• 2014 Thesis Exhibition
  • 2014 Thesis Exhibition

Eleanor Heartney

2013-2014 MFA Critic in Residence

Contemporary art has moved far from the narrowly focused reaction/expansion model of the modernist era. Today artists draw from every aspect of human knowledge and experience, adopting these as raw materials from which to create new ways of looking at the world.

The nine Masters’ students graduating this year from Montclair State University are no exception. As Visiting Critic this year, I have been privy to their diverse and thoughtful explorations. As befitting the complexity of contemporary experience, these artists exhibit a wide range of interests and approaches. For this year’s graduating class, installation and performance are often the preferred modes for expressing ideas, which touch on everything from ecology, theology, oriental philosophy, and familial and social relations, to semiotics, architecture and science.

The creation of meaning through relationships is a leitmotif that runs through much of the work here. Thus, for instance, Natasha Jozi employs performances and videos to re-imagine the body as a zone of mutuality, where rituals, conversation and shared actions permit a breakdown of conventional distinctions between self and other. Her focus on collective experience has implications for the veiling of women in her native Pakistan. Cutting across the political, theological and ideological lines that normally enmesh discussions of the veil, she suggests how the covering of the body can free the imagination and provide an otherwise elusive sense of security and protection.

More abstractly, Stephen Douglass takes aim at dualistic assumptions about objects, subjects, art and even the perception of reality itself. Advocating instead a more relational approach to meaning, he offers paradoxical juxtapositions of text and image, text and text and image and image as a means of undermining conventional understandings of the world.

Alexandra Schoenberg analyzes cosmological models throughout history from the Renaissance to our own postmodern era. Recognizing that each era incorporates a unique set of assumptions about reality and a unique set of representational tools, she finds her own space in the places where such systems break down. Using the tools of architectural drawing, perspective and 3D modeling, she creates drawings, sculptures and installations that envision worlds where perceptions of space and time mix the apparently normal with the apparently impossible.

Paradigms of science also underlie the work of Christine Soccio. She extrapolates from a fascination with the aperiodicity characteristic of the Penrose pattern and the quasicrystal to create installations that employ light, strings, reflective materials and geometric drawings in the service of what she calls “formless formalism”. Her explorations draw her into meditations on possibility of ordered chaos and aperiodic regularity, notions that have implications for our understanding of both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial realities.

The work of Feifei Yang grows out of an interest in oriental philosophy, in particular the idea that the essence of reality is becoming rather than being and that each “thing” in the universe partakes of the spirit and substance of all the others. Such principles underlie her complex and exuberantly colored computer generated drawings, which are generated from two-dimensional manipulations of her three dimensional sculptures. Paradoxically, the advanced technology of the 21st century provides Yang with tools for visualizing these most ancient ideas.

Turning to a different tradition, Brian Haverlock melds performance, installation and narrative to create characters and scenarios that provide skewed versions of theological propositions. Echoes of Christian sacrifice and redemption, religious brotherhoods and sacred rituals underlie his carnivalesque depictions of the travails of such tragic-comic figures as Venerable Crying Man, Mustard Minister, Brother Ass and the Peripatetic Brother P.

An interest in identity and impersonation also animates the work of Jeremy Bell. Using a variety of methods, including performance, painting, photography and video, he meditates on the paradoxes and contradictions that surround African American identity. Bell draws on the materials from which this identity is fashioned, which range from art historical imagery, popular culture, rap music, the work of other contemporary African American artists and his own personal history to stage a new synthesis that opens the door to a more productive relationship between individual and society.

And finally, two of the students look at models of human existence that stress our interdependence with nature. Dana Hemes, challenges the human-centric perspective on the natural world and its non-human inhabitants with elaborate installations that reverse the relationship between viewer and viewed. She adapts the language of experimental science to transform the human observer into the observed and to erase the distinctions between human and non-human modes of perception.

Taking a different tack, Amanda Hart responds to ever more alarming ecological news by conceiving of wearable objects and living systems that could help humans adapt to the “post human” world. Her sleekly designed apparatuses inhabit the territory between practical solution and metaphoric alarm, using a two-pronged approach to encourage a radical rethinking of humanity’s relationship to nature.

Taken together, this cadre of graduates reveals a lively engagement with realities outside the studio. As they move onto the next phase of their lives, I wish them well and look forward to seeing how they continue to grapple with the complexities of the world around them.

Eleanor Heartney

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