The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The Penn State School of Visual Arts (SoVA) is in the midst of a massive MFA exhibition at the Crane Arts Building in North Philly. The show in the Icebox is entitled “Novis Oculi” or 'new eyes.' This name is curator Kimberly Camp's take on the insight that students and recent graduates bring the art world through their experimentation and departures from what is already known and established.
By all accounts, the spread and quantity of work is quite massive, with 27 artists displaying their creations throughout the two gigantic rooms at the end of Crane Arts. From installations to prints, paintings, videos and conceptual artistic fare, the Penn State MFA show runs the gamut of artistic possibilities and requires a bit of time to absorb all of the content.
Dana Lynn Harper's piece “BLOOM BLOOM” demands attention when entering the largest room. Half gigantic flower formation, half action movie explosion, the orange-red hues of the flagging tape tied to the chicken wire structure dangle down toward the floor like the trails of fireworks in mid-detonation. The only difference is that unlike a flower that will wilt or the mere seconds available to witness a burst of flame, this behemoth will hang in the air indefinitely.
One of the more intensive projects is certainly the meticulously assembled “Pan de vida” by Christina Erives. In this tabletop piece, Erives constructs an entire banquet of mostly bread (and a variety of other objects like a pile of buttons, playing cards, or packs of cigarettes) from clay. While the detail of each individual part is fairly astounding, the table itself is actually composed of clay sheets affixed to an armature and etched with realistic looking wood grain patterns. This completely clay table and its settings must have taken an absurd amount of work, but the final result is a testament to its creator's patience and vision.
A painting by Kevin Mercer revisits the popular old trope of the sheep and the wolf, with an illustrative, contemporary twist. The wolf is not in sheep's clothing (instead its body is very human), but sits, vexed, looking at a sugar cube and surrounded by half drunk coffee mugs. The sheep floats, half visible as if some ghostly apparition. On the sheep's extended arm, it examines its watch as if waiting for the poison in the wolf's coffee to kick in. While the wolf looks disgusted and shocked, the sheep seems pleased and content in whatever its devious plan may be.
Gabriel Ibias provides a video installation that is both interactive and quite enigmatic. Perhaps the video entitled “L.O.D.” insinuates the futility of looking to the greener grass on the other side or desiring that which we cannot have, but as soon as the viewer moves down the corridor toward the image, the pieces of furniture in the otherwise basic looking room disappear and are replaced by flat, white fixtures. It is both unnerving and entrancing, and it is easy to change the live feed by walking closer to and further away from the projection. This allows for an entertaining waltz that, without explanation, must look quite ridiculous from an outside perspective.
Clearly there is much more to see, hear, and participate in at the Penn State SoVA exhibit “Novis Oculi.” From the nefarious Blood and Crip salt and pepper shakers by Roberto Lugo to the do-it-yourself censorship in Kiana Honarmand's otherwise ordinary bookshelves and the mixed messages of Michele Randall's soldier-shaped tokens, this exhibit is worth much more than a walk through. Be sure to visit when you have some time to kill before the show ends on July 20. There will also be a reception at the Icebox on July 11 from 6 to 9 p.m.
The Crane Arts Building is located at 1400 North American St., Philadelphia; firstname.lastname@example.org; cranearts.com.