Pillbox

MFA Presentations

How do you present yourself and your artwork in five minutes? Sixteen masters students from the Carnegie Mellon School of Art had to answer this question PechaKucha style round robin this past Friday night. A large audience comprised primarily of professors and students from the School of Art sat below in anticipation. One by one, students went up on stage to give a presentation. Some students followed a structure reminiscent of a college application portfolio review or a lecture, beginning their five minutes by eloquently describing the moments and questions that sparked their research or the major themes as images of their work appeared on screen. Others approached their presentations with refreshing informality.

MFA '17 student, Moses Williams walks onto the stage and grabs a small kitchen chair tucked to the side of the stage and sits down. He begins to describe a memory probably shared by most people in the audience — playing kickball with his sister and the neighborhood kids. Williams then hunches over, rolls up his black pants just past the knee and pushes his sleeves up to the elbow. Then his story no longer feels commonplace. His mother frantically called the children in from the street and informed them she was going to the hospital with their youngest sister whose finger was slammed so hard by the bathroom door it was about to fall off. Williams then grabs a tub; maybe shaving cream or gesso? It's lard. Slipping through his fingers, Williams applies a thick layer of lard onto his legs as he begins the next part of his story. In a moment so still, yet transcendent, he describes standing in front of the mirror in his parents' room sobbing while redefining the part in his hair over and over and over again. He ends by asking the audience to join him in a call-and-repeat song, and the first line, “For seven years I’ve loved” echoes throughout the room transforming into a shared dialogue. The song soon ends. Williams quietly gets up, exits the stage, and suggests that someone else controls the powerpoint. The audience chuckles.

MFA '19 student, Nick Crockett is up next. He quickly goes through slides of his work explaining to the audience that he has a new game for them that will be more interesting than the powerpoint. He talks about games as a way to reframe the world, a medium he considers closer to dance and theater than film. Then he lands on the slide the whole room is waiting for, a yellow flashing gif that reads new game. Two people come up on stage, introduce themselves, and Crockett reads them the objective: the first player to kiss their opponent on the forehead is the winner. The audience roars as the two players begin an awkward tango, grabbing at one another’s knees and backs trying to get them to sink down into an optimal forehead-kissing position.

MFA '17 student, Lee Webster runs up on stage cheering and soon telling the audience about the process of getting into Carnegie Mellon’s competitive MFA program and her life as an orphan. She alternates between three slides: the first is solid black, applause in bold, blue text is written at the bottom of the second slide, laughter in bold, and orange font replaces applause in the third slide. Ironically the audience does not know exactly how to respond, even though Webster projects the laughter slide after stating both her parents are dead. After introducing herself she acknowledges that the audience is probably ready to see her work. Webster fills the remainder of her time with various laughs and exits the stage. Many do not know what to think, still the entire room is mystified and captivated by Webster in the span of five minutes. I overhear two students whispering at the end of the lecture, “I heard that Lee is actually really quiet.”

I went into this presentation thinking I would make an infographic with brief summaries about each MFA student. After witnessing lectures that felt more like a series of stories and calculated first impressions, it became clear summaries would be incomplete at best. Look out for their upcoming shows and expect to be challenged, humored, and impressed by the artists in the MFA program.

The MFA candidates are Shobun Baile, Kevin Brophy, Brittany DeNigris, Hannah Epstein, Lee Webster, Alex Lukas, Adam Milner,Katie Rose Pipkin, Joy Poulard, Gray Swartzel, Moses Williams, Paper Buck, Nick Crockett, Shohei Katayama, Erin Mallea, and Jisoo Yeo.