course is offered every third semester.

For more information, contact Jason Lanka, assistant professor of art & design, at



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