Q+A with Shelby Johnston, undergraduate in Art History
Thu. January 28, 2016
How did you learn about the Undergraduate Research Fellowship and what was the process of applying like for you? Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do?
Shelby Johnston: Dr. Ann Johns, my thesis adviser, recommended I apply for the Undergraduate Research Fellowship. In addition, I discussed the process with Jessica Thompson, an art history major who had received the fellowship the prior year. In August I started on the application. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do and needed to see how that corresponded with my thesis, which helped me in the application process.
What sites or artifacts were most important for you to visit? How does the in-person experience of your research topics change or influence your ideas?
SJ: I was in Siena, Italy for the majority of my trip, but I also took a day trip to Pienza. The sites that were the most important for me to see were the Piccolomini Library, which is located in Siena’s Duomo, the façade in Piccolomini Square, and the Palazzo Piccolomini in Pienza.
My senior thesis is on Pope Pius II and his legacy in Siena and how his patronage affected the city. The in-person experience is so different from researching online and looking at photos from books. Art History and art historical research so heavily relies on the visual aspect of things and being able to see Pius II’s projects as well as the Piccolomini Library in person greatly benefited my thesis research, especially since Pius describes all of his projects in his Commentarii. There are certain details that you cannot retain from seeing a photo or reading about a place. Being able to actually walk around these places you can make your own observations and that can influence your ideas. Pius II’s descriptions have more meaning now that I have seen some of the places he describes. For example Pius II describes the view of Mount Amiata from the Palazzo Piccolomini loggia in Pienza and compares it to Petrarch’s Mont Ventoux. If I had not seen this view myself how could I truly understand Pius II’s inspiration?
What was the funniest or most surprising experience during your travel?
SJ: Well, Italy is always bound to be an adventure. When traveling there during the off-season not as many restaurants are open and different sites and buses don’t have their normal hours. Probably the most surprising thing that happened occurred on a day trip from Siena to Pienza. Normally the bus first stops outside of Pienza and then again in the square just outside the medieval gate. Of course it being the off-season the bus did not make its second stop.
By the time we were leaving Pienza I realized the bus wasn’t stopping and ended up getting out at the next stop and spending that day in Montepulciano instead. However, this mishap turned into a wonderful day nonetheless. We met Adamo the owner of Cantina Contucci who is featured in Rick Steves’ travel books on Italy. He was delightful and gave us a personal tour of his winery.
SJ: I will finish writing my senior thesis “Pope Pius II: The Building of a Legacy in Siena” and present it at the Undergraduate Art History Symposium in April.
Q+A with Eugenie Scrase, Royal College of Art exchange student in Sculpture
Tue. November 24, 2015
What has been the most surprising experience of your time in Austin so far?
Eugenie Scrase: I was surprised to see so many people riding bikes around Austin. As an ardent cyclist back in London I was so happy to see such a strong love for it here in Austin too. I had never seen bike racks on the front of buses either (not even in Copenhagen!); I’ll be pushing that idea onto the mayor of London when I get back to the UK!
In your work, which media do you find yourself working with most? Why do these fit your practices best?
ES: I mostly work in sculpture and film. The metal workshop in the Department of Art and Art History is brilliant—as are the technicians there. I’ve just come back from a week long road trip across Texas over to White Sands National Preserve in New Mexico. Along the way I chose particular locations to shoot some film footage that I’m now editing.
Writing plays a huge role in my practice. Along with drawing, it enables me to percolate thoughts and ideas.
Would you describe the themes that you work with? What drives your interest in them?
ES: I often use the term ‘Haptic Visuality’ or ‘Hapicity’ to describe my practice. It is sensuous imagery that evokes memory of the senses (i.e. water, nature); depicting acute states of sensory activity (smelling, sniffing, tasting, etc.). The haptic
image is in a sense, ‘less complete’, requiring the viewer to contemplate the image as a material presence rather than an easily identifiable representational cog in a narrative wheel.
This has stemmed from my previous research into the Phenomenology of Landscape—our perceptions of landscape and our movement within it.
As part of the UT < > RCA exchange program, you will present an exhibition. When and where will your exhibition be on view?
ES: It’s going to be in one of the Long Horn Stadium Squash Courts. I’m immensely excited to have to opportunity to be showing work in a space so heavily associated with the human body. There are some stunning marks on the court’s walls made by the contact of ricocheting squash balls. The date hasn’t been set yet. I’m anticipating it opening in the first week of December.
Inaugural Seminars on Site course completes study abroad trip
Thu. October 29, 2015
This fall, the Department of Art and Art History piloted its first semester of Seminars on Site, a new course supported by the Kimbell Art Foundation. The seminar, entitled Architecture and Decoration in Pre-modern Rome: Patronage, Politics, and the Past, was offered to graduate Art History students and taught by Penelope Davies and Joan Holladay.
After their trip, the students described their experience via email. Don't miss this photo album documenting their trip!
Our trip to Rome provided us students with an opportunity that few students of art history receive in their academic careers: the chance to study architectural monuments in person, particularly with two of the greatest experts in the fields of ancient Roman and medieval art and decoration. We were able to fit so many site visits into these 10 days. I would enroll in the course again in a heartbeat if offered the opportunity!" — Allison Porambo
"For me it was the opportunity of a lifetime. What I found most rewarding about our experience in Rome was the ability to stand before some of the grandest monuments in the history of human endeavor and being able to make a real connection to the past, and its people through the rich visual narrative of architecture. What it has helped me to realize is that there is a vibrancy inherent in every city, an unending cycle of decay and renewal. Through the recycling of art, architectural space, one can not only reclaim the past, but through careful rearrangement also add to a city or building’s narrative, in essence giving it a life.
They say that you never truly know someone until you travel with them. The day-to-day interaction as a class in Rome afforded us the unique opportunity for discovering multi-vocalic perspectives, and an opportunity to forge friendships that will, I hope, span our academic careers. " — Christopher Wood
"Going to Rome was an incredible experience. This was my first visit to the city—and to Italy—and I feel so fortunate to have had such amazingly knowledgeable tour guides. While the long days were pretty exhausting, and my feet haven’t entirely forgiven me, it was worth it to get to see the multi-layered fragments of Ancient and Medieval Rome up close and within the living city, and to see the unforgettable views of the landscape from atop the seven hills and through the windows of historic monuments like the Colosseum and Castel San Angelo." — Shana Thompson
"The trip to Rome was absolutely amazing. Seeing the monuments themselves added an indescribable layer of depth to my overall understanding of Roman life in the ancient and medieval periods. It was an unforgettable experience!" — Katrina Erni
"The trip to Rome was incomparable! We learned so much about so many different places in such a short time span that it was truly a whirlwind! By far my favorite monument was the Pantheon. (I've attached a photo of it at night) We discussed it in such great detail that I never imagined I could learn so much about a place I thought I was familiar with." — Sally Topping
"Walking among Rome’s urban landscape provided an understanding of the physical space of the city that looking at a map cannot deliver. Presenting research on a monument on-site lent weight and permanence to words that a slideshow of photographs in a classroom cannot give. The opportunity to experience the modern city and witness its integration with the ancient and medieval worlds allowed for a more complex perception of Rome and offered inspiration for future projects." — Amy Angell
"The ability to experience and interact with Roman monuments greatly altered my perception of ancient and medieval Rome. I was most impressed with the size of Rome. Although some areas of the city had a high concentration of monuments, other notable structures were much further from the city center than I previously realized. Traversing the streets of Rome provided me with a clear understanding of the city’s space during the ancient and medieval periods." — Alexandra Madsen