Emerson Scholar Erin Shapiro ’08 Addresses Perception via Sculpture

This is "an investigation into various questions of perception and understanding," wrote studio arts and English major Erin Shapiro '08 in her February proposal. Four months later, she has an Emerson grant to work on a sculptural exploration of natural elements, concentrating on the relationship between art, materials and audience reaction. She will work with Assistant Professor of Art Rebecca Murtaugh.

Shapiro approached this project with a fascination with the dynamic of man-made and natural materials in sculpture installations. Even when a finished work depicts an entirely natural subject, the materials are, in many instances, synthetic. How, she asked, would the meaning of a given work change were it constructed entirely of natural materials?

The relationship between art and the place where it is exhibited also intrigues Shapiro. What happens to a piece of natural sculpture when it is shown in the clearly defined "sterile" gallery space? This part of Shapiro's research will be addressed in the culmination of the project: an art exhibition at Hamilton in which she will show her pieces in a variety of locations both indoors and outdoors.

Her summer work currently concentrates on natural elements. Shapiro is working in her own studio ("it's really my garage") with natural materials gathered around her home in Red Lake, New York. At the moment, she added, she is using a drill, chisel and sledge-hammer to hollow out a tree-stump. She plans to put a mirror in the bottom and then fill the hole with water to make a reflection pool.

Although presently focused on the reflecting pool, Shapiro hopes to do several additional pieces based on tree stumps. Another focus is negative space. She fills various natural holes with plaster and plans to use the resulting shapes as part of an indoor exhibit, "bringing negative space inside," she explained.

  first time researcher, Shapiro is enjoying her summer. "I'm really connected to the material I'm working with," she explained. Working with something natural and very tactile, like wood, means that the artist learns to "respect the material." Of the experience, she said, "it's really a great opportunity to focus" and, for Shapiro, to begin to investigate topics for a senior project.

Shapiro's research this summer is funded by the Emerson Foundation Grant Program, which provides students with significant opportunities to work collaboratively with faculty mentors, researching an area of mutual interest. Recipients typically undertake some combination of fieldwork, laboratory investigation, library research and the development of teaching materials. A public presentation of their findings is required of all Emerson Scholars during the academic year.

 - Lisbeth Redfield

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