Department of Visual Arts thesis exhibitions a ‘final feast’ for MFA students

As one Department of Visual Arts 2014 MFA thesis exhibition ends, another is poised to begin.

Funeral for Ortolan,” the first of the two exhibits, closed on May 9 after a monthlong run in the Logan Center Gallery. Taking its place will be “Tina,” which will kick off with a reception at 6 p.m. on May 16, and will run through May 23.

The first exhibition’s title was chosen by the artists—dadoDanny VolkTucker Rae-Grant, Jinn Bronwen Lee and Ramyar Vala—for its multivalence. An Ortolan is a European songbird whose consumption is preceded by ritualistic preparation and accompanied by the sense of perversion of actually eating this delicate creature. Conversely, the Ortolans were also a race of rather robust, elephant-esque creatures in Star Wars.

“I think about it as a reference to our group show, our final feast, as it were, after the end of our MFA career,” said Danny Volk. “It is a funeral for us, in a way. A funeral for our time in DoVA.” But given Volk’s artistic practice, the other reference to the music-playing pachyderm hits closer to home.

Volk’s performance-based project documented, and was inspired by, his time as a sales associate at the Gap clothing store over the 2013 holiday season. His work, which included photography, sculpture, installation and a diaristic record of his interactions with customers, was an attempt to explore how ”intimacy may factor into commercialization and branding, the relationship between art and retail, advertising and intimate portrait.“

His colleague Rae-Grant felt more of an affinity with the other meaning for their group show. “I was interested in the idea that the excessive sumptuousness of the Ortolan ritual could be eulogized, put in the ground, or even regretted,” he said. “To my mind, this idea that one ritual would create the need for another ritual to deal with the feeling that the first dragged up has an interesting relationship to art-making.”

This observation is particularly relevant to the “ecology” of how all his work hung together, including “Stick and Hoop,” which was a chain of paperclips strung together in front of a mirror. This was a piece that invited interaction, and visitors could view themselves in the mirror as they did so. Or rather, depending on their height, what they saw may have simply be their upper body - rather than the face, which is what one would normally link to one’s identity.  

Close at hand was part of Volk’s project, “The Medium,” which consisted of a dark, folded plaid shirt and a Gap-issued nametag. This was the same shirt Volk wore to every shift—chosen to appear serious, trustworthy, yet approachable. It’s a shirt to put his best face forward.

The artists wanted their work to be intermixed, so that the exhibit would reflect their relationships with each other and how their respective work grew as a result. Vala’s plywood chairs, inspired by Persian rugs, were situated throughout the room. Lee’s work, however, was an exception. Her five large oil paintings were grouped in a separate space to be seen in lighting much cooler than that of the main gallery room.

“We sought to show a utopia of sorts: a peace and harmony in the group’s dynamic that comes off as incredibly polite and perverse somehow,” said Volk, whose photographs of himself and his fellow artists, decked out in Gap clothing, sat high on one wall. The photographs looked over the show, including over dado's piece—a caged man off to the side of the gallery.