Now on view at Mills College Art Museum, “Mixed Messages” is this year’s iteration of the College’s annual exhibition featuring the culmination of work by the graduating candidates of the MFA in Studio Art Program. The artwork on view in a wide range of media and approaches by the included emerging artists are not only examples of the exploration into their unique creative interests, it is also symbolic of the two years of research, experimentation, and refinement of their artistic practice. This highly-selective program at Mills College admits only up to 12 students per year, which enables the faculty to work directly with each degree candidate and provides each a large, on-campus studio space for the entirety of the program, steps from facilities and events, programs, and opportunities designed to assist in the development of their practice. Following this year’s theme, “Mixed Messages” invites the public to view the 12 creative responses to “the contradictions and ambivalence of contemporary life.”
Several of the Mills MFA Studio Art graduating students seem to explore the myriad perspectives and concepts of contemporary life through landscape within their artistic practice, implementing interpretations ranging from formal understandings of landscape, like the pastoral and urban, to wider concepts including naturally occurring systems that provide metaphorical understanding of the world. Gwynessa Balvanz’s paintings, sculptures, and installations etch a path to deeper self-awareness through symbolic, organic gestures involving materials plucked from natural processes. One work in which salted water drips down, featuring natural processes of erosion creating new forms for the jawbreaker candy possesses a deeply metaphorical title, “breaking through,” while in another installation Balvanz has scored the drywall into an organic figuration wherein she begins fill it with gold using a pallet knife. Through a process she calls “creative destruction,” Margaret Lawless’ work reflects upon the modern economic landscape that exposes both a desire for and resistance to the novel, as well as new trends replacing the old, the traditional, or obsolescing. Lawless was a recipient of the 2013 Murphy and Cadogan Award, which honors multidisciplinary visual artists from regional Master of Fine Arts programs whose work intersects with emerging trends. In “Mixed Messages” Sarah Beckstrom shares videos that document the process of designing and building a sustainable shipping container home. In this project she seems to engage with natural cyclical processes, deconstruction to reformation, and reuse with this project. Lucienne Silva’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures create an immersive environment and animistic landscape that reflect her consideration of land as figure.
Other artists of the program seem to have delved into the exploration of their chosen material: both their properties, and traditional and innovative uses. These “mixed messages” are perhaps facilitated by experimentation into the methods and material of communication, and how they affect communication itself. Veva Edelson for example uses fundamental art-making materials — pencil on paper, photography — in simple, repeated gestures to explore the visual effects of texture and density. Using charcoal and paint, and by striking, tearing, or cutting the canvas, artist David Mohr creates abstracted artworks that examine the inherent properties of composition: depth and flatness, texture, and color by bringing attention to the canvas and panel surface while suggesting nuances in space and form. Through photography, sculpture, and installation, artist Susan L. Sternberg explores ideas of binaries, highlighting how it creates separation, borders, and dichotomies. Focusing on visual to physical sensations prompted by architecture and its creation of space and place, Heather Engen’s multi-media, large-scale pieces explore the subjective, sensational experience between art and its viewer, manipulated through the surrounding material and forms of that same artwork. Engen was a recipient of the Murphy and Cadogan Award along with Lawless, and was also included in the Murphy and Cadogan Awards group exhibition at SOMArts in September, 2013.
In many ways employing a form of social practice the remaining MFA candidates seem to extract their “mixed messages” directly from life. Eschewing a path involving perhaps more high concept art-making, these group of artists grapple directly with status quo. Using layers of paper and other found surfaces, Dave Young Kim’s large-scale painted artworks, like the one on view at Mills Art Museum: And the Song Was Freedom, It Plays Forevermore implements street-art aesthetics, which include deeply textural surfaces, an intuitive and rapid, almost sketch-like painting method, and subversive socio-political subject matter and commentary. William Koone’s pics or it didn’t happen at the front of the exhibition, seems to aim to deconstruct photography’s current position as both mediator and creator of meaning in experiences. This installation, which includes photographs as well as drawings of popular brand names of cameras and its accessories, also allude to the over-saturation of photography as both advertisement and branding, provoking discussion into the many effects of a voracious image-consuming population, while this same population concurrently contributes to it through the rise of amateur photography and image-sharing through social media. Kate Rhoades’ exhibiting space, including paintings, ‘zines, and video installed as both as listening station and projected upon the wall, examines the absurdity and contradictions of the art world with a wry, comedic angle. Lastly, Kelsey Thorne’s sculptures, drawings, videos, and performances explore the many implications of an excessively addictive athletically-driven lifestyle. Her drawings of exacerbated muscle structure of both men and women, as well as her hand-fashioned, precarious fitness instruments probes further into a seemingly paradoxical notion of manipulating the body to achieve perfection of it, as well as the strong significance placed in today’s society upon outward appearances.
“Mixed Messages” Mills College 2014 MFA Exhibition will be on view through May 25, 2014.