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W&L Student Arts League Recreates Warhol’s “Screen Tests”

“Bring a prop, wear a hat, or come up with your own way of portraying your personality on video,” declare posters inviting students, faculty and employees to take part in The Warhol Screen Test Project at Washington and Lee University.

W&L’s Student Arts League is spearheading the project as part of a forthcoming three-part exhibition of Andy Warhol’s work at Washington and Lee, Roanoke College and Hollins University in 2012. The three institutions were among the 180 across the country to receive Warhol photographs from the Warhol Foundation in 2008.

“This project is very exciting because it invites the entire W&L community to participate in an art work that explores the ideas set forth by one of the most important artists of the 20th century,” said Clover Archer Lyle, director of W&L’s Staniar Gallery.

Warhol created hundreds of film portraits of individuals he called “screen tests,” inviting them to sit in front of a neutral background and look into a video camera for several minutes. “I was actually unaware of Warhol’s screen tests until Clover approached the Student Arts League about doing our one-minute version of them,” said Emily Rigamer, president of the league and a senior art history major with a minor in museum studies. “After looking at his work, I think it’s very artistic and a really interesting study of human nature and how different people react when they’re in front of a camera.”

She estimated that in the first hour of the screen tests on October 6, the league filmed 14 people, mostly students and faculty in Wilson Hall. “Some people just sat and stared at the lens for the full minute. Others avoided looking at the camera the entire time. We’ve had a lot of people talking during their turn and it almost looks like they’re having a conversation, because the videos are black and white with no sound. I’m curious to see how people will interpret them,” said Rigamer. “And it’s funny how some people think the one minute goes quickly but for other people it seems like five minutes.”

Rigamer said that the league hopes to get at least 50 screen tests. “When you come into the exhibition, you’ll see a continuous stream of videos with lots of different faces, so people don’t see the same faces over again,” she explained. “It’s an interesting way to capture a little taste of the personalities of different people.”

Rigamer noted that since she is more inclined toward art history than visual art “this has been really interesting and educational in that I’ve learned a little bit about lighting. That’s the one difficulty we face. We do have to pick somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of light coming in. It has to be a pretty dark space for us to make it work properly.”

The schedule for the screen tests includes two sessions in the living room of W&L’s Elrod Commons on October 18 and 19. “We want people to come and sit for us,” said Rigamer. The league then plans to travel to events, sororities, fraternities and student groups. “We’re hoping to target other groups to get more people. Now that we’re experts at setting up the set and moving it, we can go just about anywhere,” she added.

The Student Arts League aims to promote and encourage art, especially student art, across campus. “This is easily the biggest project the league has ever done,” said Rigamer, “so we’re very excited about it.”

Archer Lyle said “The project resonates with their mission to broaden the scope of the arts here on campus by involving participants in both creation of the work and the exhibition of the final video when it is shown in the Staniar Gallery.”

When W&L received the Warhol prints, a stipulation was that the collection should be exhibited once every 10 years. “There have been a number of exhibitions of these polaroid collections,” said Archer Lyle. “We wanted to do something a little bit different with this exhibit. So we are collaborating with Roanoke College and Hollins University, which allows us to pull from all three collections and strengthen some themes we are presenting. We also decided to include other works by contemporary artists who were inspired by or reference Warhol in their work, as well as the students’ recreation of Warhol’s screen tests.”

The collaborative exhibition, titled “In the Event of Andy Warhol,” will preview at Washington and Lee’s Staniar Gallery from Jan. 9 to Feb. 4, 2012, then travel to Roanoke College’s Olin Hall Galleries from March 1 to April 1, 2012. The exhibition will end at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University from May 31 to Sept. 15, 2012.

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Sarah Tschiggfrie
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