When Chelsea Shaffer ’14 arrived on campus her freshman year, she planned on joining the Craft Center and taking a few art classes. Luckily for the visual arts department, a few classes turned into many classes, and many classes turned into a major.

Currently taking the Senior Studio capstone course, Shaffer’s project uses footage from recent home videos and digitized old home videos to visually represent memory. 

“It’s sort of predicated on the idea that oftentimes our memories are not actually memories but just recollections that we have of images we’ve seen of ourselves growing up,” said Shaffer of her work. 

Shaffer says she is interested in the power of public art and its influence on passers-by. For her Public Art class last semester, she flipped all the posters in the union so that people only saw the blank backs of fliers. 

“I feel like we see those every day and that space is so familiar to us that sometimes we don’t even see those posters,” she said. “I wanted to break that routine of knowing exactly what was going to be there.”

Shaffer studied abroad in Florence, Italy where she got a taste of what life would have been like at a studio art school. After considering the pros and cons, she says she’s still glad she has her liberal arts background.

“What we lack in studio space or technical instruction, we make up for in the way Bowdoin professors teach their students how to think about art and how to talk about their art,” she said. “I noticed a lot of people could make these beautiful things but they didn’t really know how to explain them or didn’t know the art historical context for what they were making.”

While abroad, Shaffer produced a piece titled “Rising” that was displayed during the Bowdoin Art Society student show.

“It was a video that superimposed images of riots onto flowing water—like a rushing river—to talk about how that impulse to violence or the mob mentality is a natural impulse and that things will gain momentum and rise up,” said Shaffer.

While Shaffer has always been interested in art, she made her decision to major in it after her experience in Sculpture II, taught by Sculptor in Residence John Bisbee.

“I really liked the experience of getting the time and space to work on one major project and really thinking about it, and having a lot of autonomy over what it was going to look like,” she said. “It also got me really interested in the idea of studio practice.”

Shaffer’s first concern when producing a new piece is its aesthetic quality.

“Very often, the actual production of the art is driven by what I find aesthetically and formally interesting. That’s the most important thing to me—what something ends up looking like,” she said. “What it means is a little bit more of a perk.”

Shaffer starts by deciding what medium to use, and says the process of creating inspires what comes after. For example, painting from photographs makes her think about what the photographs mean to her.

“For video it’s usually a little more conceptual,” said Shaffer. “I’ll have a sort of idea or sentence that I find interesting, and I’ll try to reproduce that idea in the video work.”

Recently Shaffer has become interested in community art projects and art therapy. Since she plans to teach after graduation, she hopes she can incorporate art into her job.

“I see it as a really good way to connect people, a good way to bring people together in a community and a good way to beautify a community. I think that that is a really important role of art—making a place worthwhile and a good place to live in,” said Shaffer.

For Citizenship and Religion, a course being taught at the Maine Correctional Center, Shaffer has been working on a group project with other Bowdoin students and an incarcerated student. They have been asking people to answer the question of what citizenship means to them by writing or drawing on an index card. 

“There are a lot of people who are incarcerated at that facility who have been participating in the project—drawing on the cards, writing things down. It’s been really great to get that perspective,” she said. “I’m really interested to see what Bowdoin people have to say, but it’s also interesting to see this whole other group of people who have a lot at stake in their own citizenship and how they would respond to that.”

To Shaffer, the beauty of this project is that it provides people in the facility with an outlet for creativity.

“Maybe people don’t get to see their drawings or read their poetry or read their writing because they are incarcerated, but this way they have a chance to sort of express themselves and have it reach a broad audience,” she said.

Shaffer’s video work can be seen in the Senior Studio show on May 2, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Her citizenship project will also be displayed in the Fishbowl Gallery in the Visual Arts Center next weekend.