Photograph by Clarissa Martinez
CONTENTS Introduction 4 Iteration I: Graphic Novel 5 Iteration II: 3 Zines 15 Iteration III: Animation 27 Exhibition 37 Acknowledgement 57
INTRODUCTION Iterations, start over, new project, move on, throw away, let go, begin a new. This is a book about making things, but it’s also about tossing things out. For a thesis project of this size, there seems to be no way to guess what proper growth looks like. How do you gauge progress? How can a single project change so frequently and so drastically? In making my thesis, I noticed that a project’s development isn’t always the neat system of moving from one step to next. Often, it’s letting go of the work ones labored over and trusting that new idea, moving forward blindly. For me, this occured three times. My thesis project ended up being three iterations, all about the same themes, ideas, maybe even the same story told in different ways. It began as a graphic novel, then morphed into three zines, then a series of gifs about growth, change, and identity. Each iteration is a version, a phase, a step toward, understanding my process and trusting where the work will take me.
ITERATION I Graphic Novel
The first iteration of my thesis was a graphic novel called, Unlabeled about a Chinese American woman named Mei. Itâ€™s a story about about a young womanâ€™s struggle to make sense of who she is in a world where labels matter to everyone.
A Graphic Novel
In preparation for a story that addressed such a sexuality, specifically bisexuality, I wanted to educate myself on what it means to be bisexual. Studying books like Bi Any Other Name: Bisexuals People Speak Out and academic articles were my way of being informed in my approaching the topic. The graphic novel would be geared toward young adults; addressing an aspect of human sexuality I felt deserved consideration. What does it mean to be bisexual? The story is a very personal account, hopefully helping readers reflect on their own desires and life. Additionally, I wanted to sprinkle in information from the sources I used, should my reader wanted to know more about the topic. My story was part graphic novel, part self help, part source material.
ALL THE CHAPTERS The comic was divided up into seven sections, each section being a significant phase in the main character, Mei’s understanding of her sexual orientation. Mei’s mostly male sexual history is put into question when she meets Jun, a Chinese lesbian woman and artist in her junior year of college. This new relationship is starkly different from the relationships she’s had with men. Eventually, Mei runs from the commitment Jun desires and the prospect of what it could mean to be with a woman. In the end, she is forced to face the possibility that her casual perspective of sex may be connected to the way she measures her self worth. Each section of the story had a pulled quote from my research about bisexuality, and an illustration of Mei and where she stands on the Kinsey Scale at that phase of her life.
ONE AFTER ANOTHER
Section 1 Sleepover Mei is in the third grade and she has just discovered that she likes girls as well as boys. While she is at a sleepover with her close friend Fiona, she decides their closeness warrants her sharing what she thinks is a pretty benign secret. Unfortunately, Meiâ€™s revelation is met with confusion by Fiona, and even a little bit of fear.
As I worked on the graphic novel, it became apparent to me that I was not going to finish. Illustrating seven chapters of a graphic novel would be close to impossible. Focusing on one chapter/section seemed like the best way to work within my timeframe, however it was extremely limiting. Suddenly the goal of approaching the pacing and style of a single chapter in my story, Unlabeled, was stifling. One storyboard after another and it felt like I was moving further away from the main point of my story.
I was struggling with a capital “S” and I found myself apathetic toward my thesis project when I’d barely started. The stakes felt very high, for such a small segment of work. Like any other creative, I turned to a mentor for guidance, the wonderful and wise Kimberly Hall. She suggested I approach the story without a storyboard, without a plan, to illustrate the story straight ahead in three separate sketchbooks, each with different parameter. In the end, this “side project” took up all my time and attention. It served as a release from the thing I was “suppose” to be doing. It became iteration II of my thesis project.
ZINE I THE HEART Expectation of Sameness The main character in my first zine, the heart of all three of the zines, is part woman, part flower. She blooms in a farm like setting. The farm is a metaphor for society; she the flower is a single plant among the crop. She is doomed to grow just the same as the others and to meet the tastes of the general public. This expectation of sameness relates to idea of labels, of limiting oneâ€™s scope of self, heterosexual or homosexual, in order to be understandable to societyâ€™s existing systems.
The plant is plucked from the earth by a farmer and her fate is left to others to decide. The symbolic narrative represents how much culture can influence ones identity, sometimes in unhealthy ways. It speaks to my personal experience of early adulthood. For five years as an educator, a position that is synonymous with being a role model, my motto was â€œFake It till you make itâ€?. This phrase however related not so much to my career, but my state of mind. Often in just trying to be a functioning adult, there is little time to reflect on ones own psych, on the underlying compromises one makes. In my case the negotiations I made in relation to my sexual orientation. This an aspect of myself is so unquantifiable, it seems ridiculous now that I thought I had any control. 20
ZINE II SELF LOVE Best Worst Self Self-love, self-hate, self-help. Zine two is inspired by the feelings we have about who we are, the bad, the good, and the ridiculous, our Best Worst Self. In writing the manuscript for Iteration I of my thesis, I began thinking about self-image and the way we as people complicate our own lives, by imposing this never-ending quest for â€œselfimprovementâ€?. I bring my dark sense of humor to the topic, highlighting the absurd amount of damage we unknowingly do.
ZINE III ACCIDENTAL NARRATIVES The Forgetting Book The Forgetting Book, my last Zine is about creating based on instinct, a therapeutic space that steps away from my Zine I. The process is the antithesis of my first zine. There is no quest for a linear narrative, instead I focus on humor, random mark making, and accidental narratives. Although the zines were progressing, the feedback I received was mixed and further highlighted my uncertainty about the entire story. In the end, I wasnâ€™t completely satisfied with the direction my work was going. The illustrations felt heavy and not quite me. Once again, I began a task that gave me some relief. 26
In graduate school, your cohort can be your greatest supporters and teachers. It was in this instance that I realized how much this is true. My wonderful classmate Alicia Corman taught me how to make my very first gif. The process of animating made sense to me, and the satisfaction of seeing movement in my work helped reconnect me to illustration.
IN JUST ONE MOVE Some artists can approach any project no matter how daunting and push through, find the silver lining. I at this point in my career am not one of those people. I have to think of the work as an experimentation, as a never-ending project. Some of my best work and realizations come from side projects, from work that has no clear conclusion. This is how I began with animation, by experimenting and making things instinctually. Making Gifs is an effective format for exploring animation. The quick projects are my specialty so the making of a short gif was a perfect way for me express an idea not fully realized.
BLOOM BABY GIRL 32
My Zines were my image bank for the six gifs I eventually made for my thesis. The narrative I had been exploring, I executed in a number of ways, as graphic novel then zines, and then animation. The pressurized way I had been working, needed to take a back seat. So much of my time in grad school had been an exhausting inner exploration.
EMPTY TO FULL
Learning animation was my chance to exercise my creativity with technical challenges rather then internal ones. The gifs I made were connected to identity and the changeability of who we are, however the objective also was to understand animation. Looking back, I think I was wearied from static media. I just needed to step out of myself and learn a new skill.
INSPIRATION FOR THE CUBE Creating my exhibition was a period where I exercised autonomy and my artistic values, “Trust yourself” was my mantra. Everything connects and nothing is wasted as much as we worry it is. Although not every iteration shows up in the final product, the work done in each phase becomes relevant in unexpected ways. In this case, it happened when I was brainstorming how to exhibit my gifs. I wanted the viewer to participate with my work and be completely immersed. And so I took a moment to look back at my research and see what ideas were reoccurring. How can they help me? I looked at my old work, at the abstract narrative of the flower on a farm in Iteration II. During that time, I had looked at the work of Louise Bourgeois, an artist well versed in making art about the human condition. Initially my interest in her work was because of her loose mark making and naïve yet sophisticated understanding of the form. It had a hand made quality and dealt with sensitive topics around her psyche. Bourgeois fragments and simplifies the human body into exaggerated forms, wrought with texture and imagery that evoke feelings of discomfort and truth. Bourgeois’s drawing, “Femme Maison,” 39
(1947) became the inspiration for my exhibition. Bourgeois used the image of a house and idea of home often in her work. She believed it was the perfect receptacle for memories and issues around childhood. It is apart of her iconography and an image I immediately latched onto. It represented the idea of concealing and revealing ones self. The cube in place of a human head is a mask, a simplification of self, but at the same time an assertion of self. The cube has no recognizable physical form that others can judge and impose conventions on. It is in some way the suitable icon for my topic.
THEN IT JUST CLICKED...
THE HANGING CUBES BECAME A WAY FOR VIEWERS TO PARTICIPATE WITH AND BE IMMERSED IN THE WORK,.
BUILDING THE CUBES The process of making the cubes took a lot of planning and research. The 3â€™x 3â€™ cubes were made of plywood and would be hung from the ceiling of the gallery, with three iPads inside each of them. Safety was my greatest concern. Building the cubes so that they were structurally sound and finding the hanging equipment that would hold their weight, was
step one. The problem solving however did not stop there. Every step of the way felt as though I was troubleshooting some new unexpected glitch. I thought that these setback would overwhelm me, but this hands on technical work is just what I needed at the time. The tactility of it, made every problem I solved that much more satisfying.
CUBE PAINTING INSPIRATION The cubes at first weren’t supposed to have images. The stark matte black background seemed dramatic and suitable against the delicacy of the pink flowers. But I really wanted the cubes to draw attention and building curiosity. In addition to working in iterations, I often revise imagery from older work. I find that I’m a strong visual communicator when manipulating a given image. It was with Whitney’s encouragement that I decided that if I were to put images on the outside of the cubes, they would need to be almost like icons. I wanted them to provide visitors with just enough information and color to attract attention, with out communicating a completed thought. One of my classmates Lu saw me making the drawings for the cubes and remarked that it looked like a dice. Each image had a distinct shape, some icons stood alone, some had two or three parts that informed one another. The images on the outside of the cube implied fragmentation. The cube paintings were pieces of my gif animations, pieces that had been simplified or altered. The fragmentation of the images related to the fragmentation of self, however not in a heavy-handed way. (Illustrators: Tyler Spangler, Matthieu Bourel, Douglas)
The last part of the installation is the tissue paper flowers that surround the cubes. They are an additional layer to the created environment and are both meant to conceal and reveal. The soft and warm colors of the flowers draw attention to the cubes, however are physically veiling them. The whole installation is meant to make the viewer consider the outside as well as the inside. The animations playing in the cubes are the final layer, in media and to the viewerâ€™s experience of the installation. The viewerâ€™s last effort to get inside the cube is rewarded with not only the animations, but with the feeling of privacy, of experiencing that final step in the journey alone. After passing through the flowers and the exterior of the cube, the viewer is able to experience the gifs and what they might mean, in a quiet space with out the influence of others.
TROUBLESHOOTING, so much troubleshooting is the word Iâ€™d use to describe installing my thesis show. Everything from installing the hanging cubes/flowers to running the electricity along the ceiling ended up being a long process. But the unexpected challenges helped me stay focused. If I am to go down the whole laundry list of steps involved in the installation it would go as followsâ€Ś Building the cubes Painting the cubes Making the 400 tissue paper flowers Hanging the flowers and cubes Running the electricity along the ceiling Installing the power system in the cubes Formatting the GIFs in the Ipads Installing the ipad cases inside the cubes Installing the ipads in the cases Checking the ipads every day, periodically taking them out to fix glitches.
There were many small things that went into making the installation function, like making the cubes hang safely and keeping the ipads running. Strangely enough it was keeping the ipads running that ended up being the most difficult part, finding the right app to run the gifs, installing the gifs in the correct format, the electricity getting disconnected, the ipads constantly requesting updates, and more. But checking them everyday was satisfying. I hadnâ€™t had that type of attachment to a piece up to this point, nor as much pride. 50
UNLABELED As much as the project had changed, my original idea, stayed with me. I kept the name, Unlabeled, for my thesis. Through each iteration of the project, the word, Unlabeled still seemed to ring true. The title speaks to the feeling of being in between, of understanding oneself in one way and then realizing the variability of those classifications. It speaks to the instability of having an identity, that its purpose is to provide comfort and a sense of permanence. The basis for my thesis relates to my experience at MICA. In pursuing my graduate degree, my expectations for my future and myself changed drastically, professionally and personally speaking. Graduate school made me self reflect and mature quickly. I come out feeling open, with a new perspective, a clean slate, with out limits, and completely unlabeled.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I would like to thank Whitney Sherman for guiding me every step of the way as I made my thesis. I want to thank her for being my advocate and cheerleader always, for bringing her 110% everyday as a director and mentor. She is a role model for other women in the field of illustration, an example of strength and tenacity. I would like to thank Kimberly Hall for encouraging me and pushing me as an artist in every way possible. In the words of Corita Kent, â€œGeneral duties of a Teacher: Pull everything out of your students.â€? Kim is the teacher that did exactly that for me. She pushed me to be more curious, more experimental, and more brave in my work. I would like to thank my cohort, Alexandria Wang, Alicia Corman, Darian Nichols, Diana Chu, Gabrielle Santiago-Vancak, Hayley Thornton-Kennedy, Charlotte Fu, Hui Yang, Kaixin Wang, Ryan Cho, Shruti Sharma, and Yifan Wu. Thank you for encouraging me, supporting me, checking me, and for making me better. Thank you for being such a special group that inspired growth and authenticity. I would like to thank my family for being my constant unwavering support. With out them, I could not have pursued grad school and I would not have gotten through it. =)
By Olivia Fu Thesis Documentation Book MFA Illustration Practice Maryland Institute College of Art