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A Recollection of 2020’s Post-Graduate MFA Thesis Exhibitions

UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts debuted the Post-Graduate MFA Thesis Exhibitions for the Class of 2020 online on Oct. 1. Featuring works by David Chen, Caleb Engstrom, Christine Dianne Guiyangco, Christine Hudson, Jackson Hunt, Ethan Philip McGinnis, Morgan Cuppet-Michelsen, Gabby Miller, Joaquín Palting, Ellen Schafer, Jean Shon and Chris Warr, the exhibitions have photographs and virtual tours that can be visited on the University Art Galleries website. 

These exhibitions were initially planned to open on April 4 at the University Art Galleries, but the pandemic’s sudden onset postponed the shows until October. As a result, virtual tours and videos have been made available alongside photographs showcasing some of the artworks. 

Each exhibition focuses on a different purpose from the artist, ranging from the distortions of translation to explorations of innovation. 

Caleb Engstrom’s “The Face of Another” is featured in a dark room, only illuminated by a screen and select light on the artworks. The exhibition features a mask, a sculpture of the god Hermanubis, mirrors and a video depicting corporeal mime. Reflecting on his role as a father, Engstrom invites viewers to similarly reflect on themselves, their roles and their personal truths through the mirrors and the dignified presence of Hermanubis. The exhibition succeeds in its goal of honest self-reflection, as the viewers eventually catch themselves in the mirrors amidst the solemn atmosphere. 

Christine Hudson’s “A Moment of Rest, a Place for Queeraoke, an Imagined Hope…” provides a space for relaxation, speaking to our stressful lives in quarantine. The room is empty aside from a queeraoke (queer karaoke) video of Janet Jackson’s “Together Again” and cardboard boxes from Filipino grocery store Seafood City arranged and drawn over to resemble the interior of a house. Comfort fills the room, reminding viewers — even virtually — that they can and will still find solace in their lives. “A Moment of Rest” truly provides a sense of comfort, as it fully focuses on the queeraoke video; the room’s emptiness allows viewers to focus on their hopes once this taxing quarantine ends. 

Christine Hudson “A Moment of Rest, a Place for Queeraoke, an Imagined Hope…” installation view. Room Gallery, UC Irvine © 2020. Photo: Paul Salveson

Gabby Miller’s “Cixis” draws from Greek theater and is heavily drenched in red light. The exhibition’s centerpiece is “Bloodline,” a performance wherein an individual uses a gaff to mark blood on a 70-ft long piece of material. Other features of the exhibit, like a small skull-like statue and two photographs, are physically much smaller than “Bloodline,” drawing all the attention to the performance. The show intertwines the reality of death with performance, exploring how much of what we experience is real and not drama. “Bloodline” truly speaks for “Cixis:” though the performance’s meaning does not immediately register, the entrancing “Bloodline” show still clearly amalgamates reality and fantasy. 

Chris Warr’s “Tails of Tales” features rough machinery in a video and structures of random materials in the exhibition, such as cords and rusted steel. The structures appear outlandish and demand great inspection: a quick glance could easily miss all the fine details and tape holding the gadgets together. In a description of the show on the University Art Galleries website, Warr states that “[e]ach object holds the story of what it could become,” inquiring about the inspirations and purposes of inventions and pushing the boundaries of innovation. The inventions of “Tails of Tales” are both charming, intriguing, and even motivational — truly, the world is limitless. 

Chris Warr, “Tails of Tales” installation view, University Art Gallery, UC Irvine © 2020. Photo: Paul Salveson

Ethan Phillip McGinnis’ “Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I shake the dirt from my sandals as I run” takes inspiration from Sufjan Stevens and Stace England to explore Stevens’ “Illinois” track with a personal touch. Featuring books, articles and little souvenirs from Illinois, McGinnis’ exhibition rediscovers the state and finds an idea of identity within the exploration. With the color and variety of his exhibition, McGinnis’ exploration of “Illinois” inspires one to dig deeper into their past through a similar creative endeavor. Considering our constant focus on the future, a reminder of our past is always welcome to encourage us, as we reflect on everything we have gone through. 

Ellen Schafer’s “Adult Costume” features clothing and a few lightbox installations that revolve around fast fashion and capitalism. With clothes packaged from the dry cleaners, “Adult Costume” shows how growing older is equatable with growing accustomed to capitalism’s quick mass-production. Individualism is greatly lost in a world dominated by a few brands that determine one’s appearance. The concentration of brands within Schafer’s exhibition clearly reveals the prevalence of capitalism and its great effect on societal beauty standards, a revelation relevant to social media’s control over beauty standards. 

Ellen Schafer, “Adult Costume,” installation view, University Art Gallery, UC Irvine © 2020. Photo: Paul Salveson.

Jean Shon’s “this place that bears my past doesn’t even know my name” features white tapestries with words cut out of them, forming poems about loss. The exhibit is remarkably sparse, as the show only has the color white and instead plays with light and shadow using the tapestries. Emptiness fills the room, and the audiences share the poems’ longing for the past, remembering and yearning for the memories of their own past. Perhaps the most minimalistic feature of all the shows, Shon’s tapestries easily evoke loneliness, yearning, and sorrow as they desperately attach themselves to the past, much like all of us when confronted with great change.

Jean Shon, “this place that bears my past doesn’t even know my name,” installation view, CAC Gallery, UC Irvine © 2020. Photo: Paul Salveson

Morgan Cuppet-Michelsen’s “Codex, Kodaks, Codecs” merges together the aspects of visual arts and spoken word to investigate the meanings lost and gained through the visual and audio translation of art. The exhibition mainly contains analog photography of a work reminiscent of alphabet soup and amalgamations of patterns, allowing the audience to focus on and try to make sense of the various designs. The microphone featured in the show also provokes questions regarding the differences between hearing and seeing a work of art. Despite using analog photographs, the exhibition has a multi-sensory nature, appealing to both the audiences’ eyes and ears. The show’s use of patterns also stimulates the mind, almost challenging viewers to discover the patterns’ secrets — a fun and interactive part of the exhibition. 

David Chen’s “Nearby, Faraway” engages with stories from queer incarcerated individuals. The exhibition features sculptures with images and the conversations had with said individuals attached to them, placing the audience within a space focused on the experiences of queer people. By visually depicting the correspondences through the sculptures, the exhibition brings its audience to understand the queer experience in prison in order to further embrace the marginalized queer demographic. As queer incarcerated individuals are considerably underrepresented, Chen’s simple, beautiful exhibition allows viewers a rare opportunity to get intimate with the stories of queer people in prison. 

Jackson Hunt’s “New American Paintings” uses spray paint and collages to explore the various interpretations that can be made from one photograph. The collages feature the disassembled photograph rearranged to form six different artworks, some colored using spray paint. Hunt’s exhibition also features works depicting bricks and optical illusions, provoking questions of the different meanings gained and lost when messages are distorted. The show’s paintings show great artistry, but their genius lies in their processes and one source: through reinvention and recontextualization, one piece can mean almost anything. 

Jackson Hunt, “New American Paintings,” installation view, CAC Gallery, UC Irvine © 2020. Photo: Paul Salveson

Joaquín Palting’s “Origin[Redux]” delves into the wilderness beyond Hollywood through black-and-white photographs of trees, rocks, and seas. Each image is deeply intimate with the nature of Los Angeles and, through each photograph’s detailed textures, makes the city’s natural features feel real. The photographs are visually beautiful and almost three-dimensional: the pictures’ contrast and lack of color saturation show the earthly roots of Los Angeles at their most natural state. “Origin[Redux]” looks past the glamorous, mechanized façade of Hollywood and rediscovers Los Angeles at its natural core. 

Christine Dianne Guiyangco’s “Gutter” is both an exhibition and a comic book. “Gutter” focuses on the words that can be derived from pronunciations of the word “lung,” including the Filipino word “lang.” Filled with lung imagery, “Gutter” explores the brief breath that the Philippines could take in between the lengthy periods of Spanish and American colonization. A new way of interpreting the Philippines’ brief period of freedom from colonizers, the lung imagery of  “Gutter” is both artistically interesting and beautiful — emphasizing both the necessity of freedom to the Philippines and the brutal suppression of the country’s culture. 

Though all of the exhibitions can be viewed online, physically viewing these shows and being within an artistic space connect us much more with the works as artists and can evoke a greater and more raw emotion within us in person. Additionally, details can be easily missed by merely viewing a photograph of art. Knowing that we are browsing through artworks online takes away from the immersion we can derive from physically being in a gallery. Despite these limits, however, each exhibit still shines through photographs, videos and virtual tours. The artworks still ask questions, comfort and speak, as they were all meant to — an artistic power that virtual barriers cannot take away.

Beatrice Malvar is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2020 quarter. She can be reached at bmalvar@uci.edu.