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Senior Projects 2015

Matt Freedman, Visual Studies Senior Seminar Instructor

The nine Visual Studies students whose work is collected here represent all that is best about the program. Each project was an ingenious and conceptually sophisticated academic inquiry, but even more remarkably, all the students created compelling embodiments of their most salient arguments in their gallery installation. That this phenomenon repeats itself annually only adds to my respect and admiration. Working not just in theory, but communicating in practice is a very daunting challenge, and the VLST students have maintained their remarkable tradition of high achievement in 2015.

The support and generosity of a wide range of teachers, scholars, artists and interested parties always adds immeasurably to the success of the various projects. This year we had a truly extraordinary level of participation from a remarkable range of brilliant characters. Professor Gary Hatfield, Director of the Visual Studies Program, was a frequent guest in the class and an acute and insightful respondent to innumerable presentations at every stage of the gestation period. Artist Spencer Finch and Professor Carin Berkowitz attended presentations in the middle of the spring semester as the projects began to come together and contributed mightily to the crystallization of the theses and their visual components.

And special thanks to my colleague and friend Ian Verstegen. In his first year on the job Ian has proved to be an immediate and perfect fit for the program. Erudite, patient, intellectually playful and flexible, he has made things work without letting us see him sweat.

Final congratulations to the nine remarkable students. The elegant mosaic of faces on the front of the catalog is an impressive artistic achievement, and crystallizes your class in my memory; a protean collection of exceptional individuals, you managed to blend yourselves into a cohesive and supportive community unlike any other. We will miss you and follow you closely in the years ahead.

Ian Verstegen, Visual Studies Senior Seminar Instructor 

Here is your task: Pick a topic exploring the nature of visuality, explore it with rigor, and then install it in a gallery! That is what the students of VLST 395 have sought to accomplish all year, from the earliest discussions considering viable problems, to the correct framework, the polished argument, and the visual component.

Through a year of classes and gallery visits, the Visual Studies seniors cheerfully explained and re-explained their topics, again and again, to their peers, to Matt and me, and outside critics and scholars. The thesis format allowed each student to learn from their peers and get valuable feedback and comments, technical hints, and overall moral support. 

It was a pleasure to share my first-time teaching of this course with veteran Matt Freedman. As a ‘theory’ guy, I deferred to him on practical matters and, soon enough, much more. Matt is just as sharp with his words as his pencil (and drawing pad hanging around his neck!) and the students were able to develop complete projects through his constant advice. 

This year’s graduates have confounded all my categories and expectations, confirming the vitality of Penn’s Visual Studies major. Studio concentrations have introduced subtle ideas, historical concentrations have provided powerful visuals, and pleasant surprises have been around every corner. I look forward to watching the continued surprises this group will spring on the world!