Larissa Gilbert grew up in Nevada City, California and is an OS27 Oxbow alum. After spending her adolescence in rural communities, Larissa relocated to New York City where she received a BFA from The Cooper Union School of Art. Her work has been included in exhibitions at EFA Project Space (New York, NY), the Nakanojo Biennale (Shima, Japan), and Anthology Film Archives (New York, NY). Larissa is currently the English teacher and a dorm head at Oxbow.
What is one of your most crystallizing moments when you were a student at Oxbow?
Socially, I felt like a crystallizing moment occurred between me and my friend Mikhaila. I have a distinct memory when we went to Gott’s Roadside for milkshakes. As we walked, we dreamt about what our futures held for us. As a student immersed in a genuine arts collective, Oxbow was inspiring in us thoughts about going into education. Here I am years later as an interdisciplinary humanities teacher, forging connections between art and academics. Also of note, Mikhaila teaches sculpture at the Oxbow summer art camp.
What was your biggest takeaway from being an Oxbow student?
The biggest takeaway was the emphasis on a research-based practice. That completely opened up my practice entirely. I wouldn’t have continued on the path I went on had I not been exposed to the importance of research. I could invest in learning about multiple disciplines and topics while also being an artist. All of my work is rooted in some form of research-based inquiry.
Describe your educational path after your semester at Oxbow.
I homeschooled myself before Oxbow. When I finished Oxbow, I concluded my high school experience early and never thought about art school as an option, but I ended up at Cooper Union. At Cooper, I became more invested in video and performance work and delved deeply in developing programs for performance. I was very interested in organizing and organizing space for artists. That’s when I was opened up to social practice and how teaching can be a form of social practice. I taught for the Saturday high school program offered at Cooper and it solidified my interest in teaching adolescents.
What kind of work were you doing before joining the Oxbow team?
I was living in Los Angeles where I was a “teaching artist” working with public school students who didn’t have access to art. I worked in many different school settings and was very energized by that. Most schools in south and east Los Angeles lack funding for the arts, and it was an honor to bring art to students who otherwise didn’t have access to materials and instruction. It was very gratifying to see students working with their hands.
Now that you are an Oxbow faculty member, what do you hope to impart in your work with your own students?
I am so excited when students are leading and following their interests. I hope to bring out their creativity by asking a good question or creating a safe space to explore an idea that they haven’t had the opportunity to explore in the past. I like to build on their own thought process. I feel strongly that students should develop their own social and political responsibility to the world.
Describe your current art practice. What are you working on?
In the quarantine, I have had a lot of realizations about what is important and what really matters. I was previously trained to prioritize products and physical things. Before the quarantine, I was working on a sculpture that involved using spray foam and material objects. I began second guessing my use of materials as they relate to my own values. What message was I sending with my choice of materials that were either consumer-driven or toxic to the environment? My work has shifted. I am currently writing a book, accessing the personal experience as a political statement. I am also working on a video that incorporates performance; it is about the relationship between a character and their television. It’s a love story based on Roland Barthe’s “The Lover’s Discourse.” I am also weaving a rug out of the sheets that students left behind when they departed the campus.
What are some unexpected surprises you have discovered as a result of living through a pandemic?
I am very aware of my daily privileges -- I am safe; I have food. I have slowed down a lot. I am working in the garden and learning the value of digging in the dirt. I am surprised by how much my daily mood has improved. I am thinking a lot about affordable health-care and access to food. Perhaps this crisis will actually bring about systemic change. I am interacting directly with the Oxbow community more often and learning the value of nurturing those relationships.
What is something about Oxbow that isn’t clearly visible to an outsider?
I don’t think a lot of people understand how much work and care factors into creating a program like this. We dedicate our lives to the student experience. It’s not visible unless you are living in the community. The students, faculty, and staff create a deep sense of community within a short timespan. This community continues past the Oxbow semester.