"Hard to Say" is a feature exhibition by University graduate student Carrie Beall, an MFA thesis that will cap off her three years of education at the University. This feature will run, with one other thesis, from March 27 to April 1 at the Art & Design Gallery, which is located on the third floor of Chalmers Hall.

As a sentimental installation that focuses on themes of memory and interpersonal communication, "Hard to Say" envelops many of Beall's passions, as her degree in Expanded Media allows her to build a piece of art through illustrations, drawings, technology and paintings. 

The exhibit features a "pop-up" living room with chairs and lamps that create a comfortable setting for visitors to sit down and take a look at her illustrations at their leisure. 

"I wanted to give viewers the most authentic reading experience that I could inside of a traditional gallery space," Beall said. "I wanted it to feel like the furniture was pieced together in the same way that the stories from the book were."

The book, a memoir that serves as an arrangement of short stories, family photos and illustrations, tells of Beall's childhood in Chesapeake Bay, Md., as she tries to understand how to cope with the inability to fully express her emotions.

The stories are disjoint, yet colorful and simple in a way that emanates a commonality between the pages, one that reveals a powerful message about memory and how it shapes how we know the world around us. 

In this way, the furniture you will find becomes an exemplar of our collection of memories and how we use it to create new ones as well.

"I wanted them to feel like memories that fit together but weren't all exactly the same," Beall said. "I wanted the furniture to feel like it came from different points in the past but that it could maybe all belong to the same person or family."

A theme, for example, throughout her illustration book is that of her mother. The first pages introduce us to a young Beall as she meticulously attempts fill a plastic cup with soda for her mother. In dead center of the handwritten pages of the story are the various plastic cups that Carrie associated with her mother.

Her filling up the cups is a gesture that Beall said connotes her struggle to show her love and compassion for her. Also, she said "on another level, it's about tiny details that surround the memories of my mother."

These succinct yet hazy memories of her interactions with her mother are an important part of Beall's life. She said there were not many kids in her neighborhood where she grew up, so she spent much of her time at home and had a difficult time communicating and making new friends.

Her mother became a symbol for Beall of trying to break out of her shell. Throughout the rest of the illustration book, Carrie explains situations such as when she used a paper plane to tell her mother she had her first period. She also delved into her realization that she loved the way her house always changed in the short story "A House Reset," an idea that came into her mind after her mother began to be hospitalized for reasons she is still attempting to understand.

"To me, ["A House Reset"] is the most important story in the book. I have been struggling with the memory of my mother's hospitalization for several years now, and it's something that no one in my family talks about," Beall said. "This story really functioned as a way for me to bring up the topic to my mother when she read the book — to try to open up communication to her in the present."

After attending Towson University in Maryland and studying Studio Art, the University became the next step for her to continue making art and attempt to make something that could help her have some sort of closure with her past.

Tanya Hartman, director of graduate studies in the Department of Visual Arts and chair of the thesis committee, immediately saw a special quality in Beall and knew Beall could accomplish her goals using her artistic abilities. 

"Carrie is a tremendously talented human being," Hartman said. "She is a writer and an artist with a wealth of intelligence and sensitivity to bring to her creations. She is absolutely original and needs to be encouraged to see the potential in her unique vision."

"Hard to Say" became that unique vision. 

"This book was an important process for me," Beall said. "I have always loved writing and drawing, and it was a struggle to get to the point where I found a support system that allowed these ideas to flourish."

Overall, Beall said it was a therapeutic and gratifying experience creating "Hard to Say," something she described as an emotionally-healing process that she hopes others will be able to begin as they see her art.

In fact, this curative quality to her art is something she wants to continue to explore after graduation.

"I plan to move back to the east coast and continue to write, start a new collection of stories and revisit some of the ideas that I began but didn't get to flesh out in my three years in the program. I also hope to go back to school and become a certified Art Therapist," Beall said. 

"Hard to Say" is available to the public and is free for all who are interested. 

— Edited by Samantha Harms