"Cheerful and Collaborative Art": Remixes and Reclamation at Pomona Art Gallery

A sculpture rests in the Chan Gallery as a part of "Friendly Layers: Mixed Advice on Graphic Design," a mixed-media installation by Pomona College faculty Mark Allen and collaborators Paul Morgan, Gail Swanlund, Tiffanie Tran, and Rosten Woo. (Lia Francis-Bongue • The Student Life)

The glass and concrete walls of the two-roomed Pomona art gallery displayed the work of several artists in a collaborative installation titled “Friendly Layers: Mixed Advice on Graphic.” The exhibition opened on Tuesday, Sept. 26th and will remain on view until the October 20th.

Mark Allen, an associate professor of art at Pomona, worked to create the exhibition with Gail Swanlund, Paul Morgan, Tiffanie Tran, and Rosten Woo, all of whom are local artists or educators. 

“The premise of the project was to think about how designs that are typically on display separately can be shown in different ways. We met and talked about how to make everything flow together, and give it its space,” Allen said. 

Swalund wrote in an email to TSL that "it’s become a cheerful assortment of work that shows that the boundaries between what we call ‘graphic design’ or ‘art’ are alive, adjustable, permeable and absorbent."

The floor-to-ceiling windows displayed a line of tote bags emblazoned with fluorescent orange abstract faces or watery blues seeping into yellow bands. Graphic prints lined the adjacent wall, and a multi-colored mannequin was seated at the corner. Bright solid shapes that signified city or government symbols were on another wall.

“Once we had arranged our pieces, we did this thing where everyone has someone else’s last name,” said Allen, “to emphasise that in our art, authorship is pliant.”

The books on display declared that the show had been authored by Tiffanie Allen, Mark Woo, Rosten Morgan, Paul Swanlund, Gail Tran, a caption which mixed the first and last names of the collaborators. 

“For me, it really became a project about friendship, about getting to know each other through this collaborative process,” wrote Swanlund.

"Friendly Layers" displays a wall of prints as part of the mixed-media installation. (Lia Francis-Bongue • The Student Life)

At noon, Allen began guiding the flow of students and off-campus guests through the gallery. 

He gestured towards the tote bags: “One of my students made these with old paintings I’d given him, designs that didn’t work quite as well as paintings. They’re the same canvas the paint was originally put on.”

Allen moved toward the wall with the city shapes, the pictures of the newspapers, where headlines spoke about judges declaring that workers would be jailed for not coming to work and of arrested children being prevented from speaking to their families. 

“Rosten Woo, one of my collaborators, does a lot of information design ... He presents activist work that conveys information,” said Allen. “We wanted to shift the scale of these graphics, typically conveyed in a document, and place them in shared gallery space.”

He pointed to some prints with vibrant orange and pink diamonds overlapping each other with duller grey and gold diamonds in a different square of design. He gestured at posters with writings that they bore clean lines and intricate shapes, rough brush-strokes and black and white contours that resembled textbook diagrams.

“When I teach design, I focus on art as communicative, and on finding the right way to convey the idea. But in this show, the focus is definitely more on the process. We’re experimenting with form and structure,” said Allen. “Typically, in design we think of the experimental state as something we go through to reach the end, but this may be a display of just process, of your process and someone else’s.”