It was summertime and Izzy Pezzulo, ’18, was pushing a plow on a farm in Ladakh, a region of India near the Himalayas. She had just finished four months studying abroad in Kathmandu, Nepal; her fifth month was dedicated to independent study, exploring a subject of her choosing.
She’s always been interested in the relationships between people, food, and the environment and is a “total nerd for permaculture” — thus, the farm and the plow — but as an artist, she also wanted to preserve the experience. Pezzulo submitted a UR Summer Fellowship proposal, hoping to create an ethnographic documentary.
“The idea of sensory ethnography is exploring the world through video in a way that is kind of interpretive,” she says. “I was documenting experiences through touch and sound. I was recording moments and interactions with the landscape through farming, community gathering, and the importance of food and ritual. I’m collecting data through the senses, in a way. I’m not trying to tell you about a specific culture. I’m not trying to claim that I know anything. I’m just using this as a lens.”
Film isn’t Pezzulo’s primary medium. She’s a painter, a printmaker, a tactile artist. Still, she packed a GoPro and a DSLR camera and set out to capture this small farming community, not really sure where it would lead.
“I had this challenge on me when I was there, and it was actually really scary,” she says. “This way of exploring was pretty new to me. I thought, I’m going to do what feels natural in this space.”
Back in the U.S., iPhone and other modern distractions in hand, it wasn’t always easy to recreate the feeling of being in Ladakh. In a cold, dark room in the Modlin Center, she scanned through footage, trying to find the sequence and story that could most closely represent the life she witnessed.
Art professor Jeremy Drummond helped. He’s a video artist, and Pezzulo’s research mentor. “I’m really uncertain working with film,” Pezzulo says. “I’m a printmaker, playing with pixels and sound and things that aren’t tactile. It’s nice to have his assurance that what I’m doing is valid.”
While her proposal called for a documentary, Pezzulo’s summer was really about adding more tools to her artist’s toolbox. That, after all, is why she chose a liberal arts university over art school. In addition to the days spent in the dark, combing through footage, she would sometimes marry art and activism while working with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Other days she biked downtown to 1708, a local art gallery, to work on a collaborative project called Pattern Language for Social Fabric. There, she and other local artists crowd-sourced dozens of pattern designs and used screenprinting to repeat and layer them into one intricate image.
“I’m more of a jack of all trades and a master of none,” she says. “It’s like a constant anxiety that I’m not good enough at one specific craft. But that’s really silly, you know?”
“I’m just less worried about pigeon-holing myself. I’m interested in the ways that my practice as an artist intertwines with my practice as an activist, the way all the different facets of my life intertwine with my art. Eventually, when I’m grown up enough to use all these tools, I can use them in the way that is most effective to talk about what I want to talk about.”