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One more art school critique

Sat in on Keith Boadwee‘s class at CCA yesterday. It was a great experience, and I really enjoyed being a guest at art school again.

I was a guest for four 40-minute critiques at the end of the first semester of the MFA program. I remember the first semester of grad school as intense and crazy, a time of getting unhinged and cramming to produce work for the review. The MFA program is designed with an inherent paradox: students are to experiment under intense scrutiny. I sensed that many of the students felt the pressure and uncertainty. But I think while the critiques can be severe, the criteria for this evaluation are modest and fair: I think students are expected to demonstrate vigorous work habits, experimentation, and self-examination.

It took almost the whole 40 minutes, but I ended up liking the work of the ironically-named Justin Hurty, whose project encompasses walking around while carrying super-heavy assemblages of fired clay, cardboard, wire and packing tape. He literalized the burden on artists and on straight white men — he punished his body as a project. In fact, for the following two hours, he carried the objects to the other critiques. His hands got red and veiny, and you could see how much it strained his back. It inspired both schadenfreude and sympathy. While I think the class gave Hurty the hardest time (three cheers for his exemplary grace under fire), I think his earnestness, persistence and willingness — to run with the project and the critical input — are characteristics that will pay off.

An artist named Crow, whose last name I missed, presented photographic and cinematic documentation that formed the research and proposal for a series of objects. It was about Toulouse Lautrec, dwarfism, bodies, and involved a lot of theory about difference, gender and identity. It sounded like a good idea. But this kind of work, so heavily grounded in theory, is maddeningly complicated. I think it parallels OCD art, only the wow factor here is how theoretically sound a project can be. You can’t really critique a project that’s still in its planning stages, but Crow also strikes me as competent and much more informed about theory than I, so I’m sure he can accomplish whatever he decides on.

Josh Ferris showed photographs of a miniature landscape, with the intention of commenting on both global climate change and the sublime. The good news is that he exhibited beautifully-executed prints. The bad news is that I have seen work like this before. Thankfully, Ferris recognized that the work was problematic in how it created a conversation that focused too much on representation. Ferris, like Crow, seems to be biting off a huge can of worms, and it will take a lot of persistence and creativity to come up with an interesting artistic statement. I hope that the work of Richard T. Walker, whose work is about literally conversing with Romanticized landscapes, will be a good reference point for Ferris.

David Gillespie (corrections welcomed) showed diagrams and photographs representing his research for projects investigating subjects as varied as airports to brain implants. The display formed a wall of information that was difficult to scale. If I felt combative in Gillespie’s critique, it’s probably because I see similarities in our practices: a disinterest in visual interest, and an exploration of “meta” art methods or expectations. One project is an attempt to quantify metaphor as a requisite aesthetic unit in art. The terrain and method is valid, but as a viewer I needed more ways to engage with his process-product spectrum.

I’m sure all these projects will mature by the MFA show in 2009. Looking forward to being delighted and impressed. Good luck guys!

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