The Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition provides second-year graduate students the opportunity to display a body of work defining their artistic vision. Each student artist’s culminating work is an exhibit of its own, brought together within the walls of Stamps Gallery. The theme and namesake of the exhibition, “Close But Not Touching,” allows each artist to further display their individuality through the perceived meaning of that simple phrase. Mikayla Buford, an Art & Design sophomore and gallery assistant, said the “Close But Not Touching” theme is especially relevant today after two years of isolation. Each artist’s body of work addresses the complications of unity and isolation in many forms.
Upon entering the first room, Nick Azzaro delineates the theme of exclusion in white chalk defining “undoctrination” as “the unlearning of whitewashed history.” His work speaks to the nature of American education through a visual of a torn American flag concealing a confederate flag and a massive sculpture of what appears to be a desk. However, as the viewers near the curious desk, it becomes a mass of Ku Klux Klan hoods. The collection is a hard-to-shake and direct questioning of American values.
The next room continues to address the political and cultural systems of isolation and exclusion. In a documentary film titled “Sanctuary, Purgatory,” director Razi Jafri addresses themes of unity, exclusion and loneliness in the refugee experience. His work, displayed in a dark theater, is a long and in-depth look into the life of a Yemeni refugee in South Korea, separated from his family across the global diaspora. The intimate relationship between director and man allows for a stunning emotional connection of viewer to film.
Leaving the theater, Georgia b Smith’s exhibition immerses you in a new world. “Cavernous Bodies” combines sculptures, robotic and mechanical materials and video recordings of dance. The diverse collection of work addresses what the artist calls the “sensation of privileged separateness” while plunging the viewer into a strange, robotic world that hardly distinguishes the human form from inorganic material.
Throughout the gallery’s rooms, artists meld and redefine the mediums of art. Natalia Rocafuerte connects film, radio audio, mural, animation and vinyl pressing in “Dream Machine Archive.” Using psychology-based questioning, Natalia’s “DREAM HOTLINE” encouraged American immigrants to describe their dreams in a series of guided and emotive questions. Natalia then converted the dreams into a dreamlike, all-encompassing digital art exhibition. As Natalia blurs the lines between dream and reality, her work begs further examination of unity and isolation in the immigrant experience.
The next room provides a surprisingly overwhelming sense of calm. In “a wind from noplace,” artist Kristina Sheufelt addresses the connections between humans and the landscape. Behind a beautiful natural landscape, Sheufelt displays video footage of people interacting with the landscape. The heartbeat and brain waves of the subjects shake digitized grasses and a flowing brook. Through mechanical engineering and physiological analysis, “a wind from noplace” allows viewers to connect to the serene natural world. Sheufelt proves that truly modern art is the opposite of impersonal.
Entering the next room, “tide pool room: a love story,” feels much like diving into a deep sea. A poem at the entrance reads: “it’s a paradox: the closer you get, the more you realize true closeness is impossible.” The entrance also holds copies of artist Ellie Schmidt’s “Two Stories,” a combination of facts about natural life and a narrative of a beautiful and painful relationship. The artist displays a long film of Alaska’s beautiful coral reefs as viewers sit, watch and read in bean bag chairs and homemade hammocks. As composer Julie Zhu’s calming score plays and flowing water softly bubbles, the pain of feeling “close but not touching” permeates everything.
The final display returns to the theme of historical connection and isolation. Martha Daghlain’s “a thousand circlets” explores what the artist calls an “alternate asynchronous romanticism” toward nature. Daghlain’s art dismantles romanticism plainly through kaleidoscopic tapestries and collaged fiber works. The artist further depicts the complex relationship between humans and nature through a stunning video poem.
Each unique display in “Close But Not Touching” reminds viewers of how much we are linked and isolated. Leaving the gallery, one may never feel so lonely or connected again.
Close But Not Touching: The 2022 MFA Thesis Exhibition will be on view through April 30, 2022.
Daily Arts Writer Kaya Ginsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.