Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Drawing inspiration from the underground

Rylan Bruns
BHSU professor Gina Gibson’s current artwork focuses on the interaction of humans and energy.

I was sitting in my graphic design class mindlessly working on a project while listening to my professor talk to us about her
weekend adventure. I heard her say something about “chasing the sun” over the weekend and I immediately stopped what I was
doing to listen.

The professor, Gina Gibson was saying that she had left for Albuquerque, N.M., the prior Thursday and returned to Spearfish the following Monday. She explained that she had captured images of the eclipse that was totally visible there. The guy sitting next to me tapped my shoulder and leaned in to say, “I think I can confirm none of us are that cool yet.”

When you walk into Gibson’s office, the first thing that catches your eye is a four-foot-tall acrylic hand hung on the wall. It draws
you in with the deep-black sky covered by the display of the galaxy and outer space. Seeing this piece of celestial art is a good indicator of the type of artist she is. Gibson is a professor of digital art and started working at Black Hills State University in 2008. She has been teaching at BHSU for the past 15 years. Along with being a full-time professor, she is also still pursuing her passion for art.

“I like that teaching allows me to make work that I can take chances with,” Gibson said. Gibson hasn’t done projects for other people for a couple years. Instead she says that she would rather push her students in their own learning and creating works.

Since she is still active in creating her own personal artwork, Gibson uses a lot of the same tools and material that her students utilize at the university. Her work has been very heavily digital for a while but had then found herself doing an exhibit that has no digital pieces in it.

“People joke that it’s a lot of circles, which it is a lot of circles,” Gibson said when describing her celestial the artwork.

Some of her artwork is installation art, which is when artists transform a space, this is usually large scale. Now she says that her projects are considered more “found objects” since they are comparatively scaled back in size.

Some of her work has been created by doing projects as an artist in residency, which is usually one artist or a team going to a space
to be influenced by to then make their pieces from their experience. Gibson says that this helps her with her work by giving her an assignment in a way. It provides her with a theme, a purpose and a goal to create her works.

Gibson is not originally from South Dakota or the Midwest. She was born and raised in North Carolina. She went to University
of North Carolina at Pembroke, located on the south-central side of the state. There she pursued a bachelor’s degree in Digital Art.

The campus is rural and relatively small, which is very relatable to BHSU, Gibson said. After that, she went to graduate school at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, located in north central North Carolina. There she completed a Master of Fine Arts
degree in Studio Art. Gibson was an adjunct professor in North Carolina for two years prior to taking a position at BHSU.

I asked what brought her out to the Black Hills, since it’s so far away from North Carolina. Gibson explained that she had
been looking for a job all over  the country. This was around the 2008 recession when the economy was a little shaky and unpredictable. She wanted a tenure-track job. The reason for this would be that it is a little more Longterm and secure.

Gibson had never been to South Dakota, she had only resided in North Carolina prior to accepting this job. She recalled from her plane ride that was landing in Denver, Colo., seeing the Rocky Mountain Range for the first time and just being in awe since she had never seen mountains like that before. Since taking the professor job here, she has always been actively engaged with her personal art.

“I almost didn’t do this thing that changed the trajectory of my life,” Gibson said, recalling when she got involved with the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead. This facility used to formerly be known as the Homestake Gold Mine. In 2006 it was turned it into an underground research facility, with projects that had happened there years prior.

The SURF lab allows experiments in biology, geology, and engineering to take place. In order for us to better understand the universe, this lab holds world-class physics experiments. Since the lab is underground it has near perfect experiments because of its safety from radiation.

In 2012 Gina Gibson was asked to participate in a group exhibition about dark matter for the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF). With a group of about 15 to 20 other South Dakota artists and a group of physicists, they took a trip a mile underground. With this excursion, the artists had to do safety training before they could go underground to ignite ideas for their artwork.

From here Gibson was able to make a piece that was included in the group exhibit. This group exhibit is what ultimately started to expose her to the SURF lab and staff. With having such a great experience with the lab, she decided to try and stay involved with SURF from there on. “There’s a life change right,” Gibson said. “One show, one ask, turned into this thing I didn’t expect.”

In 2019 Gibson approached the SURF lab about doing an artist residency for them. They accepted her offer and had her be the lab’s first “guinea pig” as an artist in residency. The trial of the artist residency went so well that they asked her to be the coordinator of the program in 2020.

Since that success, they have held many other artists in residencies. SURF’s purpose is for artists to come spend time in the facility so they can make work off of their inspiration while being influenced by the space.

With all of the history that has taken place there, and that it is the deepest underground laboratory in the United States, Gibson,
as coordinator, has allowed it to be explored or portrayed through other artists’ viewpoint and expressions. The art that was being made containing SURF was science related which assisted Gibson’s inspiration to go and “chase the sun.”

Gibson explained how a lot of her work is personal. It’s related to people and experiences. She wanted to have inspiration that was intellectual to nature. Getting involved with Sanford Underground Research Facility allowed her to make this connection.

The pieces that she has made are still about people and relationships, but they also include a nice thread of questions about
physics and celestial work. These pieces have been on their own exhibits. Her works are a one person show, which started as an
exhibit for SURF in 2020-2021. It has now made its way to a museum at the University of Michigan.

“So I’m making all this celestial work, all this stuff about the Cosmos, Gibson said. “Then I thought, I’ve never even photographed an eclipse.” The last eclipse occurred in 2017 and she had missed her opportunity to photograph it. Gibson’s next opportunity was this
year, but she would have to hit the road for it.

Albuquerque is about 840 miles southwest of Spearfish. Going one way down would take about 12 hours, completing her day with driving and not leaving much time for anything else to be planned for the day. The images that she captured of the eclipse are close enough you can see the bright orange reflection of the heavenly objects aligning with one another.

“It probably isn’t going to look like an eclipse by the time I’m done with it, but it’s authentic,” Gibson said.

I asked Gibson when she will tackle this project since it’s not on a deadline. Since she is a full time professor, utilizing her holiday breaks throughout the year is helpful. Tackling it during the Christmas break along with the long summer break will be the most beneficial time she can spend creating pieces.

Next year the artists in faculty at BHSU are planning on having a show at the Dahl Arts Center. The Dahl Art Center is located in
Rapid City and contains various shows portraying all sorts of art forms. Gibson is hoping to have a piece from her “chasing the
sun” experience to display at the show.

Gibson moved from the east coast to the middle of the country. She never expected to play a role in such a profound research
facility close to home. Having this opportunity with SURF has changed the path of her art passion and life.

“I say all this because you never know what opportunity is going to lead to what,” Gibson said. “One yes or no can change everything.”