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New Art Hire Brings Experiences Abroad to Campus

Linnaea Weld

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Photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

Professor Cayla Skillin-Brauchle brings her travels abroad and trans-disciplinary art to Whitman this year. As a visiting professor of visual arts, she is teaching two drawing courses this fall as well as a foundations course and printmaking course.

Skillin-Brauchle received her Bachelors of Arts from Beloit College in Wisconsin. During her time as an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Pune, India, an experience, she says, that shaped a large part of her life trajectory and artwork.

“An important part of my history is that I have lived in Asia quite a bit,” said Skillin-Brauchle. “It was sort of my first time being a working artist in the world.”

After graduating from Beloit, she moved to Thailand for two years, where she made artwork and taught infants how to swim.

Upon returning from Thailand, Skillin-Brauchle did a print-making residency in Chicago, another experience that strongly influenced her as an artist.

“I ended up working with all these designers, [who] really shaped the way that I work,” she said.

After receiving her MFA from Ohio University, Skillin-Brauchle received a Fulbright grant to travel to India again. To craft her Fulbright proposal, she drew on her previous studies in India.

“A lot of my work … for the last 10 years has been about ideas of ownership,” said Skillin-Brauchle.

She particularly drew on her study abroad experience.

“I was doing work about the role of creativity in a culture where everything is ornate,” she said.

For her fellowship, Skillin-Brauchle lived in Pune and Mumbai for a year, studying Indian cargo trucks as “a model of long term value-added ownership.”

She says that the experience taught her about the “juncture between expectations and what actually happens.”

She has translated this lesson to her teaching experience, formerly teaching printmaking in Chicago and now teaching at Whitman. She is focused on creating a framework for students to work within but not stifling students with expectations.

“When we have expectations for our artwork … we tend to be disappointed and not disappointed because the work is bad, but disappointed because we already envisioned what is going to happen,” said Skillin-Brauchle.

Another major aspect of Skillin-Brauchle’s background is her work as a trans-disciplinary artist. She has done work with drawing and printmaking, along with interactive performance pieces that incorporate elements of both of these mediums.

“Listening is one of my skills as an artist, so I try to frame performances in which people can share and that I can be a really active listener, and then present the information … that comes to the surface in those performances in other ways,” she said.

While the performances differ, one commonality Skillin-Brauchle focuses on is absurdism.

“I do something somewhat absurd, and in that, hopefully, make the people around me much more comfortable,” she said. “A lot of my performances include costume … and props.”

Through the absurdist elements, she aims to make herself approachable by viewers. In a 2012 piece entitled “The Declaration and Preservation of Love,” she set up in a gallery space and sugar-coated any tokens of affection brought to her. The piece incorporated the performance of sugarcoating, along with a hand-screen printed outfit adorned with red hearts, and screen-printed labels that participants filled out and hung along with their items in the gallery space.

Looking forward to her future here on campus, Skillin-Brauchle’s plans encompass her own artwork, along with goals for the classroom.

“My goal is to continue to develop systems for myself to help students make authentic work … [and] to help students to access the part of their brain that allows them to work really hard on something that they don’t know will turn out,” said Skillin-Brauchle.

In terms of her own art?

“I am looking for a discussion I can help facilitate here,” she said.

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New Art Hire Brings Experiences Abroad to Campus