Art and design majors inspire exhibits at Furlong Gallery, serving as culmination to challenging year

Student Artist in Residence honorees explore AI interpreted poetry, revelations in portals
Gabs Conway. Like a Child. Wood and Ceramic.
Abbey Goers | May 6, 2021

Every spring, UW-Stout’s Furlong Gallery in Micheels Hall celebrates the creativity and discipline of students in the School of Art and Design.

From April 6 through early September, Furlong will feature two exhibits: the End of the Year SOAD Student Show in the larger space and the Student Artist in Residence in the south space.

The End of the Year show was an invited exhibit for advanced SOAD students in all fine art disciplines. In a normal scenario, it would be a juried event. This year, with the various safety protocols in place, a juried exhibit wasn’t feasible, explained Professor Bob Atwell, gallery director. So, Atwell asked faculty to help with the selection process by choosing works to showcase their students’ talents.

“Some classes have been virtual or hybrid, and the faculty know best as to who is creating the strongest and best work for their classes. I wanted it to be a bit of a culmination to a year that has been challenging,” Atwell said.

Furlong Gallery currently is open to the campus community only and has a capacity of 15 people because of the pandemic. Virtual exhibits are available to the public for the End of the Year and SAIR shows. There will be no opening reception. All university COVID regulations must be observed.

End of the Year SOAD Show

Celebrate the creativity and discipline of School of Art and Design students.

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday.

2020-21 Student Artist in Residence

The Student Artist in Residence program was created through a gift by Bud and Betty Micheels to the Stout University Foundation. Bud Micheels, for whom Micheels Hall was named, was university president from 1961 to 1972. He started the art department on campus. He and Betty were avid patrons of the arts. SAIR is part of their legacy.

Each year, the program awards two SOAD students with a grant of $2,000 each. They receive a dedicated studio and exhibition space, resulting in a body of work created over the course of the year. SOAD Director Dave Beck called the program a “prestigious and rare opportunity for college students.”

“This award is as forward-thinking and student-focused as the day it was created in 1987, supporting a vision for the intersection of art and technology,” he said. “These projects reflect a level of distinction and aesthetic normally reserved for a body of work that would be completed by a professional artist.”

This year, two studio art seniors were named Student Artist in Residence. Sarah Campbell, of Eau Claire, has concentrations in drawing and painting and is minoring in art history. Beck Slack, of St. Paul, is concentrating in photography.

Student Artist in Residence

Explore Campbell's and Slack's concepts of portals, poetry and photography.

Their SAIR exhibit is titled That ([   ]), striking many questions for gallery viewers. And that’s as it should be – art provokes thought and asks viewers to fill in the blanks based on their experiences, emotions and interactions, they said.

Susan Stori, Betty Micheels’ daughter, will meet SOAD faculty and students in a private Zoom conversation. Stori is a proud alum, with her undergraduate in fashion merchandising and master's in vocational rehabilitation.

“Great art informs, illuminates, enlightens, provokes, infuriates, soothes and reassures, distracts, inspires, challenges and galvanizes. We need it today more than ever,” Stori said. “Bud and Betty would be thrilled to know that their gift encourages students to pursue their passion to share their gifts with a world ripe for change and badly in need of inspiration.”

Slack: Collaboration is a big part of the art world

Slack, the Fine Arts Association president and Furlong Gallery student assistant, sees SAIR as an “opportunity to figure out my operations as an artist outside of an academic setting.”

2021 Student Artist in Residence Beck Slack.
2021 Student Artist in Residence Beck Slack. / UW-Stout

“It’s also a chance for me to be a role model for other students,” they said. “I want to lead our student culture and get us back to where we were before the pandemic. We need to go to each other for inspiration and collaboration. That sense of camaraderie is building back up and people are feeling connected again.”

Slack likes to explore the experimental side of photography and film. Like That ([   ]), there is a space between the conscious and subconscious. Slack’s inspiration for their artwork stems from an interest in the “autonomy of objects and how they operate outside of human touch.”

“I navigate the world’s post-industrial condition in an attempt to deconstruct my own ecological understanding through glimpses of liminal debris,” Slack wrote in their artist statement.


A hornet and ochre potter's clay turned dark blue through an oxidation process by Beck Slack.
Potter's clay turned dark blue through an oxidation process by Beck Slack. / UW-Stout

Their SAIR artwork is mix of sculpture, photography and poetry. It is composed of raw metal and concrete. A glass bench adorns a corner of the room, poised in front of a flat screen display alive with glossy swirls of red and purple. Across the room, a red light bulb burns above a mysterious tome.

Like an alchemist, Slack transformed a lump of potter’s clay by mixing it with a photographic chemical. Through the oxidation process, the ochre clay turned dark blue, like precious lapis lazuli. A dead hornet is nestled at the base of the blue clay, juxtaposing creation and destruction, art and nature in the space of a small canning jar.

A focal point of the room is a vintage orange office chair in front of a desk, spliced lengthwise and balanced on one leg. A line of notepads is arranged neatly on top. Slack enjoys an interactive gallery space, so visitors are invited to take a notebook, which contains Slack’s collaborative anthology for the artwork on the opposite gallery wall.


A vintage chair and thin table, displaying collections of Beck Slack's photography and AI interpreted poetry.
A vintage chair and thin table, displaying collections of Beck Slack's photography and AI interpreted poetry. / Beck Slack

Slack developed an artificial intelligence program with help from their computer science friends. The AI program interpreted Slack’s photographs into poetry – pulling from their own words and from the writings of other authors. The program then printed the photos and poetry onto receipt paper.

“That ([   ]) displays the literal receipts of what the AI is seeing – a machine scrolling out a list of photos and poetry,” they said. “In terms of collaborating as an artist, I don’t mind sending things out. Collaboration is a big part of the art world.”

Slack will graduate this fall. They plan to attend graduate school abroad and seek a career in art administration and curation in the Twin Cities art community.

UW-Stout’s new B.S. arts administration and entrepreneurship program begins this fall.

Campbell: Portals reveal the world to us

Standing in the center of the SAIR exhibit, a visitor might feel overwhelmed by four massive paintings, their vibrant colors and reflective surfaces flowing in a continuum from one canvas to the next.


2021 Student Artist in Residence Sarah Campbell.
2021 Student Artist in Residence Sarah Campbell. / UW-Stout

But it’s hard for Campbell to think of her paintings as individual pieces. She hopes viewers can imagine the collective work, which she calls Portals, as one piece. The collection features paintings with mirrored film to transport viewers into the space between That ([   ]).

Campbell researched how technology like film or social media reveals the world back to itself, creating a portal for viewers to enter another realm and influence how they perceive the world. The act of painting is a portal for Campbell, revealing her own values to her and the values of the physical world, including the paint itself. Her initial idea for SAIR was to film herself painting.

“That idea collapsed. When I put the reflective material on the paintings, filming got in the way,” she said. “I realized that portals show reality to itself. A distorted reflection shows how life can be so weird and stretched. These strange, deep truths say a lot about our place in the world, and the things we make can reveal ourselves back to us.”

Campbell created the large paintings simultaneously in the small SAIR studio, which she guessed to be about 8 feet by 20 feet. Normally, Campbell paints with her canvases hanging flat on a wall. But in the constrictive space, this was not possible. She was forced to rethink her process. She leaned her canvases against walls and laid them on the floor.


2021 Student Artist in Residence Sarah Campbell's Portal painting.
A Portal by Sarah Campbell, supported by wooden braces. / UW-Stout

Wooden braces support the canvases in the gallery to allow the collection to be displayed as Campbell desired. One stands precariously in the center of the gallery; another slants upward from the floor like a cellar door. One hangs from the far wall and one leans in the corner.

“It was very ambitious and something I had never done before,” she said. “In the compact studio, it was so impossible to think about how they would live in the open gallery space. The problem-solving of arranging them in the physical space didn’t happen until they were there.”

Although the studio was small, Campbell found it a peaceful space in the pandemic. “It was a space I could control in an otherwise unpredictable time. It would always be the same after being away from it for a day,” she said.

Campbell started her college career in the animation program before switching to studio art. She found that the processes she learned in her drawing concentration helped her approach painting, the concentration she gravitated toward.

“I discovered that the surprise and mystery I was looking for in animation was actually in drawing and painting. Drawing became a vehicle of, ‘why painting?’” she said.


2021 Student Artist in Residence Sarah Campbell's Portal painting.
A Portal by Sarah Campbell, part of her collective work. / UW-Stout

The SAIR experience affected Campbell’s work and pushed her in a new direction as an artist. This summer, she plans to continue challenging herself by creating multiple large paintings simultaneously in her home studio. She wants to bring the same peace she felt in her SAIR studio to her home.

“I want to allow life to guide me for a little bit,” she said. “The idea of portals has fundamentally changed my practice. I’ll continue to use the concept and allow myself to be surprised. SAIR was a moment of expansion, and now I can focus on dialing it back. I can keep moving forward but go back to a central point.”

The School of Art and Design offers seven fine arts programs, including a master’s in design. First-year SOAD students start in the Pre-Bachelor of Fine Arts program, which is the gateway to a BFA degree. The university also offers a B.S. in video production and a B.S. in arts administration and entrepreneurship.

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