Heather McGill to serve as artist-in-residence this winter

by Kaina Chen | 1/12/15 6:21pm

It is fitting that College artist-in-residence Heather McGill, who pairs the latest technology with meticulous manual work to create art, is from Detroit, a city she describes as the home of industrial and commercial activity. McGill will be showing her work in the exhibition “Small Things, Pretty Things” in the Hopkins Center’s Jaffe-Friede Gallery through Mar. 10.

Most of the pieces in the exhibit were created out of laser-cut plastic and airbrushed paper, which she created with a computer-aided design and drafting program and a laser cutter.

“The laser is a very useful tool to cut shapes repetitively,” said McGill. “Repetition is something that I’ve always embraced and had as part of my work.”

McGill’s multidisciplinary interests in technology, astronomy and literature are all evident in her work.

Her current show will feature pieces based on stars and star-like patterns, she said, stemming from her time as an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis, where she studied physics and astronomy. Many of the pieces have titles that are derived from pieces of literature, such as her sculpture “Pull My Daisy” (2008) which shares its title with the poem by Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Beyond the repetition of the laser, McGill’s process involves hand-made work and many rounds of laser testing, she said. The early steps of her pieces involve preliminary designs first drawn on the computer program. She then begins the process of testing tolerances and how to use the laser on the drawing, factoring in considerations such as shape, thickness and material. While many of her pieces use digital technology to create, she said the pieces are time-consuming because of the constant dialogue between her manual work and the work done by the computer.

“There’s a relationship with the hand and the machine,” McGill said. “[The machine] is like a prosthetic, an extension of your hand.”

While using technology in works of art is a common technique of many graphic designers and sculptors, director of exhibitions and studio art professor Gerald Auten said that he has never before seen work like McGill’s.

“The level of ambition and precision is really quite extraordinary,” he said.

McGill’s work is dynamic in how it interacts with light and space, Auten said.

Studio art professor Kathryn Zazenski, who happens to be one of McGill’s former students, said that the level of devotion that McGill puts into her work both as a professor and an artist is evident.

“As a mentor, she was always working,” Zazenski said. “She worked more than any student. She breathes her work, she lives it, she exudes it.”

She said that she appreciates the style in which McGill teaches.

“She would lead you in a direction [with your art], and empower you to take charge of it,” Zazenski said.

McGill said that during her time at the College, she hopes that her work will be less technologically-based than her previous pieces and that she will interact with both the students and the community. She said that a few studio art professors have already scheduled time into their classes for students to see her exhibition.

Auten said that he hopes students will take advantage of having a new artist-in-residence, as McGill’s stay coincides with the start of senior seminars for studio art majors and the time when they begin to traditionally develop their own portfolio. He said that past artists-in-residence have helped majors with their culminating experiences.

“[The artist-in-residence program] provides a great opportunity to see an artist’s body of work and be able to ask them questions such as, ‘why do you do this?’” he said. “It’s a fresh voice that comes into the studio and might see something new, or suggest a way that the work might develop further.”

McGill is currently the head of the sculpture department at Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan. Her work has been featured in the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, Belgium, Art Basel in Miami and the United States embassy in Helsinki, Finland.

McGill’s show will open on Tuesday Jan. 13 in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery and will run until March 10. McGill will also hold a lecture on the exhibit and a reception on Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m.