Tyler’s 2021 “Diploma Project,” a special gift to the graduating class made by a distinguished alum, features a digital “intergenerational conversation and time capsule” to document an unprecedented year.
Clip from Always On by Angela Washko. Courtesy of the artist.
During its annual Commencement ceremony, the Tyler School of Art and Architecture presents its graduating students with a special class gift: a unique work of art made by one of Tyler’s renowned alumni—a tradition that connects two generations of bold thinkers and makers.
This year, feminist media artist Angela Washko (BFA, ‘09), in collaboration with Tyler students, created Always On—a digital, social practice performance that took place in Habbo, an existing pixel-art based multi-user virtual environment and community that has been active since 2000.
“It has been a very meaningful experience reconnecting with Tyler and creating a new artwork in dialogue with students,” said Washko. “I see this performance as an intergenerational conversation and time-capsule documenting a year like none other—and I hope it will give students a moment to reflect critically on how digital culture has changed during this crisis, how they might incorporate intentionality into their relationship with media, and what other alternatives they may help manifest as artists.”
This digital environment, custom-designed by Washko to feel emblematic of the utopian idealism of the early web, set the stage for eight students across Tyler’s breadth of programs to discuss, among many things, how their social experiences, art practices and relationship to technology have changed as a result of a year spent in the global pandemic; and imagine what intentional and meaningful future technologically mediated experiences they would like to see in the world as alternatives to the limitations of digital life.
Screenshot from a Zoom planning conversation between Angela Washko and the eight Tyler students who participated in the Always On performance.
The recorded Habbo performance, featuring a new experimental sound piece by Washko’s collaborator Jesse Stiles, explores the fragmentation and collapse between digital/physical, public/private, and work/not work that has occurred during this remote year, which, one student described as “always on” because “we never log off.”
“This project opened my eyes to looking at art and performance through a new lens,” said Mollie Schaidt (MFA ‘21), who was one of the student participants. “Art doesn’t have to be physical; it can take many forms. I think this project is important to speak upon the times we are living currently facing, and our resiliency as artists and a community.”
The Class of 2021 can view the performance on Tyler’s virtual gallery STELLA by way of a password-protected page. This summer, students will also receive a flash drive designed by Washko that contains Always On.
The “Diploma Project” was launched in 2019. In the project’s first year, the Class of 2019 received a limited-edition print designed by Edgar Heap of Birds (MFA ’79) in collaboration with Tyler Printmaking students. In 2020, Polly Apfelbaum (BFA ‘78), in collaboration with Fibers & Material Studies students, created cozy, hand-crafted winter hats, each topped with a gigantic white pom-pom.