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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014

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Cayla Skillin-Brauchle

Photographer: JJ Gregg

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Student artist wins Fulbright to study cargo truck art in India


A hand-knit ribbon net bulges as it holds down hundreds of large, red balloons. The air in the room smells sweet from the nearly 100 pounds of sugar that line the walls. Cayla Skillin-Brauchle, a second year MFA student in the College of Fine Arts printmaking program, created the exhibition “Give Me Enough and I’ll Ask For More,” which deals with the themes of American consumption habits and inflation—literally.

Her fascination with consumption earned her a creative research Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to study in Mumbai, India, next year. Her project is titled, “Ornamentation, Ownership and the Role of the Artist.” She will study the Indian practice of adorning and painting goods carriers—known in the U.S. as cargo trucks—as a model of long-term ownership, she said.

“The U.S. likes novelty over durability. I’m interested in this [Indian] model of thinking about how an artisan or an owner can make an object more valuable during their time of ownership,” Skillin-Brauchle said.

The Fulbright will fund her research in the area of value-added ownership, the artwork she will create while in India and her small studio apartment in Mumbai.

She will study traditional painting techniques, color theory and India iconography at the Sir JJ School of Art, a subset of Mumbai University. Two Indian artists, Jitish Kallat and Reena Saini Kallat, will serve as mentors.

She hopes that the body of artwork she will make in India will be an installation, like the one she sits in now, that explores the relationship between humans and their possessions.

“I actually found out I won when I was in the middle of baking a lot of sweets for this show,” she said gesturing to the sugar-lined walls and balloon-laden ceiling. “I was making a cake, and I got an email. The coolest thing was that my mom was visiting.”

The application process has been an intensive one for Skillin-Brauchle. In order to win a creative research award, she had to create an extensive plan of who she would work with and where. The U.S. committee chose finalists based on the merit of their previous artwork, and then the Indian committee chose who would win the awards.

“I just wanted to get past the first round. It’s such a great compliment,” she said.

Skillin-Brauchle first concocted her plan to study cargo trucks when she studied abroad in India for six months during her time as an undergraduate student at Beloit College in Vermont. After college, she lived in Bangkok, Thailand, for two years, which only made her more motivated to live overseas.

Throughout her college years, she has studied the idea of consumption, and she has often worked with the medium of sugar.

“I am interested in the attribution of sweetness … I am really enamored with the idea of what it is to sugarcoat,” she said, gesturing again to the rows of sugar that line the walls of her current exhibition. Her next show will be a sugarcoating performance in Columbus, where she will literally sugarcoat various items in the room. She concedes with a laugh that she, “probably won’t be working with sugar in India.”

Though she will be working with a different medium in a different country, her aspirations remain the same: to study ownership and the relationship between owners and their possessions.