Photo Essays

Laughter and Tears in Hunter College’s MFA Thesis Show

Many of the works by the graduating class of Hunter College’s MFA program fall, broadly speaking, into one of two categories: darkly political, or irreverently funny.

Michelle O’Connell, “There’s a Song Somewhere Among the Fjords” (2018), video projection, acrylic and enamel on canvas, wood, spandex, and vinyl (photo courtesy the artist)

It’s especially difficult to stamp the graduating class of Hunter College’s MFA cohort with a single moniker or style. The students have assembled a rich 2018 thesis show featuring work by a diverse cross-section of artists, many of whose artworks go down one of two thematic paths: humor or politics.

Rachelle Dang, “Botanical Cage and Perimeter Wall” (2018), wood, copper, steel, cement, ceramic (photo courtesy the artist)
Foreground: Rachelle Dang, “Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, 1806” (2016/2018) ceramic, painted cardboard boxes, adhesive vinyl, wood table (photo courtesy the artist)
Rachelle Dang, “Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, 1806” (2016/2018) ceramic, painted cardboard boxes, adhesive vinyl, wood table (photo courtesy the artist)

Similar to this year’s MFA show at Columbia University, installation is all the rage among Hunter students. For the first part of Hunter’s MFA show in April, Rachelle Dang even exhibited “Les Sauvages de la mer Pacifique, 1806” (2016/2018), which was previously shown at this year’s Spring Break. For her thesis, Dang expanded upon the original concept through the inclusion of “Botanical Cage and Perimeter Wall” (2018). Alongside her haunting cage-cabinet hybrid, Dang also included dozens of ceramic breadfruits scattered across the floor. Broadly, this work is about the ecological legacy of colonialism in the Caribbean as an implicit form of violence. After all, breadfruits originated in the South Pacific and only found their way to Jamaica via English imperialists looking to replace their failing sugar crop.

Installation image of Hunter College’s group one MFA thesis show with, at left: photos from Hector Rene Membreno-Canales’ series, After-Ozymandias (2018); right: Zac Hacman, “Gateway” (2018) (photo courtesy Hector Rene Membreno-Canales)
Hector Rene Membreno-Canales, “For Harriet Tubman (Robert E. Lee and Thomas. J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson Monument)” (2018) archival pigment print (image courtesy the artist)

Having served more than 10 years in the US Army as a Press Officer with posts in Iraq, El Salvador, and Poland, photographer Hector Rene also has an eye for the politically profuse. His series, After Ozymandias (2018), predominantly documents the empty plinths left behind after the removal of Confederate statues and monuments around the country. In “For Harriet Tubman” (2018), Rene visits the former site of Baltimore’s Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson Monument. Once displaying the two Southern generals on horseback, nothing remains except its plinth graffitied with messages like “Black Lives Matter” and “Smash White Supremacy.” Rene makes evident the dynamic between memorialization and contested public space, capturing the long-awaited crumbling of Confederate ideology so many years after the Civil War.

Sarah Creagan, “The Exam // Hello, Telephone” (2018), drawing on watercolor paper, medical privacy screen (photo by the author)
At left: Sarah Creagan, “Reading Light // Sara Jones Gets Laid (Up)” (2018), drawing on watercolor paper; right: Sarah Creagan, “The Fart Corner” (2018), drawing on watercolor paper (photo by the author)

For something completely different, see Sarah Creagan’s work currently on view in the MFA exhibition’s second part. Never have I seen such a nonchalant image of a woman passing gas. With their brightly colored noxious fumes, Creagan’s watercolor drawings remind me of that thermal fart gif. They also evoke the freehand sensibility of Egon Schiele, if the Austrian artist had spent less time chasing women around Vienna and more time listening to them. The artist makes a clear effort to restore women’s agency in erotic art, while infusing her own special brand of self-deprecative humor. For example, “Reading Light // Sara Jones Gets Laid (Up)” (2018) portrays a woman splayed across the ground reading the titular, fictitious book, “Sarah Jones Gets Laid” as blue gas expels from her nether regions. Creagan puts the color red to good use, allowing it to symbolize the erogenous zones of the human body via a nip-slip behind the book and an ambiguous depiction of genitals in the painting’s righthand corner.

Paola Di Tolla, “Fantasy House” (2018), two-channel video, 21 minutes (photo by the author)

Nearby is Paola Di Tolla’s equally humorous video installation, “Fantasy House” (2018), which draws upon people’s often unrealistic expectations of architecture. For her thesis, Di Tolla finds an excellent middle ground between the political and pithy, synthesizing this exhibition’s dominant themes. After asking four people to describe their fantasy houses, the artist gave the transcripts to two architects, who created renderings based on their desires. Next, these transcripts were converted into dialogue for two actors. The end result is Di Tolla’s hilarious two-channel video installation, which sticks actors Beth Griffith and Sandra Kingsbury in an inflatable dingy without a paddle. But they have snacks! One of the actors gnaws on a banana as she tries to comprehend her unrealistic, obviously unattainable dream house. The piece epitomizes the pointed politics and humor that make Hunter’s 2018 MFA thesis exhibition so strong.

Zac Hacman, “Capsule” (2018), ceiling tiles, wood, aluminum, glass, plastic tiles (photo courtesy the artist)
Zac Hacman, “Capsule” (2018), ceiling tiles, wood, aluminum, glass, plastic tiles (photo courtesy the artist)
Foreground: T Eliott Mansa, “Gathering of the Lost” (2018), stuffed animals, candles and liquor bottles; paintings on left and right by Jule Kornefel (photo by the author)
Installation image of Leonard Reibsten’s thesis work (photo by the author)

Part two of the Hunter College MFA program’s 2018 spring thesis show continues at 205 Hudson Street (Tribeca, Manhattan) through June 2.

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