The Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition offers second-year graduate students the opportunity to exhibit a range of works that define their artistic vision. The culminating work of each student artist is an exhibition in its own right, brought together within the walls of the Stamps Gallery. The exhibition’s theme and namesake, “Close But Not Touching”, allows each artist to further reveal their individuality through the perceived meaning of this simple phrase. Mikayla Buford, a second-year art and design student and gallery assistant, said the Close But Not Touching theme is particularly relevant today after two years of isolation. In many forms, each artist’s work deals with the complications of unity and isolation.
Entering the first room, Nick Azzaro sketches the theme of exclusion in white chalk and defines “undoctrination” as “the unlearning of whitewashed history”. His work addresses the nature of American education through the image of a torn American flag obscuring a Confederate flag and a massive sculpture designed to look like a desk. However, as onlookers approach the inquisitive desk, it becomes a mass of Ku Klux Klan hoods. The collection is an unwavering and direct inquiry into American values.
The next room continues to address the political and cultural systems of isolation and exclusion. In a documentary entitled Sanctuary, Purgatory, director Razi Jafri addresses issues of unity, exclusion and loneliness in the refugee experience. Shown in a dark theater, his work is a long and deep look into the life of a Yemeni refugee in South Korea, separated from his family in the global diaspora. The close relationship between the director and the man allows for a breathtaking emotional connection between the viewer and the film.
As you exit 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 works addresses what the artist calls the “sense of privileged separateness” and immerses the viewer in an alien, robotic world that scarcely distinguishes the human form from inorganic material.
In the gallery spaces, artists merge and redefine the media of art. In the “Dream Machine Archive” Natalia Rocafuerte combines film, radio audio, murals, animation and vinyl pressing. Using psychologically-based questions, Natalia’s “DREAM HOTLINE” encouraged American immigrants to describe their dreams through a series of guided and emotional questions. Natalia then transformed the dreams into a dreamy, all-encompassing digital art exhibition. As Natalia blurs the lines between dream and reality, her work calls for further exploration of unity and isolation in the immigrant experience.
The next room conveys a surprisingly overwhelming sense of calm. In “a wind from noplace” the artist Kristina Sheufelt addresses the connection between people and landscape. Behind a beautiful natural landscape, Sheufelt shows video footage of people interacting with the landscape. The subjects’ heartbeats and brain waves make digitized grasses and a flowing stream tremble. Through mechanical engineering and physiological analysis, “a wind from noplace” allows viewers to connect with the tranquil world of nature. Sheufelt proves that truly modern art is the opposite of impersonal.
Entering the next room, Tide Pool Room: A Love Story, feels like diving into a deep ocean. A poem at the entrance reads, “It’s a paradox: the closer you get, the more you realize that true closeness is impossible.” Also at the entrance are copies of artist Ellie Schmidt’s “Two Stories,” a combination of facts about natural life and a tale of a beautiful and painful relationship. The artist shows a long film of Alaska’s beautiful coral reefs while viewers sit in bean bags and homemade hammocks, watching and reading. As composer Julie Zhu soothing score games and running water softly bubbling, the pain of feeling “close but not touching” permeates everything.
The final exhibition returns to the theme of historical connection and isolation. Martha Daghlain’s A Thousand Circles explores what the artist calls an “alternative asynchronous romance” to nature. Daghlain’s art simply deconstructs Romanticism through kaleidoscopic tapestries and collaged fiberwork. The artist depicts the complex relationship between humans and nature in a breathtaking video poem.
Each unique display in Close But Not Touching reminds viewers of how connected and isolated we are. Stepping out of the gallery may never make you feel so lonely or connected again.
Close But Not Touching: The 2022 MFA Thesis Exhibition runs until April 30, 2022.
Daily art writer Kaya Ginsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.