May 4, 2010

Student Artist Spotlight:

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Emily McAllister ’11 hails from Reno, Nevada, and is an Economics major and prospective Film major. She has taken multiple classes in the AAP College including Renate Ferro’s course Relational Art Media Movement. The students in this course also participate in Paris-based Maurice Benayoun’s global digital project The Art Collider ( She is interested in a wide variety of subjects and mediums, including claymation and stop-motion film. This summer she will be cutting finals week a little short and traveling to Southern France for the Cannes Film Festival, where she will be working as an intern for the American Pavilion. Later this summer, she will be taking an animation workshop and econometrics class at Cornell — and making some of the best breakfast burritos in town at the Farmer’s Market. The Sun sat down to talk to Emily about her art, some projects and working at Cornell.

Sun: So you are an economics and prospective film major. How did you become interested in the Arts?

Emily McAllister: Well I’ve always done art since I was young, and got a lot of pressure to have a real major in class. I’ve taken art and film classes every semester and eventually just accrued enough that I should do something with this. But the classes in AAP are just video with not a lot of animation or computer-generated work.

Sun: What attracts you to film?

E.M.: I would like to learn more about doing computer-generated animation but I have yet to find a really great program for that here. Right now I’ve been working a lot with hand-drawn animation in the lab and also using a Wacom tablet. Besides that, I’ve done a lot of claymation.

Sun: Are you taking the class Relational Art Media Movement?

E.M.: Yeah. I’m taking that this semester. It’s my second semester with the professor, Renate. She’s really awesome.

Sun: Could you talk a little bit about that class, and how it connects to the international “Uncuratable Art” project?

E.M.: This class kind of explores how video and sound relates to performance, as well as the transition of animation from analog to digital. Our professor, Renate Ferro has a connection with this French artist, Maurice Benayoun, who is doing this huge global collaborative video project called The Art Collider and people from all over — San Francisco, New York City, Ithaca, Paris and everywhere else — are participating. The five or six students in my class were the Ithaca feed and we are contributing to The Art Collider via the “Uncuratable Art” project. So basically, The Art Collider is a program he developed online so that anyone can basically upload their work. The big deal was the exhibition in Paris, which was kind of a live installation and live viewing of how The Art Collider is supposed to work. That’s where everyone put up live feeds and submitted their own video and pictures, so that in this place in Paris, everyone can go and watch. The whole idea is to share video and edit other people’s video and see what kinds of gorgeous images we can make together.

Sun: Have you used The Art Collider?

E.M.: Yeah, so I could link up eight video streams from my computer. I could have a live video of me, which is really creepy to know there’s a live feed of my face up on some wall in Paris. But besides that, you can layer things. I put up a few of my projects during the semester. You can simultaneously stream other people’s feeds. Someone was streaming old World War II footage, so I layered myself into that along with another layer of an outdoors scene at Cornell. You kind of just mess with stuff using other people’s video.

Sun: So it’s about sharing. Is it also used for networking?

E.M.: It has been a networking thing, but not so much with jobs. It kind of shows the implications of a digital age where there’s no authorship to anything. The artists are basically anonymous. I’ve uploaded some of my projects but that just means that they’re on the internet for anyone to rip off and use. So I’ve basically given up my authorship of them. It’s kind of interesting — I hope someone does use it.

Sun: Would it be tough to for you to track down your own work?

E.M.: Yeah. A lot of the stuff being put up by people are images that they never used. You can recycle stuff you didn’t end up using in your own projects, for other people to use. You can put up clips, stills, whatever you’re comfortable with.

Sun: What are you working on now?

E.M.: Right now I’m playing with high-speed cameras and using a high FPS so I can slow down motion. My final project this semester (in Renate’s class) is going to be on self-destruction. I bought all these water balloons … Have you ever seen a water balloon pop in slow motion? It’s really cool. The rubber just explodes away and you just have this sphere of water hanging.

Sun: Why did you choose a water balloon for this project?

E.M.: I was looking for things that you wouldn’t ever notice with just your naked eye. I’ve been talking with my friends about this whole idea of self-destruction and how it’s not an immediate thing. It’s a slow and continuous process that builds to a climax, which is like the falling of the water. I wanted to show how beautiful and slow the process really is.

Sun: How much freedom and guidance do you feel like you have in an art class at Cornell?

E.M.: That’s a great question for me. That’s why I’m not an art major; I hate being told what art project to do. Being given guidelines or constraints restricts the process and makes me not want to do it. It takes all the fun out of it.

The freedom we’re given in this class is really great. You tell Renate what you’re interested in and she gives you some specific suggestions and material to read and you just go out there by yourself.

Sun: What other classes have you really enjoyed at Cornell?

E.M.: This is going in another direction, but I’m taking this class called Film and Spiritual Questions. It just blew my mind. Totally changed my semester. Have you ever heard of the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky? I just totally lost it when we got to that part of the class. We watched four of his films and I wrote all my papers on him. I’ve been trying to pull his kind of work into my work. He wrote a book about his work, Sculpting in Time, and I wanted to integrate that into my final project.

Sun: Would you talk a little more about the art you grew up with? How did you become interested in claymation?

E.M.: I grew up in Reno, Nevada, so there’s not a lot for kids to do there. My mom would buy me so many packs of Sculpey clay … I kind of took off doing some drawing myself. My senior year I actually won an award for my drawing portfolio and got to have an exhibit at a museum there, which was awesome because there was also an Andy Warhol exhibit there. So I was like, “look at me!” I honestly never thought I would get into film or anything like that, but animation is something I’ve always been good at. I came to Cornell as a math major, thinking that math is what I wanted to do all the time. But the art stuff got so fun and the math got so hard, so I became an econ major instead so I could spend all my time making films.

Sun: Why animation as opposed to live action?

E.M.: It’s cool, you can do stuff that’s not normally possible. I think that with stop motion, in particular, you can literally do anything. It doesn’t have to be real and it doesn’t have to involve having ridiculous editing skills or expensive equipment to make someone fly or something.

Sun: So you tend to take classes across multiple departments. Is the diversity of backgrounds at Cornell something that you like, or would you rather be in a smaller, more focused school?

E.M.: I think being in a bigger school is a huge benefit because there’s so many resources. Plus, I’m glad that I can graduate with two very different degrees.

Already a skilled and intensely creative artist, Emily’s bright artistic future could start on the wall of the Johnson Art Museum. Check out her past work on her website (

Original Author: Roger Strang