Maxwell alumna Phaedra Stewart ’91 finds it difficult to look at the world without seeing opportunities to connect with people, raise their spirits and empower them to make their lives better. A self-described serial entrepreneur (some might say a serial…
SU Fellow exhibits video artwork at Whitney Museum
SU Fellow exhibits video artwork at Whitney MuseumJune 03, 2003Judy Holmesjlholmes@syr.edu
Robyn Tomlin’s video art has been projected on one of the world’s largest outdoor screens in the heart of Tokyo and on the walls of a small restaurant in Syracuse’s Armory Square. Three weeks ago, Tomlin’s latest video art-“I-candy” and “Candle Chandelier”-graced the main entrance and courtyard of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City as part of the 4th Annual “Madison Avenue: Where Fashion Meets Art” extravaganza, held May 5-17.
A Fellow in Syracuse University’s School of Art and Design, College of Visual and Performing Arts, Tomlin believes that projected video art can enhance the architectural and interior design of any structure. “Video art is a superb, often overlooked medium that can be used as part of architectural design and help create public spaces with unique atmospheres,” she says. The video art she displayed at the Whitney was incorporated into the interior design setting created by Tsao and McKown Architects for a benefit event held at the museum on May 8.
“I-candy” was a six-foot-long projected multi-colored eye that followed the guests; the eye was decorated in a new way each time it blinked. “Candle Chandelier” was projected upwards in a nearby courtyard. The image, which was created from projected candles, slowly transformed into different kinds of chandeliers.
Tomlin began working with video about five years ago and is using her University Fellowship to hone her skills and to experiment with the form. “I love the light,” she says of the art form. In addition to walls, dimensional screens and metals, she has projected her video art into a sink. One of her goals is to create a video pond, reminiscent of a Japanese garden, by projecting images into two inches of water. Her art themes are heavily influenced by nature and by the 13 years she spent living and working in Tokyo.
A native of Canada, Tomlin moved to Tokyo shortly after graduating from the University of Victoria in British Columbia in 1988 with a degree in psychology. Her goal was to earn enough money to pay off her student loans by teaching English as a second language. Within two years, she established a successful business designing corporate English language classes. She eventually sold the business, spent a year traveling around the world, and then moved to the remote Canadian wilderness, where she and her former husband built a log cabin from hand-hewn logs and lived off the land-hunted, fished and grew their own food-for a year.
Her initial foray into video art began after she emerged from her wilderness cabin and returned to Tokyo. She took a class to learn to use a video camera to create documentaries. Her student documentary earned an award and was screened at a government-sponsored symposium. It was the boost that launched her into a totally new career. Over the next few years, she produced two documentaries for Japanese public television and a weekly program, called “Robyn’s Report,” for a local cable station. She worked as a freelance camerawoman and video director for Coca-Cola Japan and Adidas Japan, and as a freelance video journalist for Asia Press International.
She also began to experiment with video art. In 1998, she convinced an advertising company to promote “one minute of silence and beauty” in the form of video art on the five-story, outdoor screen near a Tokyo subway station.
“People are bombarded with sounds and images from this inescapable, huge advertising screen 24 hours a day,” Tomlin says. “I told the company’s representatives that they were turning the heart of Tokyo into an ugly place. Rather than bombard people with constant noise, the company had a social responsibility to give people one minute of beauty.”
The company agreed to a trial run of one minute of art video every hour. Tomlin supplied the company with her work and the work she solicited from other video artists. The program became permanent and continues today under the name of Gallery-Q. Two years ago, she decided to pursue a graduate degree in fine arts and was offered a Fellowship at SU. Since arriving in Syracuse, she has exhibited her work at the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown; in the CNY Visual Artists Showcase, hosted by WCNY; at the Woman Made Gallery in Chicago; the Spark Gallery in Syracuse; and at the Ford Gallery on the Eastern Michigan University campus.
A year ago, she was selected to exhibit her video art-“Nice Girls Don’t Swear,” which is projected into a bright red fiberglass sink, and “Digital Frankenstein”-in the Everson Museum of Art’s 2002 Biennial in which she was awarded the distinguished “Best of Show.” Judging the show was Raina Lampkins-Fielder, associate director for education at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Tomlin is now preparing for a solo exhibition at the Everson that is scheduled to open in mid-September.
“When I started making my art in Tokyo, I really had no idea where I fit in as an artist,” Tomlin says. “I was just following my inner compass. It felt right.”