In a school that’s constantly bursting with creative energy, exhibitions of student talent, through performance, music, visual arts, or otherwise, are hardly a rarity. In keeping with this fashion, the senior art thesis exhibitions reflected the level of innovation and originality that everyone knows our student community is capable of reaching.
In contrast to other performances, however, each year these exhibitions stand out due to their level of formality. As opposed to plays thrown together by a group of students who put on a couple productions each semester, or a piece from a Studio Art major’s required course, these are projects into which soon-to-be graduates have poured an entire year’s worth of their college education. And it shows; the ingenuity, uniqueness, and polish of each piece never fail to shine through, as each artist’s investment in their project manifests in a masterful, gallery-ready work of art.
This year’s projects, which have gone up four or five at a time in weekly installments over the past three weeks, cover an immeasurable range of artistic exploration. Some are deeply entrenched in logic, planning, and mathematical manipulation, while others are more abstract and heady. Many took geometry as their dominant topic, subjecting different shapes to various manipulations, repetitions, and serialization.
In one instance of geometric artistry by Rebecca Brand ’16, there was a piece, entitled “ex situ,” which explored city planning, laying out small geometric shapes that are actually aerial views of cities. These black outlines appeared in neat lines on seven risen platforms that were lit from below, thus lending a scientific feel to the piece. Additionally, “ex situ” used cut-out pieces of rich green turf, also in distinctly geometric formations, arranged on the floor in the small hallway that led into the main room in which the rest of the work was displayed.
In a similarly architectural piece, Evan Ortiz ’16 took the designs of renowned architect John Hejduk, who rarely saw the actualization of his ideas, and subjected them to his own systems and manipulations. The result was a large, gray structure that walked the line between object and architecture, simultaneously taking up space and creating it.
“Most of [Hejduk’s] work has never made it past paper, and he exists as a very prominent drawing, theoretical, conceptual architect,” Ortiz explains. “This piece is me taking his intentions through drawing, perverting them through my systems, and then having them come to life.”
Each week, the first room in Zilkha bore doors with blacked-out windows to display filmic works that took advantage of darkness to create immersive environments. One such piece, entitled “Volume Zero” and created by Milo Farley ’16, employed six screens placed one behind the other, each screen larger than the one suspended in front of it. Projected onto the screens was a nebulous blue pattern that moved hazily as observers walked through the space between the screens or watched, mesmerized, amidst the all-consuming darkness of the room.
The next week’s set of exhibitions filled this first room with the work of Sophie Becker ’16, who displayed various videos of herself in costume blending into and moving within various backgrounds: a football field, a clothing store, and a swimming pool, to name a few.
“It’s just therapeutic,” Becker shrugs in explaining the inspiration for the project. “Some people meditate to feel better or feel more calm, but I just have to get into a costume and get up against something. I always have been drawn to looking exactly like the space that I’m in.” (At this moment, the six-foot-two artist glances down at her stunningly bright orange flare pants.) Ironic or not, the work itself does anything but blend in, reveling in all its quirkiness and abnormality.
Other works of art engaged directly with the medium in which they were rendered, altering it and playing with, or even defying, its restrictions. One such collection was that of Nathan Harris ’16, entitled “grammar is like a puzzle, you just put the pieces together.” An extensive group of photography-oriented pieces, Harris’ project took photography to new heights, adding dimensional components to the traditionally flat medium.
Caroline MacNeille ’16 also redefined traditional artistic materials in her aptly named piece, “Paintings,” which portrayed canvases of varying scale, dimensions, and depths, sometimes adjacent and other times spaced far apart from each other. Each canvas bore indistinct patterns that MacNeille had devised based on how light appeared on different surfaces.
“The varying in depth and scale is to imply…this kind of repetition and reforming of the subject matter,” MacNeille explained. “The subjects get reformed, and they constantly build and change, but the forms and the patterns are always the same, and the variation implies a vast space with different depths.”
In a similar abstraction of images found in the real world, the largest piece of the work done by Zach Scheinfeld ’16, called “down, where they walk,” portrayed a sort of aquatic landscape, which he displayed in a series of adjacent, scroll-like panels on the wall, some of the pieces unfurling onto the ground and thus engaging and grounding the viewer spatially. The work originated in his drawings of water surfaces, which didn’t end up in the final show, but which inspired him to create more landscape-oriented, large-scale pieces out of small environments and what he calls “micro textures.”
“My project went from just drawing textures to making landscapes from textures,” Scheinfeld recounts. “The three major ones were water, wood grain, and fingers/fingerprints. Printmaking was helpful because it allowed me to separate the landscape elements—textures, horizon lines, figures, sky—into different plates that I could layer and reconfigure to create new landscapes and abstract spaces.”
In an even more unusual employment of materials, Rachel Fox ’16 showcased “Home Improvements,” which deconstructed the domestic sphere, displaying disparate parts of a house, most made primarily of wood and each coated in a layer of clear, cellophane-like vinyl. The piece juxtaposed detailed aspects of a home—a key hanging on a hook, a vase resting on a shelf in front of a mirror—with the separation of each of these parts, providing tension between the space’s emptiness and its intimacy.
In addition to pushing the boundaries of more classic mediums, some students chose to altogether forego the traditional materials of artistic production. Gla M ’16 presented an eclectic group of sculptures, one of which consisted of a large dirt pile with various paraphernalia (including clumps of bright green grass) embedded within. M’s sculptures combined the domestic, natural, and industrial in various fashions, ranging from a flat, wallpapered piece hung on the wall to an arrangement of asphalt slabs on the floor that held a small pool of water at their center.
One especially standout piece was from Sam Ho ’16, “re:,” which comprised two parts. On one wall hung a large-scale drawing that formed a map of Lima (Ho’s hometown) made of dotted words that spelled out text from e-mails Ho had received from airlines. The other, slightly more eye-catching component was three sides of a low wall made from bricks and hollowed-out wax in the shape of bricks. Both pieces came together to express a structural instability, the dots exuding a punched-out quality and the incomplete-looking wall relying mainly on hollow, fragile bricks made of wax.
“I’m interested in how you communicate a sense of place in different ways,” Ho says of both pieces of the work, “and also in different kinds of punctures, visually and formally.”
This last set of installments will remain in Zilkha throughout this week, and starting May 21, the gallery will display one piece that each student has selected of his or her work. Even if you missed the stunning cheese plates at each weekly reception, I promise the art is worth going for as well.