For the last eight years, a national or international artist has been invited to South Dakota State University’s campus as part of the Stuart Artist-in-Residence program. For one month, artists interact with students, staff and faculty through lecture, critique, studio hours and an open studio event.
This past fall, Ali Hval, a visual artist currently working and living in Iowa City, Iowa, was invited to campus. Hval’s work is interdisciplinary and combines ceramic, fabric, installation and painting.
The Stuart Artist-in-Residence program began in 2015, when Paige Mostowy, who specializes in mixed-media sculpture, came to campus. Since then, a variety of artists who worked with several different mediums have spent a month on SDSU’s campus each fall.
“An artist-in-residence program is when a real practicing artist is provided an art space, a working space and a gallery for a certain amount of time,” said Elizabeth Tofte, a professor in SDSU’s School of Design. “It is a way for students to learn by watching a creative practice their art of making.”
The program is funded and named after Joe and Signe Stuart, who lived, worked and taught in Brookings for several decades. Joe served as the director and curator for the South Dakota Art Museum while Signe was an art professor at SDSU between 1972 and 1994.
Joe appreciated art in all forms but was a champion of modern and contemporary art and worked to create opportunities for regional artists throughout his career. His work at the museum made a foundational impact on the body of the institution and his legacy lives on through his sensitive curation of acquisitions for the museum.
Signe is currently an active artist who resides in Sante Fe, New Mexico. Her professional history spans more than 50 years, and her work has been shown in 18 solo museum exhibitions and many other museum group exhibitions. A retrospective of her work will open at the South Dakota Art Museum later this year. Locally, collections of her work can be seen in Sioux Falls, at the Washington Pavilion and the Sioux Falls Regional Airport.
The Stuarts initiated the development of an artist-in-residence program to enrich the community of Brookings and create opportunities for artists, students and faculty.
“Both Signe and Joe recognized how valuable a residency program would be to our rural community,” said Diana Behl, an associate professor in studio art in the School of Design.
Each spring, SDSU receives proposals from national and international artists for the upcoming year’s Stuart Artist-in-Residence program. Artists submit a project proposal, portfolio of 10 work samples and resume. A committee then reviews the broad pool of applications.
Artist-in-residence programs are fairly common at universities throughout the country, but SDSU’s program is particularly attractive to artists because they are provided a studio, housing and a stipend for their residency. This year’s Stuart Artist-in-Residence, Hval, applied to the program the previous two years before being accepted this year.
“We conduct a rigorous review process to select an artist,” Behl, a faculty member on the committee, said. “(We) carefully review the applications, their professional history and portfolios. Together with students and a community member, a short list is selected to interview over Zoom. The finalist is selected from a competitive, multi-layered review process.”
Other faculty members on the committee include Peter Reichardt, studio art lecturer in the School of Design, and Molly Wicks, studio art lecturer in the School of Design. A community member and two students also serve on the committee to help in the selection process.
As Behl notes, the opportunity for students to serve on the committee gives them a real-world perspective into the professional activities that a working artist engages in throughout their career.
“It is truly a unique and educational opportunity for students to learn how competitive this process is, and they play an important role in selecting the artist,” Behl said. “All of the layers of involvement of the residency are evidence of the lasting impact that Joe and Signe envisioned when they initiated this opportunity for our campus.”
Hval, a University of Iowa graduate, heard about SDSU’s artist-in-residence program through Neal Rock, a visual artist who spent a month on campus in 2018.
“He was talking about it, and it sounded perfect,” Hval said. “It was relatively close to Iowa City, and I could travel there easily, which is important because my work is pretty fragile.”
As part of the program, Hval was given a blank studio—the Ritz Gallery located in Grove Hall—that would also double as her gallery.
“Before she got in there, the walls were pure white and totally blank,” Tofte said. “There were just a couple of plastic tables set up.”
The first step for Hval was to paint the gallery. As a creative who combines multiple mediums, Hval uses murals to create an immersive environment for her ceramic sculptures. The mural she painted in the Ritz Gallery used a blend of pinks, reds and purples.
“A lot of the work I make is very colorful—the colors like bright pink and bright purple,” Hval said. “They’re very Barbie- or Polly Pocket-like, almost childish at first. They’re meant to draw you in, but once you get closer, you realize that they are something more serious. I do that intentionally.”
The next step for Hval was to create the “bones” of her work using ceramics, which she makes in “sort of an unconventional way.” Rather than glazing her ceramic sculpture, she will fire it at a very high temperature. For this project, she created oversized jewelry (like earrings), shoes (like high heels), and chains made of fabric. A lot of these pieces can be fairly large—the largest chain that Hval ever made was 32 feet long—so they can wrap around the studio or hang down from the walls.
After the pieces had been fired, Hval paints each of them—bright pink and purple—which are then bedazzled and adorned with sparkles and stones.
“They’re very sparkly, very glitzy. I use fabrics that are very shiny,” Hval said. “So you’ll also see woven elements, like beads, pearls or string, and these materials present themselves in the murals that I place these objects on.”
The final week of her residency consisted of Hval putting the work together for her exhibit, which was open to the public. Titled “If the Shoe Fits,” Hval’s exhibit explores the evolution of shoes and gender over time.
The first high heels ever presented in history were actually worn by men in 10th century Persia for military use, Hval explained. Soldiers would hook themselves into horses on stirrups, and the heels would steady them while firing arrows. Over time, high heels evolved into a predominately women’s form of footwear.
“I’ve been really interested in learning when something is on a certain body how it evolves over time,” Hval explained. “How does gender change the way that something appears? Rhinestones are something that kind of do that for me.
“For instance, I feel like rhinestones—depending on the body they are—has different contexts,” Hval continued. “As a young girl growing up, for instance, (rhinestones) are just like these sparkly fun things that make you feel like a fairy princess, but then as you get older, they’re something that is on things that have more sexual connotations, like fishnets and stripper heels or whatever that may be. The difference is what body that it’s on. If it was the body of a man, it would have a completely different context. I’m interested in how adornment changes based on the body that it’s on.”
Student and faculty interactions
As part of the program, Hval had open studio hours for students to drop by and interact with her. Some classes would stop by and do an informal Q&A while other students would drop by on their own time.
“(Working with the students) was really rewarding because I was able to return to talking about the basics in my work,” Hval said.
One of the big questions that students had for Hval was how she “survived” as a working artist. One way she supplements her income is by lecturing on painting and drawing at the University of Iowa. Another way is by painting murals—a surprisingly lucrative business.
“It’s one of those things where there’s not a well-defined path (to becoming a professional artist),” Hval explained. “Once you have an interest in the arts, it’s something where you have to say, ‘OK, what are the things I’m interested in? How am I going to make this happen?’ You really have to be in it, and for me, I am really into producing murals.”
Another common question from the students related to Hval’s choice of colors. Why does she use the colors she does? Is there a reason behind it?
“I follow the basic tenants of color theory,” Hval explained. “How can I make my objects stand out more than the murals on the wall? If they’re brighter, they’re going to come toward me, whereas if those murals are lighter, they’re going to push a little farther back into the distance—there is a way to play with space through color usage.”
Faculty can also benefit from an artist’s residency on campus each fall through their own interactions. As Behl explains, living in a more rural area of the country doesn’t provide a bevy of interaction with new artists but each fall, when a new Stuart Artist-in-Residence comes to campus, it can serve as a learning experience and provide inspiration.
“I love seeing how everyone can be energized by visiting artists,” Behl said. “I am grateful for the artists who have also been interested in my personal work as an artist, and lasting friendships are made through a positive exchange of ideas and working methodologies.”
To see more of Hval’s work and past exhibits, visit https://www.alihval.com/. For a list of Stuart Artist-in-Residence alumni and images, visit: https://www.sdstate.edu/school-design/stuart-artist-residence.