MFA exhibit season is here! That special time of year when master of fine arts students finally show us what they’ve been obsessing over for the last year or two. At University of Nevada, Reno, the first wave of work is out, and the results are … very 2018.
While some art can be copied and pasted into any time, anywhere, the stuff that lands hardest is a particular mix of right time, right place, right artist, (right medium, right subject matter).
Sogand Tabatabaei’s ink drawings are “right” in this sense, even when they make you feel like something is wrong. In “Departure,” a dining set comes apart in midair, held up temporarily by several hundred closely drawn, static-like vertical lines that form the background. It’s anxiety-producing in the way that broken, mundane objects are anxiety-producing.
The line motif continues onto one of the walls depicted in “Isolation,” Tabatabaei’s most overt nod to the surveillance state— the one we live in, but especially the one that she lives in as an Iranian immigrant, as a watcher who is being watched. Set on a pitch-black background, the first wall meets up with a second to form a space that hints at the most unstable kind of interior space. Persian medallions add a wallpaper-like quality to the “room,” while a mounted security camera sets the high-pitched tone. A rocky pyre with a flat, polished top floats in the black void at the center of the drawing, attracting the gaze of the security camera. The rock is almost certainly a stand-in for the artist, but it could be anyone who has experienced what the artist describes as a “loss of peacefulness” in daily life.
Next to Tabatabaei’s work is Jared Longland’s “Retrogression,” a smallish video screen depicting famous images of Japanese internment camps, mounted to a section of barbed wire fence awash with a digital projection of the American flag. It’s an obvious parallel to the euphemistically named “border centers” across Texas that—even in the era of #MeToo, recognition that black lives do matter, tenuous preservation of basic healthcare, and, yes, actual flying cars—prove there is a pretty good counter-argument to the basic progress we think we’ve made. Coming from a fourth-generation Japanese American who grew up hearing stories about internment camps, this is a very 2018 reminder that the personal is always political. Scarier still, we’ve been here before.
Wes Lee’s work takes us someplace we haven’t been. In his 10-piece series, titled “521 Days,” he presents an incomplete documentation of a fictional 521-day adventure to a far-off land.
“In this story I build a boat and sail into the Pacific,” Lee’s statement reads.
Playing along with his premise, there are quite a few things you can learn about this remnant society that nature appears to have reclaimed. No humans are in sight. Plants and animals resemble each other, and octopuses have continued their survival by taking to the lakes. Weird trees grow in the mist, and weird spacecraft land amongst the trees. There’s at least one dusty, post-apocalyptic sunrise littered with monolithic, Space-Odyssey-flavored cubes.
It’s as if Max from Where the Wild Things Are grew up and went on a second adventure. But instead of becoming King of the Wild Things, he decided to document the mysterious island for posterity.
Lee’s story is believable partly because it’s compelling and partly because his drawings have a practiced, illustrative, Maurice-Sendak-inspired quality that makes you want to jump into the world he’s created. In a lot of ways, it’s better than the one we’ve made for ourselves.
Photos of artwork by Kris Vagner.
The UNR MFA Review Exhibition, titled 5+3=1, features eight MFA candidates: Sogand Tabatabaei, Jared Longland, Wes Lee, Mark Combs, Mahedi Anjuman, Frances Melhop, Gwaylon Leaf and Teal Francis. The exhibition is up at Student Galleries South in the Jot Travis Building at UNR. Gallery hours are 12-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Receptions are scheduled for Nov. 8, 6-8 p.m. and Nov. 15, 6-8 p.m.
Over the next few weeks, Double Scoop will review the work of second-year MFA students Frances Melhop, Gwaylon Leaf and Teal Francis in their MFA Midway Show.
This article was updated on Nov. 16 to correct a misspelling of Sogand Tabatabaei’s name.