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Student artists discuss Art and Design theses

| Thursday, April 26, 2018

Dominique DeMoe

A giant, lurid video projection of the sun flickers and pulsates against a blank wall. Detailed posters and life-sized models of grocery store shelves present informative graphics about food insecurity. An interactive app encourages users to take a deep breath. A mounted deer head wears a muzzle, an earring, and a ripped “The Doors” band T-shirt, while a massive medieval-looking sword rests — precariously — in its antlers.

These disparate, thought-provoking and often provocative scenes just a few that populate the Snite Museum of Art’s current exhibit of Art, Art History and Design theses from both its Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts Students. The projects, all of which are the culmination of at least a years’ worth of study and devotion, display a stimulating range of ideas and engage with a number of contemporary social issues.

In an interview, MFA student Austin Brady noted that his project, “No Dads No Masters,” took him three years to perfect. Through collage, painting, altered canvases and the incorporation of found objects, Brady’s pieces “[interrogate] white, working-class, midwestern, heteromasculinity as a material subject.” Brady noted that in contemporary discourse, “We talk a lot about how masculinity is so rigid – it’s like lead, where it’s really strong but really brittle and can break easily. The garage allowed me this space of ‘in-progress,’ this DIY space where you can organize, modify and build your body and your identity. It also allowed a space to sift through my own identity.” The liminal space of the garage interested Brady because “it’s not quite domestic and not quite public.”

Large canvases, thickly-applied paint, references to Dungeons and Dragons, hockey sticks, taxidermy, weapons and beer bottles all factor into Brady’s “paintings,” in a style reminiscent of Rauschenberg’s “Combine” paintings. “I still consider myself very much a painter,” said Brady. “Even when I’m doing collages or sculptures I feel like I have the mindset of a painter. I’m painting in an expanded field, where I’m letting other things become brush marks.”

Including Brady’s thesis, the theses of the five MFA students in the exhibition deal with a broad range of topics, from the abstract to the concrete. Robbin Forsyth’s “Mandala System” combines field research with innovative technology designs to help single, low-income mothers in South Bend respond to the challenges of poverty. Justin Tripiano’s “Strange Loops” harnesses images from satellites and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create loops of images and data related to the solar system, to challenge “anthropocentric biases” inherent in our perceptions of the universe. Miriam Moore’s “Approaching Design in Food Pantries” investigates best practices and innovative ways to improve food pantry experiences for its clients and combat food insecurity. Thomas Cornell’s sculptures, which are electroformed copper imprints of small, everyday objects, such as fork, a spoon, a lighter, a comb or a condom, beg the question of their viewers – “What makes an item worth more than the thing it is or the materials from which it was made?”

Undergraduate art students also appear in high numbers in the Snite exhibit. Five BFA students are currently exhibiting their pieces in the Snite’s galleries, while the senior projects of students who completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honors – but still completed a senior thesis – are exhibited in the nearby AAHD gallery, across the hall from Waddick’s. The five BFA students are Loren Chen, Alexis Dorsey, Amy Liang, Michael Maas-Hull and Jackson Wrede.

Amy Liang, an Industrial Design senior, said that her senior thesis, “Ohm | Modern Meditation,” developed out of a desire to bring meditation practice to a millennial audience. “Anyone can benefit from meditation,” explained Liang. “Someone said in one of my research interviews, ‘I can’t just sit still and focus on nothing.’ I wanted to show that meditation can actually be many practices at once.”

Liang’s final project, which won the Radwan and Allan Riley Prize in Design, consists of a “suite” of products which all relate together and communicate with an app. Central to the thesis is her design for a “base,” which Liang describes as “part wood, part plastic. It’s a device that you can hold, so it really externalizes the meditation.” The base, when synced with an app, glows with the user’s breathing patterns. “You can follow the breathing pattern as it illuminates, or it can pick up on your breathing, so bio-feedback. If you’re in a long-distance relationship or friendship, you can also look at each other’s breathing on the app.”

For her senior Industrial Design thesis, Alexis Dorsey spent 10 weeks researching in Nepal through her ISSLP. Her project, “Expanding Sustainability from Nepal to America,” examines how American society might “flip the switch” and take lessons in sustainability from Nepal. “A lot of international development is taking stuff from the ‘first world’ and applying it to the ‘third world,’ but I had the idea while I was in Nepal to applying some of that to first-world culture in America,” said Dorsey. “That led me to expand the 3R model that we currently use here – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – to include two more Rs, Reduce and Redistribute.”

Both Liang and Dorsey emphasized the long process involved in creating a senior Design project, which included on-the-ground research, in-person interviews, online surveys, secondary research, endless sketching and mind-mapping. For her project, Liang learned how to throw ceramics and learn simple app interfacing techniques. “Because the thesis is a year-long, it really gives you time to learn new skills.”

Jackson Wrede, a senior painting student who won the Emil Jacques Gold Medal of Fine Arts and the Judith A. Wrappe Memorial Prize, cites Jeff Koons, Jerry Kearns and Andy Warhol among his many inspirations — although he has lists of a “hundred” different artists that influenced his vision. His paintings, a series of brightly-colored and shocking collages of pop-culture images, intend to point out ironies in contemporary gender relations in a “kind of funny or backhanded way,” says Wrede. “We’re awash in these models of masculinity and femininity … I try to be clever with how I juxtapose the different images so that it’s a bit more visible than it is in daily life.”

Wrede’s subject material often verges on the provocative. King Kong, cowboys, Marilyn Monroe, the peach and eggplant emojis, Jeff Koons sculptures engaged in unspeakable acts — all of these and more appear on his canvases, rendered in vivid oil paints. “My art is very contemporary and now. It’s all very modern and contemporary, but united with that long, slow, grand tradition of painting oil on canvas.” Going forward, Wrede said, “I’ll probably continue to stretch the boundaries of what constitutes a contemporary painting, continue to get edgier and edgier. I like a little shock factor.”

The BFA/MFA/BA Exhibition will run until May 20. Admission to the Snite Museum of Art is free.


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