2012 Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition

Friday, April 20, 2012 to Thursday, May 10, 2012

The 2012 Master of Fine Arts Thesis exhibition features the work of nine artists: A. Gaul Culley, Dan Herrera, Nif Hodgson, Paula Moran, Kanako Namura, billy ocallaghan, Jordan Perkins-Lewis, Kim Snyder, and Matt Thompson.

The exhibition dates are April 21–May 11, 2012. We will also be open during the University’s Commencement, on Saturday, May 19.

A probing of the limits

Apr 18, 2012

By Richard Mann

I am honored to have been asked to write this introduction. I initially got to know all the participants in this show as the instructor of first-year graduate seminars. With their bold and inquiring minds, teacher/student roles became irrelevant, as we together explored multiple issues, directly and indirectly related to contemporary art practice. In the process, I learned much more from these M.F.A. candidates than they could have gained from me. In this essay, it is possible to provide only brief indications of their achievements, culminating in this thesis exhibition.

An impassioned environmentalist, A. Gaul Culley often stimulates our awareness of “hidden wonders” in the midst of urban settings, as she has in her current project on Lake Merced. Working with immense respect for the heritage of print media, she has created inspiring and imaginative panoramic vistas, which interweave dream and reality. Culley not only has created sculptural effects through her handling of woodcuts, but also has expanded her expression to encompass sculpture, in the form of the intriguing door-like panels in her current project.

In Vaudeville, Dan Herrera creates beautiful images, which engage us in mysterious narratives—at once futuristic and nostalgic. The series combines his childhood love of building dioramas with his fascination with contemporary science fiction. Herrera initiates each image by constructing a miniature set of found objects. Through a series of laborious and anachronistic processes, he combines photographs of these carefully lighted sets with digital images of people and life-size props. In the final development steps, he adds gestural effects, which enrich his explorations of distinctions between photographic “realism” and painterly illusion.

Working in print media, Nif Hodgson also utilizes labor-intensive techniques as she investigates “shifting frames of reference” in observation of everyday environments. Exemplifying her commitment to the traditions of print art is her ongoing exploration of differing effects of inking in varied impressions on handmade papers. Her exquisite etched lines subtly recall the pioneering landscape print artist Altdorfer. However, the fragmented architectural elements in her prints clearly belong to the modern world. Although poetically evocative, her prints engage contemporary philosophical debates on the meaning of representation.

Paula Moran’s monumentally scaled ceramic installation re-creates a middle-class American living room of the 1970s—complete with such standard fixtures of the era as a magazine rack stuffed with copies of National Geographic. In producing this ensemble, Moran had to overcome considerable physical and technical challenges to convey significant narrative subtexts through the most subtle detail.

Kanako Namura’s current project provides an elegant and abstract—but nevertheless profound—record of her life. Every day from the beginning of 2012 until the opening of this exhibition, Kanako repeatedly wrinkled and folded a sheet of tarlatan, a heavily starched, coarse, woven fabric, used commonly by printmakers to wipe excess ink from intaglio plates. Utilizing a permanent marker, she recorded the folds with lines, deliberately blurred with rubbing alcohol. While Kanako’s project was largely “generated by properties inherent in the materials themselves,” it also eloquently conveys her constant struggle to balance the controllable and uncontrollable in her life.

Building upon the achievements of his earlier zines (including, most notably, “Perv [local organic],” “The gods sure are queer” and “Birds of America”), billy ocallaghan’s Owed to Plants demonstrates the increasing sophistication of his drawing and collage techniques. Like his earlier zines, Owed to Plants is crafted meticulously and produced in limited editions on high-quality paper, but it also pays tribute to the popular origins of the medium through deliberately naive styles of drawing and of handwriting. In Owed to Plants, ocallaghan explores the diverse services provided by plants—including toilet paper, medicine, shelter and money. Through witty commentary and playful combinations of drawings and photographs, he engages viewers in the contemplation of profound social and ecological issues.

Since his youth, when he accompanied his father to work on Hollywood back lots, Jordan Perkins-Lewis has been fascinated with the ways that industrially produced illusions affect our lives. In Everyman Series, he explores how our personal and collective identities are both shaped and distorted by digital technology. In this project, he adds a new component of interactivity into his work. For instance, in Criminal Everyman, gallery visitors utilize a fingerprint scanner to create images of a “criminal” from a wide selection of mug shots.

For Objecthood of Place, Kim Snyder collected and catalogued a wide variety of natural and manufactured objects from sites, located on outdated USGS topographic maps. Each item is exhibited with a tag, recording the name, longitude and latitude of the place where it was found. The display calls our attention to the visual allures of a whole host of banal objects, which we almost certainly otherwise would ignore. In addition, the exhibit makes us aware of the arbitrariness of categories and definitions. A professional photographer, Snyder also intends the project to reveal her investigation of “the shift between three-dimensional space and two-dimensional representation.”

Beginning as a painter, Matt Thompson has become a provocative video, sound and installation artist. His current project consists of two large sheets of paper, on which he projects a video composite of five documentaries on diverse topics by diverse agencies: locating resources in landscape images (U.S. government), Iraqi prisoners of U.S. military (Iraqi government), Middle Eastern politics (British Petroleum) and Israeli-Palestinian relations (Palestinian authority). The disconcerting impact of this combination of material is enhanced by Thompson’s soundtrack, which combines elements from the films with sounds from the artist’s studio. At varying intervals, white light reveals the sheets of paper to be just that. The installation raises questions about the possibility of deciphering and interpreting contentious political issues and the artist’s “inability to communicate, as if the work’s destination, the gallery, were censuring speech.”

While the works in the exhibition are very diverse, they also share many common qualities—including a probing of the limits and expressive possibilities of visual art media and a profound engagement with complex social, political and psychological issues. Alongside Amy Cancelmo, who undertook graduate studies in art history with the individuals in this exhibition, their evolution thus far hints at their continued professional growth and future contributions to the art world.