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Are we living together again, or still existing in isolation? This question comes to mind while perusing the School of Visual Arts (SVA) MFA Fine Arts thesis exhibition, Here Together. The immersive show, open for just 10 days, features the work of 25 artists across multiple floors of 79 Warren Street in Tribeca. Each artist’s work blends into another’s seamlessly, representing a range of media from painting and sculpture to documentary footage and readymades. 

The pandemic occupied much of the candidates’ final year, forcing them to create their thesis projects in quarantine. But these artists nonetheless looked outside the temporary crisis to address larger social issues that continue to resonate. Here are some highlights from the show:

Alyssa Freitas, “Living on Lite” (2021), video installation and custom software, dimensions variable

In “Living on Lite,” Alyssa Freitas curates an insular, padded room of secluded self-reflection. A tiny flash drive in a jar appears on a pedestal and in a video installation promoting a diary app designed by the artist. On the wall, a QR code ingeniously leads to a video walkthrough. The distinctions between reality and advertising feel blurry here, hinting at the innovative yet toxic roles of tech and social media.

A friendly blackbird peeks from between blades of tall grass in Dan Xie’s playful mixed media piece, “Hiding in the Grass for a Peace.” Nearby, another work shows this same bird peering through a windowsill, its gaze piercing through a batch of fake flowers over the pane. Xie made friends with the birds outside her window throughout the last year, and these works speak to the poetic humility found in nature.

Dan Xie, “Hiding in the Grass for a Peace” (2021). Acrylic on canvas, fake grasses, fake plants, glitter powder, plastic pieces. 79 x 39 x 40 inches

Internet artist XiangLong Li critiques US foreign policy on China through his video Learning Chinese with XiangLong. Instructional and absurdist, it uses highly pixelated block figures to present mock lessons on Chinese idioms. Li interweaves photos of Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo beneath the flag of the Chinese Communist Party, inserting racist news headlines from the pandemic outbreak in early 2020. The elementary nature of the piece emphasizes the skewed understanding of China that US propaganda imposes on its population.

XiangLong Li, detail from “Learning Chinese with XiangLong – A Collection of Chinese Idioms” (2021). Video.

A set of plush and plastic stalactites hangs from the ceiling in a mixed media sculpture by Kristian Battell. The artist gathered a month’s worth of plastic water bottles from one family member, inserting them between colorful cones of stuffed newspaper. Titled “Anthropocene Cavern,” the work calls attention to the built world forming from human waste and the gradual erosion of geological formations.

Kristian Battell, “Anthropocene Cavern” (2021). Plastic water bottles collected from one family over the course of one month, plastic tape, newspaper, plain newsprint, wheatpaste, matte medium, original silkscreens printed on lokta paper. 9 x 12 x 2 feet

An impressive readymade installation by Boyang Yu occupies the entire back wall of the top floor. A wooden chair, pieces of lumber, a handsaw, an apron, and other pieces of debris float in place, suspended on wire cables in a moment of sheer disarray. The disparate pieces form a shadow of a tree against the back wall of the gallery — a mere illusion of stability — while the overall composition evokes the chaos and uncertainty of our contemporary era.

Here Together continues at 79 Warren Street, Tribeca through June 20. The exhibition was curated by María del Carmen Carrión.

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Billy Anania

Billy Anania is an editor, critic, and journalist in New York City whose work focuses on political economy in the cultural industries and the history of art in global liberation movements.