A graphic novel by Tess Banta ’16, a documentary film by Sarah Jordan '16 and portraits of place by Zoe Vayer ’16 are all featured in this year's Studio Honors Exhibition. The exhibition opens with a reception on Tuesday, April 26, at 4:30 p.m. in Eli Marsh Gallery, Fayerweather Hall, and remains on view through Sunday, May 22.
Written and illustrated by Banta, It Girl is an original story about an artificially intelligent robot set 150 years in the future. It’s Banta’s first foray into science-fiction writing, which she says helped propel the story in new and exciting ways. “I wanted to write about a future that isn’t so different from today,” Banta says, “but the differences are jarring.”
A double major in studio art and law, jurisprudence and social thought, Banta says she created the comic as a way of merging her artistic interests with other course topics. “It’s similar to why I decided to go to Amherst instead of art school,” she says. “I wanted a combination of art and academics.”
Working with professors Carol Keller, Dave Gloman, Amity Gaige and Martha Umphrey, Banta drafted a 120–page script that she pared down to 17 illustrated pages. Though she’s written comics before, Banta says, “This is the first time it’s really about storytelling. … The story has academic undertones, but really, I wanted it to be readable.”
Banta used a cyber tablet to illustrate the script in Photoshop. “What I’m doing digitally is drawing and painting,” she says. Starting with black line drawings, Banta layered in colors to create texture, highlights and shading. “The most important thing with a comic,” she says, “is that various scenes on the same pages have to be cohesive.”
As part of the exhibition, 13 large-scale printouts from It Girl are on view. Scenes from the comic are also available on Banta’s blog: itgirlcomic.tumblr.com.
“Face blindness is a condition in which you’re unable to recognize people,” Jordan says as a way of introducing her senior thesis. “The scientific term is prosopagnosia, and it’s an interesting phenomenon because recognizing faces is so innate and we are so dependent on it that we sort of take it for granted.”
Jordan’s 20-minute documentary, Recognition, details her sister’s struggle with face blindness, as told through a series of interviews with family, friends and experts in the field. Jordan, who majors in art and the history of art, spent much of the past year traveling to her hometown in Westchester County, N.Y., mainly conducting interviews with her sister. “The camera facilitated so many conversations we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” she says.
The biggest challenge, Jordan says, is paring hundreds of hours of footage down to 20 minutes. “Creating the narrative has been really hard,” she says.
Recognition is one of multiple videos Jordan has created while at Amherst. Last year, Jordan and fellow students Meghan McDonough ’16 and Khalil Flemming ’16 founded a production company called Pioneer Creative, whose projects include the video series Show and Tell, featuring individual Amherst students telling personal stories through inanimate objects, as well as videos created for various groups on campus.
This year, Jordan and McDonough proposed a film series about LGBTQ “artivists” and were subsequently awarded a Projects for Peace Fellowship. Jordan and McDonough will travel to Argentina next year to work on the series. “The projects I work on are socially motivated,” Jordan says, “and are part of causes I care about.”
In addition to being on view in the exhibition, Recognition will be screened at a special event on Friday, April 29, at 6 p.m. in Stirn Auditorium. The event will also feature a screening of a documentary by McDonough, a film and media studies major, titled Connected.
A double major in studio art and environmental studies, Vayer says she’s fascinated by the way people interact with their environment, and finds the idea of “place” to be a major source of inspiration.
“Photography is a way for me to interact with things I’m interested in,” she says. In high school, Vayer was a photographer for the school newspaper and yearbook. “Not only was I given the chance to show my work,” she says, “I was given the responsibility to capture things.”
Vayer has spent much of her time at Amherst doing just that. She’s taken a photo course nearly every semester, and, as part of her senior thesis, spent much of the past year photographing the landscape and agriculture of North Fork, N.Y., a small town located near the tip of Long Island. “I’m trying to illustrate what makes this community special and unique,” Vayer says of the project. While much of Long Island has been developed, Vayer says North Fork has remained relatively pristine, quiet and natural.
She describes the photographs as “portraits of a place,” and considers each photo to be “a piece of the whole.” Rich in color, texture and composition, the photographs illuminate the fisherman, farmers and scientists working in North Fork to foster sustainable lifestyles, as well as the physical landscape of the town. “I wanted to intrigue the viewer so that they would want to go themselves,” Vayer says. After taking hundreds of photos of the town, Vayer pared them down to 60 and compiled them in a book, titled Soil & Salt.
In addition to the book, the exhibition features large-scale copies of five of Vayer’s photographs.
The exhibition remains on view in the Eli Marsh Gallery, 105 Fayerweather Hall, through Sunday, May 22. Open hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.