If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash

Brooklyn College MFA Thesis Show, Spring 2018
601Artspace
88 Eldridge Street

May 25th - June 3rd, 2018

In partnership with The Department of Art at Brooklyn College CUNY, 601Artspace is delighted to be hosting this year’s Brooklyn College MFA Candidates’ Thesis Exhibition, curated by our director, Sara Shaoul.

Read the Hyperallergic review of the show here.

Please join us for the opening reception Thursday May 24th from 6-8pm.
A panel discussion featuring William J. Simmons, Yasmin Ramirez & Jane Ursula Harris will be held Friday, June 1, from 6-8 pm

Lexi Campbell
Megan Cavanaugh
Madeline Donahue
Joshua Gabriel
Celie Gruber
Helena Halvarsson Hagg
Megan Heckmann
Tom Hemmerick
Elizabeth Insogna
Georgie Flores Mendéz
Eliza Moore
Samantha Rivera
Olivia Taylor

Thesis show hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 12pm to 6pm

Curators Statement:

“Poetry is just the evidence of life” noted the late, great Leonard Cohen. “If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” The artists of the 2018 Brooklyn College MFA thesis group recalled this sentiment to me because their work feels, overwhelming and consistently, like a form of proof. Proof of complex personal narratives, proof of the deeply flawed world we inhabit, proof of the theoretical, conceptual and political beliefs that motivate their work. The artists in this show offer poetic evidence that their claims are true. And in doing so, they prove that the lives of artists are not footnotes to be relegated to the background or basement of artwork. They are its source.

In her book “Hold It Against Me,” theorist Jennifer Doyle describes a pressing need for a new language of contemporary art criticism that can effectively discuss work that is emotional, difficult, personal; work that deals with feeling and affect, work that sometimes turns the viewer into a witness or participant. Doyle points out that such a sea change would not only underscore that identity and emotion are inextricably linked, but would challenge the art historical canon to acknowledge a “broader spectrum of viewers seeking a wider range of experiences than those recognized by traditional articulations of that discipline.” The Brooklyn College thesis class openly and unapologetically mine their life experiences to make art, offering up their personal histories and challenges, acknowledging the influence of their day jobs, laying bare their spiritual and material explorations. They collectively embrace the sincere, the emotional, the challenging, the difficult.

Meghan Cavanaugh draws from the intimate details of her daily life to consider the performativity of the female body, and explore the power and pleasure in self-exposure. Her exquisitely crude sculptural “sets’ and the videos she makes with them blur the lines between person and persona, mannequin and human, vulnerability and control, transparency and spectacle. Painter and printmaker Eliza Moore exclusively creates self-portraits of masturbation in a sex-positive effort to normalize and empower the act of self-pleasure, asking us to join her in accepting it as both important and commonplace, and rejecting it as pornographic or sinful. Her choice to depict only one kind of subject matter is clearly political, but also feels meditative, a kind of mantra against taboo. Megan Heckmann’s installation invites the viewer in with hospitable seats, soft pillows, and delicate embroidery. Upon closer inspection, however, this “comfortable” environment is in fact a participatory site of embodied consciousness-raising, a feminist, activist testament to injustice against women, and an impassioned refutation of the devaluing and anonymity of both traditional craft and the female body and voice.

Samantha Rivera creates realistic paintings with a conceptual bent, depicting human vices that include classic failings such as drinking, smoking, and nail-biting, as well as the more contemporary practices of binge-watching television and playing endless video games. She asks us to consider the complex continuum of these human behaviors, from escapism that allows us to endure the world around us, to addictions that disconnect us. Where does pleasure descend into danger, and how do we navigate that boundary? Elizabeth Insogna seeks to radically reclaim, expand and redefine the “feminine” through ritual, sculptural installation and participatory works. Informed by historical research into ritual practices and the goddess, and rooted in a layered exploration of the Divine Feminine, her process begins with intensive and often site-specific rituals, drawn from Feminist and Queer ground. The resulting visualizations form the basis for her artwork, where cauldrons and talismans seamlessly intermingle with video projection. Joshua Gabriel updates the aesthetic of psychedelia to create a kind of hybrid space in which a mythologized version of his own ego, constructed of variable disposable personae, is at the center. Drawing on his experiences as a painter and musical performer in New York’s underground scene, his work leans towards spectacle, painting on sacred objects and readymades, projecting onto walls, and combining the abstract and figurative in a riot of color.

Thomas Hemmerick’s work asserts the equality of painting and photography, blending those modes freely and irreverently. Images are torn, distorted, painted over, ripped up and sewn back together, creating work that frays at the edges and buckles at the seams. Influenced by his work as a billboard painter, Hemmerick knows firsthand how advertising imagery (and thus capitalism) is visually forced on us. In protest, he reverses that effect by personalizing and obscuring, privileging fleeting emotions and memories over marketing. Helena Halvarsson Hagg’s paintings and drawings are abstracted and ethereal, and they reverberate with personal memories of the rocky Swedish archipelago that has been foundational to her visual approach. New patterns emerge as she absorbs the forms of her new home - angular cityscapes teeming with people. Her professional experience as a book and magazine illustrator is openly acknowledged in her use of color, then cast aside to make way for far freer and more intuitive formal choices.

Celie Gruber rejects the standard format of painting in favor of an experimental and unstable process that strips pigment from binder, form from canvas, tradition from medium. Poured and peeled paint hangs from thumbtacks and lies on the floor, engaged in a continuous transformation by oxidation and gravity. Gruber fuses painterly and sculptural approaches, and in doing so, creates a time-based experience for both artist and viewer. Photographer Lexi Campbell’s choice of expired polaroid film as a medium is conceptual rather than in any way nostalgic. It pairs perfectly with her fastidious compositions, intimate yet undecipherable, written in a visual language only she speaks. By forcing her formal photographic compositions into the unknown, Campbell acknowledges and challenges her own perfectionism, embracing the potential for failure and disintegration. Madeline Donahue’s paintings are created in a day, privileging an instant, imperfect and intuitive response to her current reality, and creating from memory rather that references. Through explorations of figure and place, her painting and sculpture focus on the complexity of human relationships, bringing lightness and play without sacrificing gravity or meaning. True to the direct line between her reality and her work, the birth of her daughter inspired a reconsideration of how the female body looks and feels, and a desire to find an expanded truth in its representation.

Georgie Flores Mendez explores concurrent themes of a future past and a neo-colonial present to produce objects and sculpture that are part artifact, part premonition, part warning. Utilizing construction materials from his day job, he creates structures out of cement, sand, wires and mirrors, reflecting back to us technology both recognizable and mysterious, ancient and futuristic. He infers damage - to indigenous culture by colonizers, and to the earth by humans. Using industrial materials such as silicone, foam and plastic, Olivia Taylor transforms familiar commodities and fabricated environments, creating playful sculptures that fuse person and product. With a deft, humorous touch, she simplifies, stylizes and anthropomorphizes familiar spaces like bathrooms and kitchens, making the mass-produced feel unique, malleable and bodily, and exposing the humanity buried within the commercial.

This class is part of a new wave of artists whose work demands an evolved critical language, and who do not to fear the art historical status quo. They are empowered by contemporary feminisms and critiques of power, and their personal is political. They disregard the line between art and life, reaching across a chasm towards a new, expanded audience. They embrace fugitive materials and hybrid mediums and seem more concerned with the conceptual resonance of their choices in this present moment than with archival standards. Their forthright assertion of self allows us to see ourselves in them, and them in us.

-Sara Shaoul


Image: Madeline Donahue, Divers, 2018.





88 Eldridge St. New York, NY 10002
Tel: 212-243-2735
Gallery Hours: Thursday-Sunday, 1-6pm
© 601Artspace, 2018