Life after Harvard: Seeing is believing

by Minji Kim

Those who were brave enough to ford Cambridge’s rivers of sludge to the Carpenter Center on Thursday, Feb. 3 were able to see what happens to Visual and Environmental Studies concentrators after graduation. VES alumni Liz Glynn, Meredith James and Xiaowei Wang discussed their work and rather successful post-undergraduate lives in a panel discussion. An exhibit of their works, Object Lessons, is on view through February 20 at the Carpenter Center.

Despite their diverse approaches, all three women have found success as professional artists, working in multiple cities and contexts after Harvard and graduate school—international galleries, museums, and residencies. Glynn is particularly fascinated with the cycle of construction and destruction, having enacted multiple performance pieces such as The 24 Hour Roman Reconstruction Project of 2008, in which participants built a model of the empire out of cardboard and destroyed it in the "Sack of Rome" within 24 hours. James often incorporates fantasy into architectural space to craft surreal narratives, as in Day Shift of 2009. Wang, with her focus on the shaping of landscapes and cultural identities, has worked on site-specific projects in Beijing and Berlin. Now at the Graduate School of Design’s landscape architecture program, she will also lead a walking tour of the Carpenter Center and its surroundings as a performative piece called A Brief History of Bodies of Water at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5 and Sunday, Feb. 13.

After flipping through slides of their works, the three women fielded questions about their projects as well as offered advice on life after college. They encouraged residency programs and keeping in touch with other VES friends -- they are, after all, who you will need to look at your work -- but they also cautioned that learning to continually make things was difficult and often a lonely process. While VES teaches students how to talk very well in critiques, they said, talking too much can hinder the doing. Finding the right balance and success depends entirely on one’s perseverance and initiative.

The alumni’s stories and works were truly impressive, especially given their ages and the difficulty of finding established venues, like New York’s New Museum or Marc Jancou Contemporary, willing to display young artists’ work. While it may be daunting for concentrators in such a practice-focused discipline at a liberal arts college, seeing others who had gone through the same undergraduate experience realize their aspirations must have been reassuring for the students in the audience.

[Caption: Xiaowei Wang's "Intervention," an examination of the relationship between Beijing's Summer Palace and nearby shoddy residential buildings.]