Sturm '13 creates multimedia rotunda installation

by Maya Poddar | 9/23/14 7:13pm

kate-herrington-2

Although he is primarily a digital photographer, Sturm incorporated non-photographic materials into his exhibition.

by Kate Herrington and Kate Herrington / The Dartmouth

At the entrance of the Hopkins Center for the Arts, six figures line the perimeter of the Barrows Rotunda. One wears a flannel shirt, another a light blue North Face jacket. Their arms, thin strips of wood, are outstretched, forming a barrier between onlookers and the conglomeration of cameras, cables and other assorted materials in the display’s center. The rotunda will display “Big Brother Watched This Summer: Raise Your Hands,” a multimedia installation by Matt Sturm ’13, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 20.

The exhibition reflects summer headlines like the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as government surveillance.

“I was living in Washington, D.C., which is a much more politically involved place than this campus, so it just felt very current and present,” Sturm said.

Although he is primarily a digital photographer, Sturm incorporated non-photographic materials into his exhibition. Mannequins based on the artist’s proportions stand in a circle, alongside newspapers, video cameras, cell phones, surveillance equipment, Ethernet cables, casts, saran wrap, painted wood, dirt and portraits. Sturm took the portraits featured in the exhibition over the summer, during which time he assembled some materials for the piece.

The presentation of Sturm’s work within the rotunda is essential to its meaning, he said.

“As an artist, I really care about the context that my work is read in, and one way for me to have agency over that is to install it as part of an installation,” Sturm said. “The rotunda is a very good space for that.”

The rotunda, one of the three visual arts exhibition spaces, showcases works by studio art interns and other artists throughout the year.

Though the Black Family Visual Arts Center displays student art works, the building’s distance from the rest of campus makes it less accessible to the average student than the Hop, studio art intern Julian MacMillan ’14 said.

“I think it’s pretty cool that we’re given the opportunity to show stuff in a space that gets a lot of traffic,” studio art intern Sean Hammett ’14 said of the rotunda. “A lot of people walk by there and a lot of people see it, and it’s not often that as art students we get to show our work to people who aren’t also in art classes.”

Sturm said that the space’s round, glass walls serve as a panopticon, a structure whose shape allows an observer to view any given point within the structure without being seen himself. Conceived of in the 18th century by philosopher Jeremy Bentham as a design for a prison, the premise of the panopticon is that because inmates cannot tell at a given moment whether or not they are being observed by a watchman, they must constantly act as if they are being watched.

“Exhibiting in a panopticon space is an ideal spot to talk about surveillance, so I really wanted to do an installation about that,” Sturm said.