When you walk into a laundromat, what do you expect to see? Washers, dryers, rogue dryer sheets, maybe a community bulletin board. But if you were in one particular Harlem laundromat during the summer of 2013 in New York City, you would have found the work of Bucknell University's first visual artist-in-residence, Shani Peters.
Peters and a group of artists collaborated with The Laundromat Project to use two large screens to show video works, and hosted free art workshops and bi-weekly meetings of the People's Wash + Fold Film Club. Community members were invited to rate the pieces and attend an egalitarian red-carpet event, held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
This is one example of public art, something Peters is passionate about. During her April 13 on-campus lecture, she showed her video piece Battle for the Hearts and Minds, which uses a contemporary hip-hop context to explore the ideological differences between 1920s black thinkers W.E.B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey. She also explained that much of her work involves getting art outside of typical museum spaces, so it's more accessible, both geographically and financially. She has shared this video widely, advertising with public posters and flyers, and not restricting viewing to an installation.
Peters has spent a month at Bucknell, working in a studio space at the Art Barn and sharing her process with students, faculty and staff. The Nesbitt Artist Residency was established by the Department of Art & Art History and the Samek Art Museum through a gift from John '64 and Sandy Lyttle Nesbitt '64, P'94, P'96. The program will bring a visual artist-in-residence to campus every other year to spend a month working in a studio that is open to the public for two hours per week.
"This is a living lab," said Professor Tulu Bayar, art. "It gives our students and faculty a chance to experience how a visual artist really works. People can interact with her to learn about her process and ask questions about her approach. There can't be a better workshop than that."
Peters, who has exhibited around the U.S. and internationally, is showing her work in Academic West, so people are surprised to encounter it, explained Rick Rinehart, director of the Samek Art Museum. This is in keeping with Peters' approach to public practice and community.
The residency has given Peters time away from her daily life in New York, which includes making art, teaching, and the large amount of organizing and networking it takes to be a professional artist. "The average artist spends a lot of time on administrative work, which is something important for art students to recognize," Peters said. "You have to have vision and talent in giving the world something they haven't seen, but you also need management skills."
At Bucknell, Peters has been working on video and light boxes, which will display print collages she started making last spring. During that time, she was grappling with stress brought on by protests around and media focus on the long-existing injustices against black people.
Her photo collages juxtapose images depicting contemporary and historical civil rights activism. "When I selected the photos, I was thinking of finding images to illustrate determination," she said. "The Crown Project I've been doing, which my pieces in Academic West are tied to, use crowns as a metaphor for self-determination." This series, Restoration, makes a direct connection between protest, black self-determination and peace.
The project consists of new ideas rooted in Peters' past work. She says that while her practice lends itself to communicating about her process, becoming an artist grows out of each individual's experience. She tells student artists to plan the way forward, look at art and interviews with artists, be prepared for it to take time and be patient with themselves.
"The sense that you develop from doing all of those things rounds out over time," she said. "It keeps your brain really sharp, and your brain needs to be sharp when you're making art. When you work hard without comparing yourself to other artists, and try to develop a sense of generosity, the art world can be amazing."
Peters' final studio open hours will take place on Wednesday, April 20, 2–4 p.m. in the Art Barn, studio 3. Her work will be exhibited in Academic West through May 1.