By Christina Drain
What do history and welding have in common? Or classics and medicine? Those topics were seemingly eclectic faculty pairings in past lectures on Double Take at the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Amanda Potter, educator for public and university programs at the Wex, is the mastermind behind the collaborative concoctions. When an exhibit is booked that will lend itself to interpretation from different perspectives, Potter begins to comb the university department websites, looking for faculty who might be able to provide a unique angle on the art.
“I look at, ‘What is the conceptual vision, what is the artist thinking about?’ and then I follow some threads from the department’s homepage to end up on some faculty member’s page,” she said. “I typically go outside the art department because I could have someone from the art department as a part of every talk.”
It’s Potter’s unique pairings that make the program exceptional. For the exhibition featuring metal sculptor David Smith, Potter paired David Stebenne from the Department of History and the Moritz College of Law and John Lippold from the Welding Engineering program in the Department of Material Science and Engineering.
“Welding Engineering was a department I didn’t even know we had,” Potter said. “Lippold talked about the technology Smith used, how welding works and the technological advances in welding.”
Richard Fletcher, Greek and Latin Classics instructor, and a Double Take speaker with Theatre professor Stratos Constantinidis for a 2011 exhibit featuring artist Elliott Hundley, now incorporates exhibits in some of his courses. Students recently visited the Towards a Light Club, The Clock and More American Photographs exhibits to write an essay for Fletcher’s Ancient Philosophy Here and Now class. The students were to relate the contemporary art with ancient pre-Socratic philosophers, Plato’s analogies or Aristotle’s politics.
“What I find out is that some students are terrified about art; they think they can’t make the connections because they don’t know anything about art, but some really like the opportunity to think outside that box,” Fletcher said.
Professors who have participated in the lectures say it brings together disciplines and departments in productive ways.
“It’s the ‘One University’ mindset,” Fletcher said. “That everything we do here is connected, whether its classics, welding engineering, history or contemporary art.”
John Vaughn, a physician at Student Health Services and professor of Family Medicine, lectured with Classics Professor Julia Nelson Hawkins for last fall’s Double Take on Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow. Discussion centered on ancient and modern thinking on illness and healing. Nelson Hawkins, who is writing a book on medical imagery in Augustan poetry, recruited Vaughn because of his work in narrative medicine.
“Everyone talks about collaboration on campus, but when it comes to doing it, that becomes difficult,” Vaughn said. “I think the Wexner Center, being this really unique asset that Ohio State has in the community, the fact that they are doing this is huge.”
Some of Szapocznikow’s 100 works of art exhibited depicted “tumors” composed of resin, gauze and crumpled newspapers in grotesque shapes that she imagined as she battled breast cancer, which eventually ended her life.
Vaughn and Nelson Hawkins encountered an unexpected response from a member of the audience during the Szapocznikow lecture. As they were winding up the lecture, a gentleman asked if he could read a poem he had written. He had visited the exhibit in the weeks before and it had a profound effect on him as his wife had also died from cancer.
“He was crying,” Vaughn said. “This art installation really impacted him. It kind of brought together the academic side with humanities, me as a physician in student health and this gentleman who was a member of the community who came just to hear this. It was everything it was supposed to be, the university reaching out and bringing some impact to the community at large.”