Arts & Culture

The Arsenale

2 min read

VES student thesis exhibit displays intimacy, ingenuity, humor

“Provocative” — one of the most-used words to describe art — may be an understatement for “The Arsenale,” the thesis exhibition for students in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, held at the Carpenter Center.

“The first time I kissed a guy,” reads a framed sheet of notebook paper, “I told my mom that it totally grossed me out, and she was like ‘You have to chill out.’”

This excerpt is one of 15 anonymous retellings of how parents broached the subject of sex with their children. Anna Cecilia Smith ’09 collected the personal stories, which ranged from oddly sweet to downright bizarre — but all funny, embarrassing, and cannily relatable. One writer felt resentment after his parents finally filled him in on the birds and the bees: “Wait a second. They didn’t tell me this for 12 years? What else are they hiding?”

“It’s so hard to talk about; it comes from all different directions,” said Smith of her work to one enthusiastic viewer who exclaimed, “It’s so compelling!”

“Compelling” — another art word that rings true here.

Of Smith’s three large exhibits, it’s difficult to name a favorite. There’s the portraits of her friends dressed as saints, or, alternatively, the portraits of her friends dressed as pregnant schoolgirls.

The exhibition also features work by Sabrina Chou ’09, including a wooden desk littered with beer bottles and, contrastingly, rubber stamps; and an ethereal animated film by Cydney Gray ’09. In one of senior Amy Lien’s pieces, stacks of books by authors like Proust and Nietzsche are piled between Harvard library volumes, a walking cane placed on top like a wonderful, nonsensical wedding cake. The collages of Sally Rinehart ’09 straddle an entire wall of the Sert Gallery — including a tiny, memorable installation of a framed whisper-pink pair of Victoria’s Secret panties, fake eyelashes, and the headline “Talking Won’t Spoil The Romance.”

Featuring the works of Chou, Camille Graves ’08, Gray, Lien, Christen Leigh McDuffee ’08, Rinehart, John Selig ’09, Nick Shearer ’09, Smith, and Lisa Vastola ’09, “The Arsenale” is on display through June 4 in the Carpenter Center.