MFA Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition
With work by Brandy Bajalia, Richard Borashan, Christy Bremer, O Woomi Chung, Sarah Dineen, Nadine Faraj, Pik-Shuen Fung, Guido Garaycochea, Elizabeth Grammaticas, Claire Haik, Katie Halfin, Nicole Handel, Sarah Johansen, Sora Kang, Hyunho Kim, Jeawon Kim, Dominika Koziak, Rebecca Kuzemchak, Jsun Laliberté, Sierra Lee, Dana Majana, Emily Marshall, Fiorella Gonzales-Vigil Mohme , Jung Hee Mun, Dominique Palladino, Shinyoung Park, Sydney Phelon, Laura Protzel, Hee Sun Shin, Panayiotis Terzis, K.C. Tidemand, Katherine Verdickt, Aran Winterbottom, Hyeonkyeong Yeo, Lulu Zhang
An MFA thesis show is typically thought of as a culmination of studies, a concise presentation of what has been learned, researched, critiqued and revised over the past two years. However, the 35 students in this class have differentiated themselves by approaching the concept of the thesis not as a conclusive statement, but rather an opportunity for a new beginning. Instead of absolute resolve, they have continued to experiment and find novel ways to move forward within their deeply divergent practices. Switching mediums, themes, and motives with aplomb, the students seem to acknowledge that while each individual completed artwork may be the result of problem solving, to be an artist is to ardently pursue the hypothetical.
This transitional moment between student and working artist is foregrounded by the deliberately public location of this year’s exhibition–for the first time, the thesis show steps away from the 15th floor SVA Chelsea gallery to a storefront space on a commercial street in Williamsburg, a neighborhood now associated with waves of artists who have brought striking economic and cultural change over the past few decades. A temporary space for exhibitions that will then be demolished for the construction of affordable housing, it quite bluntly speaks to the context of reinvention. By engaging with disparate audiences—those who seek out the exhibition, artists living and working in the neighborhood, and curious passersby—the work moves from the certain comforts of the Chelsea gallery district and the school studio into an undefined space in which it must speak for itself. Most simply put, this collection of artworks may have left a school in Manhattan together, but will be returned to a multifaceted group of artists throughout the boroughs, and far further afield.
The view through the storefront window of K.C. Tidemand's Blow Up Room, offers a similar experience to being within it—access to others is blocked, and it’s unclear what pathway is right or wrong. These rhizomatic structures, one which adapt and shift continuously to their pathways, are at the heart of Tideman’s investigations into systems and new ways of reinterpreting information in the world around us. Her installation present challenges to the viewer’s typical experience of the white cube gallery by engulfing the viewer with plastic sheets blown by fans set to timers in the corners of the room. Each viewer’s experience is different dependent on how many fans are turned on during their visit; static walls become malleable and unpredictable, and one’s awareness of their own body is heightened. Viewers are on display in a public space while being hidden in plain sight.
Emily Marshall's installation also overwhelms the viewer in a different way; her work If the Crown Fits contains layers of fabric hand-painted with exaggeratedly kitschy representations of stereotypical feminine patterns, textures, and images; invitingly pink, soft, and glittery, it presents an escapist fantasy for the adult viewers who enter into it. Marshall is interested in the gender constructions that are formed in childhood through toys; the “safe” space created by the installation and hideaway provided by the pink castle revert adults back into these gendered roles.
At a glance, Hyeonkyeong Yeo's paintings can also appear as portraying an overtly feminine imagery. Yet on closer inspection, it is clear that conflation of the body and plant life are meant to provoke more conflicted feelings in the viewer. Any woman who has subjected herself to a bikini wax will recognize the viewpoint in Yeo’s paintings; through visual puns and a flat, graphic style, Yeo explores the subject of female beauty standards by creating hybrids of the female form and immediately recognizable objects such as food items. The images allow each viewer can read into their own relationship with their bodies, consumption and pressures to conform to societal expectations.
Societal pressures to conform throughout the stages of life are echoed in Laura Protzel's work, which attempts to push against the concept of Adultism—the power that adults have over children. Her videos explore ideas of adult behavior and speech patterns (in relationship to each other as well as to children) through simple conversational exchanges, and seek to make adults more aware of the societal constructs of both adult- and childhood. Her shadow puppet theater encourages viewers to engage in a rare moment of play, enacting their own ideas about roles of adult and children.
Lulu Zhang's background in traditional Chinese painting led her to this current series in which she draws upon Chinese Buzi badges from the Qing Dynasty and English heraldry to create intricate drawings based on her daily experiences. In Class of 2015, Zhang created a coat of arms for each of her classmates, creating a sprawling map of text and symbolic imagery based on memory and subjective understanding of their work. In Place de Ringo, the apple and its connotations are represented in both drawing and sculpture; whereas the drawing combines historical, religious and cultural references to the apple, using text to create form, the sculpture relies on pre-existing, mass produced materials both organic and technological such as computer cords, expired tea and dried out contact lenses.
Drawing from his years of experience as a volunteer art teacher in prisons, Guido Garaycochea's installation I Became My Crime draws attention to the problem of mass incarceration in the U.S. and gives three women from this growing population a platform for self-representation. Asking these three former inmates to create a self-portrait, write a biography, and speak to the artist for a recorded interview, their accounts presents the shame, dehumanization and discrimination faced both in prison and from society at large once released. Presenting these narratives through both image and text allows the women to share the complexities of the experience, rather than the one-dimensional manner in which they are judged on a daily basis.
On an adjacent wall, Sarah Dineen's Certain Dark Things #36, translates the abstract space of poetry to painting, in a physical process of scraping and layering that relates to the body of both artist and viewer. In this ongoing series of paintings,each work takes Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XVII (one of his famous love poems) as its starting point, with individual lines inspiring a set of movements and material associations. The color black, the monumentality of the scale, and the connection to both earth and architecture, are all embedded in this series of paintings, taking different forms as each individual interpretation of the poem speaks to art making and reception as intuitive and animalistic.
Jsun Laliberté's works exist between painting and sculpture, using paper pulp made in his studio as his primary medium to address relationships between weight, texture and color. The fabric dye used with the paper pulp creates works that can appear both psychedelic in saturated colors, or more subdued, evoking topographic surfaces. The selection of works in the exhibition show the diversity that these materials can achieve in scale; Laliberte’s ongoing pursuit of the surfboard shape humorously points towards the Sisyphean task of surfing with an immediately disintegrating board.
In a different take on materiality and color, Christy Bremer's work addresses her identity through the lens of popular iconography such as the Hello Kitty charms collected during her time in Japan, or portraits of the drag queen or cosplay subcultures. The abundance of materials, color and texture in the work reflect the breaking down of boundaries between painting and sculpture, fine art and craft, while also pointing to categories in her life which may attempt to be categorized by society, such as Korean and American culture, and her background as a scientist versus her present work as an artist.
Identity and the psychological effects of art-making are also forefronted in Sora Kang's photographs, which reflect a moment of rupture in her personal life which caused her to shift from making small scale paintings to making her own face the surface on which she paints. Kang’s choice of colors each communicate a different emotion, and the process of painting, photographing, and cleansing, become therapeutic, thus shifting the final art work from the object of painting to the documentation of an ephemeral act of comfort.
Various strategies are present in Sydney Phelon's installation, including performance, found images, and self-portrait, but all are tied to ideas of domesticity and the roles women are expected to inhabit within the home. For example, depicted in the photograph Box of sex toys, boxes of childrenʼs drawings is exactly that, taken in the artist’s own home, while the raging woman in a nightgown in Trisha seems to be perpetually stuck in a living room, but the voiceover tells another story. The cumulative effect of the installation tells a fragmented but relatable narrative of the different facets of female responsibility and the importance of subversion within it.
Drawing inspiration from the overwhelming visual culture of New York and the unique juxtapositions that the dense landscape offers, Dana Majana's compositions also nod to the experience of images on one’s smartphone, always connected, and always scrolling. This now dominant relationship to images dictate the scale and play between background and foreground in her paintings, combining a bank of recognizable images (such as the Nike swoosh and the pen graphic from Microsoft Word) with allover patterning to create saturated, layered paintings that establish themselves as handmade interpretations of a digitally mediated world.
Katie Halfin's 0 Gravity also draws upon personal experience to create an in-between space. Her work integrates her Soviet Russian background to explore boundaries between public and private space. 0 Gravity combine two specific references, that of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project in 1975 (which marked the end of the Space Race between the U.S. and the USSR) and a dream described by a Russian citizen that the artist found on the internet. The sound of the docking is heard aloud through speakers, filling up the public space around it, while a recording of the dream is head privately through headphones. The installations evoke theatrical sets in which objects and space are only suggested.
Claire Haik's Glacial Friction series of abstract paintings are indexical marks of their suggested landscapes. The artist uses crushed rocks collected from upstate New York to create her paintings, allowing for a unique palette and texture, as well as embedding each image with the industrial and natural history of the area as processed through the rocks. While the artist hand crushes the rocks she uses for her paintings, Pangea, an accompanying sculpture, provides a reversal of technique; it is a seemingly static machine to turn soil from every continent on earth into stone. A clock tells of its absurd inefficiency, counting down from 340 million years and instructing to tighten every 500 years with the provided wrench.
Brandy Bajalia's performance and video Unadulterated Fiction takes a heated exchange about the current political state of Alabama, and attempts to heal its racist past, deriving from a Facebook post by the artist about former Alabama governor during the civil rights era, George Wallace. (Bajalia herself is from Birmingham) By transporting the conversation from the Internet–where physical remove can encourage people to type what they may not say face-to-face–her actors portray the discomfort of imagining this diverse group of the artist’s acquaintances sharing a bucolic picnic together, the environment of which is shared in the installation Galantamine.
Panayiotis Terzis's Vision Zero: Phase II speaks to the conflation of images through technological replication, and the flattening of history through this. Terzis’s works layers hand drawn forms with other appropriate imagery taken from the internet, processing the images through various printmaking techniques and printed on banners or other hanging structures which suggest an ambiguous declaration of power. The artist’s acts of reproduction and filtering addresses the visual imagery’s loss of meaning in the contemporary age, the signature technology of which is found amongst the plaster rubble on the floor: casts of cell phone models which become obsolete year after year.
Taking inspiration equally from the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 1970s and the Roccoco era, Hee Sun Shin's sculptures are tactile and accumulative, using materials which appeal both haptically and visually. By transforming these synthetic, familiar materials, she shifts how they are read by the viewer, playing with ideas of what constitutes surface and support. The colors and reflections connote the shimmering surfaces, both digital and architectural, of a globalized cityscape, as well how corporeal forms relate to this quotidian experiences.
Dominika Koziak uses traditional Christian iconographical art to put forth parallels between religion and pop cultural obsession. Through the laborious and materially specific techniques of icon writing, depicted in this installation are the five members of BIGBANG, a K-Pop band which has inspired a devoted fanbase far beyond Korea. Each aesthetic decision has a spiritual meaning—from how the light hits their clothing to the distortion of certain facial features–taking the icon writer on a physical and spiritual journey until the icon is able to stand in for the presence of the depicted themselves, rather than solely a representation. In this installation, Koziak has also added an image of herself as the worshiper looking up towards the band members.
Nadine Faraj's watercolor paintings on paper reflect a diverse collection of nude bodies taken from porn magazines and other sources. Her treatment of these bodies with this delicate medium, allowing forms to bleed into each other and become abstracted, transforms the nude body from highly sexualized images to be looked at in shame to something to be celebrated. The figures make eye contact with the viewer and each other, removing them from the context of anonymous, disposable imagery and reintroducing a human bond to bodies normally found isolated on the printed page. The paintings aim to bring instinctual sense of joy back to our natural state of nudity.
Faraj herself makes an appearance in Hyunho Kim's work. Kim creates pillow portraits to act as stand-ins for his relatives and friends in Korea, addressing the lack of physical contact in these long-distance relationships, even as technology allows for frequent communication. For the thesis exhibition, Kim has chosen to focus on the emotional impact of these likenesses for his classmates that he create pillows for, including a photo of Faraj and a pillow of her husband, who travels frequently for business. A video shows the positive reception by the family of O Woomi Chung, for whom Kim created a pillow in the shape of her and her sister as babies. The pillows were also used to restage family photos, as displayed in a photo album.
Familial memory and connection is also at the center of Pik-Shuen Fung's video, The Fortune Teller. The footage shot by the artist remains blurred for the duration of the video, allowing the viewer to concentrate intently on listening to a voiceover (also by the artiss) telling the narrative of three generations of women in her family: her grandmother, her mother, and herself. Through a fortuneteller's reading, the stories are intertwined, bringing in their relationships with their fathers. Using various strategies of direct and indirect dialogue, she draws attention to emotions and situations that are overlooked when they are too difficult to speak about, even to those who are closest to you.
Richard Borashan's work exists for the interpretation and subjectivity of the individual viewer. Exploiting the associations they may bring to the work—through the recognizable images depicted in drawing or the found door which leads to nowhere—he refutes narrative conclusions or his own artistic position, knowing fully well that when the work leaves the studio, the artist is no longer able to control its reception. The combination of labored drawing with the removal of the hand in ready-made object additionally circumvents prescribed readings of the artists work.
Each of Katherine Verdickt's paintings, equal in their small scale and upon a ground of brown paper, are abstract investigations into natural forms and decay. A certain rhythm is established through wide brush strokes of ink and gouache, and delicate details of graphite leaving traces of previous marks and attempts visible. The paper itself is invoked as an object with edges frayed, and holes worn through or delicately pricked. Intuition and process are at the heart of each image, invoking a Zen- like calm.
Aran Winterbottom's photographs and paintings are formal investigations into the historical concealment of gay culture. In his paintings, collaged shapes suggesting paint splatters abstract the bodies of models from vintage gay porn magazines, seamlessly mingling with other printed matter of cars, flowers or animals. In the series Trojan Boys, the artist photographs the faces of models in gay porn magazines from the era when AIDS was an untreatable disease through to be punishing gay men for their sexuality. The golden light that subsumes each of their features is created by shooting each image through a condom, imbuing a softening, calming filter during a period of devastation and hopelessness.
Elizabeth Grammaticas's Popular Trauma is a period room installation which preserves the past by aligning traumatic personal experience with celebrity fandom. Starting from a box of pop cultural artifacts from her childhood bedroom—a retreat and safe space that holds great meaning to the artist– the installation is additionally filled with signifiers of the Victorian era, Grammaticas’s own snapshots and paintings, and Taylor Swift’s image and music. Monitors show a selection of performances and videos Grammaticus has made around Swift’s music, including one in which she sings her own lyrics about her personal history over Swift’s, combining their narratives.
On the other side of Grammaticus’s wall, O Woomi Chung has created another deeply personal space, one in which sexuality is at once private and concealed, comical, and explicit. A ripped paper screen is the remnant of Scrota for Mom, a performance with the artist and her mother during the opening of the thesis exhibition, stemming from Chung’s revelation to her mother about being sexual active. The simple line drawings on view around the screen—with captions such as Mom, I Masturbate—are indicative of conflicted feelings that Chung had about sharing her sexuality with her mother in Korea; the performance was a cathartic release for the both parties.
Fiorella Gonzales-Vigil Mohme's memories of spaces from her past push her to create sculptural installations in the present. In her work Suspended Presences, four slowly rotating sculptures have been installed in the exhibition space’s basement—a space that is inaccessible to the general public and one that still contains remnants of the dollar store that preceded the exhibition space, a history soon to be completely erased once the building is demolished after the thesis exhibition. Vigil has replaced the physical encounter of viewing the work with a video of the installation, allowing us to only imagine the objects below, creating a type of false memory of a place we’ve never seen.
Dominique Palladino's video installation Meditaint addresses the role of technology in our daily lives, replacing traditional religious devotion to one for our various digital devices. The artist performs as a pastiche of religious deities—whose many arms are always clutching smartphones— on a background of standard Mac desktop wallpapers, designed to relax the office worker and become an acceptable substitute for the outside world. The video is surrounded by a calming environment of aromatherapy diffusers, individually–wrapped apples piled in offering to this ambiguous god, and soothing spa sounds as guidance is offered through MacMail updates.
Technology and its effects on our behavior are also evident in Jung Hee Mun's work, which investigates the relationships created online and how they shift perceptions of personal identity. In The Pilot’s Journal, a video shows an online exchange between herself and an Air Force pilot who has shared his aerial photographs as he flies over the Middle East, discussing how to display the images so that they cannot be traced to the military. The series of pigment prints which follow the video present the solution; certain images are abstracted or barely visible, with their captions selectively redacted. Yet, the romanticism of the captions and the color saturated images stand in stark contrast to the presumably violent military missions of the pilot, humanizing his position.
The poetic exploration of landscape and space continues in Jeawon Kim's installations in the series The Third Space. Kim draws inspiration from memories of her hometown of Gunsan, a port city which has experienced the brunt of Korean history and faced cycles of abandonment and renewal. The ephemeral nature of these architectural spaces, assumed to be permanent, are reflected in the elements of collage, drawing, shadow and light which exist between two- and three-dimensions. The “third space” referred to in Kim’s title is the space beyond history and physicality, an ambiguous space where art can communicate.
The process of Rebecca Kuzemchak's Babel is relatively straightforward; the artist translated the story of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) in 21 languages using Google Translate, and then created identical 12” x 9” drawings by tracing the letters to remove any mark of the artist’s hand. However, it is the subtexts of these choices that the work speaks to: the story of Babel as one of language used as a tool of power and control, the history of labor in hand-copying text, the technological advancements in language reproduction, and the flawed, yet now authoritative, knowledge of Google Translate.
Sarah Johansen's works, on either sides of Kuzemchak’s, also challenge the rationalizing, authoritative information present in science, religion, and technology. Her works include Decreation-by virtue of the Annulment of Adam and Eve, a 3D printed sculpture that fill the exact crack in the fresco of Sistine Chapel where God’s hand has become severed as he reaches out to Adam; and SauDaDe (Trifling is the Sound in Space), for which Johansen alters a song on the Voyager Golden Record to match the pitch and frequency of her late father’s. The song is available on a website that will be maintained until her own death, as well as will be attached to a satellite making a brief trip into space.
Nicole Handel's Meditation for Construction addresses the relationship between architecture and psychology, particularly the barriers between public and private in the city, where residents live in extremely close quarters. A video captures street life in the artist’s gentrifying Bed-Stuy neighborhood in the reflection of a mirrored sculpture shaped like a building. The reflection scatters the image, disorientates the viewer, and implicates the filmed passersbys as part of the artwork. Handel’s own insecurities around her public role as an artist and how it figures into larger questions of gentrification are amplified by a soundtrack of street sounds, domestic noises, and therapeutic statements from a range of psychological professionals.
On the opposing wall, Sierra Lee's Street of Oneiric similarly speaks to the psychological experiences of architecture. Her work draws from her everyday experiences of walking around New York City and being surrounded by windows that only partially reveal the private life beyond the building’s exterior facades. At the center of her white paper sculpture is a building structure covered in cut-outs of windows, behind which multi-colored lights give the theatrical impression of a dream state. From this central structure, the sculpture radiates outwards in more abstract forms, suggesting the boundaries of these constructed spaces could easily extend beyond the physical confines into a more psychological realm.
Shinyoung Park's large sculpture White Bread visually evokes human figures after an apocalyptic natural disaster, with sharp stalagmites or spires, and a barrier of barb wire threatening those who would trespass. However, while these forms and textures may suggest a certain narrative, it is ultimately left ambiguous. At the heart of his work are strategies to evoke a spirituality that can be absent from much contemporary art work—one which is not necessarily connected to religion, but to visceral reactions in the viewers and their own personal histories which are brought to the work.