Master’s candidates showcase thesis work in offbeat exhibition

By Grace Hauck

“Phallic symbols on the wall that are flaccid and portraits of old guys with a bear—it’s weird right?” Camille Morgan, Curatorial Coordinator of Logan Center Exhibitions, said with a laugh in response to the art of MFA student Zachary Harvey.

Go Away, Ghost Ship!, the Logan Center’s most recent exhibit (closing today), was, indeed, a bit strange. This first of two student-curated MFA Thesis Exhibitions of 2015 opened at the end of April as a collaboration between Logan Center Exhibitions and the Department of Visual Arts. It showcased the works of four graduating artists: Zachary Harvey, Autumn Elizabeth Clark, Sara Rouse, and Alex Calhoun.

The title of the exhibit, taken from the name of a 1969 Scooby Doo episode, reflected the unifying theme of the artistic motivations of the exhibiting students: to translate the invisible into something creative yet inherently personal. For many visitors, however, Harvey’s take on the invisible was easily the most noticeable installation in the gallery. It had shock value.

“My work probes and celebrates the nature of desire, as it relates to masculinity within our culture. I approach art making as time for serious play, reflection, and experimentation. I embrace libidinal impulses, find pleasure in color and texture, and question the framing of a work within the larger field,” Harvey said in the artist statement accompanying his works.

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Harvey’s installation—an unruly collage of bright paint, clothing, sculpture, scraps, and furniture—occupied an entire corner and featured two live components: a television screen showing a white male slowly and deliberately accumulating objects in his white underwear and a nude, middle-aged man lounging on a fluffy white bed (the live feed of whom was constantly on display in the middle of the Logan Café). Harvey’s unusual contrast between the frank exposure—perhaps even glorification—of a stereotypically undesirable and hidden male form against a childishly sucrose stage was bizarre and humorous, yet ultimately unsettling. It was like a clubhouse for toddlers… for a middle-aged man.

“In championing what may seem commonplace or undesirable, I hope to confuse and subvert normal expectations of beauty, fashion, and taste, and push my subjectivity onto the viewer,” Harvey said in an e-mail.

Morgan expressed a similar view: “I think when you do see a male figure of that age in modern culture, it’s not with a playful approach; it’s more serious. But these are old guys just being themselves, literally a stripping down of honesty.”

While this piece may have struck a lighthearted cord with some, this peculiar—verging on twisted—experiment made me distinctly uncomfortable.

The works of Clark also flirted with the theme of invisible repressions masked by the lighthearted, and she furthered this idea with a visual contemplation on memory. Her works included an array of drawings, photography books, and wallpaper—a collection she titled Underneath. She sees her wallpaper strips as concealing skins that obscure the true wall

“The wallpaper draws on the first line of Mary Howitt’s poem ‘The Spider and the Fly’—the colors and patterns seemingly innocent until one comes closer and looks at what makes up the patterns. The appearance of something good until it’s further investigated to truly be seen for what it really is, violence in a domestic space,” Clark said in an email.

Trapped in a web of unassuming sculpture and domestic furniture that resembled a funky, spread-out living room, I was surprised to recognize the menacing undertones spread throughout the entire exhibit. “If the walls could bleed then everyone would know what had happened, and the more one sweeps the dirt under the carpet the bigger the mountain grows,” Clark said in her artist statement.

The peaceful, organic works of Rouse, however, granted me solace amidst an increasingly spine-chilling exposé. Rouse chose to explore the invisible through the creation of otherworldly landscapes. Her elegant arrangements of natural elements—such as wood, rock, muslin, dye, salt, plaster, and cement—harken back to lunar terrain and the depths of the sea. Soft blue drapes hover above and along the landscapes, lending fluidity to their grainy bases.

One notices her reverence for the power of nature in her artist statement: “I find a tension between the feelings of ecstatic hubris and crippling humility. In many ways I orient myself as a user in a world of materials, technology and applications but then I see a forming storm, or lose electricity, or can’t seem to rationalize the scale of geologic time, climate change or a black hole, and I am small again, not a user but just another form.”

Morgan was sure to highlight the work of Calhoun as well: “I feel like what might get lost in the noise is Alex’s work, just because the scale of her work is so small. There is a nautical feel to them for me. She used a lot of wood, found objects, some netting. Hers is probably the most enigmatic for me.”

Spread throughout the gallery yet still hidden, Calhoun’s pieces were simple and delicate—I had to take care not to step on her various sculptures laid on the ground. Her naturalistic materials and streamlined designs masterfully bridged the alien terrains of Rouse and the manufactured furniture of Harvey. In her artist statement, Alex said, “I’m interested in abstraction as a way to synthesize material and form into something that pushes on the edges of our expectations surrounding form and use as it relates to our world.”

This MFA Thesis Exhibition marked the culmination of years of artistic inquiry for these four maturing students. In an email, Clark said, “A faculty member I admire calls our MFA exhibition our “debutant ball,” and in many ways I would agree that this is what Go Away, Ghost Ship! has meant to me in relation to my artistic career. Having gone through the rigors of academic classes and intense critiques to now be equipped and ready to continue my academic and artistic practice in the world.”

For a debutante ball, it was a pretty unsettling affair, yet the artists managed to transform the invisible—however, weird, foreign, or ambiguous—into the tangible, the real, and the beautiful (with phallic symbols aplenty).

If you missed Go Away, Ghost Ship!, stay tuned for Trapped in Acapulco, Logan’s second MFA Thesis Exhibition of 2015 running May 22 through June 14. This show will feature the works of David Lloyd, Richard Williamson, Tori Whitehead, Carris Adams and will kick off with a reception on Friday, May 22 from 6–8 p.m.