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Don't Feed the Artist

What would it be like to go to work every day in a Macy's display window? J. Kiku Langford '06, a studio art major, is finding out as she spends the month of January painting in a makeshift studio set up in the Barrows Rotunda-a 360-degree exhibition space that greets visitors to the Hopkins Center. Although this is not Langford's first foray into painting under the public gaze, it will be her most sustained and visible effort to date.

Kiku Langford '06 takes her work public

The Barrows Rotunda in the Hopkins Center usually houses art installations by Dartmouth students and faculty, but throughout January, the artist will become part of the art. Langford has equipped the small glassed-in room with an easel, her art supplies, a computer, and a bench for visitors. When she's not in class or enjoying her last few terms at Dartmouth, she plans to be at work and on view in the Rotunda.

"I was interested in the dichotomy between public and private," says Langford. "Traditionally, art is created in private, but experienced in public. I wanted to make people more aware of the process of making art and to investigate what happens when the public interacts in the process."

Interested observers can look in on her as she covers her canvases in paint and collage, and a Post-it(r) dispenser lets viewers leave notes for her, which she answers.

Langford admitted to feeling self-conscious at first, although much of her anxiety faded after several less permanent stints of public painting at various locations around campus. "At first I thought, 'everyone is going to think I'm a freak,' but I've gotten used to answering questions and the positive responses have been really validating," she says.  For the most part, she enjoys the interactions that her installation generates. "I've been pretty secluded in the fine arts, working in my studio, but while working in the rotunda, a sports team came by a few times and they were all very interested in my work."

The constant exposure also had a surprising effect on her productivity. Langford found that being under glass made her more conscientious and less likely to become distracted from her work.

Enrico Riley, studio art senior lecturer, is Langford's advisor. He describes her project as an attempt "to address the difference between public art creation versus private art creation.  Her goal is to break down the barriers between the making of art and the viewing of art. It is a great chance for Kiku to explore ideas that she has been interested in for some time."  

Langford's previous work includes her recent book, Public Painting: An Autobiographical Journey, which documents a 20-day project in which she painted a work a day in a different location on campus, then opened an exhibition of these works in the AREA student gallery in the Hopkins Center. Her paintings, rubbings, and drawings are also on view in Collis Café.

The public art installation is part of Langford's senior honors thesis and she plans to explore further the role of the public in the creation of art. "The Hopkins Center art studios were originally designed with large windows so that people could see right into the classrooms," she says.


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Last Updated: 12/17/08