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An Act of Discovery: 2016 BFA Thesis Work at 808 Gallery

CFA senior projects on display

Stop by the 808 Gallery this week and you’ll be greeted by an arresting sight: two human-like statues in the act of spewing glittered technicolor “vomit” onto a woven rug. The dynamic duo comprise the playful Vomcanoes installation by Jill Rosati (CFA’16), created to depict humans “as the animals they are.” See Rosati at work in the studio here.

Rosati’s work is just one example of the artistry and whimsy on display in this year’s College of Fine Arts BFA Thesis Exhibition, which features the work of 44 School of Visual Arts seniors. The show, on view through Friday, May 6, is the culmination of four years of intensive studio work by the students in painting, printmaking, sculpture, and graphic design.

Rosati says the aim of her spewing statues is “to examine the nature of humans as nothing more than a unique breed of animal forced into a consumer culture’s cycle of destruction.” Surrounded by broken and toppled furniture, the installation seems startlingly animated: in the seconds between a quick glance and a second look, the viewer gets the impression that the pillow on the ground might have shifted a bit or that one of the creatures—half garbage bag, half human—has taken a step forward.

Human Nature by Jill Rosati (CFA’16).

The artist’s criticism of consumer culture continues with an installation in the center of the gallery. Aptly titled Human Nature, the forest of trees and plants is made from garbage. “I used a lot of materials problematic specifically to BU. Most of my installation is made up of cover sheets from Mugar,” she says, “and paper towels, which are all over campus—thousands are used a day.” She also incorporated food wrappers, coffee cups, plastic bags, Styrofoam, and more from around campus. “I crushed and molded these materials to transform them into trees and return them to nature, as a way of suggesting what we could have if we did not tear down forests and pollute the Earth to make garbage.”

“The students have learned firsthand that making art is an act of discovery,” says Breehan James, a CFA lecturer in art. “They have all been down a difficult but exhilarating path of searching, knowing, and doubting. We haven’t made this easy for them, but most importantly, they haven’t made it easy for themselves.”

Tools used for glassblowingGlassblowing class at Boston University

The Tease I and The Tease II by Tania Papandrea (CFA’16, CAS’16), oil on canvas.

In contrast to the visceral connotations and tactility of Rosati’s sculpture work, the two large-scale oil paintings by Tania Papandrea (CFA’16, CAS’16)—The Tease I and The Tease II—in a nearby alcove use a beautiful, stylized smoothness to depict figures trapped behind glass. The paintings examine human relationships—specifically, Papandrea says, those things that separate “people’s worlds from each other.” Both are rendered primarily in shades of blue, and the flat, milky colors help to achieve the impression of glass.

The Tease I shows a young woman suspended in a glass tank. Abstract figures appear to stand outside the tank, hinting that she has somehow been put on display. In The Tease II, the artist conveys even more inaccessibility by breaking down a figure—perhaps the same young woman—into cracked shards that radiate out to the edges of the canvas. The only clearly discernible body parts in the painting are two hands reaching out in the center that pull the viewer in.

The canvas as a format, with its inherent border, had a role in the creation of these two pieces. “I invite the audience to become conscious of their relationship with the figures in the paintings,” Papandrea says. “This may represent a person who you lust after but can never touch, or someone whose position you will never understand, no matter how hard you try. I hope that the viewer will forge some sort of human connection with the figure, even though it is a relationship that will never exist.”

Man under Construction by Calvin Chin (CFA’16).

Calvin Chin (CFA’16), one of the 23 graphic design majors in this year’s show, takes on a different kind of social commentary in his piece Man under Construction. The installation combines a series of black-and-white wheat-pasted posters and video relating to “performing masculinity.” Some posters have cropped images of body parts, while others contain bold phrases that address different aspects of the perceptions of masculinity. Chin says his posters are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, a reference to the kind of guerrilla marketing posters that appear at construction sites: “My work looks at the construction of masculinity, and criticizes it for its fear of femininity.”

Chin’s growing interest in fashion was also a catalyst for the piece. “I’ve been interested in the idea that clothing can be used to represent one’s gender identity, and I’ve been critiquing the fact that clothing is also boxed into gendered ideas of masculine and feminine,” he says. “I find myself wanting to wear certain items, like culottes, but wonder why there is a difficult crossover from womenswear into menswear, versus menswear into womenswear.”

With so much versatility in this year’s exhibition, James says, there is one quality that unites all of the work. “What really sets this year’s seniors apart is how deeply they feel. Their emotional depth is unique and valuable and should be celebrated.” 

The 2016 BFA Thesis Exhibition is on display at the 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Ave., through Friday, May 6. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, to 8 p.m. Thursday, closed Monday.

Mara Sassoon can be reached at msassoon@bu.edu.

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