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Award-Winning Project Crosses Disciplinary Boundaries

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Jessica Comola

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Announcement  •
students performing as part of DAIS award project

Students performing as part of DAIS award project

Three professors at the University of Denver are collaborating on a project that explores movement, shape and space. The project is supported by the Dean’s Award for Interdisciplinary Studies (DAIS) of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. DAIS awards fund activities that engage scholarship, creativity and/or teaching by bridging disciplinary boundaries.

Laleh Mehran, professor in emergent digital practices; Anne Penner, associate professor of theatre and Shannon McKinney, assistant professor in theatre, are combining their expertise to create an interactive art experience that investigates human migratory movement.

“Using the three compositional elements about which we are most passionate — human movement for Anne, lighting for Shannon and digital projecting for Laleh — we are experimenting with various abstract stories in which these three elements interact with each other.”

The project holds personal, departmental and community importance. As artists, Mehran, Penner and McKinney are expanding the possibilities of each other’s creative work. They are taking this work into the classroom, engaging students to expand the project’s point of view and enrich learning. Then, as members of the DU community, they will present the final project as a site for public interaction.

“Our hope is that the final project will create a poetic, playful and collaborative world. We will engage the DU community by presenting the finished product in Anderson Academic Commons, discussing our work through an evening presentation and Q&A and building an exhibit that both describes our process and allows visitors to get a behind-the-scenes look at our creative process.”

They continued, “The installation will allow viewers to play and participate in the different roles of performer, lighting designer and digital video artist. We hope that this engagement will both demystify some of the perceived complexities in our respective fields while possibly increasing interest in these creative fields.”

Throughout their experimental process so far, Mehran, Penner and McKinney have explored how their disciplinary backgrounds and artistic methods can intersect. They have come to appreciate the ways in which individual elements — bodies, lighting, projection — carry equal value when telling a story.

“So why not experiment with forcing these ingredients to interact directly with each other?” they asked.

Taking an interdisciplinary approach has both broadened and deepened the possibilities of the work.

“Our project brings together perspectives from our own multiple disciplines, expertise within them and personal lived experiences. We’ve discovered that the act of working with other artists who speak different ‘languages’ is equal parts challenging and invigorating. It’s challenging because we need to take the time to translate and justify our ways of doing things for each other. It’s invigorating because we cannot be complacent; we are alive to the potential life inherent in the interaction of two or more different art forms.”

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