Research and Scholarship

Student/Faculty Collaboration on Creative Works Blossoms with the Amelia A. Gould Assistantship Support

Antonia Gentile
July 3, 2024

A Pomeranian dog and an octopus, respectively, bark at the edge of or tread water in giant holes in the earth and ice. They seem curious, distressed, or simply oblivious. Next, ruptures on the earth, signals of climate change and collapse, appear as sinkholes, the result of melting permafrost releasing volumes of trapped gas in an explosive crater-forming event.

A glimpse at the Manhattan Bridge, accompanied by loud traffic, provides an actual sense of location.

Pace University Art professor Jillian McDonald's DUMBO Projection Project art exhibit projected on the Manhattan Bridge.

It is DUMBO (an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Brooklyn, across the river from Pace University's New York City campus, and, as part of an outdoor group exhibition in March and April 2024 entitled The DUMBO Projection Project, Volume 3, Professor of Art Jillian McDonald's work, Animals on the Verge, was being projected onto the neighborhood's iconic infrastructure.

McDonald's installment is unique in that it juxtaposes Google's ready-made 3D animals, considered as the "perfect quarantine activity," with both drawings of holes on paper and the use of Augmented Reality (AR). (In fact, McDonald’s hole drawings of animal burrows and entrances to tunnels were inspired by the COVID pandemic, when she often imagined escape routes). 

On how this project came together, she said, "I had one of my hole drawings on a table, and while positioning a bear [with the use of AR], had an aha moment: the situation seemed real, as if the bear was sitting on the edge of a deep hole. I always love making videos that slip in and out of fictional film space, when something is convincing one minute and then the illusion slips."

Experiential learning meets the arts

On this, she collaborated with Ben Pfeifer '26, Film and Screen Studies, supported by the Amelia A. Gould Undergraduate Research Assistantship offered by the Provost Office Center for Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) Summer Undergraduate Research. It represents an exciting opportunity at Pace that funds projects in the creative arts, pairing faculty who are working professionals in their fields with an undergraduate student.

Through her video animation and video courses, McDonald discovered Pfeifer to be a great match for a creative collaboration. He was driven and serious, enjoyed working on his projects, was communicative, and had a sense of humor, something McDonald appreciates in the making of film and art. They worked mostly independently, as video editing is mainly a solitary activity, occasionally meeting in her studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where her fragile drawings were located, and otherwise in the Art Department or on Zoom. 

Animals on the Verge, although already shot and edited in 2022, with a past exhibition at Undercurrent Gallery, required the addition of more animal scenes and the creation of a condensed version of the video for the DUMBO project, and that's where Ben stepped in. He filmed the new animal scenes, interspersed them in the original video, and edited a ten-minute version.

Pace University student Ben Pfiefer working on artwork on a desktop and laptop for Art professor Jillian McDonald's DUMBO Projection Project art exhibition

Of his experiences, Pfeifer said, "Professor McDonald's mentorship was truly valuable. She provided very insightful instructions while also allowing me to explore and discover things on my own. Seeing the project projected on the Manhattan Bridge was surreal and a true expression of hard work paying off."

McDonald and Pfeifer also worked on other projects supported by the Amelia A. Gould Assistantship. In Sweet Spot and Soft Spot, a pair of videos featuring McDonald's hand caressing numerous mosses and mushrooms in various landscapes across Scotland, Ontario, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and New York, Pfeifer worked on color correction, sound matching, and adding new scenes while McDonald shot them.

Pfeifer also completed a re-edit of a video McDonald made in the forest as part of a residency at Stony Brook University that she repurposed for a music video of the song, “In the Woods,” by the folk Americana, Winnipeg-based band, Leaf Rapids. In addition, they are working together on Chandeliers!, a project McDonald started years ago but that Pfeifer helped bring to fruition, which features scenes of crashing chandeliers from horror films mixed with tourist videos of calving glaciers from YouTube. Finally, he made a ten-minute version of her newest work, Tunnel and Radio Skies, funded by The Canada Council for the Arts and Pace.

This plethora of projects is welcomed by Pfeifer, who chose Pace as a perfect place to explore countless possibilities, a place where a person with many interests would not be confined to any one box. He said, "I have a real interest in visual pleasure and experience, and I hope to continue working on projects that are meaningful to myself and the audience. I hope to never stop creating."

Combined augmented reality image of an octopus down in a hand-drawn hole for Art professor Jillian McDonald's DUMBO Projection Project art exhibition

On the importance of funding artists

Art is where McDonald's energy naturally goes, and so, she is appreciative of support she has received throughout the years during her prolific career, whether in the form of grant funding, such as the Amelia A. Gould Assistantship, or residencies, both crucial resources for an artist who self-describes as someone who doesn't necessarily make art she can sell, therefore operating differently in the art world.

Creation is key. "Everything has potential to be made into art, and making it is a way to communicate and make sense or senselessness of the world."

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