Fusing architecture and statistics into abstract art takes a rare combination of creative talent and mathematical expertise. So it’s hardly surprising that “Intersections,” a three-piece installation of shapes, shadows, and light recently on display at the Palmer Gallery, was conceived and created not by a single artist but through the collaboration of a visual and digital artist and someone grounded in computer science.
The artist is Courtney Starrett, Assistant Professor of Art at Seton Hall University and a graduate of the Tyler School of Art. The scientist is Susan Reiser, a former systems engineer whose venture into the art world triggered her transfer from the Department of Computer Science to the New Media Department at the University of North Carolina at Ashville.
Starrett and Reiser have collaborated on several projects over the past few years, while working in different venues. They created “Intersections” after spending most of the summer together on the Vassar campus, analyzing its architecture and researching the demographics of its students. They were brought to Vassar as visiting artists through the Creative Arts Across Disciplines (CAAD) program.
“This project was the result of the kind of work we already do, but this time we did it together,” Starrett says. “We were inspired by the architecture of many of Vassar’s buildings and focused on three—Blodgett Hall, the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, and the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences.” In addition, Reiser used some of Vassar’s statistical data on its students to develop the design.
Translating this data into abstract art was anything but a linear process, both say. “There were a lot of stops and starts, a lot of throwing stuff out and starting again,” Reiser says. “It’s important to let go of the ownership of the vision and let the work go where it should go.”
Starrett says the result of all of that starting and stopping and melding of disciplines was a finished work of art neither could have created by herself. “Our goal was to make something a notch above what either of us could have done ourselves,” she says.
While they were conceiving and creating “Intersections,” Starrett and Reiser were also working with five Vassar students who were creating interdisciplinary projects of their own. Both say they enjoyed this phase of their work but said they felt more like co-workers than mentors. “We loved getting feedback from them about our own project as much as we loved talking to them about theirs,” Reiser says. “I think we all very much approached this as a team, as collaborators.”
Interdisciplinary Arts Coordinator Tom Pacio says he enjoyed observing that collaboration. “Courtney and Susan provided a great model of the interdisciplinary partnerships we are trying to foster through CAAD,” he says. “It was engaging to watch how their processes informed each other as an idea grew into a plan, endured challenges and revisions, and resulted in their final product.”