UT alumnus unveils exhibit on childhood and transition to adulthood

Zachary Keener

Bodiless creatures called The Dwellers peer out from dark places in an art exhibit about childhood and the transition to adulthood that features a deteriorating skateboard ramp and wooden fort.

The exhibit, “It Will Happen Again,” is what Michael Sieben, a UT alumnus and artist in Austin, said he imagines might lie underneath the deck of a skateboard ramp, and is about the youthful qualities that fade with adulthood. Sieben’s exhibit opened at the end of January and will run through May 10 at the Visual Arts Center.

“I’m hoping to make more of a blanket statement about the loss of innocence and imagination,” Sieben said. “The Dwellers are a metaphor for imagination [and] creativity that is so readily accessible as a child but that’s increasingly harder to tap into as we transcend into adulthood. … But [they] could be so different for each individual.”

Sieben said The Dwellers, characters that appear throughout the exhibit, represent creativity and imagination for himself, but could have differing meanings, depending on who is interpreting them.

“For me, The Dwellers are peering out from underneath the rotting skateboard ramps of my childhood,” Sieben said. “But The Dwellers could be different for each individual. For that reason, they’re only represented as eyes peeking from the dark, allowing the viewer to inject their own personal history into the narrative.”

Sieben has connected with students who are new to the study of art, Visual Arts Center director Jade Walker said.

“The class of freshmen that spent time with him were more interested in the content,” Walker said. “They were like, ‘Yeah, we’re in the midst of growing up ourselves so this speaks to us right now.’”

Studio art senior Vladimir Mejia said he also found Sieben’s success interesting — if not relatable — to his own experience as a student.

“Because Michael Sieben was a student here … it’s been interesting to see [him] transition, in the sense that [he has] also grown outside of UT,” Mejia said. “Because you go through the art program, but there’s also that step after you graduate where you have to figure out what your voice is going to be.”

Jonathan Gruchawka — also a studio art senior — said he found the art easy to relate to because of its meaning, which he said he believes can be understood by all types of audiences.

“I think you can look at all of these paintings and structures and they seem like pop sculptures, but they’re talking about nostalgia and childhood, skate culture [and] all of these other things,” Gruchawka said. “He’s kind of appealed to a broad range of people. This audience — everybody’s been a kid. I mean, who didn’t want to have this badass fort when they were a kid?”