When I first turned up at 205 Hudson Gallery in Tribeca for part two of the Hunter College MFA thesis exhibition, I thought I was in way over my head and simply didn’t read enough art theory to decipher what was before me. That anxiety crept up when I passed through the gallery’s vestibule as a circular speaker pumped symphonic melodies between two glass doors, and mounted when I stepped into the quiet gallery and felt like I was in a backrooms simulation of a skeletal Bed Bath & Beyond liquidation sale. The exhibition, titled Worms, A Good Business Model, felt exceptionally liminal with its sparse attendance at 3pm on a Wednesday coupled with the featured works’ stripped-back aesthetics compared to the first part of the show a few weeks ago.

But that breathing room and its accompanying silence conveyed the mutual respect shared between this cohort of five artists whose featured works grappled with the meaning of containment. Through the handy exhibition text and checklist, I learned that the instrumental accost in the vestibule was artist Liza Lacroix’s compilation of music collected from famous visual artist biopics, and suddenly everything wasn’t so serious anymore. And it really wasn’t, as Lacroix told me that the sound installation was inspired by the Getty Center Tram in Los Angeles as well as the waiting line to enter Universal Studios.

Liza Lacroix, “Funeral Song 1-6” (2023), packing tape, MP3 players, headphones, holographic sticker

For this exhibition, Lacroix traded in her paintbrushes and canvases for emotion and intimacy as her mediums through sound work. Across the gallery floors, Lacroix placed several black and red headphones plugged into MP3 players with the same sound composition, “Funeral song 1-6,” a lo-fi recording of her singing along to “Let It Loose” by the Rolling Stones — a song connected to a very personal memory — several times in a row. Even with the audio’s voicemail-like crunchiness, the privacy of the headphones let me hear every hitch in Lacroix’s breath, every wet sniffle, and every crack in her voice over the playback of the song on repeat. I sat on a transparent, holographic square adhered to the gallery floor and listened in full, either stunned by this vulnerability or blissfully unaware of my free will to move from that one spot where I found the MP3 player lying.

“There are so many callbacks to contained spaces — both public and private,” Jared Friedman said to me during a group discussion as all of the artists happened to be present that day. Friedman’s large paintings and small sculptures, an ode to the unremarkable, traced the perimeter of the gallery’s two windowless rooms. Friedman’s fixation with the mundane manifested in puzzlingly detailed paintings of breeze blocks, public bathroom stalls, and takeout containers bolstered by cement mold casts of the latter. The sculptures were displayed either like prized trophies that merited great importance, or left behind and alone as we usually find their literal counterparts. Friedman materially plugs any recesses in these rendered objects, saturating them with a physical and metaphorical weight that has us questioning our relationship with the overlooked and overproduced.

On a similar note, Fulbright scholar Andreia Santana’s series of welded steel and slump-molded glass panel sculptures, Roof of the Mouth #1-6 (2023), fossilizes the imprints of New York City’s residents. Working at a much smaller scale than usual, Santana imbued her glass with puckers, squiggles, and speckles that emulate the greasy smears of human touch before pinching them into her steel scaffoldings crafted from the image of her surroundings. “Every day I pass through these scaffoldings and construction sites, and I take notes on and photos of the text and graffiti and even toys left behind,” Santana told me. “And the idea was to have the glass melt on top of those forms and shapes to fossilize them so you don’t see the object, but you see a time when the object was once there.” What I really enjoyed was the evidence of Santana’s hand despite the implied sterility of the employed materials.

Rafael Yaluff, “Sunset 1” and “Sunset 2” (2023), oil on canvas (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

In rejecting the rectangular binary of a standard canvas, painter Rafael Yaluff embarked on a Sisyphean task of creating irregularly shaped stretchers to fasten his canvas cloth. In “Sunset 1” and “Sunset 2” (2023), Yaluff’s meticulously crafted individual stretchers are made up of odd angles, curvatures, and dents that ultimately fit back together as a whole rectangular puzzle, leading me to ask why he went through all that effort in the first place. “I feel very attracted by the unnecessary,” Yaluff told me. “When I’m making paintings, I feel that I am inside that rectangle trying to figure out the image. But if I’m trying to do something to a painting, I feel it becomes an object, and I needed that sense of freedom.”

David Thonis’s “Houses” (2023), constructed from MDF, plywood, and concrete vibration motors (video Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

Designer David Thonis’s kinetic works validated the exhibition’s minimalism as their sounds bounce off the white walls and concrete floors of the gallery. With a background in furniture design, Thonis strays from the rigidity of utilitarianism and addresses the planned obsolescence of material goods through dimensional examinations of futility and uselessness. There are MDF houses that vibrate on the floor so violently that they fall apart, a leaning cedar shelving structure that rhythmically threatens to fall forward from the wall because of a rotating, jagged acrylic “wheel,” and an amorphous yellow device whose only motion is a slow-spinning disc. This playful futility is woven through Thonis’s video work as well by having the viewer address the origins of conspiracy in the urge to find something out of nothing.

What’s fascinating about Worms, A Good Business Model is that it’s a living, breathing exhibition. Things move around, displays shift at the whims of the artists, and sounds reverberate off the viewer and through the gallery. That initial apprehension I felt dissolved when I considered how the featured work behaved much like organs that make up a body — each serving its own function in support of the success of a whole.

Worms, A Good Business Model will be on view through Tuesday, May 23 at 205 Hudson Gallery in Manhattan. Do yourself a favor and talk to the artists, and don’t forget to look under the stairs :~)

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...