One of the great joys of my work at Cassilhaus is getting to work with students. We have an annual internship program where I work with MFA students from Duke and UNC, usually one per year. I usually take students focused on still photography rather than moving image folks. 2015-16 was the first time we had two interns-one from Duke, Michaela O'Brien (left below) and one from UNC, Alyssa Miserdino. I couldn't make a decision which one to take. :) The interns and I spend time interacting with our visiting artists, learning archival framing, working with all aspects of mounting a gallery exhibition including curating, installation, and lighting, and spend time learning how to manage and maintain an art collection. Ellen and I couldn't run this place without them.
Michaela and Alyssa brandishing their lethal ATG guns after finishing the framing on Susan Worsham's Margaret's Rhubarb
One of the great perks of the internship program is the possibility of mounting their final MFA final thesis exhibition at Cassilhaus and students must defend their work in front of their full committee here. Degrees are actually conferred in the house! How cool is that? We have done exhibitions for all three of our Duke interns (UNC does not allow offsite exhibitions), Lisa McCarty, Rachel Boillot, and Michaela O'brien whose Love Valley exhibition I talk about here. Students always push me to stretch the boundaries of what we can do in an exhibition and Michaela pushed the hardest to date with 6 video elements, three dimensional found objects, silk screened prints and objects, photographs, hand painted images and frames, collage, scrap books from the founders, and a taxidermied animal. She even found a trove of original 4x5" film negatives from an original resident of Love Valley in the 50s and superimposed pairs of them to make dynamic new compositions.
Initial layout of all elements with old exhibition still hanging.
The makings of a three screen video installation with surround sound in the Girl Power Room
Michaela fabricating the shelf for the video installation.
Michaela discovered Love Valley by accident and fell in love with the town and its people and began documenting it for her thesis. The exhibition was the first of its kind anywhere and brought together historical imagery (photos and movie film) and objects with contemporary work she shot over her multiple visits during her MFA program.
This background from her exhibition text--
Love Valley is currently listed on Visit North Carolina’s tourism website under the "quirky” section of “Things To Do.” Nestled in the foothills of the Brushy Mountains, the township, founded in 1954, allows only horse and foot traffic on its Main Street, a dirt road lined with less than a dozen buildings of rough
hewn timber made to look a century old. This scene, that brings to mind a John Wayne movie, also conjures an eerie ghostliness at quieter times of day.
Founder Andy Barker’s boyhood dream of a cowboy haven is home to a population which hovers at about 100 people. Ellenora, his now 95-year-old Alzheimic widow, preserves a record of his utopian aspirations in a rarely accessed, dusty, wood-planked room where cabinets are filled with reels of film, medium and large format photographic negatives and piles of scrapbooks.
In this .2 square mile community, reenactment forms an important aspect of social life even as nostalgia contends with everyday realities. Residents attempt to shape and reshape the township around their founder’s vision of a Western town full of “good, clean fun.” In Love Valley, men, women, children, and animals each tussle for a place somewhere between an idealized past and an elusive future.
My time living on Main Street resulted in this fragmented narrative of frontier freedom. This assemblage is an oblique museum, an impulse to document, and a document of that impulse. In Love Valley, the complete story is eschewed for the remains: a constellation of biblical and patriotic gestures, and what lies at the heart of it all, the desire to start over.
Michaela's Thesis Committee L-R David Gatten, Tom Rankin, Shambhavi Kaul
The opening was a smash.
Ellen's been dying for an opportunity to wear this outfit from her mother. Yee-Ha!
One of the exciting codas to the exhibition was a visit from descendants (photo above and below) of the founders of Love Valley. They loved the exhibition and took a stroll down memory lane looking at old pictures of their parents and friends.
Thank you Michaela. It was a joy to work with you and you knocked it out of the park with your thesis project and exhibition.