September 22, 2019 | 77° F

MFA candidates explore identity, social constructs in 'Mercury St.'

Photo by Elizabeth Leoce |

The Mason Gross Galleries hosted the first Master of Fine Arts Thesis reception of the semester on Friday, where student artists of the MFA program discussed their work in the gallery’s “Mercury St.” exhibition. In a room full of sculpture, photography and installation pieces, wall captions for the artwork were not included. Instead, the art was intended to speak for itself. 

“There is no wall text and no labels,” Gallery Coordinator Daonne Huff said. “These artists are trying to root themselves in a chaotic time and place in the world.” 

MFA candidate Christhian C. Diaz described his wall of photographs as a series of reflections of his best friend, a figure in his life who he credits as his inspiration. Collected over a timespan of many years, Diaz’s ultimate goal was to create a portrait of his beloved friend. 

“He is practically family, and to see him through these images is to see myself as well,” Diaz said. 

Not wanting to use conventional frames for his images, he displayed his photographs on a gold wall, making sure his friend was engulfed in the piece. 

Many pieces throughout the gallery also focused on the concept of new identity and the idea of placing a new perspective on every day images. Yu Rim Chung used sculpture as a way to demonstrate that there is no one word or label that defines her. 

“My exhibit is called 'Hyphen,' which refers to the space between identity,” Chung said. “As someone who identifies as Korean-American, I am exploring the ‘third space.’ Therefore, it is not being in-between identities, but the creation of a new one.”

As an artist, Chung focuses on geometric shapes, providing an example of how the transformation of her identity does not just have to be one characteristic. Instead, her art reflects the idea of stepping out of the “bubble” society often places people in. 

In her piece "Jacob’s Ladder," the word “discipline” acts to remind the audience that it takes inner strength to break away from societal standards when searching for individuality. The spacing of the letters is formed from the three I’s in "discipline," creating a hyphen between the letters but also pushing them closer together. Chung aims to spark conversation with her work and illustrate how art cannot be limited to one role and gender. 

Displayed in the middle of the gallery sat Julian Gilbert-Davis’s arc called the “Haunted Forest,” an installation that drew much attention due to its large size and elaborate presentation. It also provided a new light on the idea of physical, three-dimensional art. 

When considering the space he had to work with, Gilbert-Davis began to explore his options by thinking of civic spaces, such as tunnels, parks, benches and awnings, then played with the idea of bringing outside objects into a closed gallery. 

“At the end of the day, you never want anything to be conclusive," Gilbert-Davis said. "At the same time, whether you bring something from the outside world inside the gallery, it has a haunted quality because it is severed from that context." The haunted tree almost had a sound to its mystery and stood out physically and emotionally. 

Another piece that Gilbert-Davis briefly reflected on was his still life painting titled “Ghost Pepper” that was inspired by a cartoon ad he saw in a Subway restaurant. 

“It was something that I thought no one noticed and was meant to be ignored, and turned it into something haunted and eye-catching,” Gilbert-Davis said. “This is how something that’s usually taken for granted can take a life of its own.”

From Jack Warner’s installation piece made from wood and steel objects to Amiko Li’s raw and honest photography, every artist embraced their own perspective and gravitated toward their own path. As each room throughout the exhibit featured a different medium and artist, the exhibition proved that there is no wrong way to create, observe and appreciate visual art. 

“There is no one medium for art,” said Stephen Westfall, a professor in the Department of Visual Arts. “Art does not exist without an attempt to understand it.”

Elizabeth Leoce

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