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Who's Next? MFA's from Yale, RISD and SAIC
by Joel Kuennen

ArtSlant's Joel Kuennen decided to ask a few recent graduates from some of the top MFA programs in the US about their practice, what’s influencing them right now, and what the role of art is today. Here's what Jorge Mujica, from Yale University's MFA Painting Program, Amber Heaton from RISD's (Rhode Island School of Design) MFA Printmaking Program, and Dao Nguyen from SAIC's (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) MFA Program had to say.


Jorge Mujica from Yale University's MFA Painting Program

Jorge Mujica, Collected Works, 2012, Mixed media. Courtesy of the artist.


Joel Kuennen: Your practice uses bright, unnatural colors, patterns that are reminiscent of both natural and unnatural form. What drives your aesthetic choices?

Jorge Mujica: Consider this very moment, what are you looking at? How many colors are there in your line of sight? Now consider the range of each color when you consider shadows? Drop shadows? Indirect shadows? The number is vast. In my paintings I'm not directly concerned with making imagery that makes logical or linear sense but in fact creating a contrast sharp enough to make someone other than me contemplate the world in a new way.  As a result my imagery tends to be sarcastic by way of color saturation. I recognize that the bright colors are representative of my personality as well, therefore I make every effort to provide a visual trip in my paintings that extrudes as much energy as possible, adding life to the everyday via the exuberances of the colors I choose. 

JK: Which artists or artistic practices do you find relevant and inspiring to your own work?

JM: When I was younger, traveling around Mexico, I paid attention to the indigenous population I encountered. I was mesmerized by the bright colors and the amount of color I would find in living rooms, kitchens, studies, and just about anywhere. The color combinations were rather strange and unusual. At times the colors would fight, violently, irritating my eyes to the point of sheer blindness. Yet the people who lived in these spaces seemed as happy and as peaceful as anyone could imagine. I was impressed to say the least. I then began to take far more risk in my paintings feeling unashamed of over working a painting or of being self-conscious about my decisions. 

JK: Where do you see art regaining relevancy today?

JM: Art is not a thing that regains relevance, art is a direct result of people taking charge of life, leaving a mark and feeling good about it. If there were an area where art should gain relevance it's in the soul of a person, liberating them from the monotony that occurs when you commit to becoming a cog in the working wheel.  Art should be a word used every day like "good morning" except you tell a person, "have an 'art day,'" or "I wish you some splendid art in your direction," or something along the lines of helping an individual remember that he / she is capable of more than what is expected. The most important thing here is that people and art coalesce in order to influence creativity and move humanity forward. It’s a little ideal, this idea, but then, so is the question.


Amber Heaton from RISD’s MFA Printmaking Program

Amber Heaton, Again and Again. 2012. Installation - string and video. Again and Again is a model of the lunar calendar year that aligns with the year 2012. All the video footage is of moonlight, either the moon itself or the moon reflected in water. Courtesy of the artist.


Joel Kuennen: Your practice seems to center around systems visualization. What drives this interest in what could be called an “aesthetics of knowledge”?

Amber Heaton: I think I am interested in the point at which we believe we have attained knowledge or understand things. It's kind of an arrogant standpoint, and history often proves us wrong. I'm mostly interested in the systems we create to describe and use the natural world. I think a lot about my direct observations of the world and how they relate to the systems we've created to describe them. Our human systems can never really capture the complexity of what is happening in the real world. I love the visual language of science and info graphics, but I'm not trying to use data in that way. I'll take a data set and use it to make a complex installation with strings and video that tries to elicit a certain feeling in the viewer. A scientist would use that data to prove a theory. And a data visualization specialist would take the data and make it understandable in a beautiful way. I don't care about making the data understandable. I care about making an interesting drawing. When I create systems to make work, I'm doing it a way that is closer to Sol Lewitt than Ben Fry.

JK: Which artists or artistic practices do you find relevant and inspiring to your own work?

AH: Fred Sandback and Sarah Sze's placement of materials in space. Jacques Callot, Claude Mellon, and Egon Schiele's line work. Spencer Finch, Katie Paterson, and Olafur Eliasson's systematic engagements with the natural world that are presented in such conceptual, poetic and beautiful ways. Turner's watercolors. Tomory Dodge's sense of two-dimensional abstract space.

JK: Where do you see art regaining relevancy today?

AH: I don't think art ever lost relevancy. The Arts have certainly lost funding and are neglected and abused in policy decisions, but art never lost relevancy. This question really comes down to systems of evaluatio­n. If we compare the amount of federal money spent on art to the amount spent on science or defense, we get a dismal view of the status of the Arts. Of course, I wish these areas were more equal. I think initiatives such as changing STEM to STEAM are helping bring awareness of the importance of art to policy makers. Still I wouldn't use that as a measure of relevancy. If my nephew growing up in a very small town in Northern Utah can see a contemporary work by Philip Beesley and feel total awe, and AA Bronson can still elicit tears and awareness, and Zimoun can bring smiles and tension, and William Forsythe can mesmerize, and I and the thousands of people earning MFA's this year are still willing to dedicate our lives to making art, then the measure of art's relevancy must come from the soul. And I hope we never lose that.


Dao Nguyen from SAIC’s MFA Program


Dao Nguyen, Machine for Making George. 2012. Game Installation, reclaimed lumber, paper, scissors, string, electronics, disco ball. Courtesy of the artist.


Joel Kuennen: Your work present at the SAIC MFA show interrogates identity through play. What drives your interest in this specific relationship (play) to identity?

Dao Nguyen: Philosophical questions concerning existence and truth drive my interest in the relationship of play to identity. Play offers openness and fluidity. Play often has rules, which provide a structure within which to get lost and against which to push off from. You can play by yourself, and play can bring people together who may not naturally come together.

JK: Which artists or artistic practices do you find relevant and inspiring to your own work?

DN: Because so many artists and practices inspire me, it is difficult to name a few. Fluxus as an attitude is most relevant to my own work. Any work or person who brings his or her intelligence, humor and commitment to what they do inspires me. Lately, it's been more writers and thinkers than visual artists. I'm drawn to modest gestures evocative of a curiosity about the material world.

JK: Where do you see art regaining relevancy today?

DN: I see the world today as a complicated, contradictory and confusing place. It is also strange, breathtaking and beautiful. Art becomes relevant in how we deal with being alive.


--Joel Kuennen


ArtSlant would like to thank the artists for making this interview possible.

(Image at top right: Jorge Mujica, Collected Works. 2012. From Left to Right, Back to Front: Take the 110 to the 101 to the 170 to the 5 to the 118, 1/2/12 Santa Monica @ 4:20 pm, Take sunset past the 405 past Santa Monica past Highland past Western past Echo Park to Cesar Chavez, Pete Wilson / Daryl Gates, Self Portrait, Portrait of Amanda, Santa Monica Blue Bus No. 10. Image courtesy of the artist.)

Posted by Joel Kuennen on 5/31/12 | tags: MFA Thesis

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i agree what joe kuennen, that government have not allocated sufficient budgets in their annual plans for promotion of art unlike science and technology and defence. Art is is soothing to the minds of the people. The slogan "Art for all" should be propagated and there should be affordable art for purchasing by common man. The art budget in plans of developed and underdeveloped countries is very meagre.this trend has to change and students have to be encouraged and government should provide sufficient infrastructure facilities for art schools and college and provide jobs to artists.

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