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SOA Artists Bend Themes of Perception and Reflection

Greenberger's video De-Feat documents a woman attempting to put on a straitjacket by herself.

Several treatments of exotic vistas and distorted reflections are just some of the diverse themes that second-year visual art students at the School of the Arts (SOA) are bringing to contemporary art in the 2005 M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition.

The thesis exhibition comprises work by 24 students, covering nearly 25,000 square feet on the fifth floor of Studebaker Hall, where each artist has 25 to 75 feet of space to exhibit their work. Although the works are all very disparate, curator Jeffrey Uslip says the show "feels like a unified collective."

"The viewer takes a visual journey through the show," says Uslip. "The floor plan showcases the individual artists' practice and their relationship to the class. [The pieces] harmonize very well together. The artists are so incredibly dedicated and focused; it has been a joy working with them."

Among the artists participating in the exhibition, Paula Wilson creates hybrid installations by juxtaposing painting and video. She begins by stretching rice paper over a wood structure and paints the structure. Wilson intentionally leaves some sections unpainted, which become a backdrop for her video projections. "[After moving to New York City], I became fascinated with the nannies that populate the Upper West Side and use that phenomenon as a reflection of the complicated social and class structure of the city."

Miguel Cardenas' contributions to the show consist of oil paintings and a sculpture installation inspired by several trips to the Amazon. "The paintings are fictitious landscapes, which do not illustrate a particular place but rather convey a mood or a sensation channeled through the landscape," says Cardenas. "My interest has been to produce images which are situated somewhere between experience and memory, in the attempt to utilize nature as a mirror of our own culture."

Sara Greenberger's video De-Feat documents a woman attempting to put on a straitjacket by herself. "This represents an absurd reversal of the classic Harry Houdini trick of getting a straitjacket 'off' by oneself," explains Greenberger. "The result is a slapstick torture of the most pathetic and remarkable proportions as the woman fastens the buckles, tightens the straps, and contemplates her personal restraint without the use of her hands. Both feat (getting the thing on alone) and defeat (being restrained and tied up) are represented in one."

The exhibition also includes the work of sculptors Ethan Breckenridge and Gandalf Gavin. Breckenridge's sculptures challenge contemporary notions of space, perception and the meaning of work. The focus of his thesis is a double-sided endless hallway with a piece of glass in the front, prohibiting entrance. According to Uslip, the work is very psychological and offers no sense of beginning or end.

The centerpiece of Gavin's project is a punctured, molded mirror. The walls of his display area are lined with large-scale photos of objects that he created and then photographed through the mirror, offering unusual perceptions of the scene.

Reflecting on her experiences in the M.F.A. program, Greenberger says, "One of the greatest things about the program is the level and diversity of both adjunct and full-time artist-teachers. This exposure and the relationships the program fosters provide a number of different models of ways to be a contemporary artist. It also plays out in the relationships among the students. We are all really trying to help each other in the midst of what amounts to one of the most competitive environments."

Wilson agrees, "My work process has been shaped by a greater involvement with my peers. I've learned how to process advice and criticism in a way that has enabled me to find what it is that I really want to make and what it is that I want to say."

The 2005 M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition is on display on the fifth floor of Studebaker Hall, 615 W. 131 Street, through May 22. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday, from noon to 6 p.m.

Published: May 05, 2005
Last modified: May 04, 2005

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