MFA Exhibition Showcases Emerging Artistic Talents

On view May 17 – June 16, 2019

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) highlights the work of five exceptional graduate students from UC Berkeley’s Department of Art Practice in the museum’s 49th Annual Master of Fine Arts Graduate Exhibition.

This year’s graduates, Chrystia Cabral, Ricki Dwyer, Heesoo Kwon, Gabriella Willenz, and Connie Zheng have spent the past two years exploring new aspects of their art practices. Though each artist asks unique and thought-provoking questions, together they have created and analyzed personas and communities; scrutinized rapidly changing social politics; and explored the past, present, and future of their identities on a changing planet.

MFA Artists’ Talks

Friday, May 17, 5:30 pm, BAMPFA

Meet the graduates of UC Berkeley’s Master of Fine Arts program and hear them talk about their recent work.

Cabral, SPELLLINGChrystia Cabral, also known as SPELLLING, is a musician, producer, and performance and multimedia visual artist. Magical realism, a genre of literature that invokes realistic narrative techniques along with surrealism; and metaphysics, a branch of philosophy that attempts to determine the nature of reality, together formed a strong foundation for the creation of SPELLLING both as a musical project and persona. In her music and performances, she explores concepts such as the afterlife, utopia, creation, and death.

SPELLLING’s experimental compositions are influenced by her dreams and subconscious thoughts. Her songs are anchored by bass lines that sound as if they are filtered through thick, crushed velvet. Many of the tracks have pulsing beats that are filtered through echo and delay effects, yet the timbre of the percussion feels uneasy and slightly off. Ghostly, gauzy guitars and synthesizers envelop the listener in dream-like landscapes, and her voice, often run through effects, sings as if in a dream, s.ance, the streets of Oakland, the carnival, and her bedroom all at the same time. SPELLLING’s second record, Mazy Fly (2019), is itself a journey — beginning with the embryonic “Red” that expands into the sinister and gothy “Haunted Water.” The disco-tinged and spacey “Under the Sun” looks both within and outward to the stars.

Ricki Dwyer is a weaver and educator who considers the material and theoretical limits of cloth. For Dwyer, cloth becomes a symbol for the body — we use it to adorn ourselves so that others may read us in the way we choose to perform our identity. Dwyer utilizes weaving to explore the power of presentation and what we want to reveal to others about the self.

The artist’s recent work examines how we project identity through personality tests, horoscopes, or the objects with which we choose to surround ourselves. These identifying constellations could not possibly represent someone’s full identity, yet people believe they reveal something deeply personal, connecting ourselves to others who might identify with the same qualities. For their two sculptures in this exhibition, Dwyer was influenced by a personality test in which one selects a noun — a cube, a horse, a ladder, a storm, and a flower — and describes the characteristics of that word or object as it relates to that individual. Dwyer sculpted a cube and a horse from clay, then draped each with woven pieces of cloth coated in slip — a liquid mixture of clay and water — and fired them together in a kiln. This process, which the artist refers to as cremation, burns away the weaving, yet the ceramic retains the shape of the draped cloth — a gesture that commemorates the moment in which the forms were created. For Dwyer, these are self-portraits from two perspectives. The cube represents the self and reality, while the horse represents the other, the performance of the self, and desire.

Kwon, My LeymusoomHeesoo Kwon is interested in creating alternate forms of belonging that are grounded in feminism. During her time at UC Berkeley, she initiated Leymusoom, a collective that she advertised as a feminist religion. Leymusoom encompasses its community, active practitioners, and each practitioner’s autonomous religion. The movement defines and looks for feminisms rooted in one’s personal history. For those in Leymusoom, the acts of joining, practicing, and being Leymusoom entail converting to feminism from patriarchy, and creating and practicing personal and communal feminist rituals. With six sincere practitioners, Leymusoom set out to define each member’s feminisms by exploring questions related to sexuality and gender from their diverse backgrounds. Together, they envision a feminist utopia free from the ties of patriarchy.

Her art and the anthropological project have roots in Kwon’s upbringing in South Korea in a strict Catholic household. In college, she studied business and received an award for the development and design of a package to conceal women’s sanitary pads. Later, she realized that she was complicit in appealing to men’s discomfort around feminine hygiene products — a convention she ultimately concluded was misogynist at its root.

Willenz, Gray AreaGabriella Willenz’s project-based practice engages with the interplay between the construction and representation of reality, the social-political structures in which people are both cultivated and subjugated, and the normalization of cultural binaries. Influenced by her background in theater and filmmaking, her work often consists of narrative, performative qualities and staging. With these tactics, Willenz aims to make space for a multiplicity of narratives and expand the possibilities of identification.

Her recent work explores the tension between the home and the homeland. She examines how covert and overt forces incubate ideologies in citizens who are, even unknowingly, complicit with the structures of power that are laid out by the nation-state.

Zheng, lonely age still 1Connie Zheng’s multidisciplinary practice begins with research and writing about complex systems. From changing ecologies and economies of waste to notions of home, belonging, and the influence of media on how we interpret the world in which we live, Zheng is interested in proposing alternative ways of seeing, framing, and responding to the global environmental crisis. She is also invested in speculating about what comes after “modern” civilization’s collapse or the fall of the Capitalocen  — the informal period defined by the effects of capitalism on the geologic time scale. What kind of food will we eat? What will we wear? How will we live?

Involving drawing, painting, time-based media, and installation, her art practice also incorporates waste, ash, and smoke from the recent fires in California, as well as other found materials. Conscious of how much waste contemporary industrialized capitalist economies produce with nowhere for it to go, Zheng envisions a future (that is somewhat already present) in which we forage for food resources on a toxic planet that redefines relationships between land and body.