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Washington State University Graduate School

Art as Language

MFA student Ashley Quast’s art looks on the light side

 

By Yue Huang

Surrounded by piles of art in her studio, MFA student Ashley “Q” Quast wondered what else she could make as she prepared for the Palouse Performance Showcase this month.

Q typically uses different materials in her art to express varied concepts. More importantly, she explains concepts by implementing humor.

“Q is hilarious. She is quite dynamic in how she applies a creative lens to her life and engages everyday viewers with whimsy and a curious perspective,” says Squeak Meisel, chair of the WSU Fine Arts Department.

Focus on Humor

Q earned her BFA from Southern Oregon University and went on to work in the production side of the wine industry, predominantly in New Zealand and Oregon. After several years of hemisphere hopping, she entered WSU’s MFA program in 2018.

Q has always been interested in expressing ideas. Currently these ideas focus on absurdity, existential humor, puppetry, and storytelling. Regardless of the topic, Q’s artistic humor makes her work bright, colorful, and funny.

In her first-year exhibition, Is it Shiny?, Q used various materials to convey an overall impression of a separate world. This world was comprised of sock puppets, large canvas collages, puppet theatres, sculptural objects (like a three-headed bean bust), performance video, numerous drawings, and a giant, green, Easter grass cat. This mixed media approach was used to express the intersection of unfulfilled expectation and careful looking.

One piece about expectation was a ceramic diptych of two fish; one in a Ziploc bag of water pinned to the wall and the other fish adhered directly to the wall. The fish in the bag full of water had a speech bubble that read, “I don’t want to live in water anymore.” The fish adhered directly to the wall was belly up and had its eyes crossed out. It reads as a physical comic with a visual pun.

“Humor is a choice and also a lens for looking at things,” said Q. “Even with negative feelings, we can view them and express them in a humorous way.”

Art to Facilitate Communication

Q likes to leave space for viewers to imagine. “People always understand art objects based on their own experiences,” she says.

Despite this, Q believes that art can help facilitate effective communication among people with different backgrounds.

One example is Q’s performance piece Help Blue Cats. Performing this piece, Q dressed up as a blue cat and held a donation-based fundraiser to help Blue Cats. Blue Cats are fictitious animals who are trapped in continuous existential crises. The cookies sold during this fundraiser were the Blue Cats who had found peace by being transformed into cookies. Q prepared information boards describing their ailments and to show how each donation mattered in the effort to save the Blue Cats by purchasing a cookie. When people walked through, Q asked them, “Do you want to help Blue Cats?”

Q’s performance attracted many people. They bought the cookies, and some were curious about where the money would go. Q told them that the money would help to buy “materials” to save Blue Cats. “The materials are flour, sugar, and other stuff used for making cookies,” she laughed.

This piece is also a great example of her use of absurdity and humor. Q appreciates this way of using art to make communication interesting and effective.

“This is what’s great about art,” said Q. “We express our ideas and give others opportunities to generate their thoughts. That brings us into funny and meaningful conversations.”

Plans after Graduation

As a second-year MFA student, Q will graduate spring 2020. Following graduation, she is open to jobs in the academic field, but her end goal is to start an artist in residence program where she hopes to facilitate an art-focused community.

“I don’t believe in a separation between art and life. Art is possible for everyone, and I hope for art to be valued and accessible,” says Q.

 

About WSU MFA Program

The Department of Fine Arts aims to promote the study and practice of art as an essential aspect of a comprehensive educational experience. The MFA program is a two-year program that encourages an interdisciplinary approach to studio practice.