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Digital Drawing Room: MFA Fine Arts

As part of RRR's mission to be a digital space for students to converse, the work in "Digital Drawing Room: MFA Fine Arts" provides insight into individual graduating MFA students' work. Written by students in Glen Helfand and Maria Porges' respective graduate writing seminars this past fall and spring, this series of interviews and artist profiles brings the reader closer to the artists and their artwork. Reflections from a handful of MFA Fine Arts students on life in art school, at home, provide insight into a year of learning through many crises, and small solutions. In the absence of a physical opening for the MFA show with in-person head-to-heads and heart-to-hearts, the authors of this series provide another avenue for those of us at home to engage in and celebrate this class's culminating body of work. 

Starting May 10th, you can view the online MFA Show at https://2021.ccamfa.art

Contents:

Abigale Wu

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Yu Jin Sung

The deliberate exploration of transformations translated through casting and recasting are the touchstone of the China-born artist Abigale Wu’s practice. She constantly pushes the boundaries of her art practice by working with different methods and materials, such as digital painting and textiles, lending the objects a lightweight and floating quality. Her recent pieces made of fabrics are reminiscent of broken picture frames that have been reconstructed using novel materials, colors, and forms. A digital file of one design makes the project available to anyone, turning it into an innovative product.

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Aliya Parashar

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Lauren Sorresso

Lauren Sorresso: When did you start working with the yantra? Was it last year, when you lost the studio space needed to make installations?

Aliya Parashar: I’ve been thinking about the yantra for a long time now. It’s a meditative mystical device that’s a very consistent reference point in Hindu mythology. It resides where intersections meet and repeat—the reverence hidden in small gestures. It was used as a blueprint for temple structures in India. The direct translation from Sanskrit is machine.

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Ann Li

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Hannah Lamb-Vines

No matter what her Instagram profile conveys, Ann Li is not Ceci. “She’s a ‘bad character’ because she plays so many roles. But we all play so many roles, just as people,” Li says of CC—like the common abbreviation for “carbon copy” used in email correspondence—the pink-haired persona with penchants for rebellion and exhibitionism that Li created as a way of processing the fallout of a manic episode. Her project pays homage to the fractured clarity of the bipolar experience through a combination of epistolary narrative, staged photography, and video performance.

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Chenyu Zhu

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Yang Li

Yang Li: What has been the biggest influence on your work to date?

Chenyu Zhu: When I studied fine art in China, almost all my classmates expected to become teachers after graduation. I was shocked and confused at that time about why. What causes everyone with different backgrounds and different experiences to hope for the same career path, like copy and paste? It seems like people make their decisions based on a trend, not only for their career choice. I want to illustrate this trend with my work.

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Claire Tetenbaum

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Yu Jin Sung

In Claire Tetenbaum’s black and white ink painting Disparate World, a hunched-over figure with pleading, desperate hands is hardly recognizable since it is surrounded by black, cloud-like shapes that are varying in density levels. The black form blooms in the air and encircles the human figure as if it is intent on swallowing him. Contrary to the title of the work, the dark shapes seem to be so assimilated to each other that they cannot be distinguished in this chaos.

Tetenbaum applies this ambiguous and abstract visual aesthetic in her paintings because that seemed the most suitable way of getting the warning message to the people regarding the destruction of nature.

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Consuelo Tupper Hernandez

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Slade Gottlieb

Consuelo Tupper Hernandez is a cartographer of ideas. “The meaning of things is an endless negotiation between people,” the interdisciplinary artist and writer says. “I try to work along the line between the bottomlessness of interpretation, and the actual truth of a moment.”

Tupper Hernandez’s art practice began, when she was a young student in Chile, as an obsession with the limits of her own knowledge. Her collections of rules and logic tend to behave paradoxically as both fact and fiction, and she grew increasingly fascinated with and wary of our human limitations.

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Ebtihal Shedid Abdelghafar

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Selam Bekele

Selam Bekele: What’s your process like in the studio?

Ebtihal Abdelghafar: My process is very improvisational, and I always pay attention to chance when I put things together and move things around. I never really question myself, I just do it. Because you see something, and maybe it informs something else. I think about failure a lot, and I just embrace it.

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Elizabeth (Liz) Hafey

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Lauren Sorresso

Liz Hafey makes absurdly humorous sculptures and performances. Sometimes dark, often ironic, and always playful, her work addresses the strange side of life.

What do you get when you turn a whoopee cushion into a giant inflatable? Or do a performance of blowing one up and walking on it? Hafey’s sculptural combinations have also included chenille chicks, condoms, doll parts, fake grass, hot dogs, plastic trees, plungers, teeth molds, toilet seats, yo-yos, and wigs. Oh, and customized kid’s straws shaped into curse words.

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Julian Harris

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Selam Bekele

It’s interesting how the quest for fulfillment may take us on journeys unexpected. Born in Atlanta, Julian Harris has traveled to countries such as Chile, Ireland, Morocco, and China. He has allowed his experiences in these various countries to shape him and inform his every step. Harris started off as a travel photographer, taking photos from his own perspective of the people and places he has met on his journey.

For the past several years, Harris’ “studio” has been in his lived experience as a young man from Georgia trying to see the world.

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Leonardo Barrera

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Karl Daum

Karl Daum: Tell me a little bit about your work.

Leonardo Barrera: My current project is a performance that looks back on learning English after my parents were deported from the United States. I started transcribing conversations I was having with strangers. I would ask them to take photos of me, and without their consent, I would record their voice and then transcribe the recording into a word document. It was basically a process of listening to myself speak a foreign language while understanding myself as an image and as a voice. The work explores the space between photography and text, and how these two can merge to create a cinematic book.

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Lisha Peng

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Selam Bekele

Selam Bekele: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Lisha Peng: I am a multidisciplinary artist who engages in painting, sculpture, performance, and installation. I love to express what makes me feel anxious and hopeful at the same time. My art practice focuses on philosophy, using psychological questions to reframe the relationship between the subconscious and an object.

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Liz Ordway

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Becca Chacon

Becca Chacon: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your work?

Liz Ordway: Well, I’m a researcher and a scholar. A lot of my work comes from a combination of fat activism and emotional nourishment. I have a background in graphic design, but I am usually if not solely working with fabric these days. I’ve been an artist and a maker my whole life.

Last year I took in so much—I consumed so much information and feedback. Now, in the time of the pandemic and isolation, I’m starting to slow down my whole process.

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Minyue (Mia) Zhou

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Rebecca Sexton

Rebecca Sexton: How would you describe your work and practice? What choices do you make in your work, and why are they important to you?

Minyue (Mia) Zhou: I primarily make sculptures and installations. I use clay as my main material now, but I have used wax in the past too. I am inspired by the female body, and think a lot about how clay can act as stand-in for the body. I usually begin by spraying foam into nylon socks. It is a very unpredictable process because you can’t control the foam. Once it gets to a place that I am satisfied with, I will slip cast my work, and I manipulate the clay before it is completely dried.

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MFA in Covid Times

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Siana Smith

March 2020. As COVID-19 hit America, we started Shelter in Place (SIP). No longer could I go to school or my studio. Instead of in-person interactions with fellow artists and teachers, I stared at an 8½ by 12-inch screen. When it rains, it pours. Soon after SIP, SFAI notified us that they are closing the door and we need to find another institute to finish our MFA program.

Jeannette Walls says that “when God closes a door, he opens a window, but it’s up to you to find it.” When SFAI closed its doors on me, CCA opened theirs. I came to CCA with gratitude knowing I could continue my study with supportive faculties and staff. However, the screen is still my only connection to the outside world.

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My Second Year MFA

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Wendy Liang

Are there things that I wish I could have done without the COVID restriction? Of course. I wish I had seen, touched and smelled the CCA campus. I wish I could have taken some fun, hands-on classes such as ceramics and printmaking in real studios. Most of all, I wish I had made some friends and connections through physical interactions. I wish my classmates were not flat images that could talk on my computer screen. I even dreamed of running into my favorite professors in the hallway or at the campus cafeteria and having a little chat with them.

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Poems from the pandemic

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Rachel Parish

It got a little weird just now

with Rex on the tech support hotline

a failed attempt at installation

enshrouds our relationship entirely—

a four hour universe of effort to secure

a connection for our family’s next dwelling

I’ll tell you straight, we failed.

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Siana Smith

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Kristen Wawruck

Kristen Wawruck: How do you choose your subject matter?

Siana Smith: I start with a specific concept in my mind and things that I want to say. The subjects come from my observations of life. Depending on what I continue to think about, I arrange objects for a photoshoot. Based on that arrangement, I paint.

I ask myself, “how do I transfer these concepts into my work?” My paintings are not abstract—my work is representative. I am interested in traditional veritas paintings. I find they are still very applicable, except now we just have contemporary stuff—contemporary commodities.

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Sonya Thorne

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Yu Jin Sung

In her 3 minute-long performance video, Over The Head (2020), Sonya Thorne slowly tears off curly lumps of hair stuck onto her like an insect molting its skin. Thorne works with a wide range of themes such as protest, bodies, endurance, and labor through “low-fi” or everyday materials. Her working process embodies the spirit of bricolage, using whatever is at hand and recombining such materials to create something new and meaningful. Cardboard beer cartons become the intricate parts of a wall-hung ‘quilt,’ serving as a kind of record of beer she and roommates consumed during the pandemic.

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Wendy Liang

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Hannah Lamb-Vines

“As artists, it’s our responsibility to look at the problems and to look for solutions,” says Wendy Liang. Using watercolors, the realist-impressionist painter depicts scenes of systemic failure and brutality with a gentle hand. Her large-scale works, up to 13 feet wide and 6 feet high, are detailed renderings of disasters spurred by climate change and human vulnerability in the face of both such events and pandemics. Despite the dark subjects of Liang’s work, she often constructs scenes washed in light. This technique lends itself to a harsh clarity, laying bare the impacts of a dry Ganges River, a melted ice cap, or a deadly virus spreading across the globe.

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Wenxin Li

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Becca Chacon

To Wenxin Li, daily sounds are like music, playing all around us. Li believes there is great power in sound; it connects to all our senses and triggers memories. As an observant and curious listener, she makes connections between the familiar sounds, like the sound of drinking water, which she calls daily sounds, to memories in her life. Li hears the sounds all around her, records, transcribes them into musical notes, and makes a finished piece that is played through a music box. She envisions her works being experienced in private spaces, places where the viewer can be alone to be reminded of their own memories.

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Xuebei Zeng

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Slade Gottlieb

Xuebei Zeng’s work is imbued with the cosmic-stuff of memory. “My process involves revisiting my past,” Zeng says. “It will be like: There is Xuebei from before, sitting there, while my mind from now floats in the air.” In Zeng’s hands, her materials travel with her through time, into her memories, and are shaped in this ethereal realm. Whether Zeng is visiting a time of sorrow, of confusion, or of longing, what she returns with to the present are the manifestations of the newly-understood memories, whose meanings, upon occurrence, were lost in the murk that so often is life in real-time.

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Yaoxi (Zoey) Duan

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Yu Jin Sung

Yu Jin: I had a sense that your focus on the aesthetic quality of images gradually moved on to an interest in the procedure itself of developing photographs in alternative ways. What drew you into this kind of photography?

Yaoxi (Zoey) Duan: This process might not seem like a traditional way to develop an image, but it actually was there at the beginning of the history of photography. I was introduced to that technique when I was in the last year of my undergrad degree. I was focusing on landscape and documentary photography back then, which required the photographer to spend sufficient time digging into the stories behind the subject.

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Ying Gu

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Karl Daum

For Ying Gu, portraiture is a complex reenactment that implicates the artist, the subject, the model, and the audience in one story. Born in Japan and raised in China, Gu says her practice changed when she moved to the United States at 17—an experience which opened her up to sharing stories and “being a listener and a responder.” In her current project, Everybody Has a Secret, text conversations, written accounts, and photography reconstruct the past.

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Yiqing Sun

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Yang Li

Yiqing Sun’s recent project series Sequence started with an observation of lint collected from her clothes dryer. Sun felt time pass through the bits of materials embedded in the lint—like a tiny piece of gold foil that was left on her clothes when she was helping a friend make a piece. She realized that the lint was like a memory collector, gathering materials from what she was doing during a specific time.

After that, Sun started to collect the lint, first bringing it together into an installation piece. In the second phase of this series, instead of putting all the pieces of lint together, she attached each one to a plywood base that maintained its shape.

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Yu-Han (Pamela) Sun

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Rebecca Sexton

Yu-Han Sun is interested in the forces of chaos and clarity. Believing that art is “everything in [her] everyday life,” Sun attempts to make sense of the paradoxes of life, especially during this time of the COVID-19 health crisis.

In her most recent piece, a book entitled Me -------------- The Universe, Sun explores her own mind and body through repetitive questioning and personal journaling. Sun describes her book as “a self-inspection procedure from my mind and body, written during the global pandemic.” Through the making process, she discusses the COVID-19 coronavirus as “not only a sorrow, but a clear mirror” that reveals the deepest parts of ourselves.

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Zhongyu Yuan

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Yang Li

Yang Li: What kind of materials do you like to use?

Zhongyu Yuan: All the materials I use are fragile, like paper or tree branches. I don’t expect my work will last for a long period of time. I prefer not to keep or store it. I’ll find the material to replicate my work if I need to.

YL: Have you ever experienced not having an audience for your artwork?

ZY: There was once when I was working on Donburi. I’m the only audience for this work. But even if there is no one, no audience is another form of ‘audience’. It also creates an experience. I think my experience is always the essential part of an artwork.

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Zhuojun (Vine) Chen

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Kristen Wawruck

Zhuojun (Vine) Chen is a sculptor whose practice has recently made a leap from the tactile to the digital. The constraints of the current health crisis led to a loss of studio space and materials, while travel restrictions have kept Shenzhen-raised, London-educated Chen in her Pacifica, CA home studio. Unexpectedly, however, reconnecting virtually with friends new and old via online games has also opened up a plethora of new possibilities for art-making. With her own 3D printers, Chen has been creating a new world of figures situated in the complex history of anime, comic, and gaming culture—otherwise known as “ACG.”

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Zihan Jia

CCA MFA Showcase 2021

April 8–29, 2021

by Yang Li

If the Qing Dynasty had not been replaced by the Chinese Republic, Zihan Jia would be one of the princesses. One of her identities—royal blood from the previous dynasty—has led her to use ancient Chinese art techniques in a contemporary way. In Jia’s art practice, she includes materials from her daily life, such as the boxes she has received in the mail from China, a used Chinese wedding dress, or candles from her husband’s wedding proposal.

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