The Mac Weekly sat down with senior studio art major Anna Van Voorhis in one of the workshops of the new art building to talk about drawing, biking, mobile homes and her journey through the Macalester art department.
So, Anna, why don’t you tell me where you’re from?
I’m from Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, which is right off Cape Cod. I lived in the same house [my whole life]. I switched bedrooms twice; that was exciting.
And I know you have a really cool schooling background.
Yeah, I really liked my high school. It was a really small private school that was experiential-learning focused; there were sixty kids in my graduating class, so all of my classes had no more than, fifteen kids in them. It was a super idyllic high school experience, really academically challenging but really awesome.
When did you start getting really into art — when did you just start doing art?
Well, my dad’s an architect, so I’d grown up drawing — I was always drawing houses, I was always sketching out floor plans, which is why this project [gestures to the wooden frames on the work table next to her] is sort of full circle. I did one of those free drawing classes, one summer, I was probably in fourth grade. And then in high school I took painting as an elective, but I didn’t like it very much, I didn’t take it very seriously. I took photography too — I took them more because they were better than taking Latin or something as an elective. I worked in marine biology most of my summers in high school; on my year off, I spent six months in Guatemala, and sort of randomly ended up working for an art program in this larger organization. That was the first time that I ever decided that that was something I’d want to study. So then I came to Mac and two of my classes freshman fall were art classes, and counted towards a major. I decided I wanted to graduate a year early my freshman fall, college wasn’t for me. So I’m graduating a year early, and the only major that I think would’ve enabled that was art, because I was already en route to getting the major done.
What brought you to Mac in the first place?
I was choosing between Barnard and Macalester, and — well actually, I applied to six totally different schools, one in Canada, one in Texas, one in Connecticut, one in New York, one here, and one in Rhode Island. I just decided that I wanted to get off the East Coast; I’d been there my whole life, a lot of the East Coast stereotypes are true, and I wanted to be somewhere different. And I really wanted to be in a city, so that’s why Barnard and Macalester were the top two. And I realized I didn’t want to be in New York City.
So what do you like about art in the Twin Cities? Have you had exposure to it, the stuff in the community?
Yeah, last summer I worked for an organization trying to start youth arts programming, which was mildly successful, and really only successful because of the person I was working with was super talented and older and knew what she was doing. I think that the Twin Cities have a really vibrant arts scene because the cost of living is really low, and there’s a high concentration of people interested in learning about art. The MIA being free is also awesome, I go to the MIA like, twice a month probably. Just for fun, for class — it’s a nice bike ride, and their exhibits change fairly frequently. And they have good coffee.
Is it important for you that Mac isn’t an art school, but you have access to art outside of it?
I feel like, “if I could do it all over again” is something people say all the time but…I think I would’ve gone to an art school. I applied to Mac and got in to Mac and said I was going to Mac before I took a year off, before I thought I wanted to study art seriously — or before I was like that’s actually what I want to study, as opposed to “It’d be fun to take some art classes!” So I think looking back, if I’d known how serious I was about art, maybe an art school would’ve been a better fit? But that said, I feel like the art department here is, cliché-ly enough, a total family. I feel like I’ve developed really strong personal relationships with all of my professors, and my cohort of senior art majors, and the other majors who are in different grades[…] I don’t think I like competition, in academics or art. It feels like [at Mac] everyone’s just making different things, not better or worse things.
So can you talk to me about your senior project?
I’m doing an honors, which means I started working on this in September. But this has sort of been the project I’ve wanted to do since I became an art major; I’ve wanted to do it for a really long time. So what I’m doing is making a mobile home, that’s gonna be towed behind a bike. So a bike camper is maybe the closest approximation, but it’s pretty big for a bike camper.
Where did that idea come from?
My freshman year I was like “Stan, who’s my honors adviser, I really want to make a houseboat.” And that just seemed really hard — a houseboat would’ve been more complicated, this is already complicated enough, logistically. Going back to what I said earlier, I’ve always been really interested in architecture, and blueprints and drawings and the way people build houses, and why we live in spaces the way we do. I’m interested in looking at three things, the first thing being sustainability in housing. I feel like there’s a lot of ways to talk about that, like building from sustainable materials, local materials, materials that aren’t super synthesized and processed, the notion of vernacular architecture, which is building from the area where you are.
The second thing I’m interested in is mobility, and our transition from, over time, humans being more nomadic to humans being less nomadic and rooted in a place, and I think I’m just really interested in why that transition comes about. You’re bringing your home with you, and something is remaining constant, even as you’re travelling through space and experiencing different places.
The last concept I’m interested in exploring is the intersection between high art and craft, and what it means to have something be, a piece of conceptual art versus something that’s craft. Because I think this really sort of teeters on that line, probably falling more into craft. And I hope that ultimately this will be a beautiful thing to look at, but its function is more what it’s about than the way it looks — form follows function, and what does that mean.
Are you gonna take it across the country?
No, it’s a little complicated. My girlfriend and I are going on a fifty state bike tour for a year and half, two years — that’s the plan. We’re leaving on August 19th, from the Twin Cities. The trip just started to get planned in late November. Theoretically yeah, [my project] is usable, but for the trip this doesn’t make much sense. I feel like this is the luxury model, like you’d want to go to Afton State Park with this, somewhere very close. Technically this is four feet wide; bike trails are supposed to be at least four feet wide. But, it’s also gonna be heavy, relatively heavy, like a hundred and fifty pounds, which is like a human, a certain human. So no, this isn’t gonna be what I’m taking on my bike trip, but it sort of has inspired me in planning this bike trip.
What other ways does your art intersect with your life?
My way of describing myself as an artist is as an organizer, of space or objects. I think that art is much broader than a picture that looks really nice. For me it’s more like something that I’m building to organize space, to organize a way of living, a way of moving, and I think that a lot of the artists that I look to are more conceptual in that manner, that what they do is not just organize pigments on a piece of paper but more organize broader social [themes]. So this bike trip, I feel like that whole thing is gonna be a work of art in itself. I think of it almost as an artistic piece, because I think that exploring and learning are artistic processes. And so by experiencing different cities and different states, and experiencing the road from a bike as opposed to the road from a car as opposed to looking at roads from an airplane or walking on those roads; those are all really different ways of experiencing a place, which then ties back to this.
So, would you consider yourself someone who really likes to be connected to a place, or who more appreciates being mobile?
I think I wish I could say I was someone who appreciates being mobile, I think that’s more glamorous. I think I need to have ways of organizing the space I’m in, and so this [project] is a mobile space, but the space in and of itself is a closed entity. So even on this bike trip, I feel like my bike is gonna become that space. My pannier, which is like the basket on the side of your bike, is gonna become that space. Those are the spaces that I have that are going to be constant…but I don’t know, we’ll see. Traveling for a year and a half will be the longest I think I’ve ever travelled for. Definitely. Without, a spot. So then I think that’s what your bike becomes, that spot.
Are you gonna have ways of communicating with people?
For me this bike trip is gonna be about a couple things. One of the things I wanna do is I want to make an art book, like an almanac combined with a photo book. Photos and interviews and images and sketches and notes and stuff about all these places. And then, in a dream world, someone would publish it and I would make millions of dollars and recline on a velvet sofa for the rest of my life. So that’s something that I’m feeling: the outcome of the trip will also be a piece of art. There are a couple art grants that I’m applying for, I think we might have a little Kickstarter — I think I’m gonna letterpress postcards and stuff, that will be the incentive. Oh, and I’m trying to do a travel blog. So there will be ways to see what’s up. And, we’ve [my girlfriend and I] made it so that it’s open invitation, anyone’s allowed to come and bike with us for as long as they want to.
So, are there any final statements? Words of advice for up-and-coming art majors, or just any Macalester student?
I feel like the only really thing I have to say is everyone should come to the Senior Show Opening, May 2, at 7 p.m. I think there should be alcoholic beverages for those of you who are over 21, and there are gonna be snacks that the senior art majors are gonna pick…I think that’s it!