Today I’m featuring another stunning and emotion-filled art exhibition. One of my major goals this year was to get involved and challenge myself. I think art exhibitions are a great way to not only enjoy art but also to practice some introspection. While an artist imbues some of themselves into their art, it is ultimately the viewer that decides how the art will interact with them. University is the perfect time for most students to find themselves and I feel that art exhibitions are one great way to get further on that journey.
Below you can find a review of Crawl to Stand which will feature some of Jennifer Laiwint’s breathtaking art- the pieces that I felt the most connection with. I ask that you please read to the very end where I’ll finish this post with an amazing interview with Jennifer. She provided a lot of insight and useful advice that is applicable to everyone but that might be of particular interest to students interested in York’s art program.
My experience with Jennifer Laiwint’s Crawl to Stand was emotional, breathtaking, and even inspirational. When I first walked into the Gales Gallery, the setup and feel couldn’t be more different than my experience with Bullied.
The first piece that I really felt connected with was a piece from Jennifer’s series Crawl to Stand.
I was immediately drawn in by the harsh disconnect between the vulnerability of the woman in the image and the cold metal wire that surrounds her. Jennifer Laiwint’s exhibition explores the topic of generational trauma and in this piece you can really feel the essence of that. I believe that I have two forms of generational trauma in my own life, one of those related to mental illness that has been ‘passed down’ for at least two generations. I could really see myself in this image because of this, which was a scary experience for me but one that also provided insight. I think that in order to move past through trauma, you have to be able to see it and accept how it’s impacted you. This piece really made me acknowledge the impact of trauma that I’ve been struggling with and although that’s difficult, it is necessary if I ever want to move past this part of my life.
From this piece I was really drawn to another similar but quite different one.
To me this piece really represented a journey. The woman in this piece is lit, representing to me that she is gaining knowledge. The forest represents the natural state of things, the goal that the woman is trying to attain. However the forest is dark and kind of scary. To me this represents that the woman has made significant progress in gaining knowledge but that she isn’t ready just yet to face the truth or reality of the situation that she in. To me, this image is a perfect depiction of where I am in my life, especially in regards to dealing with generational trauma. That light also represents hope to me. With knowledge comes wisdom and advancement. Life will get better.
The last piece that really called out to me was a second piece from the same series.
This piece to me really represents the second last stage before enlightenment happens. The women is vulnerable in the forest. She has accepted her past trauma but she isn’t yet ready to accept the good that life can bring to her. She sees the beauty in the world but she is afraid to trust it. However the women is only one step away from embracing her position in this new environment. Change is just around the corner. This image to me represents the next milestone in my journey.
All in all, Jennifer Laiwint’s Crawl to Stand exhibition featured some of the most powerful artwork that I’ve ever seen or interacted with. I really admire Jennifer for being able to put so much of her soul into her work. It’s not often that I feel such a powerful emotional connection and with her, and her artwork, I just did. Unfortunately her exhibition closed on December 6th so you might not have the chance to see everything in person. I’ve listed her website below if you want to check it out (I strongly encourage you to) but otherwise I really encourage you, the reader, to check out York’s event feed so you don’t miss fantastic exhibitions like this in the future.
Q & A with Jennifer Laiwant, the mastermind behind the thought-provoking ‘Crawl to Stand’
M: Thank you so much for agreeing to an interview. Can you please tell me a little about your background?
J: “I came to York a couple years ago as a visiting student, taking mainly psychology classes and one visual arts studio class. I had already completed a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and English and worked as an ESL teacher for about a year before I decided I wanted to be an art therapist. I came to York to take the necessary credits to get into the Masters in Art Therapy Program. I didn’t anticipate that I would love art making so much. I took a drawing class and that’s when I began to explore the theme of generational trauma that I’ve focused on in my exhibit now. I decided to continue with Visual Arts as well as Community Arts and am finishing my last year of a BFA.”
M: How did you know that the Visual Arts program was right for you?
J: “I didn’t go into visual arts thinking that it was something I wanted to pursue for such an extended amount of time. But I think it was through the process of creating and getting support, inspiration and critical feedback from my professors and classmates that I knew it was something I wanted to continue with and take seriously. Also, when I started making work that dealt with generational trauma, I knew that it would be a process that would require time, work and dedication in order to make something that was true to myself and that might connect with other people.”
M: How did you learn about generational trauma? When did you realize that this was something that was impacting your own life?
J: “I first learned about generational trauma when I was doing my Bachelors degree at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I took a class called “Representations of the Holocaust” which dealt with how the Holocaust has been represented in literature, art and theory. We looked at how this kind of trauma has affected children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and what kinds of narratives have come out of the indirect experience of the events. I was particularly interested in reading psychoanalytic perspectives as well as visual and literary narratives such as “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, which is a graphic novel about Spiegelman’s parents’ experience during and after the Holocaust and his personal experience growing up hearing about and feeling their trauma.
I felt I could really relate to these different perspectives on a very emotional and deep level. I saw so much of my father’s experience in Art Spiegelman’s stories and knew that this was a topic that I had to delve into wholeheartedly and that it would probably be a lifelong exploration.”
M: Was that what inspired you to create the ‘Crawl to Stand’ exhibition?
J: “The inspiration for this show came from hearing my grandparents’ stories of survival during the Holocaust. I grew up hearing about the Holocaust but it wasn’t until my early twenties that I felt ready to explore this part of my family history and world history. I believe that the experiences of my grandparents and the trauma that they went through have been passed on through generations. I felt a strong need to respond to them, while knowing I could never retell their stories or really know what they went through. I felt visual art was a good vehicle for this exploration, as it allowed me to reconstruct their experiences from a place of feeling and fantasy. I also wanted to show this work in a gallery in hopes that it might generate conversation about the topic of generational trauma and also because I wanted this part of my history to be seen.”
M: What were your expectations in regards to your exhibition?
J: “I try not to have too many expectations for these kinds of things, because I don’t want to be disappointed. But I hope that people will interact with the work and that they will look at it and want to know more about why these images and objects are in front of them. I hope that they will be intrigued enough to ask questions and, in the process, engage in a dialogue about this topic. I also hope to hear other people’s stories about their experience of generational trauma. I know that the Holocaust is my personal reference, but for another person it could be something else. I purposely chose not to refer explicitly to the Holocaust, except in my artist’s statement, so that viewers might make their own associations with it. ”
M: A previous artist that I interviewed (Veronica Blanco) stated that her exhibition process was very therapeutic. Have you had a similar experience?
J: “I think the process of making this work has definitely been therapeutic for me. Part of the intention of this work was to find some kind of healing. I remember when I first started making work around this topic; I was doing a lot of two dimensional drawings and feeling sad and anxious while doing it. My professor, Radislow Kudlinski asked me if he thought my father (who passed away over 10 years ago) would have wanted me to feel sad and anxious? I said no, and that’s when he encouraged me to start interacting with materials in a different way, imbuing my feelings into the materials, and, in the process, having a conversation with my father and grandparents. Once I started doing this, I felt the process become lighter and deeper at the same time.
I think having the work be seen by so many people at York and hearing other people tell me their stories that connect to this theme and history has been extremely validating. I am still in the middle of it though, so I think that it will only be after the show is over and I’ve had time to reflect on the experience that I’ll be able to say if and in what ways it has been therapeutic.”
M: What has your experience been like at like York? What is your favourite aspect?
J: “My experience at York has been really wonderful so far. I have had some amazing professors who have supported and guided me throughout this exploratory process. I have also formed some really strong connections with classmates who have assisted me with this work and also gave me valuable feedback that has informed my art practice. My favourite aspect of my experience so far has been connecting and learning from my professors and classmates. I also love that we get space, time and recognition for being creative, taking risks and pursuing the things that matter to us, whatever that might be.”
M: Are you involved on campus at all? Tell me a little bit about that.
J: “I am involved on campus, within the visual art program. I am one of the co-presidents of the Visual Art Student Association (VASA). We act as a resource for visual arts students and provide opportunities for professional development and exhibiting. This year I created the Student Curated Show and Mentorship Program, which allows two students (one from Visual Arts and one from Art History) to curate a show in the Special Projects Gallery and be mentored throughout the process by Suzanne Carte, the assistant curator of the AGYU.”
M: You don’t have to answer this if it’s too personal, but has your mental health been an important component in your university experience?
J: “Yes, it has been. I think dealing with such an emotionally weighty subject can impact our psychological state in many ways. I believe in psychotherapy and counseling as an important resource for healing and growth. I have seen a counselor at different times throughout my university experience to get support and have a space to talk about everything I’m going through. I’ve also tried to act as a support for other people dealing with mental health issues. I have volunteered at the distress centre crisis phone line and last year I did an internship at a place called the Creative Works Studio, which is an arts-based community centre that provides art classes and resources for people dealing with mental illness. I organized photography workshops and field trips and still volunteer there as much as I can.”
M: Do you happen to have any advice for prospective students?
J: “My advice to students is to recognize what a privilege it is to be able to study and make art and to be in a program that allows you to be creative and follow the musings of your imagination and instincts. I would also advise students to let themselves be challenged by their professors and classmates to go outside of their comfort zone and work in ways that might feel strange to them. Also, take as many opportunities as you can to exhibit your work. Keep checking on calls for submissions and apply for anything and everything that you feel might give you a forum to show your work. It is a really great learning experience and can pave the way for more opportunities outside of the York community.”
M: Thank you so much for this amazing interview, I just have one final question. Looking forward, what are your goals and dreams as an artist and as a student?
J: “Right now, the future is still uncertain. I never thought of applying to grad school for visual arts as an option for me, but I am considering it more and more these days. I don’t know what my next step will be, but I do know that I would like to continue making work that is meaningful to me and also use the arts to help people who are struggling with mental health challenges. ”
A huge thank you to Jennifer for putting so much thought and soul into her answers (much like her art). It was a pleasure connecting with her and her work, and I look forward to seeing great things from her in the future!
Readers, you can check out more of Jennifer’s work at her website which can be found here. I encourage you to leave any comments or questions below.