Student calls to the void

Artist heads new collective, seeks to expand arts scene



“Even though her work wasn’t ultimately exhibited in the museum, the show she came up with was powerful and well-documented,” said Joe Hedges, assistant professor of painting and intermedia.

ANNA YOUNG, Evergreen reporter

Comprising of a series of swirling, liminal blurred paintings and a video, which shifted constantly so there was never a sense of up or down, “The Call of the Void” was former MFA student Kelsey Baker’s exhibit for the showcase last year.

“It captures the feeling I was trying to set off — standing on the edge of something and imagining the possibility of situations presented to you,” Baker said.

Baker, who specialized in visual arts, said it was tough when COVID-19 hit and prevented her from displaying her graduate thesis at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art last semester. The exhibit found a home in a digital format on the museum’s website.

Baker was happy to have the platform but said she felt it lacked the same impact.

“It was really important to me for people to stand there and see it in person,” Baker said.

But that was not to be the end of “The Call of the Void.”

Now the gallery director for Austin, Texas-based art collective Contracommon, Baker said she is bringing back the exhibition for an upcoming group show at the collective taking place Nov. 7-22.

Contracommon will also be included in this year’s Austin Studio Tour, which features artists from collectives around the city. The tour, which is usually in-person, will be all virtual this year and take place from the week of Nov. 14.

Joe Hedges, assistant professor of painting and intermedia, said he worked with Baker more than any other student in his time at WSU. He said he was happy to hear she’d found a job she liked in the art community and said her situation shows just how much drive, passion and talent she has as an artist.

In Baker’s time at WSU, she worked with Hedges on the mural at Kamiak Elementary School. Hedges said they worked together on the design and then had intermediate and advanced students help them with painting it.

He said it was an experiment for him to do such a large-scale, multi-artist project, but he had worked with Kelsey before and trusted her skill.

Baker also spent time as a teaching assistant for assistant clinical professor Hallie Meredith, whose focus is in art history.

Meredith remembered having Baker in her art history seminar when Baker was in her first year of graduate work. She was memorable as a student, Meredith said, and not just for the wig she wore around Halloween.

“She really made herself known from the beginning of the seminar because she was able to articulate her ideas so well,” Meredith said.

This translated well to Baker’s TA work in her last semester, Meredith said. Both she and Hedges said Baker had a great ability to teach and truly engage with the students. Meredith said she once overheard a couple of students in Baker’s class say that she came across as “hardline,” but in a good way.

“They really respected her,” Meredith said. “They admired her approach.”

Even with the difficulties of COVID-19, Meredith said Baker did a fantastic job of translating her in-person thesis exhibition to a digital format. Hedges, too, said that the concepts Baker wanted to convey worked well online because of the way Baker made the change.

“Even though her work wasn’t ultimately exhibited in the museum, the show she came up with was powerful and well-documented,” Hedges said.

Now back in Austin, where she lived before coming to Pullman, Baker said Contracommon will be hosting seven exhibitions, including one of her own in 2021.

She said this new exhibition will incorporate some of the same strategies from her graduate thesis, such as its multimedia blend. “The Call of the Void” was limited by COVID-19, however, she plans to make this upcoming piece bigger and more adapted to the space provided.

For now, she’s working to help Contracommon stay active. The gallery is open on weekends and by appointment, she said, and the website will soon have a 360-virtual tour. There will also be digital content available through the Austin Studio Tour.

Baker said she’s glad to see the arts community still thriving even with the limitations brought on by COVID-19 and wants to keep seeing the scene expand.

“It does give me hope that new collectives like the one I work at have opened and new people have entered the arena,” she said.