Last Thursday, April 20, Hunter College’s MFA program held its opening reception for Estuary, the first of two thesis exhibitions for the cohort of 12 MFA candidates. Seven artists have their thesis work on display throughout 205 Hudson Gallery in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, on view until May 2. Curated by the artists themselves, Estuary showcases several bodies of work that both stand alone and function together harmoniously through sensitive material selections and candid presentations of one’s impact on an environment and vice versa.
Stepping through the gallery’s vestibule, I stood beneath a looming, floor-to-ceiling installation by Eiko Nishida. Comprised of hundreds of newspapers in different languages and blank sheets of newsprint paper fastened around a chickenwire armature, “The Worlds We Live In” (2023) illustrates Nishida’s interest in how information is conveyed worldwide. An editorial graphic designer by day in Japan, Nishida is captivated by the manner in which the same event and its surrounding facts can be altered or shaped by the language in which it’s told. Taking into account differing grammatical structures, tones, and other components that contribute to varying accounts and receptions of current events, the artist pays mind to print periodicals as an increasingly obsolete form of media, as well as the ways in which we selectively cast aside bits of information. Nishida applied mylar decals cut to the same size as newspaper spreads and folded sheets on the floor beneath her suspended installation in an allusion to the unceremonious physical and mental disposal of current events.
On the left-hand side of the gallery, Corinne Bernard’s graphite panel and paper works radiate alongside jiwoong’s (the student preferred to identify by first name only) mixed-media print installation that delves into memory and family dynamics. Bernard’s mastery of graphite, most welcome during what I consider an unofficial graphite revival period in visual arts, is propped up by her efforts to decipher the starting point of the universe through an appreciation for symmetry and elements of sacred geometry in both natural and imagined occurrences. The playful energy emanating from jiwoong’s high-contrast cyanotype prints that stud the walls and doors of the gallery bounce off of Bernard’s drawings before getting sucked into the vortex of his tense and mature black-and-white wall-adhering photography.
Paul Anagnostopoulos’s vivid work offers a new take on ancient Greek aesthetics through a contemporary queer filter. The artist’s graphic approach to his paintings and decorative pottery is surprisingly influenced by old-school video games and their use of gradient backgrounds to indicate depth in an environment. Anagnostopoulos’s foray into dimensional storytelling honors the ancient Greek histories and mythologies that were rendered on pots and vases in the interest of “thinking in the round” rather than within a singular snapshot frame. Adjacent to Anagnostopoulos was Ashlyn Diaz’s monumental ode to the Florida coast by means of reclamation and care. Diaz extracts both materials and histories from her evolving practice by repurposing old artwork and other collected objects for her newfound papermaking craft rooted in diasporic healing.
Two artists whose works stood out to me the most were Lauryn Welch and Jordany Genao. Welch’s section showcased six paintings and a live-action short film centered on her and her partner’s relationship with regard to to her partner’s life with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue abnormality that results in hypermobility, chronic pain, and frequent joint dislocation. Co-directed by Eloise Sherrid, Welch’s film “The Body is a House of Familiar Rooms” (2021) incorporates her painting practice into the domestic environment through chroma-keying and omitting elements of the set background, designing a playful, comforting new world within the home that doesn’t seem as small for those who might be confined in it. Welch’s film is complemented by a series of four large continuous paintings on wet-sanded primed canvas, evoking the texture of Yupo paper in its slick impermeability. Through a muted, neutral palette swiped and bristled decisively across the surfaces, Welch renders a conglomeration of homes she and her partner have occupied over the decade and emphasizes the way these spaces are used and restructured to best serve them.
Jordany Genao’s three-dimensional practice is rich with references to their Arawak-Taíno ancestry. Hailing from the Dominican Republic with a background in botanical studies, Genao incorporates culturally relevant organic materials in their sculptures and installations and deliberately employs these materials in their various forms. Some of these materials include cassava leaves and flour; banana peels, flowers, and silk fiber; corn husks; and bija powder. Genao cleverly emphasizes queerness and politely topples the colonial hegemonies that have erased and suppressed Indigeneity by honoring these byproducts with beauty and care. “The banana flower is very symbolic of a Caribbean space,” Genao told me, “but also a very sexual space, and I wanted to incorporate more homoerotic imagery in my work.” Genao’s works are gentle, but deeply engaging in their material histories and subversive approach to re-Indigenizing one’s cultural immersion.
I must say that a majority of the information I’ve shared about Estuary wasn’t readily available by viewing alone, but through the privilege of speaking with five of the seven artists onsite. During my first pass, I felt a bit out of sorts trying to connect with the exhibition without any context and dismissed some of the work that wasn’t inherently accessible at face value. It was by chance alone that I was able to speak with the artists who shared all of themselves with me, enabling me to foster a connection with each of the works that I can now appreciate in totality because of their insights. My only wish is that everyone else who pays Estuary a visit can experience it the way I did so that they don’t hesitate to peel back the layers of decision-making, medium exploration, and storytelling throughout the body of works.