Joe Girandola, Director UArts MFA Studio Art Program
The city of “brotherly love,” as it was coined by William Penn from the Greek terms philos and adelphos, the city of Philadelphia was planned in grid-like fashion to separate residential life from occupational endeavors. The people of Philadelphia quickly abandoned Penn’s plans and merged their living arrangements with their entrepreneurial talents. The city quickly grew and spread its arms to include denizens of all cultures from around the world, a true melting pot of ideas and creativity. Home to a vast cauldron of human achievement, Philadelphia has embraced with open arms the likes of Ben Franklin to Alexander Calder, Louis Kahn to Kobe Bryant, Billie Holliday to Naom Chomsky, Joe Frasier to Bill Cosby, Solomon Guggenheim to Kevin Bacon and Betsy Ross to R Crumb. To phrase one of Philadelphia’s most favorite sons, the rapper Will Smith sings, “maxing and relaxing,” to indicate a long and vibrant history of a creative city on the banks of the Delaware River with a passion for work and play. The Master of Fine Arts program in Studio Art at the University of the Arts(UArts) has an equally vivid history of merging its talents to create a more vibrant whole. As one of America’s oldest Universities dedicated to the Arts, UArts was literally created by melting together the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts and the Philadelphia College of Art. These two schools have historical roots embedded in the city since the 1870’s. In 1985, the Master of Fine Arts program in Ceramics, Painting and Sculpture was introduced with the renaming of the academy as the University of the Arts and students from around the nation entered the graduate studio art program. As the program has grown and embraced all forms of visual art making, the MFA Program in Studio Art encourages creative researchers from all parts of the globe to call Philadelphia home for three consecutive summers of eight-week residencies. The melting of ideas and ingenuity in the intense heat of the summer, leads to anything but grid-like outcomes for the graduate students at UArts.
From Philadelphia to Ghana, Iowa to Korea, Omaha to Idaho, to Connecticut to Michigan and the shores of Finland, this exhibition presents a small sample of the diverse practice and accomplished skill of contemporary art from twelve students currently enrolled in the professional practice studio art program of over 40 graduate students. The ideas that have emerged from this exhibition invite discovery and contemplation and honestly investigate the currents of contemporary art.
The work of Eric Abaka, Marge Renno and Lauren McCarty merge the fields of installation and performance. A recorded act is reconfigured and exhibited as a dynamic installation that invites the viewer to join in the artistic experience. Abaka creates work from his surroundings and has chosen to create a site-specific work from the environs of Sharjah. These found-object alterations weave together his boyhood memories from his home in Ghana and his urban existence in Chicago and Philadelphia. Renno produces large-scale projected works mesmerize the viewer into the trace of natural phenomenon. Usually projected in urban environments, the video artworks deliver a story of the passage of time and the memory of travail. Lauren McCarty investigates chance encounters by producing documentaries of her day-to-day discoveries. Animating her sketchbook into a projected diary with sound displays McCarty’s interest in the connections of daily routines in the artistic practice.
AJ Bredensteiner, Guy Loraine and Andy Walker produce artworks that envelop time and produce digital fractionations that when presented in large format installations, reveal minute details embracing the beauty of intense observation. Bredensteiner’s current work focuses on the computerized recreation of sketches drawn on paper. Evaluating the myth of ownership in today’s global culture, AJ creates fantasy landscapes that entice visual contemplation. Guy Loraine has captured a specific moment of the laborious process of collecting acorn shells and caps from an oak tree near his studio in Des Moines, Iowa. A small piece of an elaborate installation and performance artwork, the image drives home a loneliness of artistic process and perfecting practice of integrity and honesty in art making. The Liberty Bell piece also displays the quiet energy of a cracked bell of independence and the significant ring of progress in the shadow of doubt and citizenship on native grounds. Andy Walker, a lifelong Philadelphian, photographs tarnished buildings in city limits that have succumbed to economic shifts in the housing market. Hand-built structures weep in their abandoned state as government policies prevent individuals with finances and creative re-use strategies to purchase these homes. They remain dormant in their once-cherished beauty and they creep into memory as their card is called for demolition erasing the vibrant past of energy.
David Chatfield, Tae Gyun Yoon(Lucien) and Carrice Mckinstry compile life into compartments of analytic and mysterious human space. Chatfield discovers the never-ending task of updating resumes and the job application process to further ones opportunities in the workforce. These paintings overlay a multitude of pages in a transparent attempt to “pile on” experience to rise to the top of the applicant pool. Tae-Gyun Yoon embraces his Korean upbringing and the packaging of societal goods and “Western” needs in intricate drawings that resemble his installation work. Stacking of mass-produced packaging goods and containers, Lucien is interested in the re-purposing of items usually meant for one-time use. Carrice McKinstry hand toils in a laboratory style process that is far removed from any scientific method. Handcrafting object after object and letting shape and form develop through process rather than research based assimilation, Carrice sets up dramatic whimsical installations using light and space to dispel the act of creative calculation in art. Allowing for the freedom of interpretation and the viewer’s need to place each of her “specimens” into context, Carrice develops a sculptural vocabulary that welcomes debate.
Harry Hukkinen, Michele Kishita and Kris Strawser contemplate abstraction though their varying works. Harry Hukkinen, born in Finland and raised on the shores of New Jersey, creates opaque sculptural objects that become integral components to photographic works that investigate contrasting elements of linear form and organic surroundings. Experimenting with color, texture and shape, Michele Kishita’s use of gold and silver leaf borrows renaissance techniques while reinforcing the act of painting as a collaborative symphony of marks and movements. The installation work of Kris Strawser joins in the playful coordination of making by incorporating mass-produced objects (in this case, Slinky’s and Mylar Balloons) to coordinate an indoor mythical landscape. Interlacing with light and shadow, the installation reflects the viewer and the environment in fractal planes that creates a unique experience with time.
All twelve of these varying artists share the commitment and dedicated passion of creative research and exploration. The University of the Arts graduate program in studio art does not have a distinct “look” or “style.” What it lacks in a singular vision, it gains in its melting pot existence. UArts is as diverse as the global world of creativity and its artists thrive in their varying perspectives. Still Melting presents a brief look into a visual art program that embraces diversity in visual art production and research based awareness of visual culture and historical structure. Allowing for cross-disciplinary studio practices, artists in the UArts MFA Program in Studio Art are encouraged to follow their instincts and be guided individually by leading creators in all fields of practice. The blurring of disciplines and formulaic processes lead to new discoveries that once were as flat as the Earth was thought to be. Philadelphia rings its cracked Liberty Bell to signify Independence through difficult times. The determination of these twelve individuals each sound off in varying tones of creative impulse while together their ideas speak loudly to exemplify the still melting pot of artistic diversity.
2011 UARTs MFA Students selected to participate in the Emirates Fine Arts Society Exhibition at the Sharjah Art Museum, UAE:
Tae Gyun Yoon