Plink, plink, plunk:
The previous night’s rain convenes in small pools on the dusty wood floor. It’s a Sunday morning at the former Frank Ix Building, an old silk factory turned exhibition space on the corner of Monticello Avenue and Second Street S.E., and three UVA art students – Liz Pisciotta, Margaret Gabriela Vest and Erin Crowe – survey the bare surroundings.
Surprisingly alert (considering they have been up all night, running on Three Musketeers bars and working on art projects), the three women stand amidst the emptiness, envisioning just how the upcoming Fringe Festival, with its "Wet" theme, will come to life between October 18 and November 9. They are its organizers.
Previously a one-man show headed by UVA’s director of studio arts, Bill Bennett, the UVA all-arts Fringe Festival – complement to the annual Virginia Film Festival – will be entirely student-run this year. Curatorial duties such as mapping out the exhibition space, trying to get diverse classes and teachers involved, publicizing the event, delegating tasks to peers and tending the logistics that accompany event-planning are a few of the responsibilities that this trio have taken on.
Responsibility, however, comes at a price. "My social life right now is the art department," says Pisciotta, a fifth-year student at UVA who graduated last year with a double major in medical anthropology and art. Pisciotta, now a fellow in the art department’s post-baccalaureate Aunspaugh Program, serves as an important link in passing on the knowledge from previous Fringe Festivals. The theme for last year’s festival (and film festival) was "Masquerade;" and this fit well with Pisciotta, whose art is usually "body related," she says. One of her installations included prints, taken over the course of a month, of her eyelashes as she removed mascara. They hung as a calendar, fluttering in an empty doorway and quickly became a "turning point" in Pisciotta’s evolution as an artist. Since then, Pisciotta’s self-image as an artist has grown to encompass more than art creation.
"A lot of art is actually getting it out there and doing curation, publicizing events and event planning," she says.
Crowe, the other Fringe co-chair, is a distinguished arts major in her senior year. "It’s unbelievable to have to plan this and get our art work done for it," Crowe says. "Technically, we’re trying to organize the whole art department and about five or six other departments, as well as other student groups we’ve gotten involved with this year."
With a minor in government and a focus on American politics, Crowe finds that she prefers to produce art that serves a political function.
"Erin has causes," says Pisciotta, and Crowe’s recent project of painting dog portraits at Fluvanna’s SPCA says it all.
"I have a fascination with having a specific message," says Crowe. "I don’t want to paint something that’s just pretty, I want to help the world. To have something that you have a reaction to."
For this year’s festival, one of Crowe’s installations will feature a wall of Latex, milk-filled breasts. Not only does this particular work of hers explore a wetness that is not of water, but it also honors October as national breast cancer awareness month, Crowe says.
Equally important to pulling off this shindig is Vest, president of UVA’s Art Student Society with a double major in art and cognitive science, who is intrigued by the link between water conservation and art. One of her fringe pieces grew from the story of a man who was locked in a car in the desert, living off the water he collected from a folded piece of Saran Wrap that he placed on his dashboard each day. With this as inspiration, Vest has been playing with the idea of creating moisture just from breath, she says, and doing so through the media of plastic gloves and her own breath.
Ultimately, these three women have been given a rare opportunity: They have learned as much about life as they have about art in organizing an arts festival, Crowe says. In surveying the deserted, and still rather dirty, Ix building, Crowe, Pisciotta and Vest look at one another and sigh, thinking of all that needs to come together before the Festival takes off. Yet the sound of falling raindrops reverberates, suggesting, perhaps, that their course is positive.
"We’re going to be up late tonight," Pisciotta says with a laugh.