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Thought-provoking MFA Work From Pratt and Parsons

As part of a series on virtual MFA presentations across the country, we highlight exciting work from graduates of two NYC art schools.

Caroline Garcia, “Queen of the Carabao (video still)” (2018), two-channel digital video, color, sound, TRT: 00:30:00 (image courtesy the artist)

As we continue our series on virtual MFA presentations across the country, we at Hyperallergic have turned our sights a little closer to our home base in Brooklyn. This edition focuses on standout artworks by graduating MFAs from two New York institutions: Parsons School of Design and Pratt Institute.

At Parsons, students debuted their projects in late May in an online presentation curated by Stamatina Gregory, who will also be organizing a physical exhibition in the fall. Featuring a compelling cross-section of works both recent and past, Logics of Non-Exchange emphasizes the political possibilities that emerge when artists align themselves with organizing efforts around labor and social justice. As Gregory writes, these works affirm “that not only is the production and interpretation of works of art a public good, it is societally essential: its non-exchange values lie in the desperately needed unlocking of our political and social imaginary.”

Such a framework feels fitting given the recent strike led by students from the New School (of which Parsons is part). After nearly a month of applying pressure to administrators, students were able to secure numerous important concessions, including a reversal of the 3.84% tuition hike planned for the 2020-2021 school year, expedited refunds for meal and housing plans, and continued pay and benefits for cafeteria staff — though the demand for refunds for the spring 2020 semester remains outstanding.

At Pratt, students are presenting their work via a series of online portfolios. The easy-to-navigate platform features projects from graduating students across each of Pratt’s five schools: architecture, art, design, information, and liberal arts and sciences. As Fine Arts Chair Jane South explains, “Having this wider reach reflects the cross-disciplinary education and practices that Pratt values, and the contemporary context in which we live.” In lieu of Pratt’s tradition of offering each graduating MFA a solo exhibition — a rite of passage originally postponed until the fall, and then later cancelled — a forthcoming printed catalogue will further highlight the work of program graduates, and will feature a section curated by Yasmeen Siddiqui (a former editor at Hyperallergic).

In reaching out to students, I asked them about some of the challenges and rewards of adapting their projects to a virtual setting. Below you’ll find some of their thoughts, as well as selections of their work and excerpts from their artist’s statements.

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Caroline Garcia, Parsons

Working in performance and video, Caroline Garcia often assumes the role of a cultural shape-shifter as a means of critiquing the exoticizing Western gaze. Particularly concerned with portrayals of South Asian and Indigenous femininity, Garcia — an Australian of Filipina descent — utilizes contemporary dance, botany, found footage, green screens, and AR technology to “interrogate representation through a lens of cultural piracy.” Her project-in-progress, “Choose Your Fighter” (preview above) uses 360 video to stage a confrontation with the viewer. Throughout, Garcia alternately stalks and shoots at the viewer with a sumpit — an Indigenous blow-gun from the Philippines — as videos featuring various women of color turn on and off on surrounding green screens. “A man comes into my life and I have to compromise?!” scoffs Eartha Kitt in a now infamous interview excerpt, driving home the need for greater criticality around how gender and femininity are framed in visual culture.

Bringing this project to its current stage has been a challenge for Garcia, who, like many other Parsons students, was unable to access her studio after the city-wide shutdown this spring. “What was most challenging was to think through ways to present in the virtual realm, whilst honoring the conceptual integrity of the work, which, though possible, often felt compromised.” Shifting from VR to 360 was part of this compromise but Garcia remains hopeful that viewers will still be able to interact with the work. She added, “Perhaps, also a pinch of sympathy would be nice, haha — knowing that not all these works weren’t intended to be virtual.”

Luna Jiang, Parsons

“My artwork concerns the contrast between violence and vulnerability; cuteness and abjection; loneliness and strangeness.” | Luna Jiang, “TUZI” (2019), Ceramics, dimensions vary (image courtesy Parsons)

There’s something delightfully sinister about Luna Jiang’s TUZI sculptures. Dripping in red and yellow glazes, these amorphous ceramics hint at the contrast between adorable and violent themes that she explores in her work, teasing out the tensions and overlaps that exist between these realms. Meant to be exhibited in a dollhouse, these sculptures are but one component of the fantastical yet intimate worlds she builds for her works. “Playing with scales and multiplicity, my ceramic work activates audiences’ imagination and shows the intensity of cuteness and disconnection,” Jiang explains.

Josephine Lee, Parsons

“Comprising cast and blown glass sculptures containing plasma, porcelain moon jars, and video, the work explores plasma, glass, and the moving image as a way of examining the home space as a destabilized energy field of ideological and social politics through the birth of the nuclear atomic bomb.” | Details from Josephine Lee’s “/born ignorant in an abyss of light (installation view)” (2020), glass, plasma, porcelain, video, 20 × 30 feet

For Josephine Lee, an artist whose work is “informed by a lifetime of movement throughout the US, Canada, and South Korea,” the concept of home has never been fixed. Her sculptures, installations, and performance works often probe the interconnectedness of place, national identity, and citizenship. Her final project “/born ignorant in an abyss of light” (pictured above) takes up these themes via the birth of the atomic bomb, and utilizes pieces of blown glass filled with moving currents of electrically charged noble gas to create plasma.

“These light currents are both difficult to capture through documentation, as well as experience as an interactive component of the installation,” Lee notes. These currents normally respond to the bodies of viewers, gradually growing brighter as they approach the installation. As Lee explained, “Trying to figure out what points of detail and information that I can convey through video fragments and close-ups has allowed me to focus on the subtle interactions at play between the various pieces of the work.”

Paloma Rosenzweig Castillo, Parsons

“I have heard people say that we are born sick. I do not believe that is true. […] I have been exploring the ways in which the notion of ‘sickness and cure’ is used as a framework of control in schooling, religious and medical institutions and within family structures.” | Paloma Rosenzweig Castillo, installation and detail views of “The Patron Saint of Worry” (2020) from The Relics of the Inadequate, polymer clay, 20 x 10 x 8 inches (image courtesy Parsons)
Among many talents, Paloma Rosenzweig has a knack for titles. A case in point is her ongoing project, The Relics of the Inadequate, an eponymous fictional institute, which exists via various narratives, drawings, and sculptures of her making. These works further explore themes of death, inadequacy, the bodily, and the divine, all of which are central to Rosenzweig’s broader practice. Richly textured and sensual sculptural works like “The Patron Saint of Worry” (above) and “The Patron Saint of Tension” (2019) are meant to be handled by viewers.

For Rosenzweig, who identifies as visually impaired, this tactility is an essential part of her practice. While initially reluctant to create a website, she has since focused on documenting her work as best as possible and is currently thinking through ways of making such representations of her work more interactive: “I still don’t know what this would look like, but as a person who uses touch to understand a lot of the world it seems like a natural step to take.”

Rodrigo Jimenez-Ortega, Pratt 

Rodrigo Jimenez-Ortega, “Sacrifice #1”, 2020, Oil and Gouache on Paper, 9 x 12 inches, (image courtesy the artist)

In his drawings and paintings, Rodrigo Jimenez-Ortega combines Mesoamerican iconography with tropes of pop culture and video games. Nods to the ancient Aztec practice of human sacrifice sit side by side with images of Pikachu and Los Tres Caballeros, referencing the artist’s own upbringing in a “hybrid environment” along the US-Mexico border. He explains, “With my work I position the culture I come from (Mexico), in relation to the culture I grew up in (United States), in relation to the culture I’ve chosen (Video games and Cartoons).”

When asked about the process of adapting his projects to a virtual setting, Jimenez-Ortega said, “I believe this digital presentation functions more like a small sampling of work, than it does an actual exhibition.” While he was disheartened to learn of Pratt’s decision to cancel the MFA exhibitions originally postponed until fall, he’s still holding out some hope for what the online portfolios (and online platforms in general) might be able to do: “I hope that audiences will like what they see — like it enough to follow up and keep looking up what I do.”

Henrike Lendowski, Pratt 

“I am deeply invested in social and environmental themes, such as the protection of endangered species and the fight against plastic pollution,” explains Henrike Lendowski. For her final animation project, the artist drew inspiration from the emotive chords of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 8” to create diminuendo, a moving short film which meditates on the harmful effects of human encroachment on marine habitats.

Pratt’s animation students typically present their final projects as part of a department screening at Brooklyn’s Alamo Drafthouse, offering students a chance to share their work with an audience at a premiere venue. While Lendowski was saddened about this missed opportunity, she also noted the broader reach of online platforms. As she explained, “It’s of course much nicer to be able to interact with others and meet new people in person, but in my opinion, online exhibitions and film festivals moving online also present a lot of possibilities to connect with people from all over the world.”

Na’ye Perez, Pratt 

“I consider my process as a type of remixing, similar to how a sound engineer or producer would sample hooks, beats or choruses to create new music. I collage materials such as Backwoods, Swishers Sweets, magazines, historical archives, and personal memorabilia in conjunction with symbols, colors, and patterns to [frame] my art.” | Na’ye Perez, “Sunsets in Harlem” (2019), acrylic, spray paint, newsprint, newport cartons, plastic packaging, backwoods and Swisher Sweets cigarillos, gel transfers on canvas, 54 x 50 inches (image courtesy the artist)
Na’ye Perez uses painting, drawing, and performance to highlight the everyday intimacy and resiliency of Black communities. Depicting scenes he has observed in Black and brown neighborhoods around New York, including in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, Perez’s brightly hued works exude a quiet grace. For his thesis exhibition, he had planned to incorporate another iteration of his performance work Card Table Convos, which invites audiences to sit down to a game of cards in the gallery and interact with others they might not normally meet. While that won’t be possible anymore, Perez has found his own ways of teasing out opportunities for communal reflection, such as by organizing a virtual artist talk and open mic called “Days Like This.” As he recalled, “It was a moment for people to relax and chill, listen to some dope music, vibe a ‘lil, learn something they may of not thought about and exchange ideas, the community togetherness.”

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