Serra living their best life in the salt flats of Nevada on the Winter/24 Core Cover

Serra living their best life in the salt flats of Nevada. (Photo courtesy Sila Ulug, AM’23)

Finding their voice

So ... what’s the deal with the doll on the cover? 

This past summer Christine Mehring, Mary L. Block Professor of Art History, took 11 students on a tour of important works of land art (see “Art in the Middle of Nowhere”). Among the many photos Mehring sent to accompany the article were images of our cover model, Serra.

Serra joined the group in Las Vegas. During a visit to a secondhand store, Sila Ulug, AM’23, a graduate student in art history and theater and performance studies, discovered Serra in a baby carriage and bought them (Serra’s pronouns are usually, but not always, “they/them”) for $60. After that, Serra accompanied the group everywhere: to Michael Heizer’s City, to Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. “It truly freaked everyone out,” says Mehring.

Serra is not scary, Ulug insists (although one potential subletter of her Hyde Park apartment passed after spotting Serra in a closet). “Some people, when they see Serra, feel a little bit uncomfortable because they’re always smiling,” Ulug says. “Why are they so happy? These days it’s expected that everybody’s suffering from one thing or another, but Serra does not have those sorts of feelings.”

Serra enjoys singing opera, Ulug says. They were singing about land art just before the cover shot was taken. “They tend to get excited all at once, so they’ll just burst into song,” Ulug says. “It’s just pure, earnest joy.”