Efrem Zelony-Mindell, New York-based artist and juror for Ohio University’s 2021 Alternatives exhibition titled Existence: Text + Image, believes there is a difference between looking at a thing and really seeing that same thing. While looking is passive, seeing is active, a task that requires asking questions, absorbing details and taking time.
Most of our lives are spent looking, but Zelony-Mindell thinks that Existence: Text + Image is really about seeing.
“I think this show takes time,” Zelony-Mindell said. “There's a lot of reading that's involved, it's not just literal.”
Artworks featured in the exhibition contain imagery and words, inspired by Alternative’s 2021 theme: Existence: Text + Image.
The theme was decided upon by the graduate students in OU’s MFA Photography and Integrated Media program. The graduate students are carrying on a tradition that originated in 1980, when the first iteration of the Alternatives exhibition occurred.
Over the years, this biennial, juried exhibition has taken on many subjects and forms, but OU graduate students in the MFA Photography and Integrated Media program have been at the helm of planning them all.
In April or May of 2020, graduate students began preparing for the 2021 exhibition. They saw a lot of other shows putting out calls for art relating to the pandemic. Recognizing that COVID-19 has caused drastic changes in our society, the students felt the need to recognize the pandemic in their theme. However, they still wanted to put out a call that was “open enough” to invite in many types of artwork, according to Kayla Holdgreve, a second-year graduate student studying photography and integrated media and a graduate assistant at the OU Art Galleries.
Thus, Existence: Text + Image was born.
In their organization of the exhibition, the graduate students also put out a call for artwork, selected a juror who would decide what artwork should be displayed, handled the artwork as it came into the gallery and installed the pieces. When the exhibition closes, the students will deinstall the artwork and send it back to the artists.
“We're experiencing the whole process of putting together a photo exhibition,” Holdgreve said.
However, like many other aspects of the show, the process of selecting work and collaborating with the juror was altered due to the pandemic.
Zelony-Mindell, who uses they/them pronouns and was the juror selected by the OU graduate students, has never set foot in Ohio, much less in the gallery space of Seigfred Hall, where the exhibition is on display. They have only communicated with the graduate students virtually and did not handle any of the artworks in person, instead viewing art through SlideRoom, an online platform.
When selecting what art would be included in the exhibition, Zelony-Mindell focused on both representation and pieces they found exciting and surprising.
Ella Calhoun, a freshman studying commercial photography, found the diversity of artists featured in Existence: Text + Image to be refreshing.
“I am glad to see that the artists are diverse and inclusive, as most of what we know about historical photography is from a white, male perspective,” Calhoun said. “I would definitely be interested in going to the exhibit. As a photography major I am always looking for more inspiration to incorporate into my own work.”
On Jan. 28, the exhibition will officially open at 7 p.m. with an artist talk on Microsoft Teams.
Instead of hosting a traditional artist lecture to introduce the exhibition, the graduate students working on the exhibition decided to present Zelony-Mindell in conversation with two of the featured artists, André Ramos-Woodard and Jenica Heintzelman.
“I think there is an oversaturation of these artists talks, and not enough dialogue and conversation, which is also why I'm so excited to be having a conversation with two of the artists from the show on the night of the opening,” Zelony-Mindell said. “I think that's what we need right now. I think we need a little bit more dialogue and conversation and creating these spaces where we as individuals can talk to each other.”
Existence: Text + Image is on display from Jan. 19 through Feb. 20 at the Ohio University Art Gallery. Additionally, the entire exhibition will be photographed and published on the OU Alternatives website.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article contained a misspelling in the header. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.