UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – When graphic design students in Rodney Allen Trice’s Time and Sequence course were assigned a group project to work with a client – a friend and fellow artist – to develop music videos for her songs, they set out to create what they thought would communicate their client’s message and to earn a good grade in the class. As a bonus, they figured they’d get a cool interactive piece to add to their portfolios.
What they didn’t expect was for the artist to fall in love with their video and for her to submit it to be shown during an art exhibition in a major Pennsylvania city.
But that’s exactly what happened to fourth-year students Alexis Stern, Amelia Ball, Kayla Corazzi, Callahan Miller and Noemie Noullet. The group’s video for artist and singer Christiane Dolores’s song “Killing Patterns” made such an impression on their client, who also goes by Madame Dolores, that she then submitted it to be used in the Streaming Space exhibit, which runs April 12 through May 12 in Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh.
Trice met Dolores in 2017 when he returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh to explore the city he was again inhabiting (while splitting time in New York City) before being hired by the graphic design program at Penn State. Trice, who had lived and worked in New York for the previous 30 years, says he was encouraged by friends to explore the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, which is where he met Dolores, who serves as the artist relations manager for the council.
“He came into my office with his black leather on, jewels on every finger – just like my sister – and his wild hair celebrating its grayness, and I knew instantly that we were going to be friends,” said Dolores. “I love Rodney’s ‘go get ‘em, leave no stone unturned’ spirit and I think more Pittsburgh-based artists could benefit from having an attitude like his.”
Trice, who is a professor of practice in graphic design at Penn State, echoes Dolores’s sentiments on the “immediate connection” between the pair and said they started talking about ways to collaborate together.
Trice’s Time and Sequence class presented the perfect opportunity for the two artists based in the same city to work together.
“Time and Sequence is all about adding the use of sequential design and storytelling to the core skills students have been honing,” said Trice. “On this project, taking that new dimension and adding a living, breathing and particular client – instead of our hypothetical clients – was exciting and interesting to watch unfold.”
Dolores, who had worked on a video in the past with a student from Robert Morris University and found the experience rewarding, was excited and curious when Trice approached her about his class project.
The class of 19 students was divided up into four groups and leaders of those groups were selected after they pitched their video concepts to the class. The top four pitched ideas belonged to Jessica Finlayson, Kathleen Mensing, Eleanor Wing and Stern and those group leaders assembled their design teams.
“We held Skype sessions and the one thing I tried to make clear is that I didn’t have a storyboard, I didn’t have a script or a vision for these songs,” Dolores said. “I gave the students a list of what I don’t like and implored them to be free to express what emotionally strikes them in the songs.”
Stern took on the role as the creative director of her team and set out to incorporate patterns, as the title of the song she selected, references into the video.
“I wanted to do something different with this video. Every music video today seems like it’s some sort of montage storyline, it’s never really just focusing on the artist,” said Stern. “I wanted to combine that focus on Christiane as an artist with the title of the song (“Killing Patterns”), so I knew I wanted to incorporate a whole bunch of pattern effects.”
While Stern served as the design lead, the project was a collaborative effort right from the start.
“Alexis came up with this concept but we immediately all jumped on board because we were interested in her ideas and we knew we could help bring her vision to life,” said Miller. “I’m from Pittsburgh and was going home one weekend, and it just so happened to work out that my schedule aligned with Christiane’s so I could film her 'singing' this song.”
Miller shot the footage backstage while Dolores was helping to set up the #notwhite collective's annual This is Your Land Love party for youth in Pittsburgh.
“We really wanted this video to look and feel like it was made professionally so I brought along a green screen and pinned it up behind Christiane so she could lip sync to her song without the background being a distraction,” said Miller.
The footage Miller captured became the raw video from which the project was developed. The team then split the nearly 3-minute song into five parts with each member of the group being responsible for their own section.
“I thought it was fun because although we were incorporating patterns, we really had free reign to do what we wanted in our sections,” said Ball.
Stern then reviewed the different segments and made sure each section flowed as flawlessly as possible into the next.
“The only real constraint I had for the group was that they had to incorporate their own patterns,” said Stern. “There are so many ways that can be achieved so it allowed for a lot of flexibility.”
After three weeks of work, students in the class wrapped up their videos, which were then presented to Dolores.
“Penn State students did not disappoint. The videos are true to the words, the music and my aesthetic,” she said.
The “Killing Patterns” video was selected by Dolores as the best out of the group, which means the rights to the video now belong to her and she can use it as she sees fit. The video will be released by Madame Dolores on May 8, and will also be shared on the Stuckeman School’s YouTube channel.
“I was blown away by the results, as have been my fellow artists and friends who I’ve shared it with,” she said. “I’m thrilled to have worked with these students and to be able to provide a larger platform of recognition for their work.”
Although Stern’s group was the favorite, Dolores is using all of the videos in the promotion of her upcoming album, titled Pantry of Salt and Sugar.
Not only is it rewarding for the students to see their work being shared in a larger context, but the assignment also gave this group of graduating seniors some extra experience collaborating with fellow designers on project for a client.
“When we started in the Graphic Design program, we did a lot of the work on our own and only really expanded into group projects at the end of last year and then into this year,” said Noullet. “It can be difficult at first because we all like to take ownership and personalize our work but after this project, I really see how our different strengths and skill sets came together into a successful design piece.”
It also has become a strong component in each of the students’ portfolios, providing some breadth of the work they did while at Penn State and a bit of tip-toeing outside of their comfort zones.
“It’s funny because none of my work looks like what I did in this video, which is very colorful and almost has a ‘trippy’ feel to it,” said Ball. “It’s nice to be able to show something off that I worked on that isn’t necessarily my style but was still very successful.”
Streaming spaces is a collaborative work by artists Alisha B. Wormsley and Ricardo Iamuuri Robinson that “transforms Market Square into a space for video, performance and sound that encourages healing and reflection,” according to the Market Square Public Art website.
The Penn State students’ video is set to be showcased on May 8 as part of the Pittsburgh in Space program of the show, which features videos by 14 artists, including Dolores.
The exhibit is presented by the City of Pittsburgh through the Public Art and Civic Design Division, Department of City Planning and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership with technical assistance from the Office of Public Art at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. For more information go to the Market Square Public Art website.