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In the Studio: Material Motivation

Heather Bisesti and Suzette Mouchaty find inspiration in found objects and raw materials.

As we prepare for the 40th M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition on April 6, our “In the Studio” series gives readers the chance to get to know the artists behind the work. See what inspires our School of Art grad students! 

Engineer and sculptor Heather Bisesti and former science professor Suzette Mouchaty both embarked on a major life change when deciding to pursue their M.F.A. degrees at the UH School of Art. “It was a deeply personal decision to change careers, but I was ready to declare that I wanted to pursue art seriously,” says Mouchaty, who taught college-level biology for 13 years before applying to grad school.

She and Bisesti also both find inspiration in process and materials. Their studios are filled with a variety of manufactured objects, plaster, paper and wood, materials they see as brimming with possibility, ready to be transformed into works of art. Bisesti describes it as “collecting potential.” In her studio, layers of translucent paper seem to float just overhead, suspended from the ceiling in front of rows of jars containing hardware.

Mouchaty’s studio is filled with found objects and several assemblages, some small and elegant, such as a doll-like self portrait made of glass, others big and bold. “My pieces start with a fragment that somehow intrigues me,” she says, pointing out the wings on a camouflage-sporting Troll doll. “I like to find a strange component that makes me think ‘wow, now this is interesting!’”

Learn more about Bisesti and Mouchaty in the Q&As below!

Heather Bisesti, M.F.A. Sculpture ’18

Your undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering. How did you make the leap from engineering to sculpture?
I worked at large corporations for several years, but found I really didn’t like the environment. In admitting I wasn’t happy there, I started to pursue similar interests that allowed me to design and make objects. Art and design have always been a huge part of my life. I grew up building houses and, now, if I’m not making art I will build furniture. Returning to school was an exciting step towards an immersive future in my work.

How does your engineering background influence your work?
I think you take everything in along the way, so my previous experiences influence my work, even if it exists on a subconscious level. Engineering has been significant in my understanding of how things work and how to build them. It has really supported my process in the studio. Conceptually, there is significant correlation, but it’s not necessarily an obvious aspect of the work.

Where do you look for inspiration?
Material is a driving point for me. Usually I’m drawn to raw materials, wood, clay, paper. I’ve also always been fascinated by how we relate to objects, how certain things trigger memories, so I appreciate the history of certain objects even if they don’t directly appear in the work. 

How has graduate school helped you grow? In what ways do you feel you’ve developed as an artist?
Grad school has been a wonderful and challenging experience. In all honesty, it’s one of the best decision I’ve ever made! I have been excited to approach it like a playground, taking advantage of all of the amazing resources at UH. The experience has honed my artistic practice while simultaneously transforming my life goals and ambitions.

I found that I absolutely love being a professor. Even though I’ve only been teaching for two years, I’ve found the connection with students to be substantial. Curiosity is the first step to engaging with new knowledge and in this role I’m able to support students pursuing much more than what just they accomplish in the classroom.

Suzette Mouchaty, M.F.A. Interdisciplinary Practice and Emerging Forms ’18

You have an extensive background in genetics. What motivated you to pursue a graduate degree in visual art?
I’ve been interested in art my whole life. I decided to pursue grad school because I realized that making art is what I want to be doing, seriously, 24 hours a day. I got to the point where I felt like I needed to go ‘home,’ so to speak, and return to interests that have been left behind most of my life.

How does your scientific background inform the work that you’re making now?
It’s played an important role in the way I’ve developed my particular artistic language. This utility cart piece is a perfect example. It has aspects that refer to biology and medicine, and you can see the influence of the body on several of the elements.

How do you approach the creative process?
I’m interested in the exploration of materials. A lot of the pieces come from machines I’ve taken apart, or strange objects I’ve discovered at garage sales, and I like to try something new or different with each piece. As the work comes together, my primary concerns become clear. Generally, the work addresses social and political concerns. 

A lot of your work brings to mind Surrealism. Do you feel connected to the movement?
Definitely. The way the Surrealists worked definitely appeals to my process. I like to allow the work to address subjects that are evocative and personal, but also enter the zone of the irrational and present that to the viewer. When I make the work, I operate in this psychic zone where subconscious associations are made and I try to let myself observe. It’s a meta-level intellectual operation. You let your mind observe your mind. I like to let myself work, and then be fascinated by the things that arise.

The M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition opens at Blaffer Art Museum Friday, April 6 at 6 p.m. and will be on view through Saturday, April 21.