The final semester for any graduate student is hectic and exhausting. Add in a pandemic and things can really go haywire.
For Moore MFA students Sara Kleinert and Chelsey Webber-Brandis and MA student Camille O’Connor, the concept of time changed.
“We operated on COVID standard time,” said Webber-Brandis. “Everything was relative in relation to the pandemic.”
All three were working on their thesis projects and public programs when health officials mandated that Moore’s campus be shut down because of the coronavirus at the end of spring break in March. Classes were shifted to online, and all exhibitions and programs were canceled. The three grad students had to reimagine how to present their MFA thesis exhibition and Lived Thesis projects. That’s how their thesis booklet, Fractured Departure: The Shifting Trajectory of a Socially Engaged Art Graduate Program in the Time of a Global Pandemic, came to be.
“Time felt greatly altered during early months of the COVID-19 self-isolation when we were in process of deciphering how we would proceed in the program toward commencement,” said Kleinert. “The overlay of multiple timelines and fractured qualities became not only a visual graphic in the publication, but a narrative key that carries the reader through our individual and shared experiences. We spoke frequently about this “fracture” of time, space, and the unconventional ending of our graduate careers, which led us to the creation of Fractured Departure.”
The publication is broken into a few main divisions that describe the students’ individual trajectories and what led them to Moore.
“We knew we wanted to discuss how the pandemic affected our work as well as our experience as graduate students,” said Webber-Brandis. “We essentially worked backward from our final thesis products as well as thoughts on the current moment in history, backtracking to where we first saw glimpses of our present reality, be that COVID-19 or our thesis interests. When we mapped this trajectory out, we realized the importance of our personal practices in addressing the challenges of our times.”
O’Connor writes in Fractured Departure that after some sulking, a couple of days of panic and a couple of weeks of adjustment after the campus was closed, she saw the time as a preparation for action.
“As artists, we are resilient individuals and creative problem solvers,” she writes. “The strength of public, participatory, collaborative art programs is in the partnerships they have with others throughout the city, also seeking to enact positive change.”
The students then organized an online panel discussion with Philadelphia-based thought leaders and culture workers called “Utilizing Art to Navigate Public Access.” Held online April 16 and featuring a sign-language interpreter, the event addressed ongoing issues of public access to resources such as transit, health care and the arts in Philadelphia. The panelists discussed their strategies for breaking down real and perceived barriers, and their continued or changed relevance during the pandemic.
As Kleinert writes in Fractured Departures: “The creative thought process turned into virtual events or material during this time is shaping the history of how artists navigated these new terrains. I am proud to be a part of this moment. To say that my final semester of graduate school was different than I had imagined it would be an understatement, but I am unsure if I would change it if I could.”
Read more about the graduate thesis work of Camille O’Connor MA ’20, Sara Kleinert MFA ’20 and Chelsey Webber-Brandis MFA ’20 and see their thesis catalog Fractured Departure here.