MCKEESPORT, Pa. — Lori Hepner, professor of integrative arts at Penn State Greater Allegheny, has been named the Penn State Laureate for the 2023-24 academic year.
An annual faculty honor established in 2008, the Penn State Laureate is a full-time faculty member in the arts or humanities who is assigned half-time for one academic year to bring greater visibility to the arts, humanities and the University, as well as to their own work. In this role, the laureate is a highly visible representative of the University, appearing at events and speaking engagements throughout the commonwealth.
Hepner succeeds 2022-23 Penn State Laureate Velvet Brown, David P. Stone Chair and associate director for equity, diversity and inclusion in the College of Arts and Architecture’s School of Music.
A visual artist who has been teaching at Penn State since 2007, Hepner uses movement to abstract and reconstruct images in works that "make the invisible visible," mirroring her own experience with sensory differences, she said. Her ongoing practice, "Drawing with Light," spans the genres of photography, performance, and augmented reality and uses custom, wearable LED devices that use the movement of the body to create digital light drawings.
“I’ve used my wearable LEDs in intergenerational art making workshops as well as in workshops for people with movement, sight differences and neurotype differences to collaborate with me in creating artwork that will be exhibited in their own communities as public art,” said Hepner. “I hope to similarly share my modes of creative expression with all Penn Staters across the commonwealth in my laureate year.”
Hepner has exhibited her artwork in gallery and museum exhibitions in Finland, China, the U.K., Spain, the Netherlands, Iceland, Norway, Canada, Colombia and across the United States. Her abstracted landscapes are engraved on a ruby disk inside of the Moon Arc, a mini museum that will be sent to live on the moon on Astrobotic’s Peregrine Moon Lander in 2023. Its twin is in the Smithsonian’s collection at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
She has examined the concept of "future memory," regarding how our place-tied memories may warp in the future as our landscapes are changing more quickly than expected. Starting in the Northern landscapes of Finland in 2014, she has photographed these landscapes during artist residencies that have also allowed her to hike in the Icelandic Westfjords region and to collect beach plastic littering on remote arctic beaches in Svalbard. She spent four months in 2018-19 as a Fulbright grantee and set up a community makerspace in the Træna archipelago, 22 miles off the coast of arctic Norway, for the community to create recycled 3D printer filament to digitally print small sculptures.
I hope to inspire people of all abilities to think outside the box creatively and to dream up new ways that art can be made and shared in the future.
—Lori Hepner , professor of integrative arts
Her body of 2D photographic prints, "Excursionary Auras, in Situ," which has been exhibited in galleries nationally and internationally, re-remembers her journeys in these landscapes, with Hepner re-stepping her movements in the studio while dancing with LED devices that play back her landscape photographs in front of her camera. The long-exposure images twist and abstract nature’s details of these remembered places that are quickly being altered by climate change. She has since expanded this into an ongoing project that includes explorations of non-arctic landscapes, documenting how climate change is affecting all landscapes.
According to Hepner, allowing everyone to be included in art making and creative expression is an important part of her practice.
“As someone who went through the public school system, but unexpectedly had a computer art class in her 1980s' kindergarten class, I know that access to technology for art-making purposes can be life-changing,” said Hepner. “I hope to inspire people of all abilities to think outside the box creatively and to dream up new ways that art can be made and shared in the future.”
Hepner said she plans to share her visual art in gallery exhibitions, artist lectures and collaborative art-making workshops across the commonwealth.