By Jessie Eikmann, Staff Writer
The dynamic between students and professors in a classroom is usually described in terms of a professor’s influence on a student. “Hung Together,” the new exhibit at Gallery 210, focuses on the other side of the dynamic in a physical display of how the University of Missouri—St. Louis’ Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) candidates have impacted their creative mentors. “Hung Together” is a series of paired pieces. One piece in each pair is by an UMSL Fine Art faculty member, and the other is a BFA candidate’s piece selected by the faculty member to be displayed with their work. Gallery 210 Director Terry Suhre said, “Such pairings invite comparison. Although the faculty’s influences may be detected, by and large each student’s work stands as a confident and individual statement.”
The statement behind one piece can be heard as soon as one enters the gallery. The insistent and rhythmic tapping noise that echoes through the gallery comes from the video performance piece “Striking Rocks Brings Water, Striking Rocks Brings Punishment, Speaking to Rocks Pleases God” by Steven Coplin, junior, studio art. The piece, selected by Associate Professor Phillip Robinson, is a commentary on the Biblical verses Numbers 20:7-12, in which Moses and Aaron are punished by God for striking a rock to get water rather than speaking to the rock as God commanded. Coplin’s performance piece shows a man repeatedly banging on a rock for approximately ten minutes and is played on loop.
During the video the man vacillates between determination and dejection; not rewarded with water for his efforts. Watching the piece is frustrating. Coplin seems to anticipate that reaction, though, because at some point in the piece, the annoyed man brings the stick down on the rock with such an emphatic motion that part of the stick breaks off and falls on the ground. Even with this self-awareness, however, the piece is almost impossible to watch all the way through precisely because the boring, repetitive actions accomplish nothing.
What comes off as more striking than the video piece is the textile work. For example, the quilt “Lost in Expectations” by Alicia Winters, graduate, secondary education (selected by Endowed Professor of Education Louis Lankford) demonstrates the artist’s talent in both screen-printing and stitch-work. The patches outside the portrait have chaotic designs of eyes and keyholes, but the way the stitches inside the portrait are carefully controlled creates a nice juxtaposition with the outside. The stitching on the inside, while hard to see, is the most intriguing part of it. The stitches form tiny cursive letters that spell out things like “Love is the reward for the role I play, but how much do I deserve?” Even though the letters are small, they are crisply rendered and sized perfectly in relationship with each other, and some of them have the interesting effect of framing the portrait and giving it texture.
Most of the pieces paired together in the exhibit, including the works of Coplin and Winters, do not relate in any obvious way to the faculty artwork, but in the case of the works of art professor Kenneth Anderson and Aimee Kick, senior, studio art, the surface-level connection between the pieces is obvious: both prominently feature chairs. Kick’s piece, “Female Chair,” uses a standard plastic-and-metal chair as the base, like the ones used in the classroom buildings. However, Kick has used fabric and photo intaglio techniques in an attempt to “feminize” the chair. It is easy to make that connection with the cream-colored lace on the back of the chair, but the honeycomb-like designs on the seat of the chair are more puzzling, leaving the question of whether Kick intended this pattern to also contribute to the chair’s “femaleness.”
Anderson’s piece “North Woods Law: Bigger is Better” is certainly a riff on Kick’s subject material. It seems that he has a different project in mind—although the nature of that project is indecipherable. Unlike Kick’s work, which sits on a stand, “North Woods Law” is attached to the gallery wall. The work’s main focus are two wooden chairs fused together, slanted at the back, and then attached to the wall upside down. A crooked line of bicycle seats are attached underneath the chairs. Anderson’s representation of the chairs provides no obvious commentary or contrast to Kick’s “feminine” chair, as there is nothing about the chairs that code them as “masculine.” The title does not clarify whether Anderson intended to put forth his own ideas about gender in his piece, or frankly his ideas about anything else. The viewer will be left wondering what “North Woods Law” is and how this baffling assortment of chairs on the wall demonstrates it. Even the assumption that the larger wooden chairs dwarf the bicycle seats, thus demonstrating that “bigger is better,” is almost too much of a stretch to add meaning to what comes across as merely an exercise in nailing objects to a wall and seeing what comes of it.
This piece, like many of the other pieces in “Hung Together,” demonstrates that perhaps what makes these BFA candidates and Fine Arts faculty members so compatible is not, as this exhibit claims, the free flow of inspiration and ideas, but the ability to derive meaning out of random and bizarre projects—meaning which, unfortunately, is lost on anyone outside of the visual art community.