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Art, Time, Memory and Passion: Musings from UCI’s Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition

Usually, whenever I come to UCI on a Saturday it’s awfully quiet and disconcerting. This wasn’t the case at the bustling 2016 MFA Exhibition, where masses of people herded around various artful displays. First up was the University Art Gallery for Mona Sheybani’s “The land, the rug, the wall”.

He lived in my home and I did not!
Work by Mona Sheybani. Photo courtesy of Hubert Ta.

Upon entrance, the room was shrouded in darkness with a central sculpture, and two slide projectors showing off juxtaposed photos of family life, historical artifacts, and buildings in Iran. The images were mundane, everyday affairs contrasted alongside the images of ruin.

The sculpture (“He lived in my home and I did not!”), a top down blueprint recreation of the house her father built, was composed entirely from her memories. “The shadows that are created on the floor plan, those create the walls that are supposed to be there… and what you see on the wall is [what] the house looks like when you look [at] it straight” said Mona.

As for the side wall projections, she assembled these through photographs and archives taken during her last visit to Iran, destruction now plaguing her family’s former home and tourists invading the cultural ruins. Minimalist, somber and nostalgic, Mona’s exhibit is reminiscent of passing through Barstow, a shadow of its former self. To see it in its glory days must have been a wonder.

Hour of Darkness
Work by Conor Thompson. Photo courtesy of Hubert Ta.

Next up was Nathaniel Klein’s exhibit in the Room Gallery called “Patterns, Warnings, Nothing”, a short film about the Battle of Los Angeles. Split into three sections, it discusses the 1942 battle with a voiceover of a reporter covering the event, the preparation of a World War II reenactor, and footage of the video game based on Sony’s film, Battle Los Angeles (2011). The juxtaposition of history amongst modernity was strangely melancholic, a sort of retroactive view of the chaos of the battle and the relative complacency with which it is regarded now

The Contemporary Art Center Gallery held the last two exhibits, Conor Thompson’s art and Brody Albert’s “Solids”. Striking abstract paintings stood alongside realistic sculptures. Conor’s paintings were canvases of evolving shades of bright green and red amongst backdrops of pink and gray and a glowing yellow sun, distracting you from the main images of a fiddler and a group of women staring at you. In stark contrast, was “Night Lives”, six black and white sketches repeating a pattern of knives, eyes, glasses and gloves.

Brody’s exhibit was just as thought-provoking with a series of three sculptures spread out over the white gallery. The first one, “Collapsible Barrier (Purple),” pretty much looks like what it sounds like. Brody elaborated that it wasn’t just a metal barrier he painted purple, but rather, a barrier sculpted from MDF, a wood-based composite, detailed right down to the individual screws; it was a fence of straw masquerading as a steel blockade. The second one, “Wasp Nest (Horsepower)”, was composed entirely of paper. The third and most intriguing piece is “Orosi”, a 1:1 metal replica of a smashed fire escape, “totally abused, totally neglected, totally damaged” by the endless amounts of trucks backing into it over 11 years.

What’s especially present about all of these exhibits is a clear sense of commitment and passion that resonates through the art. You only need a single glance to see the hundreds of hours of work that went into each piece, and the sheer variety left me enchanted by the art and the stories told.

The MFA Thesis Part I Exhibition runs from Apr. 23 to May 6 at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.