New McCarthy Art Gallery exhibit melds comedy with everyday themes

September 15, 2023
Elizabeth Syverson '23

Early Thursday evening, artists Lars Jerlach and Helen Stringfellow of Tectonic Industries presented several of their projects to a room full of eager students.

Members of the Saint Michael’s campus community and visitors take in the new McCarthy Art Gallery exhibit by Tectonic Industries’ show “If you had followed the directive, you wouldn’t be here,” on Sept. 14, 2023. (Photo by Nico Allard-Krause)

Concerned with themes of self-help, the American dream, institutional responsibility, and the retelling of stories, to name a few, the projects included everything from Rachel Ray and Oprah to love songs and the Parthenon. Jerlach’s and Stringfellow’s presentation was the kickoff to their exhibit in the McCarthy Art Gallery called “If you had followed the directive, you wouldn’t be here.” The exhibit will be showing in the gallery from Sept. 14 to Oct. 13.

On slides projected in the Cheray 101 lecture hall, Jerlach and Stringfellow excitedly showed
images and videos of their past projects, delving into both the technical and theoretical elements
of each one. They explained the contemplation and brainstorming that creating a new gallery
entails, in addition to physical considerations such as materials, construction, and budget.

While each project was met with great student interest, the favorite of the day was a project
entitled “Yeah Yeah Whatever (That’s What You Always Say).” To create the project, the artists
filmed a couple singing famous love ballads to each other without accompaniment. While one
person sang, the other stared expressionlessly into the camera. When the artists pressed play
to share the video with their audience, Jerlach asked with a grin, “Should we warn them that he
can’t sing?” as the man’s off-key melodies came over the speakers and the room erupted into

Members of the Saint Michael’s campus community and visitors mingle during the gallery opening for Tectonic Industries’ show “If you had followed the directive, you wouldn’t be here,” on Sept. 14, 2023. (Photo by Nico Allard-Krause)

As comical as the video was, the project also conveyed themes of self-centeredness in
relationships, the artists explained. They wanted to illustrate how people in relationships can often focus
more on what they say rather than what is said to them. The pair also expressed that they hope to
recreate the video every 10 years with the same couple in order to document them aging

The artists of Tectonic Industries give a talk in Cheray 101 on Sept. 14, 2023. (Photo by Nico Allard-Krause)

Similar to “Yeah Yeah Whatever (That’s What You Always Say),” many of Jerlach and
Stringfellow’s projects intertwine comedy with deeper meaning. For example, the artists
recorded opera singers singing self help books about happiness, filmed regular people
attempting to cook alongside Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute-Meals, overlaid original movies with their
remakes, and converted episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show into 140 character-long pieces of

With the final moments of the talk, the students were able to share questions and comments
with the artists before the group migrated to the McCarthy Arts Center for the gallery reception.
After a few questions, Professor Brian Collier attempted to prompt the move, but was met with
good-natured resistance.

Clearly excited by the insightful questions of the students, Jerlach exclaimed with a smile and a
laugh, “Don’t listen to this guy! We have time for one more question!”

More information about the McCarthy Art Gallery can be found here.>>

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