BOILING POINT / Opening on Saturday, May 5th from 7-9pm
A selection of works from second year MFA Fine Arts candidates
at The Boiler Room
Curated by Regine Basha
Artists: Jill Brandwein, Abby Cheney, Yen Yen Chou, Rachel Cohen, Naomi Frank, Shelia Lam, Devi Loftus, Marco Lorenzetti, Luisa Valderrama, Cougar Vigil, Cary Wander, Sora Woo.
On view through May 18, 2018
Formerly under the auspices of the legendary Pierogi Gallery, ‘the Boiler Room’ is now more of a neutral space featuring that beloved behemoth of a machine: a relic of 19th Century industry and toxicity – one that is too large to remove and to fascinating to cover up. It has stood silently, as a witness to the many decades of multifarious expressions of 21st Century art, sometimes taking on the role of avant-garde art object itself. It is now the undeniable fulcrum of the entire space. Rather than ignore the elephant-in-the-room so to speak, I’ve decided to work in tandem with it both physically and conceptually.
Consider the role and specific function of the boiler itself – to render liquid into vapor – and the process through which liquid reaches a boiling point. Looking up ‘boiling point’ you’ll get two definitions; the scientific one describing how the boiling point is ‘the temperature at which vapor pressure of a liquid equals the external pressure of the surrounding liquid’ essentially through ‘environmental or atmospheric pressure’ it will say. Simultaneously, the definition offers a psychological application to humans as ‘the boiling point is the point beyond which one becomes angry, agitated or outraged’.
In more ways than one, these definitions aptly depict our current political and cultural moment, where, in every arena it seems - be it environmental, political, social, or economic - we are reaching untenable levels of saturation and pressure. And so once again, as it has always been for artists, the question becomes ‘what does it mean to make art during this time ?’ Another question that interested me became ‘how do you internalize and transform this pressure’ ? or better yet, ‘how do you go from boiling point to vapor ?’
The dynamic student body at the Pratt MFA program that I encountered during the research process, led me to these considerations. This curated selection of artists from that class, through a variety of media, had remarkably convergent perspectives regarding environmental cycles of decay and life, economic and social precarity and an impulse to highlight the fragility of organic forms, whether it be animal, mineral or human. We can find themes related to the crisis of our oceans in the cross-media experimentations of Cary Wander as well as in the mixed-media printed fabrics of Devi Loftus; there are impulses to study organic death and cycles of decay in Naomi Frank’s monumental paintings depicting the still bodies of beautiful dead birds; Rachel Cohen’s sequins-encrusted chromatic paintings attack our senses with color from deep inside Costa Rican ecosystems; Luisa Valderrama’s organic abstract forms recall the soil, hay and drying animal organs, as sculptural memories from her family’s farm in Colombia; Yen Yen Chou brings a psychedelic take on food and nature gone awry in an era of GMOs and over-consumption in her ceramics. On a psychological level, Marco Lorenzetti’s rapid-fire drawn paintings on bedsheets contain the raw frenetic energy and density of emotional boiling points in nuclear families, while Sheila Lam’s interactive sound works amplify the minutiae of bodily contact as anxious soundscapes. Abby Cheney’s fey, painted cardboard objects from daily life, seemingly on the edge of falling apart, ultimately capture resilience and poise. In relation to precarious social fabrics and trauma, Cougar Vigil captures, re-frames monumentally the highly charged ephemeral documents and identity registers from within his own tribal community; and Sora Woo’s quiet photography clinically documents abandoned or perhaps foreclosed houses as relics of economic ravages, in different parts of the world; Jill Brandwein’s polychromatic stacked canvas of painted memories, intentionally teeter on the edge of collapse…
Artists leaving graduate school are in their own particular moment of transition as they will soon disperse from one dense social body into a wider frame of relations and activity. The work that was once was considered ‘in-process’ will soon be considered ‘cooked’ so to speak in the eyes of the art world. But these are presumptions we are often too quick to apply to graduate students. If we are to consider the metaphor of turning from liquid to vapor in the case of artists leaving a graduate program, it should be only in order to release their work more broadly into ether of discussions around contemporary art today.
- Regine Basha