“I feel like I’ve done a kind of one-eighty since I’ve come here,” says Rebecca S. Lieberman ’10, describing the evolution of her art throughout her time at Harvard. Lieberman’s final exhibition as an undergraduate will feature selections from her thesis in Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) including “Whitetail Deer, A to Z,” a two-hour video piece.
According to Lieberman, she had no intention of concentrating in VES when she arrived at Harvard. Despite an interest in photography, she was initially daunted by the rigor and interdisciplinary demands of the department. After taking a class in VES and joining the art and design boards of The Harvard Advocate as a freshman, Lieberman says her concentration “decided itself.” “She’s involved with a lot of different kinds of art, and I think in the future she’ll continue to be prolific in a lot of different mediums,” says friend Martabel A. Wasserman ’10.
Once out of the dark room, Lieberman gravitated toward sculpture and video. Her first video, “PATTY,” takes its subject matter from the security-camera footage of Patty Hearst, the heiress kidnapped and brainwashed by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), robbing a bank along with her captors. The piece incorporates aspects of the SLA’s manifesto, fairy tales, 1970s horror and science-fiction film, TV news interviews and would-be Warhol assassin Valerie Solanas’ radical feminist “SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto.”
Lieberman owes much of her exposure to the influences that would inform her sculpture and video work to Amie Siegel, an artist and professor in VES. Her time as studio assistant to Alison Knowles—a Radcliffe artist-in-residence famous for her involvement in the Fluxus art movement of the 1960s alongside Marcel Duchamp and John Cage—helping to prepare lectures, participating in Fluxus performances and contributing to works exhibited in Potsdam’s Fluxus Museum, also impacted Lieberman’s work.
Lieberman attributes the most influence, however, to Helen Mirra, the artist and VES professor who taught Lieberman’s first sculpture class and advised her thesis this year. Mirra pushed the conceptual boundaries of Lieberman’s art, particularly regarding formal and material decisions in her sculpture work. “She and I are really different, but I think in the way she approaches talking about art, her work and other people’s work, we speak the same language,” Lieberman says. “I like the ways she critiques; she has the most vast body of knowledge of art and art theory and criticism that I’ve ever experienced. Everything leads me to something new.”
Her thesis exhibition consists of “Whitetail,” installed alongside several sculptures made of wood and synthetic wood substitutes. The video is a restaging of a 1984 instructional taxidermy video, where she replaces the titular animal with a driftwood log. “I was interested in taxidermy as a practice of display and representation, and the way in which the natural becomes a replica or representation of itself,” Lieberman says.
Lieberman hopes to remain critically engaged with art-making after Harvard. She plans to find a job in the field of visual arts, and later to pursue a Master of Fine Arts.