Systematic art seen from the street

sysrems 11-7

Lezlie Thorndike’s installation “Tread Softly” sits on the floor of the Semple Building on Federal Street in downtown Youngstown. Photo by Chris Cotelesse/The Jambar.

Visible through a downtown window, a patchwork of art grows unfettered, stretching from floor to ceiling in some places. Sketches and sculptures stand side by side in an exhibit as diverse as each artist’s message.

The gallery, created by Youngstown State University art students, is known as a “systems exhibit.” Such exhibits are installation-based and intended to utilize the space given to the artist. The artwork branches through the entire room in most cases.

Featured in the Semple Building on Federal Street, the gallery will be open to the public through Monday.

The students’ assignment demonstrates the interconnectedness and interdependence of small components that comprise a larger entity.

Senior Lezlie Thorndike contributed a floor structure of layered newspaper. Thorndike cut her piece, titled “Tread Softly,” to form a map.

“It’s organic, very earthy,” she said. “I took some topographical images that I like and went from there.”

Thorndike enjoys installations because they go beyond simply hanging a painting.

“I like people to interact with things, or at least have the option to interact,” she said. “When art is on the walls, I feel like it is kind of stagnant. I wanted the viewer to have kind of a larger-than-life experience, like you’re a giant walking on the Earth.”

Students were able to use the exhibit as practice for their senior projects. Although it’s on a smaller scale, students learned to adjust spatially to a room.

The students were given the entire semester to assemble their projects and four days to install. Thorndike said the downtown exhibit is a great opportunity for students.

“Mostly just art students see our stuff, and now it can be showcased for other people,” she said.

For the past two years, the Youngstown Business Incubator has worked in conjunction with the art department. At the beginning of every semester, the YBI dedicates available space in its three buildings for art.

Some YBI workers even purchased artwork.  

Rose Shaffer, project manager of Innovative Research and Communication at the YBI, said the company has received positive feedback about showcasing student talent.

“We’ve had lots of people [say] that Youngstown needs an art place like this,” Shaffer said. “A lot of these students don’t get to experience real-life galleries. The young make up the innovative aspect of our community.”

After partnering, Dragana Crnjak, an assistant professor of art, contacted the YBI to inquire about open space for the latest gallery. Crnjak said she was impressed by the professional nature of the workspace.

“Having a chance to do site-specific installations is very limited in this area,” she said. “It seems like it really pointed to this need that we all have for something that’s not related to class work.”

Crnjak said the public and the students responded well to the project. The department was surprised by the large turnout for opening night on Oct. 20.

“I know all of these students, but when the show was up I was just blown away with the talent,” she said. “It was an amazing energy that the students shared installing together.”

Crnjak said YSU’s art department is among the best.

She said she hopes to utilize some of the excessive vacant space in the community to find a permanent place for student art.

The installation is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Thursday and again on Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Another student installation will open on Nov. 17 from 4 to 6 p.m.