As part of a series on virtual MFA presentations across the country, Hyperallergic has selected standout artworks from the graduating classes of three schools located in the northern region of California: the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), California College of the Arts (CCA), and California State University, Chico (CSU Chico).
At UC Davis, student work was exhibited as an online exhibition at the university’s Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. CCA, on the other hand, has a nicely designed website for student work that warns, “This is not an exhibition. Like an MFA show, however, this is a record of time, place and a group of artists who inhabited a community of thinking and making.” CSU Chico only had one graduating MFA student this year, who ended up setting up a live YouTube broadcast of his performance.
In reaching out to students, I asked them what it was like to adapt their MFA projects to a virtual setting. I’ve shared some of their answers below, along with excerpts from their artist statements.
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Hannah Waiters’s assemblages are composed from family objects, photographs, and debris. She describes them as “metaphors for communities facing mass gentrification that are bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.”
“Art school is a site for creative exchange and intellectual rigor, contriving insider and outsider structures that keep certain folks and thinkers out,” Waiters wrote over email. “This moment is what the internet was made for. The internet is democratic and hospitable, a spatial landscape of infinite variation and form.”
Hoi Chang has named her sculptures “Nuggang,” an invented term based on a Korean word that represents “a sigh or an exhale; an unspoken mode of self-expression which arises out of frustration, turmoil or failure.” She sees her bright, textured ceramics as “unique emotional scenes.”
“At the point when I was forced out of my CCA studio, where I used to spend 14 hours a day, I knew that I needed to understand the current situation — even though I’d only accomplished 20% of my thesis show physically,” Chang told me. “I believe the class of 2020 was a special year, and I won’t forget, people won’t forget, the Class of Corona.”
For her thesis project, Margot Becker made meticulous Jacquard weavings by stitching together digital collages of photographs. The largest one, “Daphne,” measures nine by seven feet.
“If ‘Daphne’ had been made to be viewed virtually, I would have stopped at the photo collage stage; however, I did not make a photo collage, I made a weaving,” Becker wrote over email. “I spent 36 hours standing at the loom stepping back and forth on a foot pedal while throwing seven to eight shuttles in rotation to render these images in warp and weft.”
For her last installation, Narges Poursadeqi created three custom-made kaleidoscopes “facing a container full of liquid and negatives,” which create mesmerizing patterns when the viewfinders are rotated.
Across her work, Poursadeqi wants her viewers to play “the role of a detective seeking clues for each broken story like a mirror into a thousand images.” She adds, “getting lost in fragmentations and becoming a ghost is my aim.”
“The female body drips, spills, stains, and folds in on itself; fat gathers, flesh sags, menstrual blood pools. The figures in my work embody this experience in their fluidity, precariousness, and shiftlessness, along with the materiality of paint and ink,” Christine Lyon writes in her artist statement.
“The precariousness of an MFA in the workplace was not new to me,” Lyon told me. “I knew the path I chose, but somehow in losing that show, in losing so quickly our place to create, in throwing out the pedagogical framework based around a public exhibition, all while we lost our jobs and prospects, the MFA degree seemed even more dubious. What was this all for? What is the state of art without gathering, without tactility?” Nonetheless, Lyon has found some “consolation” in exhibiting online, including the chance to exhibit more work than she could have in person.
Jory Harms, CSU Chico
As Jory Harms explained over email, his thesis project, Boy Will Be, examines “the concept of masculinity within the American culture.” He elaborated, “Using the backdrop of a boxing gym as the set for the performance, I demonstrate that men are emotionally capable of displaying affection towards other men despite our society’s demand they do the opposite.”
While Harms shared that he “definitely went through the stages of grief” when he learned that he couldn’t physically stage his show in the same way, he says he’s “much happier with the final version than if I had performed it live. This experience gave me an opportunity to test out new art making processes that I think are going to really benefit me and my art-making in the long run.”
Zeina Baltagi, UC Davis
Across Zeina Baltagi’s work, she is interested in how people become “both connected and vulnerable to each other in public spaces.” It is important to her that people can engage with her work with their bodies — an obstacle during the pandemic. So, for her thesis, she ended up creating the installation “Daphne”: “a concrete cul-de-sac wrapped around a bay tree, with an accompanying digital map to the location of the installation so viewers can interact with the work safely, at their own discretion.”
Brenda Gonzalez, UC Davis
“Although I am not extremely comfortable with photography, when photographing my work, I thought about the way I look at work, especially sculpture, and about walking around a sculpture and then getting closer to view finer details,” Brenda Gonzalez said over email. Gonzalez’s sculptures are intimate reflections on the meanings of home. “Growing up in a low-income household in East Los Angeles and finding myself longing for a home that changes while I live miles away grounds my work,” she writes in her artist statement.
Normally, graduating MFA students at UC Davis present their work to a private faculty review. This year, however, students shared their work through a Zoom presentation that was open to the public. Gonzalez shared with me that it was “an unexpected advantage” to be able to share her research with people beyond the school and northern California.
Jessica Eve Rattner, UC Davis
“My challenge was how not to settle for a slideshow, how to find a more meaningful way to wrap up two years’ worth of work,” Jessica Eve Rattner wrote to me. “I decided that for my own sake I needed to bring the work alive by printing and installing it, as I would have done for the museum show.” Rattner ended up hanging her photographs in her daughter’s recently vacated bedroom.
“Because my project, The end is where we start from, is autobiographical, and the images all relate at least loosely to the idea of Home, I ultimately saw the cancellation of the Shrem show as a gift — an opportunity to create a gallery of this very personal work inside the home in and around which most of the photographs were made.”
Enjoying this series? Check out more virtual MFA presentations here.