In a brightly lit corner of a studio in the JKB, papers are collected in a pile on the floor with pointed edges poking out. Some might think these are set aside for the next day’s trash, but they’re actually art.
Alyssa Grant, a visual arts student at BYU, claims these papers as her senior project. They are part of a dual piece which displays words and phrases cut from paper, with their counterpart, the paper left behind.
Grant got the idea for her senior project by accident while she was working with large sheets of butcher paper in another project. Due to an insecurity about creating perfected, polished oil paintings, Grant found confidence in her handwriting.
“I thought, ‘I know how to write’ and I just intuitively began cutting it up,” she said. “I posted on my studio walls all these phrases and sentences and words from the leftover scraps and it escalated from there where I just kept cutting and cutting.”
Some of the curving words hang in Grant’s studio in the window and from the ceiling, creating a delicate atmosphere. But there is also the leftover, the pieces of paper the fragile words are cut from.
Sunny Belliston Taylor, Grant’s adviser, offered an interpretation for these piles of paper.
“She’s showing these beautiful strands of cleanly cut sentences and text, but she’s also showing the detritus that’s kind of been cast off,” Taylor said. “We would normally throw it in the trashcan, but she’s recognizing that has value as well. I think that is very symbolic of accepting the good and the bad; accepting that we all have these dual parts of our natures and both are valuable.”
Grant said these bits of paper are a more accurate representation of herself than the artwork people are used to seeing.
“I don’t feel like a polished piece of artwork that can be put in a frame,” she said. “I’m all of this mess, the scraps, I come from a pile of this and parts of me are really fragile and rip and tear, but it can also come together to create this cohesive picture of something greater.”
One of the major parts of Grant’s work is the magnitude. Grant began her project trying to complete it on her own, but after many hours cutting alone and a hurt wrist, Grant reached out to volunteers.
“I’ve just been so touched by how many people have come to help me,” Grant said. “I counted the other day and it’s up to at least 75 … My abilities are magnified a hundred fold by all the hours they’ve put in.”
Brady Ridge, a junior from Muncie, Ind., helped Grant cut paper. As a math education major, Ridge admitted to not fully understanding the piece, but he respects Grant’s passion.
“I never in a million years would think about cutting out words, and I haven’t done a lot with art, but it’s neat and intriguing because I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Ridge said.
But Grant’s piece also sets itself apart in other ways, including how temporarily it will last. Grant said an important aspect is the ephemerality of the work.
“I’ve been cutting paper for like five months now and I know it’s not going to last,” she said with a slightly somber tone. “All this is eventually going to deteriorate in a matter of months. I don’t know what’s going to happen to it after the show, but it’s not an archival oil painting.”
While Grant agrees the piece represents her, she also thinks viewers can find a way it relates to their own lives. She said she doesn’t plan on letting the audience know what the words and phrases are, since they won’t be identifiable in the gallery.
“I thought about spelling it out more, but it’s not really as important to me that the viewer can read what I’ve written,” Grant said. “I think that maybe we all have so much to say, but we don’t know how to say it. There’s a lot of things that have happened to us that have formed and shaped us, but no one would know unless you asked.”
Mark Graham, a visual arts professor whose elementary art education class also helped Grant, agreed that visitors can find personal applications in the ambiguity of the project.
“[It] allows the viewer to think about what those words might mean for them or to reconfigure the words for themselves,” Graham said. “In that way it kind of allows the viewer to be involved with whatever message, idea or experience might go beyond what Alyssa even intended.”
Grant’s exhibit “Elaborate” will run through March 30 in Gallery 303 of the HFAC. There will be an opening reception Thursday, March 22, from 6-8 p.m.