MFA students showcase their creations
There is an alien world in the subterranean depths of Doherty Hall, a world in which fine arts students feverishly try to imbue their creations with artistic spirit. Last week, a chunk of that world was excavated for the rest of campus to see.
Basement Miracle, the 2013 master of fine arts thesis exhibition, opened last Friday in the Miller Gallery in the Purnell Center for the Arts. The MFA thesis exhibit, organized annually by the School of Art, features the work of graduating master of fine arts students and offers an opportunity for the students to display their work in a professional gallery exhibition open to the public.
The exhibit, which consists mainly of sculptures and installations, spans all three floors of the Miller Gallery. The works use a variety of media and touch upon many different subjects, although there are some common themes such as the integration of technology and science. The exhibition draws a sizable crowd of both Carnegie Mellon students and the greater public.
The first floor of the exhibit showcases an installation by Erin Womack called “Guardian of the Threshold,” which consists of a dark room with a shifting face projected onto the screen and three African masks protruding out of the back of the room. The face, demonic in nature, changes in sync to the constant throbs of music in the background, creating a tense mood throughout the room.
The second floor seems to have a broad theme of technology and industrialization. All of the works on this floor feature the use of machinery or engineering.
Luke Loeffler’s works “Bug Out” and “Aqua Vitae” deal with the politics of alcohol and seem designed to give off an industrial aesthetic. “Bug Out,” for example, features a contraption that rotates a liquor bottle in a wooden frame. “Aqua Vitae” displays lab materials such as beakers and bottles of chemical compounds.
“Aqua Vitae” also showcases recordings of deep sea vents and three fish swimming in a sink. According to Loeffler, “in some cultures alcohol is considered the water of life. The ocean is also thought of as the birthplace of life, especially deep sea vents. In this piece I’m conflating these two things, and I’m confronting the stereotypes of moonshiners.”
In addition to machines and contraptions, many of the works allow for audience participation as well.
“(Un)bound”, by Felipe Castelblanco, for example, features an air compressor and a device that packages air, allowing viewers to pack and take home their own boxes of air.
Castelblanco described the idea behind the piece: “I was interested in air as public space that is becoming privatized and controlled; even this very common thing, air, is not equally distributed,” he said. “Some air is polluted and some air is fresh. This looks at the world and politics, and what created this social structure.”
Another work that features audience involvement is “Borderland” by Craig Fahner, an installation with coal-filled jars and speakers hanging from the ceiling. The coal serves as radio antennae that change the wave they broadcast depending on how far away they are from someone.
According to Fahner, the piece was inspired by the National Radio Quiet Zone in West Virginia, an area where any device emitting radio waves is illegal due to the black hole research conducted there. On creating the piece, Fahner said, “It took a long time to finish. I planned it in October and I designed the software and electronics for it. It was a long process, but the School of Art had a lot of resources I was able to use to make my own circuit.”
Some works involve neither intricate engineering nor complicated technology but are effective nonetheless. Steve Gurysh’s “The Long Cloud,” for example, is a Geiger meter clicking away before a picture of a patch of desert. It is a simple but nonetheless haunting piece that conveys the dangers involved in nuclear technology.
The third floor only showcases two works, and therefore, there is not as much of a theme. However, the works themselves were still highly interesting. Dan Wilcox’s “Onward to Mars” featured photographs that Wilcox took during his time at the Mars Desert Research Station, where he spent two weeks on a simulated Mars mission, as well as a book he made documenting his thoughts at the time.
According to Wilcox, “I was always interested in Mars and I read all kinds of books about it. But these were all from a macro perspective, and I wanted to see what it’s like for an everyday person to do work and live on Mars.”
Finally, one of the most visually stunning installations in the exhibit is Scott Andrew’s “Gilding the Lily,” an installation filled with elaborately designed oval “mirrors” that show projections of surreal glam monsters. These mirrors, which are also outfitted with speakers, all play at the same time, combining to create a sound akin to chanting. This chanting, together with the fantastic images, makes viewers feel as if they are stepping into some sort of Buddhist Narnia.
“Gilding the Lily” is actually a self-portrait, expressing Andrew’s interests in dance, ideas of gender, and sci-fi/fantasy genres. It is also a reflection of the work he has done over the years. As he explained, “I have been doing a combination of performance and installations, and I have a blend of video and sculpture in this piece. Also, I usually work with performers, but in this I performed as all the characters.”
Although it features few works from only seven artists, Basement Miracle is certainly worth browsing for the sheer originality and variety of subject matter that it offers. Combining different designs, technologies, and a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, Basement Miracle comes together to be something that is unique to Carnegie Mellon.