SARAH BARR




 
   

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Thesis Show Round-Up #6: Art Institute of Boston MFA Grad Exhibit

By Shawn Hill

June 26, 2013

The Art Institute of Boston's low residency graduate program culminates this year in two group shows (one on each
campus) featuring 15 artists. As a low residency program, it attracts established artists who have both life and
studio experience, but have reached an impasse where they wish to push their work in new directions. The work
here is not obviously "student" work, but is quite polished, and represents a wide-open field of media and
concepts, directly relevant to current art world and cultural concerns. Comprised of painting, video, drawing,
sculpture, projection, ceramics and more, each artist presents a fully realized statement. As such, the shows don't
present overarching themes, though there are affinities.

In Cambridge, Kathline Carr's large abstractions are stitched together from a variety of fabrics, sewn and glued and
painted (sometimes with needle and thread still present), in order to create visceral, gestural combines in the
abstract expressionist or neo-dada modes. Her accumulations use blankets, sheets and drapes, and as such are
related to Rauschenberg's Bed (1955), with new stories to tell. Argument at Tactile Center doesn't feature a body,
but the red stains and scalloped cutouts suggest violent wounds. Gilgo Beach Blanket suggests a network of
connections waiting to be found at a site where female serial killer victims were buried.

Political messages are found in the work of Sarah Barr and Jason Pramas. Barr's mysterious video (which
photographs an archival Xerox machine producing faded images from microfilm) indirectly references her loss of
faith, as the images being researched document a papal visit where patriarchal allegiances were clearly valued over
interactions with women. Pramas, with deadpan delivery and dry captions, explores a buried history in Peabody The
Syntropy Archive. He exposes the city's hidden past as a unionized leather district, including contentious
Communist leadership and the systematic dismantling of such influences dating from the McCarthy era. His simple
scenes of modern Peabody edifices become ironic commentary on struggles and alternative politics that were long
ago repressed. But he also notes that the leather industry was a harsh one, not really missed by anyone. Nowhere is
this ambivalence more clear than in his frontal shot of pedestal in a city park, a place-holder for a commemorative
statue that was never made.

In Boston, Rita Maas's expressionistic, abstract video takes a far different approach. Donning headphones, one
hears a soundtrack of bird sounds and rippling water, which relates loosely to the projection of colors rippling
across a fluid river surface. Her photographs are re-photographed projections of videos taken at several sites, and
her soundtrack also has been re-recorded several times. The effect of the media intervention both obscures the
source material and reduces it to an abstract essence.

Sensuality is also evoked by Nicole Daviau's Between/Within, a womb-like box of stretched skin-like white material
with a glowing core at its center. Large enough to enter, this quasi-organic environment squishes under bare feet
and invites contemplations, discussion and exploration. In a way, Michelle Saffran's large-scale photo-collages
have a similar contemplative side; her colors are monotone, her panels of imagery carefully but not symmetrically
sewn together. Figures and shapes repeat or mirror each other, creating a kind of ghostly sensation and mournful
tone. Whether it's a memory fading away or coming back to prominence in the mind is up to each viewer.

Of the ceramics, few works could be more different than Jessica Putnam-Phillips' decorative platters and Linda S.
Fitz Gibbon's somewhat vase-like sculptural forms. Putnam-Phillips decorates her platters with unexpected
imagery: contemporary female soldiers in uniform. The patterns and colors aren't out of place on china; but the
imagery is unusual, meant as a surprise reveal should the plates ever be used. Putnam-Phillips brings her own
experience as a former soldier (she served in Desert Storm) to realistic accuracy regarding attire and weaponry. The
resulting works are meticulous yet upbeat, a window into the evolving world of women in the military. The pun of
"server" and military service is intentional, playing with expectations of duty and domesticity.

Fitz Gibbon's shapes are, by contrast, playful, abstract and weird. Her pottery skills are evident in the carefully
drooping, folded, sagging and bulbous shapes, but most of all in her lush glazes of green, pink and turquoise.
However, she's more interested in twisting and transforming her works so that they offer unusual surprises.
Whether hanging pendulous from the ceiling or flopping over hooks and shelves, these oddly swelling sacks use
Astro-turf, piano wire and mirrors to create hidden areas of incident and unusual bursts of texture and shape.
They're somewhere between flora and fauna, alien creations giving birth to themselves.

With the end of Big Red & Shiny’s first academic year quickly approaching, we’ve been taking stock of the past 8
months to identify our successes and re-evaluate where we’d like to have a larger impact. One part of our
mission has always been to highlight new voices within our cities—emerging artists who are bringing exciting
ideas and techniques to their mediums or those who may just be graduating into our arts scene. Around this time
every year we are provided with some of these best new voices and, given the number of academic institutions in
our area, we have quite a bit to choose from. It only seems fitting then that we take the time to recognize the
important work coming out of our schools. We will, of course, only be able to represent a small sampling of those
institutions, but over the next few weeks we hope to provide a snapshot of promising, soon-to-be matriculated
Boston artists.

Shawn Hill has been writing about art in Boston and beyond since 1990. He teaches at Montserrat College of Art. He
belongs to the International Association of Art Critics (AICA).

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