The conventional signifiers of art are no longer useful


With the continued disruption to in-person learning caused by COVID-19, it’s been a tough two years for MFA students: Classes have moved online, apartments have become makeshift studios, and campus facilities are become more difficult to access. At universities across the United States, creating artwork required navigating terms and conditions that changed almost weekly – “If I start project X today, will I have access to tools Y and Z in order to finish it in a month?” has become a common concern.

No one could tell from the Pratt Institute’s 2022 Master of Fine Arts and Photography thesis exhibition, a powerful example of how artists have adapted in the face of instability. The exhibition, which features 32 artists who graduated from both programs, showcases impressive talent in almost every field, including painting, sculpture, video art, photography and ceramics. Although fine art and photography are two separate graduate programs at Pratt—the photography graduate program was just established in 2019—the exhibit comes together as a cohesive whole, due to the approaches interdisciplinary of the two cohorts.

The work in the exhibition reflects recent trends in contemporary art, favoring an immersive presentation that transcends the rectangular parameters of traditional painting. Khaska Dottin’s street art-inspired installation, whose bold graffiti letters spill out of the canvas onto the gallery wall in multiple colors and directions, sets the tone for the exhibition at the entrance. Dottin’s work and the entire show denies viewers the safe distance that the museum aesthetic of the white box provides, announcing that the conventional signifiers of fine art are no longer sacred or necessary.

This message continues into the next room, where Hiu Ching Leung has set up a makeshift pencil guillotine. More than 500 No. 2 orange pencils spurt out from inside a display case whose glass resembles the jaws of a machine that has reduced them to mush. The pile of woodchips on the floor speaks to systemic destruction and censorship; Leung, originally from Hong Kong, alludes to the political injustices that are currently taking place there.

Kirsten Batten-Leach, “Sugar Daddy” (2021), poured sugar, embedded notes, 45 panels, 14 x 10 inches each

Much of the show’s work references politics and global struggles for equality. Kirsten Batten-Leach, who worked at the pantry at Henry Street Settlement during the pandemic, received hundreds of boxes of pantry food, each containing a letter signed with panache by then-President Donald Trump . The pantry collectively decided to remove these letters, and Batten-Leach encased 45 of them in individual low-relief sugar castings. The piece – cleverly titled “Sugar Daddy” – oozes off the wall in places, belying the myth of the government as a benevolent protector. A dripping, pungent-smelling chair covered in what appears to be real Velveeta and living mold, next to “Sugar Daddy” is not to be missed. A golden plate at the bottom reads: “Government Cheese”.

Justice-Michelle Thomas, “Shen Ship ZONG!” (2022), glazed ceramic, steel shelves, 8 x 12 1/2 feet

Judge Michelle Thomas’ impressive and haunting installation tells the story of the Zong massacre, the 1781 mass murder of more than 130 enslaved Africans who were thrown overboard so that William Gregson’s slave trade syndicate could claim “loss of property” on its insurance. Thomas builds a ceramic Shen for each person killed, stamping their name in Braille on the oval-shaped tiles to “further connect with the silence of their tragedy”. (The Shen, which is shaped like a circle of rope tied in a knot, is an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection.) The exquisitely crafted installation also includes broken masks – strongly evoking death masks – arranged among dark stones, which encircle the abstract shape of the Zong.

SuJung Jo, “Vivian 1” (2021), inkjet printed organza on photo luster, 28 x 19 1/2 inches

Other works tell personal stories, such as SuJung Jo’s series of hallucinatory photos. Images of transoms printed on organza hang from the ceiling like ghosts, presenting an ever-changing vision that doubles and overlaps depending on position relative to the object. The works hung on the wall create something akin to a lenticular print effect, with the silhouette of a young woman in her bedroom appearing to move along the soft folds of the fabric. The photographic works in the exhibition are never purely two-dimensional: Kelvin Tse’s image-sculptures integrate archive photos of his family abstracted into fields of pixels, then cut and reassembled into geometric sculptures that evoke the work of Letha Wilson. .

Another recurring theme is the human body made foreign and unknown. Rebecca Jean Sutton’s soft pubic sculpting distorts the genital shape, yet remains just recognizable enough to touch the eerie valley floor. The giant pieces exude mysterious liquids, as well as hair and eggshells, as they project raw body horror.

Nazli Efe creates a similar immersive installation two rooms below. Sculptures that look like extracted human flesh and bags of IV fluid hang on the gallery wall, bubbling in two rectangular vats filled with tubes and black-and-white images – eerily reminiscent of the plastic bins of a dark room. Scraps and bits of memory, as the photographs suggest, cling like dissected residue to sterile hospital equipment. It’s a moving scene, especially in the context of the current pandemic.

Although the work of all the artists cannot be described in detail here, each deserves mention: Junoh Ahn, Ty Allen, Daliah Ammar, Taylor Bielecki, Jack Byers, Camilla Gale, Elle Gillette, Katharina Kiefert, Oidie Kuijpers , Jaybe Lee, Elliot Lovegrove, Troy Medinis, Samantha Morris, Debo Mouloudji, Kristina Naso, Seyhr Qayum, Madeleine Riande, Rob Redding, Omar E. Saad, Xiangni Song, Noah Tavlin, Amy Ungricht, Yu-Ching Wang and Yuning Xu have all featured impressive, well-developed bodies. of work. It would not take a big leap to imagine the same exhibition at the New Museum or the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, rather than at 630 Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn, where she currently resides.

Pratt Institute MFA 2022 Fine Arts and Photography Thesis Exhibition continues at the Pfizer Building (630 Flushing Avenue, South Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through May 6. The exhibition was organized by a committee of faculty thesis supervisors.


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