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High Quality Final Hole

RISD MFA Painting Class of 2021, Curated by Mika Harding.

Aparna Sarkar, Rebecca Senn, Gregory Deddo, Orli Swergold, Michael Dispensa, Yixuan Pan, Hannah Lutz Winkler, Nicole Schonitzer, Sean Walker Hutton, and Emily Wilker.

August 12 – 28, 2021

Installation views of High Quality Final Hole

Photography by Etienne Frossard.

Installation views of High Quality Final Hole
Installation views of High Quality Final Hole
Installation views of High Quality Final Hole

Press Release


Curated by Mika Harding

It’s a formidable milestone, graduating Rhode Island School of Design’s Painting MFA program. This year, a group of outstanding young artists reached it under highly unfavorable circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic was a violent disruption to the last and most crucial stretch of their art school journey, forcing them to work in isolation with less guidance and more autonomy. They have had to produce and examine their work in a climate of extreme uncertainty. But as this exhibition proves, the pandemic utterly failed to lead these artists astray from their calling. Unquarantined, graduated, and brimming with promise, they’re now ready for showtime.

Gregory Deddo’s practice blends painting with video and photography to excavate layers of memory and conjure up the images folded within. This process is coupled with and aided by an ongoing interrogation of the role of the photograph throughout history and society, and an experimentation with the tools and technologies that allow for its transmutation. For instance, he wondered: What would happen if he captured stills from a family video shot by his parents and reverse-searched them on Google? The prism thus expands into an archival endeavor that juxtaposes anonymous found images on the internet with private memories. When paired together and translated into paintings, the results are haunting refractions of a singular self. Through such techniques and others, time surrenders to Deddo’s explorations of the digital imagery of memory.

Committed to the practice of materializing ephemeral expressions of the psyche into psychical objects, Michael Dispensa welcomes everything that the soul might spit out of its dark sediments, no matter how grimy, gnarly, or neurotic. He creates mucous, hairy organisms that function as vessels through which entrapped thoughts, desires, and memories may be released out of the shackles of the unconscious. On their surface, these oozing objects may appear as visceral manifestations of the messiness of being. But they work too as mechanisms of purification, creations tasked with doing the dirty job of healing. 

Sean Walker Hutton’s ruminative, often luminous, paintings bring forth the perspective of a wanderer between different worlds. With some derived from personal video footage and photographs, his canvases possess a cinematic quality: painterly mises en scène that position transient figures against the backdrop of a vast, silent landscape.  His are tight, claustrophobic, compositions against expansive geological spheres in otherworldly hues. Therein, time and continuum are elasticized, nature is removed from itself, and a slowness settles in, allowing the mind to dive inward, and wander.       

Yixuan Pan grew up in China, where she studied traditional Chinese painting under the tutelage of an artist in her family. Later on, life led her to the United States, where she embarked on the long process of integration as an immigrant. Questions of belonging and outsider-ness inevitably seeped into her work, introducing new tensions that came to distinguish this oeuvre from the one she left behind in China. "Look at those Americans gathering together to dance again," she thought once at a party. “Look at their messy and enjoyable dance.” It was a moment that distilled her encounter with this new culture, she told me. From then on, the figures in her narrative-based paintings, much like her own body, began to feel more comfortable and welcomed, ultimately joining the dance.     

Emerging from the deep, a swirl of bodies moves upside-down and inside-out, morphing into, colliding with, caressing each other and the environment they create on Aparna Sarkar’s canvases. Painted with a palette that blends the hues of Californian desert with the scent of marigolds, these visions channel multiple selves into one body. They join a divine chorus of bathers-turned-divers to echo the refusal of entrenched Western binaries: from the narrow aesthetic divisions between abstraction and figuration, to the oppressive gender hierarchies of heteropatriarchy.

Nicole Schonitzer’s investigations of creaturehood offer space for a society of amorphous entities to live and multiply. Guided only by the impulse of becoming, these colorful creatures—at once familiar and otherworldly—spring to life with an agency of their own. Oscillating between harmony and defiance, they build and break relationships in a gestural system of articulation: exchanging forms, merging and clashing with each other, seducing and intimidating. But overall, they exist in a place where tenderness rules above all else.

In Rebecca Senn’s unruly web of imagery and symbolism, a sacrificial altar is sculpted using an antique Menorah, a toy troll, a ceramic fish, and a cartoon head. The sacred and absurd are fused once more in another piece showing a giant Mickey Mouse supplicating to the heavens. Senn’s oeuvre embodies a cognitive map of associations that shifts wildly but sincerely between the kitschy and the sublime. Tangled within these fantastical combinations are personal truths about god, love, and the hilarity of existence.

Orli Swergold creates figurative flesh and bones out of materials like metal wire and paper pulp. Her gently-colored, painterly sculptures may take the form of a bare ribcage or an internal body tissue. They may hang on the wall or rest on the floor, existing out of their corporeal context. These delicate objects are products of the artist’s investigation of her own physicality, both in form and in method: from the hand-wrung pulp she creates herself from paper, to the oversized drawings whose immensity immediately imply the bodily effort required for their completion. The manual labor necessitated by her works sings out from behind their delicacy.

Emily Wilker’s paintings often feature a figure of a woman performing rituals of relaxation in nature: reclining on a cliff; swimming with water creatures; following an untrodden path. The subject is always Wilker herself, who defines her practice as a way of communing with nature— a relationship solidified by the materials with which she creates her works. They are for the most part paintings made on wood panels. Into her acrylic paints she mixes such natural materials as sand, wood clay, sawdust, rice, and coffee grounds. Imbued with the energy of these of these substances, Wilker’s autobiographical paintings take on the surreal quality of the sensory realm: soft water glistening under the moonlight, a blade of grass rustling in the soft wind.

Hannah Lutz Winkler casts her eye onto the animal kingdom—bats, sheep, crows—to create sculptural pieces that then feature in the background of what might be called works of animal performance art. In her Final Hole piece, this will take the form of a film inspired by the primatologists in her family and their work on a lab experiment involving a human dressed as a gorilla wielding a big stick. The original film was intended for ape eyes only, so that the scientists could track their eye movements. Recreating this bizarre sequence for a human audience, and in a sense turning her own spectators into the subjects being studied by her own artwork, Winkler finds a way to turn aping around into a commentary on the human condition.

-- Hakim Bishara