‘Giving Birth to Itself:’ Phipps ’99 conducts performance installation

During the past two weeks, the Wilde Gallery of the WLS Spencer Art Studio building took on a unique new role: that of a studio. This show, entitled “Giving Birth to Itself; The Process as an End to the Means” was a product of Tyson Phipps ’99, as part of his thesis in studio art. Most student shows run no longer than one week, and usually aim to present work in an organized and finished way. In these respects, Phipps’s show was highly unique and innovative.

For this show, Phipps transported the contents of his senior studio space into the gallery. Complete with the portable white walls characteristic of the senior studio, the installation was successful in creating this working atmosphere. The actual elements in the show were varied, but all had a “sketch-like” quality to them. Quotes mainly taken from literary sources were scrawled on the walls in black marker. The walls were also peppered with tacked-up sheets of notebook paper, containing ink sketches, prose, and notes on various subjects. More sculptural pieces, such as a sleeping plaster dog and in-progress paintings were placed throughout the space. The subjects of these pieces tended to focus on the human figure, with a rather dark and ominous quality to them. Other items such as a stereo, art supplies, a desk, clothing and a bottle of mouthwash were obviously present for their functions, but added to the realistic studio feel.

In addition to the in-progress quality of the work, the show contained an important performance aspect. Phipps could be found working in his new studio, sometimes with music blaring and other times hidden in a corner, surprising many viewers. He became an element of the show. Conversely, the presence of viewers may have had an impact on Phipps’ work, as art studios are not often common spaces. As a result, the show evolved over the course of the two weeks, although the overall feel remained the same. The most successful change occurred on one of the walls of the gallery, which became overwhelmed by ink sketches as more were tacked up. This group of sketches took on the quality of frames from a film, and gained a temporal as well as spatial significance.

The sketch-like quality of the work and the concept of the show both fit well with Phipps’ style. In past work, his strongest pieces have been those that are immediate and unpolished, capturing the first moment that an idea is born. His meaning seems to be specific to youth and the learning process. He speaks to those moments of realizing that someone has wondered the same questions as you and has even had the same conclusions as you. The personal amazement that lies in these realizations was a driving force for this show. Feelings of something unfamiliar seeming familiar, dreams and subconscious thought permeated many of the elements.

Phipps explained that the subject of this work is irony and paradox. A large part of this subject comes from his belief that “words don’t measure up to what they are supposed to stand for.” The context of words is what gives them their meaning, but herein lies another paradox: “we carry our own contexts around with us; we can’t escape them,” Phipps states. The irony that is central to Phipps’ ideology stems from paradox, but he claims that irony cannot be defined in words. He tries to imply irony through juxtapositions and associations of different elements, and aims to “convey the weight of paradox.” In addition, his ideas span several different subjects; Phipps makes connections between philosophy, religion, psychology, science and art.

Although the show seemed to have so many ideas opening up that one could not possibly examine them all, Phipps says that it implied a possible direction for his work. He explains that it caused a “distillation of certain things,” and he will attempt to investigate some of these ideas more closely. Specifically, he mentioned working with more scientific sources, quoting the Heisenberg uncertainty principle as one example. Although his work has consisted largely of raw work and has resulted in a constantly expanding series of ideas, it would be interesting to see if Phipps can condense and confine his ideas surrounding irony. Putting pressure on this “undefined” concept and attempting to reach a definition may create a new energy in his work. This would also allow Phipps to critically examine the effectiveness of his current style in terms of conveying his ideas.

Phipps’ thesis work will continue through the year, and probably beyond that time, as he calls this his “life project.” Opportunities to see his and other thesis work will occur in individual shows throughout the year in the Wilde Gallery, first floor of the WLS Spencer Art Building. In addition, the senior show will be held in the spring in the Williams College Museum of Art. Phipps urges people to simply wander through WLS Spencer; one need not go far to come face-to-face with the work of Williams artists.

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