Millersville University held a special showing of one episode of Art 21 in honor of their fifth seasn premier. It was followed by a panel discussion with faculty members from the English, Art, and Communication departments, as well as a few others.

It was shown on October 7, 2009 at 7 p.m. in Myers Auditorium in McComsey Hall. Art 21 is a PBS series about Art in the 21st century. It focuses on living contemporary artists and their work.

The episode of Art 21 shown last Thursday was called “Systems,” and focused on four different artists in a variety of techniques and styles, and how they make, break, and work within and out of artistic systems. The artists projects in this episode were all extensive and beyond comprehension. Artists Julie Mehretu, John Baldessari, Kimsooja, and Allan McCollum all share their very unique interpretations on art and their visions as well.

The first artist, Mehretu, was shown working in Berlin on several large canvas paintings. Mehretu and her team were developing seven 10 by 14 foot paintings, as well as a very impressive 21 by 85 foot long mural. “Trying to figure out who I am and my work is trying to understand systems,” Mehretu said.

She also stated that her paintings are not rational depictions to explain a story, but rather something more. Her paintings are very abstract and can be interpreted as whatever the viewer wants to see. Mehretu said that the key to understand systems is working together to build off each other, which is shown in the intense teamwork on her paintings. “In the end, it’s about trying to make a painting,” Mehretu said.

“I’m always interested in things that we don’t call art, and I say why not?” Baldessari, the second depicted artist said. Baldessari is shown working with his assistant on his projects, which he says are about absurdity in life. He gives many insights, including that art is about making a choice, and that painting is about being tasteful, which he gives as reason for giving up painting. Baldessari says that art is about communication, “words and images in the same basket,” and highlights the importance of the “space between.” Baldessari’s system of choice regards coloring, and he says his use of the color wheel was very systematic. “You always go back to the same idea, but with a different direction,” Baldessari says about art and his work, but I believe his advice applies to many different areas outside of art.

The third artist, Kimsooja, calls herself the “needle woman.” She shows a series of videos of her standing still in a crowded bustling street, a lone body still in a sea of people. Kimsooja’s system ties into sewing; a needle threading through space and time. Kimsooja stands with her back facing the camera in her videos, a key component, as she says, it is “not about identity.” Also featured in the film was Kimsooja’s display at the Crystal Palace in Madrid, which contains mirrored floors that give off a rainbow-colored light, as well as pre-recorded breathing sounds that play as spectators wander by. The breathing, Kimsooja says, is a calming effect, and relating to her work, “My intention is to reach to the totality of our life in art.”

The final artist describes his work and motivation behind it as, “wanting to try to work in quantities…and make things that are singular and unique at the same time.” McCollum shows his design of his “Shapes from Maine” collection, working with home craft makers living in Maine from four secluded businesses. McCollum makes giant stamps, cookie cutters, and more using shapes and slight variations as his system. He uses a computer system to create billions of different shapes to use in his designs. McCollum touches on the fact that there is no universal symbolic system for everyone to use, and how nice it would be if there were.

Following the ‘Systems’ episode and four artist’s stories, was a panel discussion with faculty and staff members. The panel included Dr. Gregory Seigworth, of the Communication and Theatre department, Dr. Jill Craven, from Film Studies, Shauna L. Frischkorn, from Design and Fine Arts, and Dr. Christine Fillipone, also of the Design and Fine Arts Department.

They each offered their insight and what they gained from the film, and then took questions from the audience. The students had many good points of view and questions, and the discussion was very enlightening. Some important highlights from the panelist’s views included Dr. Fillipone’s discussion on systems relating to Cybernetics and evolving in the 1940’s.

Fillipone explained the difference between open and closed systems, where open systems interact with the environment, and closed do not. Dr. Craven also offered her view of systems when she said that, “artists love systems and disrupting them as well.”