Special exhibits of work by photographer Noelle McCleaf and Sheryl Oring are featured along with student projects
Fall art exhibitions at the Ringling College of Art and Design include a student show, faculty illustrations and the work of Sheryl Oring, a former journalist who turns typewriters into art and interviews into installations.
In photographic and video projects such as “I Wish to Say,” Oring dresses up as a 1960s secretary, sits down at a manual typewriter, and types postcards with people’s thoughts about everything from 9/11 to their favorite vacations.
“It’s so interesting to see your words typed on a page,” says Oring, an assistant professor of art at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “There’s something powerful about that. People have an emotional reaction.”
For more than a decade, she’s been doing these typing interviews. She’s seen social media change the way people think and communicate. Many are grateful for a chance to talk.
“I think there’s less and less personal conversation,” she says. “There’s less and less listening to people.”
“Agitype: Changing the World One Letter at a Time” will be on display through Dec. 7 in the Stulberg Gallery at the Basch Visual Art Center.
Visitors will start with an installation Oring calls “Writer’s Block.” It debuted in Berlin’s Bebelplatz, the site of Nazi book-burning in 1933. The piece features dozens of antique typewriters caged in rusty metal bars.
Mark Ormond, curator of exhibitions at Ringling College, believes this piece is a powerful image.
“As soon as it was installed on Friday, the students came out with their phones,” he says. “They were just dumbstruck. I wasn’t prepared for that.”
“Agitype” also features text, photos and video from Oring’s interview projects. She celebrates freedom of the press and expression.
“It really resonates with contemporary issues,” Ormond says. “To me, the most important thing about contemporary art is that it reflects the moment. Her show is really about people’s voices. People’s voices being heard.”
McCleaf and ‘Mapping’
Photographs by Noelle McCleaf, a Ringling alumna who is now a professor at the college, will be on display through Dec. 12 in the Basch Gallery at the Thompson Academic Center.
Her work, which often features photos of her mother, explores themes of memory, relationships and identity in a southern landscape. Images come from “A Bee in Her Bonnet,” 2010-14, and “Evie Lou and Laura Jane,” 2012-16.
McCleaf has written about her projects, too, but her photos will be shown only with captions.
“I’m a big believer that the work has to speak for itself,” Ormond says. “These are large images, 30 by 40 inches. They’re color film, not digital prints, which is a more traditional medium.”
Through Oct. 26, the Smith Gallery in the Thompson Center will feature a six-year student project called “A Tale of Two Cities, Mapping a Site: In and Out of Context.”
Young artists from Sarasota and Antwerp, Belgium, collaborated to create “maps” of the two cities following certain themes. The results took the form of photographs, paintings, sculptures, installations and performances.
“They really were designed by the students,” Ormond says. “They’re as much about the relationships among the students as anything else.”
One of those Ringling students, John Dillard, suggests visitors start with a narrow focus.
“I would approach each theme individually,” he says, “and then look at the whole show.”
For the theme of food and ritual, he looked at the relationship of his body with fruit from the landscape of Florida. One still image from a video shows him bathing in a tub filled with oranges.
Dillard graduated from Charlotte High School before going on to Ringling. He enjoyed hosting college students from Antwerp last fall, then traveling to Belgium this spring.
“Hands down, one of the most incredible experiences of my lifetime,” he says. “It taught me that, as long as I’m an artist, seeing things for the first time, I’m never really a tourist. That was really personal for me. I came back and I was so energized, so motivated.”
Interviews as art
Other fall exhibitions at Ringling College include the 8th annual Student Show, through Nov. 2 in the Madeby Gallery, and “Meaning/Material,” through Nov. 13 in the Cooley Photography Center.
There also will be the “New Illustration Faculty Exhibition,” through Nov. 2 in the Selby Foundation Gallery.
The “Agitype” exhibit, a mid-career survey of Oring’s work, traces a one-of-a-kind journey through arts and letters.
She grew up in North Dakota and studied journalism at the University of Colorado. She became a business writer and assistant city editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.
A fellowship took her to Germany, where Oring began a new career as an artist. She went on earn a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of California, San Diego. Now she teaches at UNC Greensboro.
Her interest in interviewing dates back to her days as a journalist. Wearing vintage dresses for those interviews is an homage to her grandmother, who was an impeccably dressed executive secretary during the 1960s.
“When I visited her,” Oring says, “she used to let me dress up in her office attire.”
The ‘60s clothes and an up-do hairstyle also serve a practical purpose. Strangers notice her and her typewriter. Many are intrigued by the idea of sharing their thoughts and stories.
“It draws people into this kind of crazy thing — a person-on-the-street interview with a twist,” Oring says. “I hope that the work makes people think a little bit about what their priorities are and how they act on them.”