Justin Plakas' artwork is on display at the LDSOA through Apr. 13.
Anxieties about industrial destruction of both the environment and our humanity are now long established as part of our modern psychological landscape. Stories about nuclear meltdowns, oil spills and corporate “personhood” as the everyman’s biggest bully have been making headlines the last few years, all while the Lamar Dodd School of Art MFA class of 2012 have been creating new artwork. The culmination of their close observation and sensitive reflection is on display now in the art school galleries in one of the strongest, and darkest, MFA Exit Shows in recent years.
I must admit a love of dramatic installation work and was pleased to see several ambitious projects in sculpture and sound design in the exhibition. On the first floor, one is greeted by Adam Bodine’s “What You Say”: a giant phonograph horn on wheels made of oxidized metal. For all its grandeur in scale, it is a silent monument, and this speaks volumes. I was tempted to shout something into it to see if it would resonate throughout the building, but, in the end, pricked up my ears to the odd underwater sounds emanating from PVC tubes nearby. Climbing the walls of the industrial warehouse-styled interior, Ernesto R. Gomez’s installation “Long Channeled Tones” is almost invisible. You have to hear it before you can identify what is the installation and what is just part of the gallery space. The sounds reminded me of a creaking, sinking ship: something drowning and groaning under pressure. This melding of art and art space makes for a clever commentary on the institution of formal education.
Inside Gallery 101 are more installation works which extend the industrial/institutional critique in different ways. Justin Klocke’s “Spending Eternity/ Victims of Convenience” is comprised of green foam sprouts piping in audio. The sculpture creates a soundscape of car ignitions and traffic noise, elevators and other machines that, while making life easier for us, contribute to the environmental problems we must live with at our own expense. The feeling of mechanical pollution is enhanced by Ben McKee’s “Infusing Meaning.” McKee’s dark metal-and-glass sculpture houses a contraption that sprays motor oil onto a moving platform filled with broken light bulbs. A little bit steampunk and a little bit auto-Pollock, the machine presents us with a new way of painting, as the oil pours over the white bulbs and paints them with drips and spills. The artist’s hand is absent here, replaced with a machine that is programed to keep painting and recycling over and over.
Imagining a world in which you are absent is also the subject of Lauren Cunningham’s engraved paper-and-pastel panels, “Tomorrow.” The panels spell out the word FUTURE, but with the U and R missing from the sequence. Here is a future from which U R absent, a play on text-speak that carries a serious message. Upstairs, Justin Plakas presents images in which all of the subjects’ faces are covered by blankets like ghosts. Faceless and anonymous, they are everyone and no one at once.
Akin to McKee’s piece, which combines industrial materials with a comment on the act of mark-making, Grace Zuniga’s charcoal-and-resin “painting” covers one wall in black sludge like cooled lava. I loved this piece as a comment on process and artistic ritual; you imagine how it developed and changed to become its current form. This record of the act of painting reminded me of Richard Sera’s flung-metal work, but with a new contribution as something that might be termed “geologic abstraction.”
Deanna Kamal creates another kind of geological formation with “Collosphaera.” In this complex installation which could be compared to stalactites, video and painting form a kind of grotto. Plastic discs cut into flower-like shapes create daisy-chain funnels with petals cut into the muted gray-and-blue material. A pretty pattern decorates the inside of these shapes, which means one has to get close and peek in to see. This act draws the viewer into the center of the installation where he/she will be in position to regard a gorgeous swirl of clouds and light projection in waves which create a feeling like being inside an abstract cloudscape, or under a microscope as the title implies.
Otherwordly indeed is Robin Reif’s ceramic tableau of pink fingers and teeth like cast-off parts from a human-cloning experiment gone awry; they crawl over a dining table, skitter across the wall and hold a New Testament and rosary. The scene would look like the family reunion of Thing from "The Addams Family" if it weren’t so menacing.
I have admired Kyungmin Park’s ceramic sculptures for a while now and looked forward to seeing her work in the exhibition. Two pieces in particular were of interest: the speckled acrobats “Hostile” and “Taken.” (See the Mar. 28 Flagpole cover.) These figures are imaginary beings who look like girls, but may be from another planet. Park captures movement and expression in remarkable ways, and left me staring at a particularly well-articulated elbow, for example, while also engulfed in the narrative possibility of the sculptures.
The MFA exhibit includes much more to see and enjoy, from Phil Jasen’s explorations of sexual anxieties in beautifully rendered drawings and watercolor to Laura Mullen’s sci-fi jewelry constructed of gears and rubber to Kathleen Massey Hendrick’s giant tangle of an installation “Play” and Jessica McVey’s playful multimedia works which recycle condoms into clouds. See artwork by these artists plus the work of five more MFA candidates through Apr. 13.