This past summer Molly Markow and Emily Lehman, graduate students in the M.F.A. program, completed a five-day residency in a cabin in Shawnee National Forest. The two students used the time and inspiration to prepare a body of work they exhibited in the Transpace Gallery in fall 2018, titled Landscapes of Escape.

Why did you want to do an immersive experience?

Markow: Graduate school has been filled with rapid growth and constant stimulus, question-asking, and engagement. It has been a busy time between teaching, making, reading, and other responsibilities. I have reached a point where there are certain readings and ways of thinking related to affect, landscape, and materiality that I wanted to really dive into.

An immersive experience allowed me to critically engage with readings and conversation with a friend and colleague, who I deeply respect and who has overlapping interests. It’s been really magical to see how our work and interests are beginning to overlap in what feels like vibrant and productive ways. When Emily and I met, we knew pretty quickly we shared similar world-views. But at the time, our process and work were radically different. It’s only in the last year or so that we’ve seen some parallel interests starting to emerge in our work. It’s invaluable to have someone you trust to unpack complicated ideas with.

Lehman: Graduate school has been an incredibly immersive experience. But, the interesting thing about immersion is that it sometimes becomes an exclusionary process. I have had ample time to engage with students through teaching as well as with reading materials, peers, and professors. However, it has sometimes been difficult to identify and acquire the time necessary to focus on the specific research that is relevant to my art practice.

I felt a different type of immersive experience would offer a unique and necessary opportunity for me to focus and engage in the elements of my art practice that make it unique. Immersion enabled Molly and me to have the time to reach conclusions or come to questions together. Outside of the artist residency that we were able to create, I cannot think of a time in which we would have been able to critically ponder aspects of effect and materiality in such depth.

What is the most important thing you learned about yourself and your work during that experience?

Lehman: I think that part of being an artist is a series of reoccurring negotiations with oneself of why and how we make art. That being said, during this experience, I learned more about research and ways of thinking that make me really excited to make art. I learned the importance of allowing (or finding time) to fully investigate negotiations through research and conversation.

Markow: I think it was a nice taste of what a creative practice can look like post graduate school. Reading, making, researching, following threads, asking questions, and talking with people you trust are important and can exist in vibrant ways outside of academia.

It was incredibly generative to have this time and space before our last year of this program. It was also important for me to eat three healthy meals a day, stretch, go on walks, and be out on the water and engaged with the world. It can be easy to neglect your own needs during the school year, so that felt good and healthy. I returned feeling excited, energetic, and antsy to get back in the studio.

What artists have influenced you and your work?

Markow: Oh gosh, so many, particularly Laura Letinsky, Jessica Stockholder, and Charlene von Heyl. The writing of Rebecca Solnit and Maggie Nelson are things I continually return to when I need a good creative jolt.

Lehman: Many artists have played a role in influencing me. To name a few: Amy Sillman, Allison Miller, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, and Dianna Molzan.

You are a new addition to the crayon box. What color are you?

Lehman: I would like to think I would be the crayon that emerges from the cardboard box after being forgotten in a hot car for a few days. Some days I may be more of a blue and others a magenta swirled with some lemon yellow. I like the chance that I may emerge from the box with some great amalgamation of surprises. I guess the name of my color would be all of the colors.

Markow: I think I would be a shimmering purple or blue with specks of green that change in the light and are hard to pin down. I often find myself in an “in-between” space in my creative practice and my life. Not quite part of one thing or another but continuously excited about emergent possibilities and connections between and across disciplines, systems, people and ideas.

Looking back, what advice would offer your 6-year-old self?

Markow: I would hug her and say, “Follow your own path and believe in yourself.” I still have to remind myself of this every day. It’s really hard, but it’s starting to get a little bit easier. I’m naturally a pretty anxious person so I have to sometimes say out loud, “Hey you got this.”

Lehman: Don’t care what people will think. Getting caught up in worrying about things and realities that may not even be true is an unnecessary stressor, but a difficult one to avoid in the world we live in.

Transpace provides art students the opportunity to curate public shows, display their work, and gain experience in professional art. Transpace is located on the first floor of the Illinois State University Center for Visual Arts and is open during the following hours:

  • Tuesday, noon–4 p.m. and 6–7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
  • Thursday, 10 a.m.–noon and 1–4 p.m.
  • Friday, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

Friends of the Arts (FOA) is a community-based organization, partnering with the College of Fine Arts to provide scholarships and grants to Illinois State University fine arts students. Last year, FOA provided over $50,000, including $15,000 in project grants and $40,000 in scholarships. The FOA student grant program provides support for student creative projects, research, events, and visiting artists. Grants are available in amounts up to $500 for an individual and up to $1,000 for a group.

To learn more about the grant program, or to become involved as a volunteer, board member, or donor, visit the Friends of the Arts website or find us on Facebook.

To help students like Molly and Emily receive grants and scholarships, make your annual gift to Friends of the Arts. Donations and proceeds from FOA events support the grant and scholarship program.