Join us and our seven 2014-15 Graduate Fellows for the opening reception of their culminating exhibition, guest curated by Zoë Taleporos, Public Art Program Associate for the San Francisco Arts Commission, and Co-Director of Royal NoneSuch Gallery in Oakland.
About the Graduate Fellows Program
Headlands’ Graduate Fellowships provide yearlong studio residencies to recent, promising MFA graduates in partnership with seven esteemed Bay Area academic institutions. Bringing together representatives from each of these institutions, this exhibition provides a composite view of select Bay Area graduate art programs.
Build It Up/Break It Down presents work produced by Headlands Center for the Arts 2014-15 Graduate Fellows during their yearlong residencies. The seven participating artists, each experimenting with materials and forms to reveal moments when objects become imbued with allegory, work in a range of media that includes installation, sculpture, painting, drawing, mixed media, ceramics, and video. Through an investigation of psychological and cultural narratives, intriguing relational formations are pushed to their limit, both physically and symbolically. The artists—some through theatrical means, and others emphasizing the labor of making—employ pattern, color, and/or temporality, to elicit a tactile connection to process, emotion, and memory. Staged within spatial coordinates and associative systems, the objects become characters with the capacity to shape narratives and ensemble portraits.
Working with patterns, lines, and rhythmic systems found in nature, Joyce Nojima uses the act of erasure to create tactility in her forms. Focusing on subtraction, she uses a soldering iron to burn and puncture fragile materials such as plastic and paper, attempting to create geometric patterns. Regardless of her steady hand, the act of burning challenges her ability to create controlled, scientific lines—the outcome of mark-making becomes vulnerable to chance as the materials react to the burning in unpredictable ways. In this instance, unintended effects define the work as each mark informs the next. As the materials endure greater manipulation, their capabilities are revealed further: flat paper becomes more sculptural, and the synthetic nature of plastic softens into more organic forms. Nojima connects this practice to one of self-discovery, revealing identity through process and the release of control.
Similarly, Heather Engen is interested in how objects come to be and how close or distant they are from their original, inherent properties. In her work, process delineates form, and form delineates process interchangeably. Organic materials such as wood, bronze, and resin are investigated for how they evolve and become more synthetic as a result of both natural and human interventions. In one work, the artist repurposes the byproduct of a bronze casting process used to create sculptures. Using discarded materials collected from a bronze foundry, the work’s form is defined by the material’s natural response to being processed – the heating, melting, splashing, and hardening of the material into a final, solid state. Sand, pieces of ceramic shell, uneven patina, etc., which are typically seen as undesirable flaws, are embedded in the work. These attributes are highlighted to reveal how time and process may become part of a form to create a visual map of its construction. In all of Engen’s works, the evolution of each object informs its physicality and meaning. Their properties and individuality are emphasized, eliciting a sensorial, physical, and empathetic response in the viewer.
The manipulation of organic materials is also explored in Joy Fritz’s work, but with a focus on the relationship between human progress and the earth’s ecology. Described as a ceramic documentary, Fritz’s work presents three periods in the history of the planet: the Early Human, Anthropocene, and Post-Human eras. Looking at the human desire to understand and dominate the natural world, Fritz’s ceramics integrate archaic, futuristic, representational, and otherworldly images. In each of the ceramic groupings the ways in which we revere nature are challenged by a seemingly innate need to functionalize, commodify, and create convenience through exploiting natural resources. With a focus on pollution and its projected impact on the future, Fritz’s documentary is part truth and part science fiction, inspired to some extent by Easter Island Moai sculptures, chemtrail formations, and alien life forms.
Victoria Jang also approaches her work as a ceramicist, continually examining the vessel as a culturally significant form. A display of functional, ceremonious, and ornamental vessels are examined for their historic and contemporary use through a new monumental work created specifically for this exhibition. Using the form of a traditional Korean vanity as a base, Jang adorns the structure with slip casted household commodities typically found in duty free shops: makeup, anti-aging cream, etc. Combining a variety of materials including porcelain, mother of pearl, Mylar, and wood, Jang’s work fluctuates between sculpture, craft, and function. As a second-generation American, Jang is interested in the tradition and value of exporting spaces of transition and cultural hybridity. The vanity is inspired by one from the artist’s childhood home and herein represents a place where the culmination of cultural influences and artifacts are gathered and displayed, offering multiple readings through juxtaposition.
Through painting and drawing, Sarah Ammons also explores symbolic associations with domestic objects by relating them to psychological states, especially as they pertain to relationships between people. Influenced by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and his concept of the “Other,” Ammons is interested in how the individualized notion of the self is challenged through the act of getting closer to another person. Rendered in a variety of techniques including ink and brush, and silverpoint, Ammons’ figures are often engaged in negotiation, struggle, dominance, and competition, and are depicted playing board games or tug of war. A loose narrative is implied through the use of self-portraiture, figures, objects, and interior spaces. The same individuals and couples recur within singular works and throughout the series, symbolizing the self in a state of multiplicity. The viewer is invited to conjecture a storyline for Ammon’s figures situated within the context of the home.
Lauren McKeon describes her work as being the supporting cast for a missing performance. Her sculptures play with the expectations associated with recognizable materials and forms that support and guide how we move through space. Portals and props that should be activated by a performer stand inoperable. A procession of objects including a freestanding staircase, paper mâché arc, and a marble trap door prompt the viewer to question the authority of the objects, as well as imagine a plotline to validate their existence. Meant to facilitate passage and accentuate points of movement, the work calls attention to the absence of the body and therefore, how architecture and functional objects dictate our experience of space.
Likewise, Michael Bartalos’ four-way video projection studies the interdependence of architecture and our sensorial experiences by examining how light, color, and time influence our interior worlds. To create the piece, Escandón: West / Mission: East / Headlands: North / SoMA: South, Bartalos draped vibrantly colored, semi-translucent fabrics over windows located at north, south, east, and west directions at various locations including Headlands Center for the Arts. He filmed each of the windows over the course of a day while manipulating the fabrics, changing their configuration, and examining how they interacted with the shifting sun. The artist describes this practice as creating paintings with light. Projections of the four time-lapse videos are displayed simultaneously within a square configuration so that the viewer is surrounded by the piece and able to consider the unique qualities of each direction in the context of a group. Through this work, the artist invites us to pay closer attention to the effect the natural world has on the qualities of light and color within interior spaces. Various moods and emotional states are evoked as the colors shift, blend, brighten, and dim.
By examining how natural and social forces influence our understanding of objects and spaces, the seven artists in Build It Up/Break It Down all exhibit a commitment to the narrative potential in art making. Each of the artists abstracts recognizable forms and imagery to elicit alternative readings from the personal standpoint of the viewer. Through a wide range of material and conceptual approaches, the work in Build It Up/Break It Down encourages a connection to the various facets of narrative—emphasizing history, the effects of process, spatial relationships, and cultural signifiers. In doing so, the work illuminates how narrative evolves, and how it is equally shaped by the unique perceptions of both the artist and the viewer.
Image credit: Heather Engen.
Design by Chris Hamamoto.