Nov 11, 2022

"Suitable Truth" unites disciplines

A student models artwork made out of blueprints.

In the B.J. Haan Auditorium, a group of six students and an artist sit in chairs around a large video camera on a tripod, listening to Instructor of Digital Media Mark Volkers give instructions.

“I’ll say ‘action,’ but as you come down the aisle, walk slowly,” he says. “So, you’ll stand behind that white wall back there and then start walking. Sound good?”

They nod, stand, and walk toward the back of the auditorium, chatting together as they go. Meanwhile, Professor of Art David Platter makes some final arrangements of the mannequins – some wearing intricately decorated costumes – that line the back of the auditorium stage. Six digital media majors take to the stage and stand near Volkers and the camera. Volkers puts on a pair of headphones and makes some adjustments to the camera before shouting, “action!”

The camera rolls, and the students and artist begin to walk down the aisle.

“What type of tea are you drinking?” asks a student.

“It’s chai,” says the artist. “I drink chai in the morning and herbal in the afternoon, like clockwork every day. But I saved my tea bags for a long time. I made a dress out of the tea bags, which is a wearable sculpture. And it also incorporates in Bible verses, so it’s like wearing the truth of Scripture – and shows how we should be soaking up Scripture continually.”

They walk onto the stage and past the camera.

That’s great,” says Volkers. “All right, let’s run through that one more time.”

The artist is Stephanie Lael Barrick, who creates mixed material wearable sculpture using content rooted in the Christian faith and Scripture. The students are senior art majors and sophomore digital media majors; they serve as actors for the film, model the wearable sculpture, or work alongside Volkers to capture film footage.

“The intent is to give our senior art majors along with sophomore digital media students the opportunity to co-create a visual narrative in video format and to immerse themselves with a practicing artist,” says Platter.

Volkers, Platter, Barrick, and the students visited 10 locations in Sioux County and on Dordt’s campus to model the wearable sculpture and shoot footage. The goal is to create a 10 to 15-minute video that will highlight Barrick’s sculpture – including the dress made of tea bags and Scripture verses – in creative, unique ways.

Platter first connected with Barrick at a Christians in the Visual Arts conference in Austin, Texas. He was blown away by the intricacy of her work – how she sews together paper, fabric, wool, wire, silk, fiber, and more to create wearable sculpture – and was interested in getting her to come to Dordt’s campus. In some ways it felt like an impossible task, especially since Barrick’s art would need to be driven in from her studio in Delaware.

After some brainstorming with Volkers and others, Platter came up with an idea: what if Barrick came to campus for a week to collaborate with both digital media and art students on a video project that would result in a film Barrick could use to showcase her artwork?

Platter pitched the idea to Barrick, who said yes.

“I’m tickled pink that our students have this opportunity,” says Platter. “This, to me, is what education is for; it’s collaborative between a practicing artist, students, and two academic departments.”

Quintin Olson, a sophomore digital media major, appreciated the opportunity to collaborate.

“It was neat to be involved in something where both art forms can appreciate one another. We could use video techniques to emphasize certain artistic techniques, which was cool,” he says.

Volkers reworked the syllabus for his Film and Video Production class so that his students would be able to gain professional experience while also getting graded for their work.

“This was a rare case where I was able to take something out of my class schedule and replace it,” he says. “It worked well.”

Working alongside Volkers was a great learning opportunity in that “he treated us as equal partners and took our concerns and suggestions into account as we filmed,” says Dayna Wichhart, a sophomore. “He taught and gave us pointers as we worked, but he also let us take the bull by the horns and try it ourselves. I felt that operating in a professional manner helped me to see what my future career could look like.”

Senior Emily Broersma enjoyed going through every art piece with Barrick and learning about her process.

“Each one of her sculptures holds meaning for what it is we are called to do as Christians,” says Broersma. “Seeing her pride and passion for her work encouraged me to find that same passion for my work as a digital creator.”

“When you see what she is doing – when she explains it and walks you through it – you realize how much biblical and aesthetic thought is behind her work,” says Volkers. “There is nothing slapdash or haphazard about it.”

For example, Barrick took a disintegrating Bible from her husband’s family that dated back to the 1800s and transformed it into a jacket that resembles both a Wensleydale sheep and a wolf. “Sheep’s Clothing” was inspired by Matthew 7:15’s warning to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

“All the details really matter in her work, and that makes her artwork all the more exciting,” says Volkers.

One of his favorite shoots took place out at Sandy Hollow on a windy afternoon. A student donned the wearable sculpture called “Knowing Evil,” which depicts the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Not only does the sculpture include textured brown fabric to depict the bark, but it has bits of Scripture sewn into it, and on the headpiece is “a serpent snaking through with two apples on top, to represent how the serpent has control of her thoughts,” says Volkers. In the video shoot, the model wearing “Knowing Evil” stands in the woods and sways in the wind.

“It was a great experience for a more poetic form of filmmaking and gave me a new perspective on depicting art through film,” says Broersma.

Platter says that Barrick’s wearable art sculptures are a dynamic example of visual theology that inspires us to experience Scripture as the Living Word.

“She examines Scripture through the lens of visual narrative and pours herself into material exploration through her delicate and refined craft in fiber and textile arts,” he says. “Her work illuminates in captivating fashion some of the ways God intertwines his covenant and grace for his people with a remarkable co-creative spirit.”

Barrick says that her impression of Dordt is of “a very Christ-centered, intentionally God-honoring community.”

“It was so refreshing to experience young adults who are well-mannered, sincere, and not wrapped up in worldliness. Not once did I see a student give their phone attention over a face-to-face conversation,” she says. “I fully intend to recommend Dordt University to my fellow East Coasters. I feel I have discovered a hidden gem in the cornfields of Iowa.”

Now that everything has been shot, Wichhart is ready to get to work on the final product.

“My favorite part of filmmaking is editing, and this project has a lot of interesting editing to work with such as voiceover, transitions, and greenscreens,” she says. “I’m eager to get into the digital media lab and put together a rough cut.”

Sarah Moss ('10)

A picture of campus behind yellow prairie flowers