Student Spotlight

Artworks (+ Advice) from SFAI's Class of 2021

projects and perspectives that emerged from a school year unlike any other

September 2021

A growing archive of every language spoken in America, a “brainwashing” machine, poignant meditations on health and healing, comical twists on inspirational posters — this is just a sampling of artistic projects created by five of this year’s BFA graduates at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Given our institutions’ shared history and the recent opening of the cohort’s graduation exhibition Harbinger — curated by Catherine Opie, one of many SFAI alumni to double as museum collection artists! — it seemed only fitting to turn this installment of our Student Spotlight over to them. Below, learn about their practice, find links to preview their work, and see the advice they wish they had heard at the start of their program.

See “Harbinger” at SFAI’s Walter and McBean Galleries through Sept. 24.

Diana Ostrom | BFA, New Genres

Artist’s advice: “Work to prove your advocates right. Stop trying to prove your detractors wrong; it’s a waste of time.”

Ostrom is a writer and artist from Flemington, New Jersey. She credits much of her curiosity to her upbringing. “I grew up across a meadow from a small airport and since then have been compelled to explore faraway places,” says the artist. Her father immigrated to the United States from Suriname in the 1950s and her mother’s side is long rooted in America. “For me, the contrasts — in language, afternoon-party style, belief systems — were fascinating and valuable.”

Titled Just go ahead, there is nothing to fear, her ongoing project explores the diversity of thought and expression stemming from more than 300 languages spoken in the United States. Ostrom’s aim is to talk to a speaker of each and collect a phrase of mutual enthusiastic cooperation, such as “Let’s Roll” in English. “People’s stories are the medium for this piece,” she says. “Every time someone shares one with me, I feel like I’ve been entrusted with something incredibly precious. It’s stressful and wonderful, like holding someone else’s baby.”

Learn more about the artist’s work via her website.

Camila de Andrade Bianchi | BFA, New Genres

Artist’s advice: “You cannot change the world, but you can beautifully nurture dialogue and reflection.”

Camila de Andrade Bianchi, We’re not here to play around from the series Hands Are Washed, 2021. © Camila de Andrade Bianchi
Camila de Andrade Bianchi, The stroke of a pen from the series Hands Are Washed, 2021. © Camila de Andrade Bianchi

Born and raised in Brazil, Camila de Andrade Bianchi’s projects take various forms, from immersive environments to sculpture and, recently, digital art that leverages computer code. “Although the principle of code is binary, its malleability is infinite and beautifully complex,” she says. “It became a great tool to adapt my installations to virtual environments.”

Her work is largely focused on revealing the processes and ideologies that shape Brazil’s political landscape. Hands Are Washed, a stinging critique, positions four readymades inside a membrane of soap, creating what she calls “a retrospective” of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her other project, Hyper Doom, is a virtual experience that uses an algorithm to rearrange phrases and fragments of Bolsonaro’s inflamed political rhetoric. The total work serves as the artist’s reflection on the invasive and “disciplining” qualities of mass media. “I wanted to create an experience analogous to a brainwashing machine or, better yet, our virtual reality,” she says. “It is a space where the repetition of words produces new meanings, and your freedom to move is only partial because, in reality, you are trapped between screens.”

Learn more about the artist’s work via her website.

Rora Blue | BFA, New Genres

Artist’s advice: “Find softness everywhere you can.”

Rora Blue, Are You Drinking Enough Water from the series Sweet Dreams, 2021; © Rora Blue
Rora Blue, You’re Too Young to be Sick from the series Sweet Dreams, 2020; © Rora Blue

A Nevada-based interdisciplinary artist, Rora Blue describes her practice as “big feelings, reduced to color.” Her projects often take the form of installation and web art and include a focus on interactivity, text, and color. “I love working with unconventional materials because I can find inspiration anywhere,” she says. “My studio is at the grocery store, in my dreams, and in my sister’s closet.”

Blue, who identifies as queer and disabled, explores the intricacies of “everyday ableism” in her project Sweet Dreams (2021). The artist creates colorful text out of ableist comments said to her or people she connects with and places it in locations that illuminate the offense, such as “You’re Too Young To Be Sick” stringing from an IV drip. “My work has this duality of being an outlet of expression for myself but also for other people who need it,” the artist says. “Drawing from the wells of being multiply marginalized, my practice unpacks the intricacies of everyday interactions for queer people, disabled people, and gender minorities.”

Learn more about the artist’s work via her website.

Emily Golla | BFA, Photography

Artist’s advice: “Don’t be afraid to try EVERYTHING, get dirty, be courageous, and don’t get caught up in trying to be perfect at it!”

Emily Golla, from the series Treatment (2020) © Emily Golla
Emily Golla, Front Porch from the series Home (2020-Ongoing); © Emily Golla

Raised in Eastern Canada and based in Tiburon, California, Emily Golla describes her painting and photo-based practice as “extremely personal, introspective, and melancholy.” Her work frequently looks inside personal struggles and reflects their universal qualities back to the viewers.

As part of her work for the program, she produced Treatment (2021) — a deeply moving photo and text-based account of navigating a breast cancer diagnosis. “My chemotherapy had me stuck in a tunnel-like state,” she writes in its introduction. “So, I took photos of my tunnel.” Presented as a book, the result is an unflinching chronicle featuring the artist’s deep contrast photographs and diary excerpts written throughout her treatment. “My hope is that it may provide insight to those with a loved one facing a similar path,” she says, “and provide comfort to those driven to walk it as well — that they are not alone and there is light on the other side.”

Another project she hopes will provide comfort is Home, which she began when her mother grappled with moving into an assisted living facility. For the series, Golla incorporated photographs from her childhood and her mother’s childhood into images of the empty New Brunswick house they left behind. “While there I was really hit by the silence in the house, and her sadness of not returning to live there,” Golla recalls. “I wanted to remind her, and myself, that her being in a new location doesn’t mean that her family is not always with her.”

Learn more about the artist’s work via her website.

Gisselle Immormino | BFA, Photography

Artist’s advice: “I would’ve told my younger self to remember to make work for myself, rather than doing it to please others.”

Born in Landstuhl, Germany and based in Seattle, Gisselle Immormino is a photographer and photo editor whose work pulses with dark humor. “I love the editing process that comes with photography and its ability to alter meanings and dramatize settings of everyday life,” she says.

The artist’s project Eavesdropping puts a comedic spin on both the evolution of language and the aesthetic of inspirational posters. For the series, the photographer takes statements she overhears and pairs them with images that, together, create comical and sometimes profane juxtapositions. “After hearing an odd statement, I become fixated and have it on repeat in my mind throughout the day,” Immormino says, noting that she keeps a running list of phrases on her phone. “I don’t know why we say the things we do, but I like to imagine a story behind it all, no matter how vulgar or eccentric the phrase may be.”

Learn more about the artist’s work via her website.

Gillian Edevane

Gillian Edevane

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