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Taylor Lopatofsky

Taylor Lopatofsky '17

As an artist and member of intersecting communities, Taylor Lopatofsky has experimented with many mediums, ultimately landing on a digitally-based, interdisciplinary work. She discusses her current projects, faculty partnerships, and the crucial role art plays in the mind.

What is your focus as an art student?

“I work with a lot of different things. I do sound installations; I do video performance; I do photography. It’s a cool major because Intermedia combines a lot of different things. It’s pretty open-ended in terms of the possibilities. I use audio for sound-based work. I use video for performance-based work. I use film photography—also digital photography. I’ve even played around with 3D modeling, though I don’t think that’s part of my practice necessarily. For the video performance work, I’m usually performing somehow in front of the camera.”

So what led you to this point?

“I came into UMass undeclared, and I was kind of resisting going into an art major because I wasn't sure what that would entail. I was also really interested in languages. But then I started in art, and I experimented a lot with sculpture and took a painting class. Ultimately I found that I really like video as a medium. There’s a lot you can do with it, and it’s also really great in terms of materials, since I found I was spending a lot on sculpture materials, a lot on paint. Video, once you have the camera, it’s such a free medium.

It’s also very cool because, in sharing it, it’s quick. You can hold all of your art on a USB drive. There’s a lot of people that use USBs as a way to share and transport their art, which obviously has some drawbacks because it can be shared so easily. But I’ve found that video, and specifically sound, have been really important to my process, and they’re still really important to my process.”

How would you describe your art now?

“In my art, I create a lot from my own experiences and what I know. I tend to work with communities that I’m a part of. A lot of my art has focused on mental illness, specifically the eating disorder community.

I guess my first breakthrough in making art, and when I found what I really wanted to do, was in one of the first film photography classes I took. That was when I realized that photography and digital media were things that I loved, because when I was painting, I was trying so hard to paint something realistically. I felt like I couldn’t add anything to the conversation that was happening in painting, like I wasn’t doing anything that hadn’t been done before.

The cool thing about digital media and intermedia is that they’re such new formats, and there are so many possibilities. I found that exciting. I felt like I wasn’t trying to necessarily mimic. I feel like when you’re painting, you’re also in dialogue with painters dating thousands of years back. Somehow your work will always be a reference to that.”

What do you want people to know about these fields of art?

“When I make art, I feel like I’m creating this entry point that can then facilitate a larger dialogue with people, and I’m trying to center that dialogue around things like loss, mental illness, trauma, women, disease, and queerness.

I started from one point of my journey at UMass, and I feel like I’ve since stepped back further and further and it’s revealed more and more layers. I realize now how certain things have impacted others. For example, I started with just thinking about myself and my own relationship to mental illness, and then I kind of broadened it out to involving those in my community and working together with them. It’s become more dimensional, which is exciting.”

And you recently won the art department's top scholarship. What do you think made you stand out?

“I couldn’t believe it—it was really cool! The arts scholarship I received is the Robert D. Gordon '48 and Nancy M. Gordon '49 Scholarship in the Fine Arts. I wrote a letter to Mrs. Gordon, who the scholarship is named after, to thank her for the scholarship money and her support of the fine arts. I was really honest and said that I create art from what I know and from my own experiences, and that often it’s coming from a place of urgency. I make art in a time of crisis.”

This is a Developing Story. digital video. 2015. Taylor created this video piece as a way to process the loss of a friend who took her own life.

What art communities are you involved in?

“The Make It Public class [at Amherst College] has three art students from each of the five colleges. It’s really cool to learn from each other and see what the art communities are like at each of the different schools. We’ve been talking a lot about ‘social practice’-based art and community-based art. We’ve done a lot of projects, such as ‘subtle acts of disruption,' which I did an outdoor yarn installation for. Typically, in a lot of art in an institutional context—with a more elitist mindset—there’s an idea of ‘high art’ and ‘low art,’ and I’ve had the experience of yarn being seen as kitsch, and a sort of domestic material, too. It’s a historically female craft. I’ve been using yarn more and more in my practice because I like the conversation about what it means to use yarn and put it in an art gallery, kind of elevating it to ‘high art’ while breaking that idea down.

For many years now I’ve also worked with Susan Jahoda, who’s a professor in the UMass art department. She has a pedagogy group, and we discuss how art-making and the artistic practice can consider every part of the development of the piece of art, from the sourcing material— like sourcing locally—to who’s doing the labor: Who is participating? What kind of communities are there? Where does the art end up? It’s about making art for a specific destination: Will it be thrown away? Is it going to be discarded? Is it going to be gifted to someone? We’re thinking about the whole art-making practice and how that can influence the actual artwork.”

Can you talk more about how art functions in your life?

“I struggle so much with talking that art is my way of communicating those things. When words just don’t do something justice, when I can’t verbalize the things that I’m feeling, I tend to make them. I use art instead of words. But it's also a stress for me: when I’m making art about queer issues or making art about eating disorders, about mental illness, about depression, about loss, I’m always nervous that I’m going to misrepresent those communities, because they are communities that I’m a part of, but it always weighs heavy on my mind. It’s so critical; it’s such an important thing to talk about.”

What resources at UMass have aided that process?

“In the art classrooms at UMass, I feel like that’s where I found a safe space. Susan Jahoda is a professor I’ve been working with a lot—she’s my main advisor—and who I’ve been talking through a lot of these projects with. Also, Jenny Vogel does a lot of sound work, so I’ve talked to her about sound, and Susan a lot about art practice.

I feel like I’ve received so much encouragement from the art department, and that’s given me the courage to really address, get into, and deal with the subject matter that I’m working with.”