Pitt alum Theresa Baughman showcases work from Arctic Circle expedition


Photo courtesy of Theresa Baughman

Theresa Baughman’s expedition to the Arctic culminated in the creation of several pieces of art, which are currently featured at Late Space in Garfield for the entire month of November.

By Elizabeth Donnelly, Senior Staff Writer

An electrifying blue light shines on the entryway of Late Space, a quaint art gallery on Penn Avenue in Garfield. Within, visitors peruse the abstract line drawings and photographs of glaciers and Arctic waters hanging on the walls. Miscellaneous works of art, like an iceberg sculpture and audio recordings, are scattered around the room.

The gallery is quiet, with visitors pondering each piece, thoughtful looks on their faces as they try to understand the meaning behind Theresa Baughman’s art. Baughman, who graduated from Pitt in 2015 with degrees in studio arts and anthropology, ventured to the Arctic from Sept. 30 to Oct. 17, 2018, as an artist-in-residence with the Arctic Circle — a yearly expeditionary residency program for artists of all disciplines, scientists, architects and educators.

On her trip, Baughman sailed around the coast of Svalbard aboard the Tall Ship Antigua, accompanied by 28 other researchers, an all-female group of land guides and a ship dog. Baughman said she was thankful she could go on this trip and meet the other participants — especially since many of them shared their expertise.

“I was the youngest one on the trip and I am so grateful for that because I was able to learn from all these people who have more experience than I do,” Baughman said. “Even though a lot of them were very close to my age, they had already gone through different types of schooling or more schooling.” 

Baughman’s expedition culminated in the creation of several pieces of art, which are currently featured at Late Space for the entire month of November. The artwork she made on the trip includes photography, abstract drawings, audio recordings and other works all revolving around her voyage.

Barbara Weissberger, a Pitt studio arts senior lecturer, taught Baughman in one of her classes and worked closely with her later in a directed study program. She said that Baughman’s work follows an individual style that takes time to progress.

“Theresa is a deep thinker with a heightened sensitivity to materials and forms,” Weissberger said. “Her work is spare but behind the spareness is a slow accumulation of time, thought and experience.”

One of Baughman’s main works of art from her trip is her photo collection done in a nothing-left-behind style, in which she made sure her art left no trace and did not harm the environment. For the piece, she wrapped large chunks of ice and rocks in an orange-gold foil blanket and then placed them in their natural surroundings, contrasting the bright gold against the solemn gray, white and black hues of the Arctic. Baughman photographed the ice, then removed the foil blanket, leaving no trace in the environment.

While she created many pieces during her time abroad, Baughman said she had not envisioned how hard the environment would be to work in and initially, many of her materials were unusable in the Arctic climate.

“When I got to the North Pole, everything kinda went out the window, which is to be expected in some ways,” she said. “My normal art-making practice just didn’t work. My sculpture casting materials froze, my polaroid film froze almost immediately — there was no salvaging anything.”

But instead of giving up or trying to make ruined materials work in difficult circumstances, Baughman instead resorted to different forms of artmaking — ones in which she did not have much experience, like photography.

“My practice and the things I made really became about finding comfort in uncomfortable places,” Baughman said.

Bonnie Levinthal, a painter and printmaker from Philadelphia, accompanied Baughman on the Arctic Circle expedition. She described the trip as one of the most amazing things she will ever do in her life. Levinthal said she first met Baughman in the Oslo Airport and they hit it off immediately.

“[Theresa] was, and is, friendly, beautiful and smart. Her sensitivity and vulnerability — I think we all felt a little vulnerable at times — to the place and the conditions we found ourselves in were wonderfully reflected in the work she made,” Levinthal said.

The two artists bonded over their difficulties in the freezing climate — both dealing with their materials malfunctioning and the need to switch up their plans. They both had to adapt to the circumstances, which Levinthal said Baughman did by creating drawings instead of her typical moldings.

“Theresa started to make some lovely little line drawings of shapes she found in the landscape,” Levinthal said. “She said she had never had much confidence in her drawing before, but I believe she came to embrace the process and is now very proud of the drawings she made.”

Among all of her pieces, one of Baughman’s most distinct is a performance piece where she has a whispered conversation with a glacier. Baughman said that she didn’t even know if she wanted to include the piece in her exhibit at first, but over time she grew more comfortable with the idea.

“She collaborated with the landscape, in one piece having an actual conversation with an ice floe. She engaged with the non-human entities that occupy that landscape — she the visitor observing, recording, learning,” Weissberger said.

The exhibit consists of two small iPods set up with the recordings playing on a loop. Visitors are encouraged to put on the headphones and be transported to the Arctic via the swishing and slopping sounds of water hitting ice. With titles like “Can you hear the thoughts in my head and should I apologize for them?” and “A stranger stranges me,” the abstract recordings gave Baughman the opportunity to steer her art in a different, unfamiliar direction.

“It was challenging to allow myself to be present and to be comfortable with that,” Baughman said. “It’s such a physical and dangerous place that you are kind of forced to be physically and mentally present at all times.”

Theresa Baughman’s “In Blauw” will be at Late Space Gallery at 5013 Penn Ave. for the month of November, with an opening party on Friday, Nov. 8, and an artist talk on Nov. 14.