This article was first published in BU Today on February 26, 2021. By Sam Drysdale (COM’21).
Entering the Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery, you’re greeted by a cacophony of sounds—whirls, clicks, and rattles—that echo off the walls and high ceilings of the College of Fine Arts gallery. It’s all part of the multisensory experience of this year’s MFA Sculpture Thesis Exhibition. The nine pieces on display by five talented artists pull viewers around the spacious room.
This year’s exhibition, on view through Friday, March 12, is a little different from years past—it features the work of both 2020 and 2021 MFA graduate students. Three of the featured artists weren’t able to show their work last year because of the pandemic, and they have been included with current MFA candidates. The 2020 graduates created new work for the show, moved by the pandemic and other events of the intervening year.
Chang Wu (CFA’20) says when he came to BU he was immersed in a culture different from what he knew. He became interested in the barriers between languages and how words can mean different things to different people.
“Through the translation of languages, maybe there’s a space to explore where they come together,” he says. Reflecting on communication, Wu started playing with the idea of turning audio into movement in his art.
Wu’s piece The Stuff–As–Dreams Are Made–On uses found and constructed objects with electrical components to create an experience that challenges viewers to think about how those objects can be transformed. He recorded the sound of objects—among them a Chipotle takeout container, a plastic straw, and a styrofoam box—being moved. Videos of the objects making noise appear on a screen nearby.
Using engineering, Wu turned the found objects into audio exciters (technology that can turn an everyday object into a speaker by using electrical impulses). The recorded sounds are played back in the form of electricity that, through wires, makes the object move to re-create the original sound.
The artist says he was interested in manipulating noise, turning a sound wave into an electrical impulse, then into movement, and finally, back into sound.
“My work is not an answer,” he says, “it is a suggestion and question to think about what we can do with our objects.”
Walking through the gallery, the artists’ influence on one another is apparent. Aris Hu (CFA’21) learned some of the technical skill needed to create her huge, constantly moving sculpture made of PVC pipe, wire, and construction objects through conversations with Wu, says David Snyder, a CFA assistant professor and chair of graduate studies in sculpture. He describes Hu’s piece as an “unruly, miniature construction scenario” whose constant motion makes it feel “like improvisatory music.”
He says one of the pervading themes across all the work of the artists in this year’s show is moving away from the computer screens that have held us all captive during the pandemic, and in those instances where the art appears on a screen, thinking about how that changes our perception of the work. “An important aspect of the show is that we live in a world where there is a reduction of information to a single plane,” Snyder says. “One of the arguments all the artists are dealing with is scratching that surface.”
Jennifer Kilburn (CFA’20) is one of the artists scratching that surface. She shipped work for the show from Tampa, Fla., where she now lives, then arranged the piece for the exhibition.
Kilburn received a BU Graduate Arts Research Grant in 2019 to travel to Ukraine and visit the Chernobyl area, site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, to create her 2020 thesis work centered on the apocalypse.
“But then the actual apocalypse happened,” she says, referring to the events of January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Her work quickly shifted to address the storming of the US Capitol. Her sculpture Insurrection looks like an ’80s arcade game. The vinyl sides depict caricatures of rioters in video game–style art, and the sculpture plays a loop of whoops and dings as the word “Insurrection” flashes.
Snyder says the piece is designed to highlight some of the “anachronistic cultural ideas” that were behind the riots.