Special Feature: Reflections

Reflections on 2018 by Laurel McLaughlin

PhD Candidate and Curator, Bryn Mawr College

WFU Class of 2013

Our ‘Reflections’ series continues with the brilliant Laurel McLaughlin sharing her thoughts on 2018, contributing an aptly titled feature called ‘2018 in Hindsight: Timescales of Relationality’. Enjoy!

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2018 in Hindsight: Timescales of Relationality

by Laurel McLaughlin

In this contemporary world so focused on the present, how do we look at our past—especially considering milestones and project-based work which seems to compartmentalize academic time—and the future, wherein goals attempt to overpower all else? As a PhD candidate at Bryn Mawr College, it’s something I’ve been considering after a mammoth year of doctoral exams, symposia, two major exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), two retrospectives at PAFA and Bryn Mawr College, and the development of a programming series. I’ll share two experiences from this past year, which have proven to challenge this conception of “production” between the past, present, and future.

This past fall, I had the pleasure of working on Tania El Khoury’s residency: ear-whispered, her exhibition: Camp Pause, and a related programming series at Bryn Mawr College. El Khoury’s practice relays the experiences of subjects caught in political upheaval. Her “live art” performances and installations tell the stories of refugees, migrants, and political activists in the Middle East, particularly in the regions of Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. Alongside Bryn Mawr College’s Curator for Art & Artifacts, Carrie Robbins, I developed a series of programs throughout the fall semester that activated the themes in El Khoury’s work, including migration, diaspora, memory, and trauma, with scholars, curators, and artists from interdisciplinary fields, such as anthropology, archaeology, art history, performance, poetry, political science, and urban studies. The extension of the programming throughout the Fall semester enabled a meditative engagement with El Khoury’s practice that related to my Masters work at The Courtauld with Sarah Wilson, my current dissertation with Homay King at Bryn Mawr, and an upcoming presentation at the College Art Association with Carrie Robbins for a panel investigating migration in contemporary art. Drawing these past, present, and future endeavors together caused me to consider the types of knowledge that both moved and challenged me. Rather than acquiring or mastering such knowledge, the experiential seemed to function within a type of relational structure, as I learned with the subjects in the works, the artists, and the regions in which they practice.

Another experience which challenges me to consider the past within present terms, and vice-versa has come from my doctoral prelims. At Bryn Mawr College, we define four major fields of study, select advisors from each, and then embark upon a year-long study program until we sit for four written exams and then an oral exam. I studied Post-War Monuments and Trauma Studies with Christiane Hertel; 20th–21st-Century Performance Art and Studies with Homay King, my primary advisor; Global Contemporary and Post-Colonial Theory with James Merle Thomas; and Feminist Video and Installation Art with Kaja Silverman. The opportunity to research works and texts, develop bibliographies, and think alongside such dedicated and brilliant scholars, was fascinating and simultaneously humbling. I found that as I examined the canon in the beginning of the process, and reviewed my bibliographies in retrospect, the holes and even erasures within the canon and my own thinking as well emerged. But these lacunae somehow continue to fuel present and future goals, in this kind of ever-evolving exchange with the past. These reminiscent thoughts ultimately stem from a kind of internal resistance to seeing milestones or personal accomplishments as such—as “products” of an art world, or an emblem of “mastery” over a field—but instead as generative and continually-evolving encounters with others.

Spotlight Interview: Caroline Culp

Caroline Culp: Graduate Student

PhD in Art History, Stanford University 

WFU Class of 2013

Double Major: Art History & History (Honors)

Caroline Culp launched straight into her PhD out of undergrad, which is no small feat. With enormous amounts of research and internship experience under her belt, Caroline was accepted into Stanford's Art History PhD program upon graduation from Wake. She speaks to us now about her experience thus far.

DeacLink:  Tell us about what you’ve been doing since graduation.

Caroline Culp: I am currently in the Art History PhD program at Stanford, where I study American art and material culture of the eighteenth century. I very firmly feel that the programs, fellowships, and internships I completed at Wake allowed me to get into a PhD program without first obtaining a masters degree. During my sophomore year, I had an internship at National Portrait Gallery in DC, where I made some great contacts. The summer after my junior year, I had a research fellowship through the history department. After graduation, I worked as a curatorial research intern at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Working in the American Wing with the curator of sculpture to organize and research an upcoming exhibition, I realized this was what I wanted to do in my career--to be a curator at large arts institution. After a grueling round of applications to graduate programs (a full-time job in itself!), I began at Stanford in Fall of 2014. 

DL: What has surprised you the most about graduate school? 

CC: Graduate school is really hard. You have to be 100% sure before going into a PhD program that it is the path you want. It is taxing intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally. You’re likely to be far from my friends and family. You must be completely sure before you make that kind of a jump. But, I love what I do, and I love the program. I have grown enormously in my work, and I wouldn’t choose anything else.

DL: What advice would you give to students considering a PhD program?  

CC: Professor Jay Curley gave me some great advice. He said “Don’t pay for any art history advanced degree if you can help it. Emerging in debt and faced with a lower paying job is a sad way to spend your thirties!” But the reality is that three out of four students at Stanford come in with a masters. I would say that if a PhD in art history is what you know you need to do, take the debt or let your family help out with getting a masters degree. You will then have a better chance at acceptance to a PhD program. 

DL: So what specifically are you wanting to do after graduation? 

CC: The PhD program allows me keep my options open, and that is the best way to approach an advanced degree. I do feel that I would be best suited for a career in curation, but I will still be applying for academic positions. After teaching for the first time this quarter, I was surprised to realize I loved how fulfilling it was. 

DL: What are some of the realities of pursuing a career in the curatorial field? 

CC: The brutal reality is that the job market is very unforgiving. Positions are few and far between. When you finish your PhD, you have a 1-2 year window where you can apply for jobs. And, there are a limited number of jobs in your specialty available. I am focusing on early American art, but I will likely be applying to broad curatorial positions in American art. There are a limited number of American art positions across the country, and those that are open at the right time are an even smaller number. It takes a lot guts to go into this field. You have to have a lot of heart and get lucky. And you have to believe that it will work out. 

I’m guessing my first job won’t be glamorous. Starting at smaller institutions to start is very normal, or moving to a less-than-desirable location. You have no control in this job market. You just have to embrace the opportunities given to you. 

DL: Where would you say are the most opportunities in the curatorial field? 

CC: I would definitely say modern has the most curatorial opportunities. Also, with contemporary, you have the option to pursue curatorial positions in galleries.  

DL: What is the art scene like in Palo Alto? 

CC: The West Coast art scene seems to be (from my removed perspective) a mixture of California chill with a sense of nostalgia. Many artists are investigating questions of representation in various ways. The housing market has largely determined where artists can live. Right now, housing prices have pushed artists to Oakland and increasingly to LA. Being in Palo Alto, we are geographically disconnected. 

DL: Have you had the chance to become involved with the Cantor Center on Stanford’s campus? 

CC: At Stanford, there are various small curatorial opportunities, one of which is the highlight of my time at Stanford. Two years ago, I was able to take a class in which five PhD students in humanities disciplines worked together to conceive a show. We created a conceptually focused exhibition, implemented our vision, and produced a catalog. The class, taught by Richard Meyer and Connie Wolf, was part of a Mellon Grant that enabled Stanford and the Cantor to work together. 

Another Mellon funded initiative allows graduate students to develop and curate their own small show. After putting together a proposal, you get help from the Director of Academic Engagement at the Cantor to help make your vision a reality. 

DL: Given your interest in American Art, were you at all involved with Reynolda House as an undergrad? 

CC: Yes, I was a curatorial intern under Alison Slaby at Reynolda House, and my time there was very formative. It exposed me to a lot of canonical works of American art: the museum has a fantastic collection. My internship there has, I think, shaped the direction of my research and scholarly focus. 
 

Spotlight Interview: Laurel McLaughlin

Laurel McLaughlin: Ridgway Curatorial Fellow in Special Collections, Bryn Mawr College

Philadelphia

WFU Class of 2013

Presidential Scholar of Voice

Double Major: Art History & English

Minor: Linguistics

 

To call Laurel McLaughlin multitalented would be a severe understatement. While at Wake Forest, she was a double major, Presidential Scholar of Voice, and a selected member of the 2013 Student Union Art Acquisitions Committee (formerly known as the ‘New York Art Buying Trip’). Since the interview, Laurel has completed graduate school and become the Ridgway Curatorial Fellow in Special Collections at Bryn Mawr College.


 

DeacLink: Tell us about your current job, and any other projects going on outside of work.

Laurel: I am currently a graduate student in the doctoral program at Bryn Mawr College with a focus on contemporary performance art and theories of embodiment, in addition to working as a Curatorial Assistant at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where I’ve collaborated on exhibitions ranging from Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis to World War I and American Art. I am also currently co-chairing the Bryn Mawr College Graduate Group Symposium, which will take place in the Fall of 2017, and co-curating two upcoming exhibitions, one with the University of Pennsylvania's Incubation Series, entitled Passages, at Fjord Gallery, Philadelphia, and the other at both Bryn Mawr College and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts entitled, Beyond Boundaries: Feminine Forms, which will be accompanied by programming and an exhibition catalog.

 

DL: Take us through your journey to your current occupation since leaving Wake.

LM: I graduated from Wake Forest University in 2013 and had the opportunity to do an internship in the Contemporary department at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, after which I stayed on as a Research Assistant for a year working on exhibitions ranging from International Pop to Allora & Calzadilla: Intervals. I then moved to London in 2014 where I completed a Masters with Distinction entitled, “Corporeality within Globalised Migratory Aesthetics According to Nine Female Artists: Mona Hatoum, Doris Salcedo, Milica Tomić, Oreet Ashery, Tania Bruguera, Tímea Oravecz, Meriç Algün Ringborg, and Teresa Margolles,” at The Courtauld Institute of Art in Global Conceptualism with Dr. Sarah Wilson. In 2015 I returned to Philadelphia where I began graduate coursework at Bryn Mawr College.


 

DL: What are your biggest incentives and motivations in the job you’re doing now?

LM: My love for museum institutions and the public knowledge that they engender is a major motivation for my current graduate studies as I hope to join the ranks of a curatorial team.


 

DL:  How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

LM: I am profoundly grateful for the work ethic that the liberal arts education at Wake Forest promoted. Every semester I would petition the Dean to take more classes than perhaps encouraged, and each semester became more of a challenge and an incredible adventure. The opportunity to study in such an interdisciplinary environment has continued to reinvigorate my studies with a multifaceted perspective throughout graduate school.

I would also be extremely remiss if I did not acknowledge the wonderful mentors that guided me throughout my time at Wake Forest. Professor Jay Curley is one such professor whose professionalism, scholarship, and dedication to his field first inspired me to pursue graduate studies and a curatorial career; and he remains a valued mentor and wonderful interlocutor to this day. I am also grateful for Professors Barry Maine, Bernadine Barnes, Teresa Radomski, and Herman Rapaport whose teaching abilities, class discussions, and vocal exercises never ceased to amaze me.

 

DL: What do you think Wake arts could have done to have better prepared students for life after graduation?

LM: Looking back, it would have been helpful to speak with recent Wake alumni who had continued with graduate studies in Art History.

 

DL:  Prior to what you’re doing now, what other sorts of jobs have you had? How did you find and apply to them?

LM: I’ve held a variety of internships and fellowship positions at The Reynolda House Museum, Wake Forest University Special Collections, The Barnes Foundation, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Sadie Coles HQ (London), Hales Gallery (London), The Slought Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. I found most of these opportunities on museum websites and art-related search engines, such as the New York Foundation for the Arts, and The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

 

DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

LM: One of the most challenging aspects of academia is the constant multitasking. While Wake Forest certainly introduced me to this lifestyle, graduate school increased that tenfold. Between applications for external opportunities, research papers, language exams, readings, jobs, classes, and this enigma called “life,” I’ve found a strange balance -- but it certainly took some time.



 

DL: How do you like living and working in Philadelphia?

LM: I’ve enjoyed my time living, working, and studying in Philadelphia tremendously. I enjoy my short commute to the suburbs for classes and the resources at Bryn Mawr that all remain close to the city. Philadelphia itself is a charming place to live with numerous neighborhoods and diverse communities. Its art scene ranges from contemporary museums such as The Fabric Workshop Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, to hybrid social activist platforms such as the Slought Foundation, to encyclopaedic institutions such as the PMA and PaFA, with some quirky haunts like the Mutter Museum and the Eastern State Penitentiary. The city teems with history. And its close proximity to New York, Washington, and Boston are an added bonus.

 

DL: What has surprised you the most about the art scene in Philly? Do you have any advice for students wanting to move to move there?

LM: I have been surprised by the opportunities to partake in the Philadelphia art scene at such a young stage in my career. Unlike neighboring cities, which seem to have established hierarchies for their art scenes, Philadelphia remains fairly open and eager for collaboration and new activities.


 

DL: What and where is next for you?

LM: I will remain in Philadelphia to finish my second year in Bryn Mawr’s graduate program. Next year I hope to undertake a curatorial fellowship while writing my dissertation proposal.


 

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?

LM: Be creative. While other students spent time at networking events or seminars on LinkedIn during the summers, I spent time in museum archives, which eventually led to current jobs and curatorial opportunities. Our art field, although seemingly corporate at times, operates a bit differently and requires some out-of-the-box thinking. Never be afraid to write an unusual proposal or make known the fact that you’re curious.