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Kent State University faculty members search for the title hidden in Shane Allbritton’s piece, “Thinking Made Visible.” Allbritton was commissioned to create two pieces relating to communications for KSU’s newly renovated Taylor Hall

Two New Public Art Pieces Come to Kent State University

“Speak on It” by Shane Allbritton in Kent State University’s Taylor Hall was commissioned as part of the Ohio Percent for Art program. Photo by Amanda Etchison.At first glance, the new wall-mounted public art pieces in Kent State University’s Taylor Hall look like crazy crosswords. Or maybe a supersized Scrabble board.

The artwork itself might not actually be a giant puzzle, but for artist Shane Allbritton, the creation of “Speak on It” and “Thinking Made Visible” proved to be a process that involved a lot of problem-solving, starting with creating a concept that spoke to the fields of communication studies and visual communication design.

 
“Being a visual storyteller myself, combined with my love of history, I first tried to think about how I could communicate communication. What would be the best way to represent that visually?” said Allbritton, who is based in Houston, Texas.
 
She ended up drawing a design that touched on traditional forms of information-sharing while also charting the trajectory of modern communication technology. Composed of hundreds of larger-than-life letterpress printing blocks, “Speak on It” is a depiction of a soundwave while “Thinking Made Visible” is a diagram of the way a human eye receives and processes visual stimuli. Each piece is formed out of rows and columns of carved numbers, letters, and symbols that create a fantasia of fonts, colors, and sizes.

“Mass communication was made possible by the worldwide spread of the printing press. It meant greater distribution of ideas, growth in literacy, education, and the far-reaching availability of information for all people,” Allbritton said. “The Gutenberg press was a cultural revolution in that it started the European Renaissance. It was a jumping-off point for mass communication, keeping ordinary people up to date with current events. I was inspired not just by the beginning, but also the evolution of that.”

It’s fitting that artwork discussing the democratization of information and expression is housed in a building devoted to training the next generation of communicators, said Elizabeth Graham, director of the School of Communication Studies at Kent State.


“Speak on It” and “Thinking Made Visible” are composed of hundreds of larger-than-life letterpress printing blocks carved into a variety of colorful symbols, letters, and numbers. Photo by Amanda Etchison“It seemed to feature our programming—communication studies, the study of freedom of speech,” she said. “You have the historical component with the modern-day treatment of something so very important. It features our program, our country, and our history of what we hold dear.”

Graham, who served on the committee tasked with choosing new artwork to commission for the newly renovated Taylor Hall, said she is pleased that such messages can be conveyed through art commissioned through the Ohio Percent for Art Program, which provides funds for works of art for new or renovated public buildings with appropriations of more than $4 million. Through “Speak on It” and “Thinking Made Visible,” Allbritton addresses the worldwide legacy of communication while including elements that are meaningful to Kent State.
 
“‘Speak on it’ was a familiar phrase that one of our beloved faculty members used to use. Whenever someone would be upset about a matter, she would always say, ‘Speak on it, speak on it,’” Graham said. “This phrase would serve to make people stop, think, and then speak, and it couldn’t be better that this piece of art does the same.”

Allbritton said reflecting on the work is meant to reveal things to the viewer—and not just the titles that are hidden in each piece. In a field like communications where there’s pressure to cover up mistakes and make everything perfect, it’s nice to see an example of something that shows elements of individuality, she explained.

 
“Typically, the idea in visual communications is that you hide all the infrastructure and imperfections. But in my practice and where I am headed now, I am kind of peeling away from that a bit,” she said. “If they start to examine it, they’ll start to see that that corner got chopped off. Or there are a couple of letters where the interior of the letter is missing. You just have to embrace that stuff and move forward."

After all, communication is about unique voices and experiences, which are embodied by each block, Allbritton said.

“I love the idea that each one of these letters has its own history, its own story to tell. What were they talking about? What was the story? What were they used for?” she said. “The whole history of this field is so hands-on. And there are a lot of hands at work here. You can tell. It feels like there is a soul in it.”

Perhaps this perspective will encourage future communicators to persevere when faced with their own puzzles in their careers, Allbritton said.

 
“If you just keep pushing a little more and collaborate with others and ask for help, you’ll find a solution,” she said. “Because that’s why students are here. They want to find that creative solution.”
 
To see more of Allbritton’s work, visit her website at sp-allbritton.com.


ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

 
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Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Featured photo: Kent State University faculty members search for the title hidden in Shane Allbritton’s piece, “Thinking Made Visible.” Allbritton was commissioned to create two pieces relating to communications for KSU’s newly renovated Taylor Hall. Photo by Amanda Etchison



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