Sewanee Artist of the Week: Brook Vann (C’18)

Brook Vann (C’18). Photo by Lucy Wimmer (C’20).

By Anna Mann

Executive Editor

Brook Vann (C’18) originally came to Sewanee planning to study English, but after taking a film documentary class with Professor Pradip Malde on a whim, she instead decided to major in art. In fact, Vann had hardly any background in the realm of fine arts before college, only dabbling with a bit of dark room photography. Now, she primarily focuses on videography, sculpture, and photography.

Vann claims that the open-ended nature of the art classes here at Sewanee allowed her to adopt her projects to her own interests. For example, her advanced sculpture class permits free reign as long as certain “obstructions” or rules were met, meaning that she could incorporate videography into her projects by building objects to project her film onto. In her exploration of the major, Vann quickly found that the open grading system lent to her creativity.

In fact, when asked about creating art in an academic setting, Brook stressed that the pressure never bothers her, saying, “I’m not always thinking of doing my art for a grade, per se; I feel like it’s a success as in writing or anything else. You’re using a mechanism to express yourself and yes, there are formal qualities you satisfy as with anything, but it’s like creative writing, you’re not completing it just to get an A.”

Moreover, Vann claims that the art department in general taught her to look at art as a means of understanding herself. Her teachers stressed the importance of mindfulness in every artistic action, leading Vann to understand a wider variety of techniques through contemplation and class time alike. Though she encourages all artists to keep an open mind in regards to new mediums, Vann herself primarily works with portraits in both videography and photography.

Through these two artistic channels, Vann took her work to Uganda, Haiti, and Tanzania to conduct everything from field research to community building. She emphasized the value of art as a form of communication in these instances and the bridge it often created where a language barrier existed.

Regarding her work in Tanzania, she said, “I don’t speak Swahili, so that was challenging. It made it hard to engage with some of the people and the conversations that we did have had to be translated so there was a sense of removal and lack of directness.”

Vann often engages with the idea of communication and miscommunication in her art, especially concerning her senior art show, “Conversations in a Plastic Room.” She explains the experimental aspect of the two pieces in the exhibit and states, “It’s taken so much thought over the past year, it feels strange to have it up and be finished.”

The pieces revolve around her identity as one of three triplets and the changes in their interactions as they’ve aged. Since going off to college, Vann explained that they had to become creative in the ways that they kept in touch.

She discloses that her most recent work revolves around “being able to engage with them with the same level of closeness but without the physical proximity to each other. The idea of a ‘plastic room’ connects with this idea of a synthetic sense of proximity.”