University of Pennsylvania Senior Studies the Humanities From the Inside Out

As a student at the University of Pennsylvania, senior Heather Holmes has co-written a book, attended the Cannes Film Festival as part of a Penn Summer program and learned firsthand what it takes to be a museum curator.

Holmes, says that she was attracted to Penn, in part, by its “incredible linguistics program.”  The English major from Madison, Conn., transferred to the University in 2012 after spending her freshman year at Connecticut College.

She took three consecutive semesters with Kenny Goldsmith, a lecturer in Penn’s Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, in a novel yearlong seminar called Writing through Art and Literature.

Held concurrently with Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art's 50th anniversary year and retrospective of the works of sculptor Jason Rhoades, the seminar examined the ICA's archives and institutional structures to explore ways in which these materials give clues towards the creation of new types of literature.

“It was a really important antidote to the typical pedagogy of most subjects,” says Holmes.

Students were granted unprecedented access to the ICA's archives.

“The course was “intense, exhausting and hugely rewarding,” she says. 

With classmates, Holmes created and co-wrote a book published by the ICA called "Re:Creation Myth." The publication responded to the Jason Rhoades exhibit at the ICA last fall, specifically his "Creation Myth" piece.

“We found almost every individual piece of his sprawling work on Amazon and Ebay, and compiled those objects, along with our own writing and responses, to create a ‘DIY Creation Myth,’ she recalls. “We spent all of the fall 2013 semester with our noses literally in the Jason Rhoades piece and ended up responding to it in a way that I think is really exciting and kind of subversive.”

In high school and during her first year in college, Holmes wrote poetry and short stories. By the time she started her sophomore year, she was searching for a new storytelling medium.

Enter film. At Penn, Holmes enrolled in a film production course.

That got me really interested in film as a narrative medium that felt more dynamic than the short story or poem or other things I’d been working on,” she says. “Then I started taking film history and film theory courses and I was sold.”

As her interest in film studies grew, she chose Cinema Studies as a minor.

Holmes learned about the Penn-in-Cannes program, and last May traveled to the South of France to attend the Cannes Film Festival. She was among 30 students accompanied by Nicola M. Gentili, associate director of Cinema Studies in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences and Penn-in-Cannes director and Meta Mazaj, senior lecturer in Cinema Studies.

She chronicled the festival’s “13 days of nonstop spectatorship” in a story posted on the Penn Art & Culture Initiatives Web page. “From negotiating jam-packed schedules to walking the red carpet on premiere nights to sitting across the aisles from the same actors on the screen in front of you, everything about Penn-in-Cannes was pure exhilaration.”

In June, Holmes returned to Philadelphia and started a summer internship at Penn's Institute of Contemporary Art with Robert Chaney, ICA director of curatorial affairs. Holmes archived works that had already been shown at the ICA and catalogued works for upcoming shows.

“I learned a lot about what happens to exhibitions before and after they spend time at the ICA, and the hand that the ICA curatorial staff has in finding new homes for them at other museums,” says Holmes.

She is currently an ICA student board member, juggling work at the Cinema Studies office and in Williams Café on campus, writing her senior thesis and drinking lots of coffee.

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