Graphic design professor curates two exhibitions this fall

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In-person events may be paused at the moment but the current pandemic has not stopped artists from showcasing their work in galleries that operate at reduced occupancies or by appointment only. Emily Burns, assistant professor in the Stuckeman School’s Department of Graphic Design, recently curated two art exhibitions at such galleries this semester, both of which feature the work of several artists.

“Garden School,” which opened on Oct. 2 at the Trestle Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, features paintings from five artists who explore the subjects of plants and nature from distinct perspectives. Plants can provide healing, solace, beauty, connection and, much like nature, a painting can become a thicket in which to reckon with tangled ethos.

In this moment of global uncertainty and climate anxiety, the pandemic has ushered in a fresh wave of insecurities while disconnecting us from one another on an epic scale. How have recent events rekindled innate desires to reconnect with the natural world? Forest bathing, the concept that humans can be healed or nurtured psychologically by proximity to nature through a primarily visual experience, is recreated here as a sensual substitute; an oasis vitalized by verdant shamans in the midst of the New York cityscape.

Curating a physical exhibition during Covid was a different experience, but it felt really wonderful to be able to have real work in a real space when so many shows had either been postponed or online.” — Emily Burns

“I was invited to curate this exhibition as part of Artist-Run 2020, a year-long exploration of artist-run projects throughout the country spearheaded by the Trestle Gallery in collaboration with my organization, Maake, which publishes a print publication that features the work of contemporary artists and artist-run projects, and curates exhibitions in collaboration with galleries across the country,” explained Burns. “As part of the project, Maake collaborated with Trestle to design and produce a special-edition print issue featuring interviews with the artist-run projects involved.”

“For the exhibition, I was keen to curate an exhibition that explored the ‘return to nature’ feeling that emerged on a large scale as part of the global pandemic,” she continued. “In such chaotic times, the idea that plants can calm or console is very interesting to me as a gardener and plant lover. What can we learn from them, and how can we apply that knowledge to continue living on this fragile planet?”

“Garden School” runs through Nov. 21.

In August, Burns curated “Zip City” at the Left Field Gallery in Los Osos, California. The exhibition showcased the work of seven artists and brings together painting, sculpture, work on paper and mixed media work in one space. All of the pieces incorporated line as a primary element, which can evoke a feeling of the liminal – a transient quality, like electricity passing through a live wire. The beginnings and ends fade away and the medium is the message; the paths taken leave behind the memory of the journey.

“Curating a physical exhibition during Covid was a different experience, but it felt really wonderful to be able to have real work in a real space when so many shows had either been postponed or online. I worked closely with the gallery to realize the show, even though I couldn’t travel to install in person,” said Burns. “I wanted to curate a show where each work and each artist’s approach was quite different – from vastly different materials and themes – but were tied together in an uncanny, non-verbal way. The artists all approached line in unique ways and I felt that the show, although it had a lot of variety, was also very cohesive and felt like a complete thought when the viewer entered the space.”

“Zip City” ran until Sept. 1.