Professor profile: The viewer as the artist

Maria Velasco, visual art

As far as Maria Velasco is concerned, viewers should not just stand back and passively view a piece of art, they should be part of it.

Velasco, associate professor of visual art, teaches and practices installation art. In a new KU YouTube video, Velasco discusses installation art, what it is and how it differs from other mediums, her work, involving an audience in art, teaching and what viewers can take from an art installation.

“Installation art is a word that doesn’t usually carry a specific image with it,” Velasco said. “It is an arrangement of various objects, utilizing different mediums. Then they’re put together in such a way that there is a set of relationships between them.”

In her work, Velasco is more concerned with spatial relations and the audience than a particular medium. She’s done installations on KU’s campus, throughout the country and in several locales in South America. The works often explore themes of individual and collective identities and their relationships to female sexuality and language.

The audience is often just as big of a part of the installation as the creator. One of her works composed a poem, spelled out in edible chocolate. As people viewed it, slowly they realized that it was acceptable to, literally, eat the art. In another piece, viewers a lasting contribution to the project and took something away.

“The piece rotated around the idea of hopes and dreams and wish making,” Velasco said of her work “That Which Holds Promise.” “So I created a series of stations or opportunities in the gallery space for people to make a wish and contribute, materially, something to the piece. We had a pile of clay in one area and asked people to take a piece of clay, compress it and make a wish and add it to a wishing well that was set up in the space.”

Her students tend to be those that are looking to work in multiple disciplines. They often have experience in various mediums and are looking to bring them together in an installation.

The students annually display their work in a public exhibition. The display gives them an opportunity to show their work, and to learn more about two sides of the art world.

“The annual installation show gives the students the opportunity to see themselves in a professional setting,” Velasco said. “It gives them a view of the practice of art, versus the making of the art.”

Whether an installation is one she produced or came from the mind of her students, Velasco said she hopes viewers take something away from the exhibition, and that the artist learns from the viewer.

“When a viewer comes to see an installation, I hope that they will have an experience that will transform them, or touch them in some way,” she said. “I would hope that they would make a personal connection.”

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