SDA 2013 Student Members’ Show: Who Won & Why

I had the honor and pleasure of being one of 3 jurors for Linked Up, the SDA Student Members Exhibition installed at UTSA Downtown Gallery in conjunction with SDA’s 17th International biennial conference, in•ter•facethis past June (2013) in San Antonio, Texas.

2 door wall

The process began in late April 2013, when jurors Carolyn Halliday, Nancy Crasco and I, moderated by Jean Dahlgren, met by telephone to select the work to be exhibited from online submissions via CaFE. A lively discussion took place around many of the works, but because of space limitations we had the difficult task of limiting our selections to 30. As the only juror able to attend the conference, I was assigned the challenging role of selecting the award-winning pieces.

2013 Student Member show install shot detailFor my selection criteria, I applied these questions:

  • Does this piece tell a story?
  • Is there a clear concept or intent?
  • Does the piece challenge the viewer to consider multiple layers of meaning?
  • Do the techniques and materials work to reinforce the concept?
  • Are embellishments well-integrated with the surface of the art work?
  • Did the artist completely resolve his or her idea?
  • Did he or she go far enough with the chosen techniques to fully finish the piece?
  • Does the display or installation support the meaning of the work?
  • Subjectively, is the work compelling?

Here are images of the 4 winning works, along with my comments (RT) about each and a contextualizing statement from each maker:

First Place ($700)

Julie Shipman Dissection

julie_shipman_studentshow_1stplace (1)

RT: The strength of this work is its simplicity in conveying an idea. As an object and a symbol, a door can have many layers of meaning. By deconstructing it, I felt the artist was asking us to consider a reinterpretation of that symbol. This was accomplished by creating openings and incorporating soft materials into the solid structure. The horizontal display took it out of context to add yet another aspect to the piece.

Julie Shipman headshotJulia Shipman (University of North Texas) comments:

My piece in the SDA show was a door that I disassembled and refilled with stacked fabric from recycled projects. Recently, I’ve begun to realize my fascination with the broken or forgotten; this media was more than mere aesthetic choices. Doors possess the possibility of representing opportunities, challenges – or even escape. For me, it represented an understanding of the past and seeing growth during this place of transition. It felt rather surreal to win, but also gratifying that others recognize all the hard work. 

I graduated with a BFA in Fibers from the University of North Texas and joined SDA in 2013.

Second Place ($400)

Tamryn McDermott  In Anticipation of Tomorrow

2013 tamryn mcdermott Student show 2ndplace

 RT: A protective vest may bring up images of solid, unyielding materials associated with the potential for violence. Yet, as I separated the layers of this deconstructed vest, rather than hard, tough materials, I saw a variety of fabric, paper, other flexible planar materials and clothing with stitched construction or embellishment on most of the layers. I was drawn to the juxtaposition of these very different ideas of protection. To truly appreciate what is actually a book, each page has to be turned and examined.

Tamryn McDermott headshot from websiteTamryn McDermott (University of Missouri, Columbia) comments:

In anticipation of tomorrow . . . is an artist book constructed from an altered ballistics vest which explores vulnerability, accumulation and transformation. The vest was deconstructed and the original layers of ballistics fabric were transformed into book pages. Since the fabric is difficult to cut, each page was manipulated by stitching, painting, printing and/or folding. Additional materials of paper, cardboard, fabric and plastic were inserted. 

As outside threats re-occur and evolve, defense mechanisms must transform to continue to be effective. This work contains the first 3 chapters of a series, which will continue to explore the mutability of objects and ideas.

It was such an honor to receive 2nd place in SDA student exhibition this year; I’ve been a member since 2010. It was an exciting moment when I discovered, on my conference Gallery Day bus tour, that not only had I received an award, but the juror who selected them was on the bus. It was very special to meet and speak to Ruth Tabancay in person and get feedback and support for my work. My tour asked me to speak about my winning artwork to the group, which was exciting – and a bit scary – but also a great experience for a graduate student. This was one of the highlights of the conference for me! 

Third Place ($300)

Julia Feldman Who Goes There?

2013 Student Members UTSA Julia Feldman WhoGoesThere 3rd pl

RT: This work is the most subjective selection I made. I was initially drawn to the dense variety of stitches on frayed, tattered cloth. On closer examination, I saw that the fabric was puckered, pleated and layered with other textile bits. Both the free-form hand-stitching and the composition appeared to develop spontaneously which integrated well with the worn cloth. The piece was first mounted on a coarse material which complemented the distressed fabrics and then put into a frame to make the presentation that of a completely finished artwork.

Julia Feldman headshot cropJulia Feldman (North Carolina State University) comments:

My work combines narrative imagery with a broad palette of fiber materials and found objects. A primary goal of my work is to increase awareness and encourage action on urgent social concerns – from our natural environment to poverty to politics.

Who Goes There? is inspired by the storytelling of Australian Aboriginal artists such as Queenie McKenzie and echoes the shared American and Australian history of displacing indigenous populations.

 SDA Award of Excellence

Melanie Merlo  Metamorphosis

2013 melanie_merlo student show SDA AoE

 RT: This pair of disembodied legs skillfully constructed with paper-making techniques and stitched embellishment convey a number of distressing physical states – pain, illness, injury, scarring, age. I was particularly impressed with the artist’s use of paper to create skin texture, scars and veins. The dangling position of the legs lead me to uncomfortably question the posture of the rest of the body. Overall, an emotionally-charged piece.

Melanie Merlo headshot from websiteMelanie Merlo (University of Hawaii at Manoa) comments:

My inspiration came from the connections between the human body and nature. I was pondering the idea of a structure taking on the anatomical shape whilst the inner contents possessed branch and root-like qualities. I was hoping to achieve some kind of hybridization.

I had never done large-scale wax casting – so this did pose some sort of a challenge. I created 8 separate wax castings that in total would create a complete mold of the human leg and foot. My materials included homemade kozo paper, printed image and hand embroidery to show a gradation and shift in value and material.

RT: As awards juror, I’d like to close by stating that jurying this show was an extremely rewarding experience. It was gratifying to see the actual work after becoming familiar with it online. My observation skills became even more finely honed. Many thanks to Mary Ruth Smith, Chair of SDA Student Exhibition Committee, for selecting me for this opportunity and for her procedural support.

2013 Student Member UTSA install shot

Editor’s Note: A complete online archive of all SDA Student Members’ work featured in this exhibition will be available on by 2014.

Ruth Tabancay HeadshotRuth Tabancay received her BFA in Textiles from California College of the Arts, her MD from School of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco and her BA in Bacteriology from University of California, Berkeley.

In 2011 she completed the Certificate in Fiber Arts program at University of Washington in Seattle. Her exhibitions include Latitude: All Media (First Place Award) at Convergence® 2012 Conference of Handweavers Guild of America in Long Beach, CA; Materials: Hard & Soft (Juror’s Award) in 2011 at Greater Denton Arts Council, Denton, TX; and Fiberart International 2010 at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Pittsburgh, PA and Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY. Her work is in the collection of Oakland Museum of California.

Ruth is also SDA’s Northern California Area Representative and a member of Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland. She lives in Berkeley.

1 Comment

  • Victoria Dixon says

    October 31, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Thank you for this useful and succinct analysis of how the winning pieces were chosen. There appears to be a strong emphasis on the conceptual aspects of each work, something which is perhaps seen in other types of contemporary art (photography, for instance). It will be interesting to see how this emphasis might change or evolve in surface design. (I've just been looking at seventeenth-century beaded baskets - a completely different set of values.)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *