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Ally Christmas debuts video arts classes

Ally Christmas came to Grinnell to provide students with digital media classes that the studio art department had lacked in the past. Photo by Zoey Kohler.
Ally Christmas came to Grinnell to provide students with digital media classes that the studio art department had lacked in the past. Photo by Zoey Kohler.

Students may have seen Ally Christmas for the first time on posters last semester announcing her arrival. The posters showed Christmas zipping herself into a green spandex suit, part of one of her many video pieces which deal with the digital self. Maybe they have also witnessed her walking her dog (named Dresden, or Dr. Dre for short) with her husband (named Clay) around Grinnell. Christmas, a visiting studio art professor, arrived in Iowa to bring the College something many students felt it lacked: classes in digital media. Currently, she is teaching a class called Digital Image and Video Production.

“I had already gotten such an amazing vibe from the students when I visited back in April. I could already tell that there was a lot of passion and a lot of I think hunger for a class like this, a lot of students wanting to get into video and digital image-making in general. And so seeing their enthusiasm made me all the more excited to come to Grinnell,” she said.

Although Christmas is a filmmaker, she does not make movies in the traditional sense of the word. Most of her films are autobiographical and experimental. In her words, they focus on “Digging into the sort of relationship between my physical self and my digital self and how those two are connected basically … there’s me physically in what we would call like real time or lived experience and then there’s like every other representation of me … it’s like a copy that at the same time, it’s very much me also.”

Christmas recieved her MFA from the University of Georgia in Athens earlier this year. Part of her MFA exhibition was a piece called “Synching.” Christmas explored the two meanings of that word, both technological and in terms of, as she said, “Sinking like into water, into the ground or like into one’s self.”

Christmas found it hard to put the piece into words. She said, “There’s one part of the piece where there is a cutout of my face overlaid on top of a Google Map ocean, so kind of like trying to find ways in which I can blend these two spaces together in a more maybe confusing way.”

In Digital Image and Video Production, Christmas is teaching a similar type of filmmaking that is not necessarily rooted in narrative. She says she is already impressed by the work of some of her students. “We’ve only had one class critique so far for the first project and I was just blown away with what they were already doing after just two weeks of class,” she said.

In her next three semesters at Grinnell, Christmas hopes to continue providing classes in digital media that will fill gaps perceived by students in the studio art curriculum as well as repeating her current class for students who were not able to enroll this semester.

“I am definitely feeling like a lot of students have expressed interest in just learning photography, and that they haven’t learned just the basics of using a camera. So while it feels a little bit like moving backward, I’ll be teaching a photo class in the spring,” she said.

For the fourth and final semester of her current position at Grinnell, Christmas wishes to teach a class that combines many forms of cutting-edge digital media. “I’m probably going to be teaching a class based on the research I did in grad school dealing with the self and technology,” she said. “It’ll be a wider range of media, probably photography and video and some digital art like 360 videos or photography. Possibly I’ll get into VR or AR if I can teach it to myself before then.”

Although coming from Athens, Georgia to Grinnell has been a bit of an adjustment for Christmas, she says she is thankful to be here. “I’m just like so happy to be here, like the energy here from the other faculty, not just in studio art but like across the college is really inspiring and I just really love the students here,” she said.

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