Writing a mission statement is a challenge. In just a few visual words the message needs to offer an inspirational and motivating introduction. Mission accomplished for the Pacific Northwest College of Art at Willamette University which describes itself as “the front porch for the creative ecosystem.” That’s a great optic for someone seeking a welcoming open space in which to learn and create in an inclusive, welcoming community. In this instance, that would be Alicia Vidal, who built another kind of environment for her senior thesis, an altar modeled on those imposing centerpieces that anchor a catholic church. “It wasn’t until I met with my thesis mentor Mallary Wilson that I decided I wanted to make something that was recognizable as a sacred space,” and in turn, Alicia fabricated an altar, one of the most fundamental, historical maybe transcendental types of installation art. The piece, made up of printed fabric, strips of cloth, stickers, florals, and votive candles, reflects the influence of the catholicism that informed her youth. “I’m definitely into maximalism, layers, and detail, things I think of when I think about the architecture of some churches I’ve been to. I also love a good brand identity, and I just know there has to be some sort of Venn diagram out there with a circle for religion, brands, and cults,” she admits. 

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The presence of an altar, in all its weighty symbolism, stands mightily, like a church that can seductively charm but then repudiate. “I want this project to serve as a personal healing process, but also want to connect with others who went through a similar experience of being rejected or invalidated by an institution that was important to them. Especially people in the Latinx community.” Although the Catholic community helped her immigrant family transition, she was summarily rejected, calling her disgusting for holding hands with another girl. “I’ve always felt a lot for other people and other living things, and I probably did pick up a lot about empathy being raised Catholic (although, I don't know, because I’ve met a lot of horrible people who go to church.” And that’s the beauty of her piece, which is accompanied by a bible that serves as a guide, which, “visually had to look and feel precious.” Like her pink layer cake of an altar, seminal life experiences may choose, confuse, change and haunt us. They can nourish and nauseate, but “I ended up truly embracing for the first time, designing and creating for myself…it was such a freeing feeling, similar to leaving the church and accepting the non-acceptance of others.” 

There isn’t room to list the folks Alicia thanks, from Kristin Rogers Brown, head of the graphic design department, to Tiara Johnson of the print staff, and my personal favorite nod, “the PNCA front desk security, who were there 24/7 so I could safely work whenever I needed.” —Gwynned Vitelllo