On November 18th the Center for Visual Art debuted Collective Nouns, an MSU Denver Faculty Exhibition. The exhibit runs from November 18th until January 21st, 2017.
During the opening night, visitors explored the gallery, observing sculptures, photographs, paintings, and video collages. Many stood in discussion with faculty members about their artwork, while others dyed Easter eggs as they participated in an interactive art piece.
Watching crowds of people engage art works, artists and each other I was reminded of the strength of a collective noun. A collective noun refers to the self as well as the community in which the self exists, words such as ‘we’ and ‘ours.’ It is a force of language, bolstered by the strength of diversity: where our self fails, our communities often provide. In other words, we are stronger together.
The strength of diversity and community is the most striking aspect of Collective Nouns, which features almost every available medium in every form art that can be conceived: two dimensional, three dimensional, or four dimensional.
The faculty exhibit is a biennial event intended to showcase the breadth of talents of the MSU Denver faculty and staff. The biennial exhibit offers visitors a chance to see how ideas and techniques within MSU Denver’s classrooms are in conversation with the wider art world, placing the works of faculty and staff in a gallery space that has hosted exhibitions from artists all over the world.
Upon entering the gallery, the intriguing sound of Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’, greeted my ears from a curtained room to one side of the gallery’s show area. Following the peppy tune led me to Kelly Monico’s Queen Bey (2016).
Queen Bey is a video piece featuring clips from different YouTube users filming themselves dancing Beyonce’s signature dance for the music video ‘Crazy In Love.’ In this piece the artist becomes not only the video editor but also the choreographer, as Monico splices frames to include three dancers when the music is intense, then singles out single dancers during moments like the introduction of the song.
The video is a collaboration that has been made possible by phenomena like globalization and the Internet. Although all the dancers are doing the exact same dance, viewing them side-by-side enhances their individuality as dancers. The title, Queen Bey, reminds us that as the boundaries of traditional nationhood blur, our common passions- like music and dance- unite us as communities.
Beside the curtained room reside two pieces that, together, invite the viewer to consider the collective experience of time: Sandy Lane’s Mapping the Liminal (2016) and Natasha Seideneck’s Disaster Archive (2014-16).
Mapping the Liminal is a sculpture created out of a grid of wooden frames with found objects like plants, skeletons and small mammals contained within a pig’s bladder, which has been stretched over the frames. Lane’s piece reminds us of the human condition: a liminal one in which we are simultaneously becoming and decaying. Milk thistles in mid bloom are caught suspended in a moment of their life cycle, trapped within the pig’s bladder, which preserves the object for viewing while obscuring it. Mapping the Liminal is the still life of a space that is always changing, occupied by objects that don’t belong to life or death, nature or artifice.
Across the way from the wooden grid, Seideneck’s lurid and haunting black and white photographs of disasters entice the eye with the glamorous addition of metallic inks. Also in the format of a grid, the piece features twenty-eight appropriated photographs that capture disasters like floods, iceberg melts, tornados and accidents.
Beautiful to look at, but chilling, Disaster Archive is a chronicle of change, prompting its viewer to wonder about what caused these events and what effect the events had. Processed through traditional photographic techniques, the quality of the grain of the images and their predominantly black and white presentation invoke a sense of nostalgia, as though looking back on old photographs.
But these images are not dead, still reminders of the past: the metallic inks washing the backdrops suggest that these images are alive, that our perceptions of these disasters can inspire us to make our mark upon the world. Disaster Archive reminds us that much like photographs, our memories of the past are not static but ever evolving.
Deeper within the gallery one encounters Anne Thulson’s You Affect My Effect (2016), an interactive multi-media installation that invites viewers to explore their current state of mind together. To one side stands a counter, upon which sit vats of vinegar and dyes, a bowl of eggs, and a bowl full of words from the Gettysburg Address.
Questioning language, grids, and the usefulness of rubrics, Thulson’s piece offers viewers a grid in which they can place words from the Gettysburg Address along the axes. Then, they can place their colorful egg in the spot on the grid where words intersect to describe their present state of mind. As visitors interact with the piece, the meanings of different sections of the grid are changed. Solidarity is formed as people who are feeling similarly place their eggs in the same section. You Affect My Effect invites its viewers to not only quantify their emotional state, but to share it with others while working together to create a piece of art.
Directly across from Thulson’s work, Carlos Frésquez’s Chicano Avanzar: Correr Fuerte (2016) pulls the viewer’s eye to a well-recognized American icon: the Converse sneaker’s star. In his piece, Frésquez has appropriated the famous brand’s logo and changed it, replacing the words “Converse All Star” with “Chicanos Avanzan,” which means “chicanos advance,” and the name “Chuck Taylor” with the words “correr fuerte,” which means “run strong.”
By appropriating a popular logo, Frésquez has masterfully taken the associations viewers have with the Chuck Taylor logo and repurposed them: inviting us to imagine not the nostalgic past of Converse sneakers, but a future still waiting for us to claim it. By painting the image directly upon the gallery wall Frésquez has claimed a space for his image as well as invoking prominent muralists of the Mexican Renaissance like Diego Rivera and José Orozco. Chicano Avanzar: Correr Fuerte must be confronted as a part of the gallery space itself, reminding us that we can change the spaces we inhabit to represent our hopes.
You can see these artworks and more for yourself at the Center for Visual Art’s Collective Nouns exhibition, on display from November 18th until January 21st, or by attending one of the accompanying artist’s talks. The exhibit includes Sarah Rockett, Dawn McFadden, Michael Bernhardt, Gigi Lambert, Phillip Mann, Andrew Kuebeck, Karin Davis and more. True to its title, Collective Nouns is an assembly of diverse ideas and mediums in conversation with the collective human experience. For more information about the Center for Visual Art at Metropolitan State University of Denver, or to find more details on the artist’s talks go to: www.msudenver.edu/cva.