MFA Thesis Exhibition 2013

When deciphering meaning and context in contemporary art, slowness is an inevitable condition of the process.  It is impossible to know the entire fall-out and expanded periphery of each medium, history, and theoretical position, but there are simple questions that the beholder can ask when confronted with such an incubator of ideas. For example: “What is my experience with this work? Does it challenge the way I think? ” I often ask myself these questions when observing works of art in any situation.  I don’t always have an answer ready when confronting aesthetic proposition, but guesses do percolate over a period of time evolving into an appreciation.

The body in all of its varieties is a compelling subject. Katrina Bello, Emily Harris, and Tobin Rothlein’s thesis work intersect each others on this plane. Katrina Bello is a painter who is haunted by the impact of first experiences and its toll on her own psyche. Bello translates this into painted imprints or traces that are an attempt to recapture the original moment. They may take the form of places or any other phenomena, which is made into a painting.  Emily Harris uses her body to bring the spectator into negotiation with the material and perceptual shifts that she constructs. Harris asks the beholder to consider these relationships through a variety of different materials that include installed objects and a range of media. Tobin Rothlein is interested in the ephemeral moment as captured by video, performed, or rather, interrupted by actors, and dancers. Rothlein chooses these different mediums that act like tools in which he can explore how control and chance can come together to subvert the viewer’s expectations, conventions and traditions in performance art, dance and visual culture .   

Cultural critique arises in many forms. Jonathan Taylor, Tamara Cedre, Sarah Koljonen, and Davin Watne expose the artifice of politics, class, and culture. Jonathan Taylor writes literary prose and takes compelling photographs that pull back the ideological curtain of the early 21st century in America. Taylor’s investigations are a gripping testament to the thinly veiled power structures that lay behind the social relations of class and the growing inequalities of our shared contemporaneity.Tamara Cedre is a photographer who is interested in the evocative construction of portraits. Here, she reveals women in their vernacular environs. These arresting images are challenged by Cedre’s pairing of her photographs with that of film. This proposition asks, “does photography lose its transcendence in the face of each passing moment as it is functionally challenged by the temporal qualities of film? “ Sarah Koljonen explores epistemological forms and acts of knowledge exchange with communities and individuals in non-academic spaces. Koljonen adeptly manipulates the very technology that is used by the global mass itself in an effort to extract valuable content from the noise of technology. This gesture communicates a juxtaposed third meaning of the original source content that is suppressed by a multitude of different ideological structures: the general media, investors, and other parties. Davin Watne is a painter and sculpture that interrogates the social conditioning of desire in its myriad of cultural materials. By constructing, blending, and stretching these materials into and out of shape, Watne exposes these obsessions for what they are: commodity fetishes. By making them strange to the spectator, Watne demystifies their constructed naturalization to awaken the beholder to reconsider their own relationship with cultural commodities and the spectacle that they cast over society.

Materiality is one of the most important aspects to contemporary art. It’s how the beholder can determine whether a work of art is theatrical, literal or transcends its materiality. Jeff Hensley, Brendan Hughes and Dan Lovallo explore this each with a different set of concerns and material choices. Jeff Hensley is a painter who explores the intersection of the metaphysical window of the picture through a variety of materials, such as: gold, mud, ash, painting supports, architecture and light in various forms and spatial relations. This unique arrangement enables the viewer to make assumptions about meaning and their relation to the experience of the materials, the intent of the painter, and the space around them. Brendan Hughes is sculptor who is interested in why some objects that are a part of our everyday existence are built in the way they are. Why is one particular construction and material method chosen over another? Hughes constructs mass produced objects by hand in order to create forms that have no purpose and no static composition. Dan Lovallo is a professor of behavioral science who uses algorithmic equations to construct his own natural phenomenon using three dimensional printing maps, and other various 3-D media. Lovallo’s work holds a mirror up to the mathematical functionality of nature. His sculptures seem to ask the beholder – is this nature or is this art?

The class of 2013’s thesis work moves well beyond the typical conventions of Modern Art and explodes the old ideas of what it means to be an artist. These graduate students courageously take on non-artistic techniques in order to break through the space that conventional mediums once held in their own singular way and signal a massive shift towards a contemporaneity in which everything and anything can be used as a material or proposition towards the making of art. I invite you, the beholder, to their thesis exhibition and challenge you to reconsider your own expectations and ask yourself, “Is this the art that I know? Or is this art something completely new, something else?”

—Todd Keyser, MFA 2011

Assistant Director, Gross McCleaf Gallery

MFAST class of 2013 thesis exhibition featured works by Katrina Bello, Tamara Cedré, Emily Harris, Jeff Hensley, Brendan Hughes, Sarah Koljonen, Dan Lovallo, Tobin Rothlein, Jonathan Taylor, and Davin Watne. The exhibition ran from June 28th– July 13th. More information and images from the exhibition can be found at


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