In a Country of Oil and Water

It’s unclear what, exactly, you’re looking at when viewing Elizabeth Smith’s work for the 2016 Baccalaureate Exhibition for the first time.

“One person said they thought it looked like beer,” the senior laughed, “And I’m like, you know, just bring what you want. As long as you can find a connection.”

As her final project, Smith chose to study the conflict between oil and water, an ode to her own experience coming from the land of 10,000 lakes to oil country.

Entitled “Fluid Dynamics,” her photographs capture the interplay between ordinary tap water and gear oil from her father’s tractor.

“I found that gear oil and tap water was the best combination of the bubbling of the oil, the movement with the water and how they interacted,” Smith said. “I liked how it looked on my lens and how I could convey the conflict in a harmonious manner.”

The process took eight different shoots, an hour a piece. Her final shoot, which produced the images featured in her exhibit, took two hours.

To get the images, Smith filled a clear bowl with tap water. Underneath were different elements “playing on the idea water and oil come from the ground yet they can harm nature.” From there, Smith poured different streams of gear oil into the water and let nature take its course. If the oil started to clump together, she’d spray it with water to get it to move around.

“I wanted to play on this conflict, like the conflict I was feeling inside from moving from a small town to a big city,” Smith said. “This conflict between oil and water repelling, but then in the images they look harmonious. I also liked the idea of something that’s really small and blowing it up really big. I wanted to give the experience of working with a macrolens to my viewer.”

“You enter this other world,” Smith continued. “That’s what interested me the most when I’m looking through my lens. It’s like being in a different world and I wanted to share that with my audience.”

To complete the immersive experience, rather than displaying her artwork on the gallery walls, Smith chose to hang her work on designed sculptural forms.

By curving the walls, Smith tried to mimic a wave to truly represent the idea of fluidity. She also chose to paint the walls different shades of brown to represent the different layers of the earth: mud, silt and sandstone.

Smith graduated in December with a Bachelor of Science degree and an emphasis in photography and digital media as well as with a minor in women and gender studies. She hopes to use her degree to design for an advertising company, either in North Dakota or in her home state of Minnesota.

While Smith’s work is no longer on display at the Memorial Union Gallery, you can find her baccalaureate exhibition and other artwork on her website.

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