Gigi Costello-Montgomery first started at the University of Washington in 2000. She left after two years, partly because she still had no major. She returned in autumn 2020 and is now fully focused on an Art major with a concentration in Interdisciplinary Visual Art. Liz Copland, an academic adviser for the School of Art + Art History + Design, interviewed Gigi via email.
Tell us a little about your pathway at UW?
I had a “traditional” start to college, heading to UW directly after graduating high school, but I had no idea what I wanted to do and really didn’t think much about it beyond leaving the small town I was living in. I took a variety of classes from film, to various literature classes, to biblical Hebrew. By the end of my second year, I hadn’t chosen a major and some overwhelming life circumstances made me decide to leave school. In my nearly 20 years away I had many life experiences that helped me grow and evolve so I could know myself enough to recognize what I wanted to go back to school for: art.
What prompted your shift of focus towards art and what has your experience been like so far?
Art was always something I was interested in, but I had a pretty unusual and somewhat difficult childhood, so it wasn’t something that was nurtured in my life. Then, in middle school, I experienced a trauma that I never processed or sought help for, and this caused me to kind of turn off part of myself. Art kept kind of seeping out of me in small ways, but I limited the amount of time and energy I would give to it. It took me quite a while to realize that making art was actually an act of receiving. When I make art, I receive understanding, healing, perspective, and I practice caring for and trusting myself.
Would you share a bit about your online learning experience during the global pandemic that we've faced this year?
There definitely are downsides to taking classes, especially art classes, from home, but I have seen how this has also opened our minds to what we can do outside of a traditional classroom/studio setting. Professors have pivoted in teaching methods and in how they create course material or class experiences, and students have embraced experimentation and exploration in their work. The socialization and interaction that comes with online learning is pretty awkward, but I see people in the communities I’m a part of learn how to show each other grace and care for each other more. Being able to create art during this time has been a gift because it has given me something else to think about and a way for me to process, but I will admit that winter quarter was really challenging. Of course, the shorter days and colder weather always affect me, but every challenge seems even heavier because we are handling a new level of stress regularly with the pandemic and heightened recognition of racism, violence, and the many harmful systems in our country.
Do you have a favorite class that you completed this year, and, if so, what was it and why?
I have two favorite classes from this year. The first was ART 272 (Introduction to 3D4M: Sculpture) with Michael Swaine. It was an outdoor class, and we met twice a week at different locations on campus and eventually around the city. It was a great exploration for me artistically, but it also explored different ways classes could operate and the spaces they could be held in. I learned that making time to wander, observe, and play is part of the process of making art for me. My other favorite class was ART 285 (Introduction to New Genres) with Whitney Lynn because I learned how to think outside of the different medium categories we put art into. I ended up making things I never had even considered and explored using new tools and materials. It was a great class for taking at home because it explored producing within limitations and ultimately showed that what we can use to make art is limitless.
What are you looking forward to the most about in-person learning?
I’m looking forward to in-person learning for having a space outside of my home to work. I have four kids doing school from home and a partner working from home, so our internet and space are maxed-out everyday. I’m also looking forward to being able to use tools I don’t have at home and having live interactions with people when I’m not also seeing my own face at the same time or when their screen is turned off.
Any making-at-home hacks that you've learned over this year that you'd like to share?
For printmaking this winter, I used a lot of repurposed material like folder dividers, old road maps, gameboard piece stencils, wrappers and packaging, and even old clothes. I think one of the more successful “hacks” I have done was using old plastic folders or folder dividers as printing plates. You can etch them, put an image under them if they are transparent and trace it with glue or hot glue or use them as stencils and you can use them over and over.
Any advice you would like to share with fellow art students who are just getting started?
We can learn from everyone’s experience, but don’t compare your journey with others’. Also, I think the work I’ve done to know and trust myself has been essential for continuing to pursue art while enjoying it because it has removed a lot of anxiety about the future and perceived shame from my past so I could be secure in my present.
Any visions or goals for your post-graduation pathway?
My partner and I want to move our family to Spain after I graduate, which has dominated my “post-graduation” thoughts, but, artistically, I can see myself pursuing a variety of work (as most artists do), from exhibitions to making t-shirts and stickers. A recent dream-seed I’ve planted is having a studio where the community could attend classes and connecting that to a coffee and gift shop that features local artists.