by Jingwen Zhang 19 PH
“If you are serious about being an artist, you must endure being in quicksand for long periods of time and recognize that gold stars are few and far between.” This sobering advice was offered by visiting photographer Catherine Wagner, who opened the Photography department’s Gary Metz Lecture Series last Tuesday night (October 3) in the Metcalf Auditorium.
The California-based Guggenheim winner—who serves as dean of Fine Arts at Mills College in Oakland—is currently showing work at Brown University in a collaborative project called LUMEN. Wagner describes the installation as an “immersive, site-specific, multisensory experience” that reflects on light as a metaphor for change and spiritual contemplation.
Wagner frequently uses her work to explore the built environment and question the spaces that define us as a culture. She shared images of early work, including Early California Landscapes (1974, top two images) and American Classroom (1986, below) and spoke about her groundbreaking 1995 project Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance (above), which exposed “the hidden seams of magic and illusion, shifting the scale and exploring the fiction of reality and normalcy.”
Wagner told students that she sees photography as a form of language—“a common denominator” that allows people to communicate cross-culturally. As an educator, she draws inspiration from seeing students discover the language of photography and “begin to claim their adulthood.”
LUMEN is on view through November 5 at Brown’s Granoff Center.