Each new class of students in UNC’s Master of Fine Arts program gets a charge.
“To invent new forms of beauty,” said Jeff Whetstone, the program’s director of graduate studies.
“This is no small task in 2013,” he continued. “I think this class in particular, all of whom are graduating in May, has taken a great responsibility for this charge.”
The campus as well as the community looks forward to the annual show that the MFA graduating artists put on at the Ackland Museum in the spring, this year opening on April 17. But now there is a new tradition to anticipate. For the first time, MFA students are each putting on one-week solo shows in the John and June Allcott Gallery, 115 S. Columbia St., under a collective name, “Your Turn to Burn.”
Now on exhibit is Ali Halperin’s show “Episode” and Thursday night from 6 to 8 p.m. everyone is invited to a reception to view the work and ideally, talk about it.
“We want to create a context for conversation about our visual culture,” Whetstone said. “What these artists do, even though it looks sometimes shockingly foreign, is really the DNA of the future of our visual culture.”
A defining moment for Halperin happened when she wandered into several virtual worlds including video games like SecondLife and Call of Duty and reality TV shows like “Hoarders” and “My Strange Addiction.”
“Here I discovered a commonality – the virtual and physical body would intersect and disintegrate with odd spaces and commodity objects,” she said. “The Hoarders confessional portraits would fade into and merge with their overstuffed rooms. Because of these bizarre, but frequent, moments, I began to study the relationship between media, consumption, and our contemporary landscape, social, political, and material.”
Halperin presents tar-entombed clothing that as she explained, conjures an eerie post-apocalyptic sensation.
“Slick black sculptures bulge from the wall acutely cataloging material culture. Graphic drawings derived from reality television adhere to the gallery’s glass wall, nodding towards contemporary fetishism of commodities. Ranging from flattened to disembodied to uncanny, the objects oscillate between frozen and animated. I hope they explore the relationship between the commercial and corporeal, meanwhile referencing issues of class, race, the elite, and the marginalized.”
Damian Stamer, whose show preceded Halperin’s, entered the MFA program to push his work forward. He said he is still working with the same subject matter as before joining the program “but I have concentrated on removing superfluous or self-indulgent impulses from my paintings.”
Stamer painted his first black and white landscape on a hardboard panel and the result deeply affected him.
“The reduction of palette really highlighted the mark making that I was exploring,” Stamer said. With his exhibit statement, Stamer asked if paintings still have something to offer that no other medium or expression can? He wrote, “My work will never have all the answers, but perhaps exploring these interrogations will help create a portal to somewhere outside the realm of questions, answers, and language altogether – a landscape where yesterday and tomorrow can take a Sunday drive together.” Who could resist trying to answer his questions?Inventing culture
Whetstone said that the goal of the MFA program is to train professional artists and also engage in contemporary art conversations.
“Art is a subject that defies definition, but I would say that it is the manufacturing of culture. Artists invent culture. The basis of our culture comes from the music we listen to, the movies we watch, and who we are artistically,” he said.
Gaining the credentials to teach at the university level compelled William Paul Thomas to enter the MFA program. “Being here, I have learned to trust my intuition more and I don’t rely on photographs for source material as much as I did before the grad program,” Thomas said.
His show preceded Stamer’s and had he not had an epiphany, the show might have just consisted of his small semi-autobiographical paintings that, as he describes them, seem to poke fun at the tradition of classical representation.
“I started printing images of my paintings on fleece blankets. The idea felt really fresh,” he said. “And the blankets provide more functionality than the paintings alone.” Thomas uploads his images and prints them on seven-foot fleece blankets by Walmart.com. “Is that tacky? I think it is fitting,” Thomas wrote for his exhibit statement.
One other artist, George Jenne, also has finished his show. Composed of an installation with 3-D objects and videos produced by Jenne, it shook up the senses and begged for a lot of conversation. People are still talking about it.
Four more shows follow Halperin’s, which closes March 10:
• Lauren Salazar, March 17 through March 23 with a reception March 21.
• Mike Lauch, March 24-30 with a reception March 28.
• Julia Gootziet, March 31 through April 7 with a reception April 4.
• Nicole Bauguss, April 8-14 with a reception April 12.
All receptions are 6-8 p.m. The gallery is open otherwise Monday through Friday.
“I really wish for the community to take advantage of this opportunity to see some great contemporary art,” Halperin said. “It would be a shame to miss it.”