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Grad Company

Group show of recent MFA graduates catches young artists still honing their ideas

Robby Rackleff's "There Is no Such Army."

By Alex Ebstein | Posted 7/29/2009


Through Aug. 29 at Maryland Art Place

Convergence, Maryland Art Place's annual regional MFA show, is a heavily video-based exhibition of recent graduates from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Towson University, the University of Maryland, College Park, and UMBC. It's fair and accurate to say that it feels a little inconsistent: Some work here stands out as gallery-ready, a mastery of style and presentation, while other pieces aren't. And this showcase is a chance to learn what succeeds and doesn't on the job after two, and sometimes three, years of graduate work.

Leslie Shellow takes advantage of this showcase. In the gallery's first room, the Towson graduate presents the multi-media, nature-inspired installation "Subtle Disturbance." Honeycomb shapes and organic elements surpass their decorative suggestions to become an experiential piece. Starting from one dense corner of the room, carefully arranged drawings in dirt trickle into flat paper pieces, which become more sculptural and cylindrical as they approach the wall. Paint and paper cutouts referencing coral, flowers, cells, snowflakes, and amoebas crawl vine-like from the floor mass, blooming and growing as they approach the ceiling. Natural and synthetic materials blend to illustrate microscopic, structural similarities of form, be it animal, vegetable, or mineral.

The gallery's middle room contains three video pieces, all installed in different ways. College Park graduate Juan Rojo's "Farewell," presented on a small television monitor, is an almost 7-minute, slow-motion video of figures embracing. Super-saturated, and with no natural, fluid motion, Rojo's video becomes more a series of images than a narrative short. Unfortunately, the painterly qualities of the piece are subdued by its somewhat misguided presentation; the television monitor cripples the images by trapping them within the device. Had the piece been projected, the line between video and painting would have more effectively disappeared.

MICA grad Alan Callander takes up the back wall with his video, "Grey to White." Alternating between emotive figures and abstract imagery, there is no real comparison or continuity between the story arc created with the figures and the spliced-in abstract elements. The collage of the two video styles is unsettled; the two aesthetics are noticeably separate, rather than smoothly transitioning between the styles.

The third video, which is the least conspicuous, is UMBC's Susan Main's "One Inch of Anywhere." In her piece, a looping video plays on a laptop screen set up behind a wall, viewable only through a narrow, plumbing tailpipe. With such great measures taken to contain the content of the video, you expect to find something exciting, controversial, or even voyeuristic at the other end, but there is very little payoff for looking through the pipe. At other end of the hole is a sped-up, top-view video of grass.

MICA graduate Robby Rackleff visually dominates the gallery's back room and offers a second comparison of video to painting with a completely different set of inspirations. Unlike Rojo's video portraiture, Rackleff creates animated landscapes based on video games. His large-scale installation, "There Is No Such Army," made up of fantastical 16-bit hues, is a blinking, slowly morphing canvas. Flat, brightly colored shapes and planes create a conceptual kingdom under siege. The video is missing a game's classic side-scrolling protagonist; instead, this game is seemingly paused on an unexplored level with a mind of its own.

MICA's Michael Dax Iacovone illustrates his interest in movement and the way in which people document the banalities of time and space though video and photography. In his four-frame video "Following Billy," he uses continual motion to create an almost still, uniform image. Primarily a photographer, Iacovone uses moving video to create single, photographic frames. The title is also its summary: each of the four frames show the back of the same person from an equal distance, walking in different locations. While the setting is changing in the periphery, and the subject physically advancing, the composition remains the same throughout. (Iacovone also uses still photography to document movement in this exhibition with a multi-frame, multi-exposure panoramic photograph/diagram.)

Towson graduate Ellen Durkan renders metal dress/cages, both in her drawing and in her two sculptures, "Athena" and "Death Dress." Mostly grotesque and slightly melodramatic, the pieces are created based on the artist's own measurements, and meant to be worn. Her seven-and-a-half-foot-tall graphite drawing, "Blindheaded," is pinned to the wall, a presentation that suits the work--but not the drawings of MICA graduate Katherine Mann. Mann's MICA thesis piece was an impressive, wall-sized collaged painting, and here she includes two more demure pieces. Melting from fine, botanical detail into watery, abstract brushstroke, Mann beautifully demonstrates her knack for design and composition--if not presentation. Pinned to the wall, the two pieces buckle and bow from the corners, distracting from the delicateness of their imagery.

But you exhibit and learn. Convergence, an honor and rite of passage for the included artists, is just the first opportunity among many for young artists to continue to mature and find a voice for their work outside the studio.

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