Photos from artist’s Facebook page

Step foot into the Lawrence Alloway Memorial Gallery in the Frank Melville Library and you’ll see dozens of cardboard boxes haphazardly stacked on top of each other. The daunting sculpture stands tall and casts shadows across the small room. It seems unapproachable due to the fragility of the boxes that look like they could come tumbling down at any moment.

The exhibit, named “Passage,” is the work of Julia Miller, a Stony Brook University graduate student in the Masters of Fine Arts program.

“I was thinking a lot about transitions,” Miller said. “That’s why it’s called ‘Passage.’ Not only passage of time, but also movement. For that piece I really wanted to emphasize movement in time especially.”

The boxes look like they’re falling in midair, but it’s impossible to figure out what’s holding them up. It certainly isn’t gravity. It’s instinctive to lean away from the boxes, but there is an ominous path that guides you through the sculpture.

“Sometimes we’re putting moments of our life on pause in order to accomplish something, going from one place to another. There’s so many different moments of balance and in-balance as you’re trying to navigate,” Miller said. “That’s why the cardboard boxes — they’re temporary, they’re fragile, they’re storage. And that’s why they’re up in the air rather than a settled moment.”

The gallery is used to display MFA students’ artwork and installations, named after the art historian and museum curator Lawrence Alloway. He was a professor at Stony Brook University from 1968 to 1981.

Miller was born into a life of art. “My dad draws. In my family there’s a lot of them who draw,” she said. “My mother is always an art appreciator. She’d always take me to museums…until it was such a part of my life I couldn’t live without it.”

Growing up, Miller knew she wanted to be in the art field, but was terrified of the path it would take her down. “When I was little, I was afraid because everyone would be looking my direction, and once I got older my fear was actually making it. How do you pay your bills as an artist?” she said.

Part of the MFA program requires students to show their art three times throughout their career. Aside from solo showings, first-year MFA students also must participate in a group exhibition.

Drawing inspiration from a distressing experience when she was only 16 years old, Miller said: “I always make art about what I’m currently going through and what’s currently on my mind.”

Miller’s family lost their home and everything in it when a storm ripped through their town. “That’s kind of what started it all. Having everything one moment and the next it’s gone,” Miller said.

After struggling to cope with the aftermath, she was only able to open up in her high school art class. Her teacher was the one who told her to just keep creating.

Life’s transient nature was always in Miller’s face and it became her central inspiration for the “Passage” exhibit.

“Through making and through drawing what’s around me…I ended up coming back a little bit. From that point I realized that that [art] was my coping mechanism; this is how I look at the world and translate it so that it’s not as terrifying,” Miller said.

Miller teaches an undergraduate art class at Stony Brook University, a foundations course called “Idea and Form,” that teaches the basic building blocks of artistic practice. She’s taught before in three separate towns near Albany and in New York City at only 24 years old. She wants to be able to inspire others like her high school art teacher did for her. “I’ve taught from elementary school to middle school to high school, and now college and I’ve loved every moment of it,” Miller said.

She will never stop practicing art, and looking forward in her career she said that she does not want to stop teaching. “I think there’s a lot of moments where your students start to get it and understand how to convey their meaning through their artwork, and how to read artwork and discuss it, and they just get excited about the community. I can’t really pass that one up,” she said.


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