The meaning of the monster

A CFA gallery that scares while stimulating thought


Teeth-grinding, bone-munching monsters are taking over the Lower Gallery in the Center for the Arts.

Associate professor John Jenning’s semiotics class worked together to create a new gallery for the Lower Gallery in the CFA. Even though contributors from outside the class were allowed to participate, the gallery was very much a construction of the students.

“The [gallery] is essentially based on our class’ theme: The Medium is the Monster,” said Amberlee Nguyen, a senior graphic design major, and a student in the applied semiotics class. “Jennings loves monsters and has a bit of an obsession with them. Throughout the semester, we’ve been watching a lot of monster movies and analyzing the meaning behind the monster, its purpose.”

The Medium is the Monster gallery was originally scheduled to open with a reception on Nov. 20, but a snowstorm in the area moved the gallery’s opening to Nov. 25. The reception was rescheduled to Dec. 4 from 5-7 p.m.

Jennings collaborated with his student Tommy Nguyen, a first-year arts graduate student, on a pair of colorful and visually stimulating prints called Tupilaq 1. They were created with a digital mixed media format and are visually scary and pleasing to look at.

“A lot of the works turned out extremely strong,” said Natalie Fleming, the visual resource curator for the department of art. “This is largely due to the fact that it was a very collaborative project. The class started a Facebook group to help each other with their pieces.”

Jennings prefers using a closed Facebook group instead of UBLearns or Blackboard because it’s easier for students for show off their work and provide feedback.

The class’s use of group feedback has blossomed into a tremendously fun exhibit visually. The Medium is the Monster contains a wide variety of pieces, from creepy stickers to photographs of zombies to book covers and everything in between. The concept of using monsters as the theme for the exhibit comes straight from Jennings.

“I pick a new topic for my semiotics class every year,” Jennings said. “I picked monster as the main topic this time because it is a powerful allegory for social issues. As for the name of the show, The Medium is the Monster is a reference to the Marshall McLuhan saying, ‘The medium is the message.’”

Bone Monster, another piece in the gallery, was created by Harumo Sato, a senior visual art studio major. The picture was a boney winged creature drawn only in black. Harumo also worked on Monstrous Feminine, a much more surreal and creepy piece.

The work incorporates a Nathaniel Hawthorne quote, two conjoined females holding a severed head and a couple of winged creatures.

“The monster is a symbol of cultural conflicts,” Sato said in an email. “So, we visualized/ characterized the edge of these problems. The main concept of this gallery is, I think, to reveal what our society tends to hide through visualizing the monsters.”

One very unique work in the gallery is fine arts major Amberlee Nguyen’s Arachibutyrophobia. This is a giant sticker showing a terrifying mouth-shaped monster.

“This show is amazing and it includes everything that’ll freak you out and seriously make your skin crawl, but somehow pull you in and keep you looking,” Nguyen said. “I think our art department is seriously overlooked and segregated from the main campus. Gallery shows like this one, put together but a collections of undergrad students, graduate students and teachers really show the talent and diversity of our school.”

The Medium is the Monster will continue to be on display in the Lower Gallery of the Center for the Arts until Dec. 6, with a reception being held Dec. 4 from 5-7 p.m.

“Everyone and anyone is welcome to come check out the gallery and they definitely should,” Nguyen said.