MFA students address contemporary problems in thesis exhibition

The culminating work of this year’s graduating class of Department of Visual Arts MFA students will be presented in a thesis exhibition entitled “And, and, and,” beginning May 4 at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

“It’s quite something to bring your art out of the studio and into a public space,” said Jessica Stockholder, the Raymond W. & Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the Department of Visual Arts. “Lots of our students go on to have shows in Chicago and elsewhere. It’s an important part of the program and gives people tools to move forward and engage the world in many ways once they graduate.”

Curating a show around a singular theme is a challenge for eight distinct artists, but the students looked to showcase their work around the unique problems each are trying to address through their art.

“We all have problems, and we all think our problems are the most important, and that’s what we make our art about,” MFA student Ben Nicholson said. “So, the resulting show is a cross section of contemporary concerns.”

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For Nicholson, his concern is one that is truly universal: death. Nicholson has created a performance piece centered around an alternate version of himself named Mr. Boare. He’s created an extensive backstory, including building a real business and website that will continue to function after the show.

Nicholson said he was especially interested in the influence of capitalism on modern life in creating his piece to get viewers to think about their own mortality.

“We’re aware of our mortality, and we have to decide how we’re going to structure our lives to deal with that,” Nicholson said. “You go to school, you get a job, you imagine you’ll retire. It gives you a stable foundation to think you’ll be OK and not have to think about death.”

Visual artist Jan Brugger uses her work to address the relationship between human beings and their electronic screens. Through a series of videos that feature magician David Copperfield, Brugger creates a hypnotic effect on her audience to highlight the ways screens seem to affect their users.

“I was thinking a lot about the head being severed from the body,” Brugger said. “I’ve talked about this ‘Medusa’ moment when people encounter a screen and their body stops, as if their body is cut off from their mind.”

Nicholson and Brugger will join six other artists to showcase their work in three parts this year. Two of the shows will run in Logan Center Gallery, the first from May 4-18, and the second from May 25 to June 18. A third exhibit will debut May 11 to June 6 at the Muffler Shop, a performance and film workshop space that is part of the Arts Block on Garfield Boulevard.

Yesomi Umolu, exhibitions curator at the Logan Center, said the MFA exhibition is a highlight of the year, and often a show the larger Chicago community is excited to see.

“The art world is always interested in learning about the next generation of artists,” Umolu said. “DOVA is a well-respected program so lots of keen eyes are eager to know who is coming out of the program and what type of work they are making.”

UChicago’s Class of 2017 MFA students are Elizabeth Allen-Cannon, Vidura Jang Bahadur, Andrew Bearnot, Jan Brugger, Evan Carter, Kyle Hossli, Ben Nicholson and Shanna Zentner. A one-hour artist talk will precede each opening reception in Café Logan at 5 p.m.

A full listing of events can be found here.