UT Austin art students roll in the dough for new exhibition

Brooke Sjoberg

With softly milled flour sifting through their fingers, two art students spread the white powder across the concrete floor of UT’s Visual Arts Center. Globs of dough lay waiting on the floor to later be collected and kneaded through the flour.

On display through Feb. 23 in the Visual Arts Center, art history junior Emily Lee and studio art senior Rachael Henson’s exhibition, “Almost Doesn’t Count,” celebrates both the similarity of their shared Asian-American heritage as well as the differences of their individual personalities. To supplement their exhibition, their artistic performance, “Shove,” focused on the full-body relationship between themselves and their home environments. 

A physical demonstration of their differences, Henson said, was unique in their motions rather than materials. For instance, Henson favored moving the flour in small brushes and pats, while Lee swept it in wide strokes. 

“My practice is really rooted in dough, food and touch, and Rachael’s is very rooted in, I think, gestures, physicality and detail,” Lee said. “Those came together, the intimacy of Rachael’s work and the familiarity of my material.”

The art from their exhibition focuses on shared domestic experiences arising from their multicultural heritage. Featured in the gallery are an upended table and chair frames covered in dough, a mattress that has been carefully deconstructed and a “rug” made out of nearly 200 packages of Ramen noodles which was stepped on during the exhibition’s opening.

“With the materiality of the ramen, you can’t really use it as a rug,” Lee said. “Someone at the opening stepped on it. Granted, if you’re someone who puts Ramen on a floor at an opening, with beverages, of course it’s going to be stepped on.”

While the doughy aspect of the exhibition was the work of Lee, Henson’s specialty is mattresses. The particular mattress that is part of “Almost Doesn’t Count” has been carefully deconstructed, with the recording of a soft voice whispering in Mandarin through the springs and stuffing.

“I was working on beds before I made the bed (in the exhibit), before it became a part of the show,” Henson said. “It was something I really connected with, and it’s easy for other people to connect with. I wanted to convey longing, in this violent kind of dissection of a bed.”

Inspired by an experience with her mother, Henson said her work with the bed was intended to be jarring from a distance but comforting up close.

“You hear this wispy kind of voice, calling you in,” Henson said. “You can put your head inside of it and listen. It’s very intimate.”

Several of Henson and Lee’s friends and classmates were in the audience for their performance. Among them was design senior Kendall Bradley, who said watching her friends’ kneading of the bread actually made her hungry. 

“I was thinking about food traditions,” Bradley said. 

Remarking on her experience working with dough as her medium of choice, Lee said it is a difficult material which requires great strength and knowledge to yield.

“It’s a really finicky material to work with,” Lee said. “It’s such a useless skill, to know so much about it. I’ve worked with it long enough to know that on, say, day three it will be this level of firmness, if you don’t leave it covered.”