“Outside the Bounds: Wanlass Artist in Residence – Neutral and Authoritative Knowledge” is a a studio art class taught by this year’s Wanlass Artist in Residence, EJ Hill. The Wanlass Artist in Residency program, funded by the Kathryn Caine Wanlass Family Foundation, brings highly respected contemporary artists to Occidental College each year.
Hill said he grew up in south central LA and received his undergraduate degree from Columbia College in Chicago and his Master’s in Fine Arts from UCLA. Hill specializes in endurance performance art and installation works and has previously held residency at The Studio Museum in Harlem. He also has experience with sculpture, but said his medium is currently going through changes.
“I’m kind of at a transition point. I started off making performance art, usually endurance-based, body-based performance, which transitioned to sculpture and installation thematically centered on the harder parts of being human and trying to add some light and levity into some of that,” Hill said. “And now, this is what I am working on, this is the art. Making this collaborative environment with people who are really here to learn and build something new.”
EJ Hill is Occidental’s ninth Wanlass Artist in Residence. Art & art history professor Mary Beth Heffernan said the Wanlass Artist in Residencies was first conceived back in 2013.
“We have this incredibly special program that allows students to spend time with an artist and [the artist] to share their thinking, methodology and pedagogy and to get beyond the structures that many classes have,” Heffernan said.
Although Hill runs the class, he said he aims to diffuse the power and control dynamics between the teacher and the students, recognizing that each class member has unique knowledge and perspective to offer.
“Artists like EJ try to recalibrate our thinking and our way of being with each other, and the way we form communities,” Heffernan said.
Throughout class Sept. 15, students wrote, sketched, typed, painted, talked and went outside to get fresh air.
Caterina Burch* (senior) is in Hill’s class this semester and said it is changing her approach to education.
“This class is both exciting and a little bit uncomfortable because there’s very little structure here,” Burch said. “It’s like there’s no teacher, but at the same time when he [Hill] enters the room, we look at him as the teacher, so we’re trying to reprogram ourselves. It’s a lot of thinking about the way we’ve been taught forever.”
Hill said his unique method of approaching the student-teacher dynamic is inspired by his experiences both in and out of the classroom.
“It comes from mostly just my experience being a student,” Hill said. “And in a lot of those instances feeling really powerless, and feeling, mowed down, and bulldozed, and pushed aside, which isn’t unlike how I sometimes feel as like a queer person, a Black person in America. Which I imagine members of any subjugated group, might feel depending on context or experience. If I can take a dynamic that at this point feels tried and true, untested and unchallenged — and take something as familiar as the student-teacher dynamic and try to upend that, I think it could be maybe a model for what we could do in those other areas, in other social relations and group dynamics.”
Hill said, as an artist and teacher, he strongly believes in the art of questioning and is most inspired by those who defy convention. In an effort to encourage students to question how exactly they are learning skills, Hill said he named the class “Neutral and Authoritative Knowledge.”
“It’s kind of a little tongue-in-cheek because I think knowledge isn’t neutral,” Hill said. “I think learning is important but I think what is maybe even more important is developing the skills to question how you’re learning, what’s being taught, the lessons that are sticking in you and why they’re sticking.”
To see Hill’s current art project, Hill said he will be showing in the spring at Oxy Arts.
*Caterina Burch is a staff writer for The Occidental