Sculpture student questions the systems in which they make art

“Art is very output-centered,” says Sculpture + Extended Media major Syd Lewin. “You’re creating things and putting them out into the world. And I really like to have sources of input.”

Lewin says those inputs can take a variety of forms, from a minor in gender, sexuality and women’s studies, to the Honors College, to a class on speculative fiction and science. Their work is equally open-ended; they chose Sculpture + Extended Media for its fluidity, and they aren’t limited to a specific medium.

Their work sometimes explores intersectionality; in Lewin’s case, queer identity and mental health often overlap. But Lewin is hesitant to give too rigid a definition. Instead, they approach their work and the complex, layered subjects they interrogate from a place of mindful dissection, thoughtfully breaking apart and inspecting their message, their process and the work itself.

“I’m moving more into a space where art is less of a super specific set of outcomes and more of a creative process that’s not fully realized, but is trying to realize itself within a larger context that’s going on,” Lewin says. “I’m working toward using art as a larger category, as a way to approach a world that’s conceptualizing and creating things, not in a vacuum.”

Lately, Lewin’s line of thinking is leading them to step back even further and research the systems they’re working within and the context in which their work will be received. While they previously centered their own narrative, Lewin is trying to expand their viewpoint, listen to other perspectives, and see how their art can go beyond one specific piece to fit into a larger community ecosystem. They want to use their art to examine, to make statements, and to share a message with the wider world.

For instance, Lewin questions what it means to create work within a capitalist society, and how that influences whose work is seen and what opportunities are available to them. That includes their education at VCUarts. Last year, Lewin received the VCUarts Dean’s Scholarship in Art Foundation—funding they’re grateful to have. But just as Lewin acknowledges how a scholarship has allowed them to continue questioning, researching and making work, they also feel a responsibility to interrogate the systems that determine who has access to financial resources, and to make those systems more just and equitable in the future.

“[It’s important to] do the reading and do the research and do the work to figure out what systems you’re playing into, and try to work to a place of recognizing and deconstructing those beliefs that you’re holding,” Lewin says. “I think art is in a really interesting place where it can be so many different things. It can be very radical, very forward thinking, and it can also very much be something that’s enforcing the status quo, or doesn’t realize that it’s enforcing the status quo.”

Ultimately, Lewin sees art—and their own work—as a contribution to a communal sharing of experiences that helps people connect with one another, and reveals the links in our individual experiences.

“We need so many different approaches and so many different imaginings of possible futures from so many different people,” they say. “I think that we’re all [trying to] see what comes out, and what helps us and what helps other people.”

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