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USF’s Annual Student Exhibition
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
Each Spring, the University of Saint Francis' School of Creative Arts (SOCA) calls for its student's best work, which is then heavily juried to create the Annual Student Exhibition, a highlight of Fort Wayne's art scene, and a great place to pick up incredibly affordable quality work. Over the last 35 years, SOCA's Student Exhibition has gained more awards, more attention, and created its own context for artistic growth. While SOCA has a history of being somewhat traditional, or at least "safe" in its approaches to a contemporary aesthetic dialogue, the 2011 Student Exhibition seems to stray into some more challenging work.
The graduating class of 2011 included some solid work from artists like Ashleigh Kiester, Aisha Malik, Thomas Trinh, Amanda Preuss, and Katie Fox, but as a whole, the Senior output seemed rather disjointed and lackluster compared to past years. SOCA Senior's are given the Weatherhead Gallery for their last chance to make a strong impression. The majority of seniors this year produced humble collections of works that, while sometimes technically impressive, lacked a strong voice. The three seniors who particularly stood out are Bambi Guthrie, Holly Clabaugh, and Sam Dangler. Their work stood out in overall character by focusing its message and creating aggressive, jarring, and professional small bodies of work.
Sam Dangler's body of digitally manipulated photographic work is both alarming and quite empathic upon inspection. With titles like "Delusional Disorder," "Major Depressive Disorder," and "Agoraphobia," Dangler's photos are explorations of mental illnesses and extreme anxieties. Dangler's photography has an almost “fashion editorial” feel, with the focus of each image being placed on the figure, which is posed in a highly crafted mannequin-esque way. The end result is a series of images that slightly haunts the viewer more so out of its awkward interstitial quality. Dangler's ability to make images which are "neither" more than implicitly "either" without being a neutral void is a feat in itself.
Bambi Guthrie, a regular photographer in Fort Wayne's underground music scene, presents work that is explicitly editorial, made for the Fort Wayne based Sweet Tooth Collective whose artisan tees are the main focus. Guthrie's natural eye extends beyond a penchant for strong compositions and subtle coloring, and allows her work to look both staged and fluid, in the view of Terry Richardson's "lifestyle" system for image production.
Holly Clabaugh, the winner of a "High Achievement in Studio Art" award, displayed the only true installation in the exhibition which is a combination of printed digital photographs and sculptural units including "Eva" an aluminum cast figure and dress, with an open chest cavity filled with machine parts and an organ substituted for a medical sponge made into a pin-cushion. The power of Clabaugh's imagery is clear as the viewer further explores the installation to hear over 25 layers of music coming out of the ancient radio which also plays selections of texts and a list of names from a holocaust memorial. As an extension of the installation Clabaugh exhibited last year, this year's collection of objects, images, and sounds was clearly darker, and was made with a medical bend. This focus on the medical experimentation which the Nazi military doctors inflicted on its captured Jewish population takes center stage with Clabaugh's "Disease Experiments" and "Torture Experiments" as well, digital photographs which metaphorically explore very specific instances of medical torture which she came across in her study of the subject. Clabaugh sees this work (both year's installations) as a continuation of a grieving process that she is going through as she continues to research the tragedies of the past.
While the seniors were clearly highlighted as it was their last year, the Junior class put forth an incredible collection of work, all of which is gallery worthy and surprisingly comprehensive in concept, technique, and overall comprehension. This bodes extremely well for next year's exhibition as their work will have an even greater focus and determination. Patrick Gainer, Tanner Wilson, and Lilliana Hoag were not only stand outs among their class, but of the entire exhibition as well. Tanner Wilson, the winner of the Maurice A. Papier Scholarship, presented the most commercially viable gallery ready works, with an impressive series of acrylic, marker, and aerosol on board images. "Redy Eye" and "Dormant" were especially impressive with there astute uses of color, frugal use of form, and overall very pop images.
Patrick Gainer's series of classical male nude photographs is a clear departure from some of his more graphically intense, electrically colored, works on paper, and show just how far his artistic range spans. With pieces titled " No Strings Attached", "Good Enough to Eat", and "Look, but Don't Touch", Gainer's photographs go beyond the technically impressive photos themselves to weave a conceptual narrative discussing homosexuality in contrast to, and in the context of, the male body. Once the traditional ideal of beauty, the male body in these works are both subversive and explicit. This charges them with a politicked aura in the face of the traditional and conservative nature of the Midwest, and specifically Fort Wayne's very modest public identity.
Lilliana Hoag seemed to be this year's underdog, not receiving the attention her work deserved, and that is a shame. Her three main pieces, "The Patriarch", "The Progeny", and "The Predecessor", were by far the most impressive pieces of the exhibition. Their totality leaves a clear impression left on the viewer, making them truly finished pieces of art, ready for the gallery and perhaps even the museum. These photographic compositions are humble in their style, primarily being the photomontage made popular by David Hockney, but having been done in such a way that they become an abstracted figurative image more akin to DeKooning or Larry Rivers. Another gem made by Hoag is "Each Peach (two's a pair)", a small photograph, presumably a self-portrait, depicting one portrait in blue and one in red, overlapped and reversed. Hoag's work has the uncanny ability to withstand the critical pursuit to analyze and project and stands quite fervently on its own as being something unto itself.
SOCA Student Exhibition
April 9-May 6, 2011
*Galleries will be closed April 22-24 for Easter Holiday