COHORTS – Alone : Together

As graduate students we are experiencing a unique time in our lives; it is a time of transition, inquiry, artistic growth, intense creation and struggle. It is in this period we are surrounded and nurtured by faculty and peers. But in today’s world that community can be distant and make us often feel alone. This exhibit represents the excellent work being produced by graduate students today and reflects our shared experiences through these crazy times.

MFA students from the University of Montana and Montana State University: Angela Yonke, Austin Navrkal, Heather Schroeder, Serge Ballif, Susan Sinitiere, and Thomas Pomarico.

Videos in Exhibition:

‘Worm: Digestion Issues’ Raegan Moynes
University of Regina

‘And Now Your Local on the 8’s’ Luke Rizzotto
University of Nevada, Reno

‘Neighbors’ Yu Ching Wang
Pratt Institute

Juror Statements

Angela YonkeJuror’s Statement, Angela Yonke
I’ve had lots of practice talking to students during critique about their art, but seeing work outside of knowledge of its intention and process was a new way of seeing through fresh, unbiased eyes, and why at times decisions were more difficult. Being on this jury was exciting and very enjoyable. Each juror came from a different artistic background and brought insight of viewpoints and experience. When it came down to the final pieces it was tough to determine top placement. There were so many impressive works to choose from. Overall, I felt we selected a group of visually intriguing and quality pieces, and the results reflected a bit of something to satisfy everyone, medium, and subject matter. While I feel like I am an accommodating person who is open to hearing others’ perspectives, the jury process tested this resolve. You do end up feeling like a cheerleader proclaiming strengths of a work and enthusiastic reasons why it shouldn’t be eliminated to your peers. In the end, the results are a mix of like-minded consensus of opinions on works, acknowledgements of clear skill and effort, and compromises on some personal favorites. This process gave me a new outlook on applying to shows myself and looking more deeply at works in the absence of context. I’d love to do this again!

Cartograph Mae Eskenazi, University of Pennsylvania Jurors ChoiceJuror’s Choice, Angela Yonke: “Cartography” by Mae Eskenazi
Of the works submitted to this exhibition, the work of Mae Eskenazi stood out for their visually bold and simultaneously quiet essence. While the entire body of images submitted by Eskenazi was striking and impactful, Cartography packed the most deceptively subtle and visceral punch. This photograph spoke most directly to my senses and emotions. A shadow figure dances against the dirt, the ground marked with traces of activity and struggle. Movement and response permeate this image through its repetition of the body, gesture, and imprint of tire tracks. It speaks to an unknown journey or paths crisscrossing in different directions, choices, and decisions. There is a compression in the curvature of the form mirrored in the pressure put upon the earth which hint towards an unknown narrative. We feel the tension and stress of marks in the dirt as if they were pressed into our own skin as it confronts the camera lens up close. This proximity to an almost crusty in parts and moist softness of texture points to a desire to be seen, even if we can’t discern the identity of the figure. The tactile impressions left visible and the work’s title speak to a fraught history and a mapping or creating of the self. Are they reaching for something or mesmerized by an unheard musical beat? Could they be undulating to the rhythms of their own body, oblivious to the photographer? Is the figure falling, pushed away by an unseen character? In the silence of this ambiguity the artist seems to speak volumes. The superimposition of color and black and white imagery is visually dynamic and pleasing, and points to a sense of duality inherent in the picture. The separate images are not in conflict with each other, but feel related and in balance within the whole. One also notices the shift of focus to be the most sharp and clear into the distance of the picture plane, perhaps nodding towards the future before them. I myself am greatly interested in seeing what Eskenazi creates next.

Austin NavrkalJurors Statement, Austin Navrkal
The six jurors from Montana State University and The University of Montana would like to thank those who applied to MFA Exhibitions Online annual show. This year the show is titled COHORTS – Alone : Together and received 691 submissions that were pared down to 50 selected works. The six jurors reviewed the submissions individually and arranged a time to meet. While meeting we discussed notes about work, concept, and presentation, eventually deciding on the 50 present works in the exhibition this year.

Being a juror is more difficult than you would think. As an artist who primarily makes mix-media abstract sculpture, I realize I’m drawn to work that is in the same wheel house as my artwork. There were an overwhelming amount of high quality work that was submitted that did not make the cut. The six of us, each with our own unique tastes, tried to keep an open mind during the whole jurying process and give credit where it is due despite our biases.

Untitled Semaj Campbell, Lesley University, First Place, Jurors ChoiceJurors Choice Statement, Austin Navrkal: “Untitled 3” by Semaj Campbell
I selected Semaj Campbell for my juror’s choice. His work titled “Untitled 3” is a splendid photograph that is a contemporary twist on Neoclassical paintings. For me, it displays high levels of beauty with its composition, colors, lighting, and contrasting ideas of past and now contextually. In regards to the theme of the exhibition this year, I believe this piece renders what life has been like and what some of us may have done during these odd times.

“Semaj Campbell’s photographic series challenges preconceived notions of Blackness with striking stills reminiscent of Neoclassical paintings. Providing a space for empowerment and celebration, Campbell explores the reclamation of the Black Gaze where the past and present overlap to form a sense of familiarity and connection.” -Emerson Contemporary

More on Semaj Campbell here:
Instagram: @semaj.doc

Heather SchroederJuror’s Statement by Heather Schroeder
The Experience of jurying COHORTS – Alone : Together with my graduate peers was an exciting and thought provoking experience. Because of the large number of exceptional works, we all had some difficult decisions to make regarding which works were accepted into this exhibition. For myself, I focused on artists whose work explored the concept of “Alone Together”, creating pieces which we could all look at and say “I’ve felt that before”. Whether this was through a thoughtful choice of color, a dirty pile of clothes, or a texture which reminded me of times I’d rather forget, the task of choosing just 50 works was not an easy one.

Being a fellow MFA graduate student, I was inspired, uplifted, and moved at the work my peers have been making during these trying times with COVID-19 interrupting our education. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my cohort at Montana State University and the University of Montana’s third year cohort to piece together a show which represents the work of MFA students in the year of 2021. It is an experience I will forever cherish.

My Full Length Mirror - Heather Landin Eldridge, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Jurors ChoiceJuror’s Choice Statement, Heather Schroeder: “My Full Length Mirror” by Landin Eldridge
When I first saw My Full Length Mirror, I was taken by Eldridge’s choice of color, line, and combined use of illustration and text. I was reminded of some of my favorite artists, such as Maira Kalman and Lynda Barry, whose work has inspired me to push the bounds of what it means to be an artist. Eldrige’s work is witty, humorous, and oddly specific, leading me to laugh out loud and also pause in contemplation.

When a work uses text within it, but doesn’t rely on it to be a successful piece, I am profoundly moved. The figure with wobbly knees and bright yellow hair, stands half dressed in front of a full length mirror with their phone. A dark creature from behind holds their eyes down with a shirt reading “Get ahold of yourself ha ha ha”. The image is fun, yet disturbing, creating a moment in which I experienced a variety of emotions, leading me to think on all those days where I myself have stood in front of my own full length mirror, face bright red from crying.

Serge BallifJurors Statement, Serge Ballif
The process of jurying this show with my peers at UM and MSU was both challenging and gratifying.  I was blown away by the amount of incredible art that was submitted, and I know I’ve learned a lot thanks to this opportunity.  I’m walking away from this experience inspired and grateful to be in this world of such talented people.

Act Like You Love Each Other Logan Reynolds Ohio University, Jurors ChoiceJurors Choice Serge Ballif: “Act like you love each other” by Logan Reynolds
My Juror’s choice was a tough decision. I kept coming back to a few different pieces, after what seemed like endless culling. In the end, the piece “Act Like You Love Each Other” kept demanding my attention, and my appreciation for it just continued to grow.  It provided me with more nuance every time I looked at it.  Whether it was Logan’s ‘2D’ take in a medium generally appreciated for its overtly 3D nature, the family’s exaggerated faces, or the subtle nod to child-hood’s forced family matters, this piece has a lot to offer. And speaking to the theme of the exhibition, and knowing that being at home hasn’t been restful for everyone, this work spoke directly to me.  While there is much more I could say about this, what impressed me most was that the more times I looked at it, the happier it made me.

Susan SinitiereJurors Statement, Susan Sinitiere
The jurying process of this exhibition felt like an absolute privilege, throughout. Seeing the breadth of MFA and MA work, coming from every corner of the world, was vast and impressive within the theme of COHORTS – Alone : Together. On display were the exceptionalisms of craft, broad perspectives, and threads of human commonality we strive to express as artists. Without question, every brave artist that submitted their work to our exhibition deserved the depth of discussion and debate that was required to make hard decisions in the end. I just want to applaud those who entered, encourage all to take this chance again, and congratulate this year’s winners.

Womens Wagon Hoorieh Rajabzadeh, University of Regina Jurors ChoiceJurors Choice Susan Sinitiere: “Womens Wagon” by Hoorieh Rajabzdeh
I chose as my Juror’s Choice Women’s Wagon I, by photographer and videographer, Hoorieh Rajabzdeh. Hoorieh’s image of two women standing together in a passenger train, segregated by gender, with a cautionary symbol in the forefront resonated with me immediately. With expressions of complacency to the circumstance, each woman’s face reflects aged experience and individual character. Even the slight tilt of their gaze upwards in anticipation of exiting to the platform felt symbolic in resemblance to religious female iconography, but contained within the context a hope for a just equality for women, the world over. Hoorieh’s powerful image exemplified the true concept of how we all exist and perceive being alone, together.

Thomas PomaricoJuror’s Statement by Thomas Pomarico
Filtering through the 691 admissions for the COHORTS – Alone : Together Juried Show was a mixture of excitement and tedium, interest and stagnation. First I went through each image and video on my own giving everything a Yes, No or Maybe. My selections mixed with the other graduate jurors to make an ultimate tally we could scrutinize as a group. Certain images I found nearly impossible to connect with yet others were riveting causing me to track down the artist’s Instagram or website. When the MSU and UM graduates met to jury the top choice submissions we had a blast. It’s fun to jury a show with strangers because you immediately get to know one another via voting preferences. You also learn a lot about your taste based on what you gravitate towards detached and blind to the artist’s personality. It went smoothly until the final rounds when we had a bit of disagreement about what should be the prize winning selections. Some of us loved the quilt paintings and others the spiked alien sculptures. We danced around our favorites until our true opinions came out. Finally we faced strife and found compassion with a final tally we could all relate to. Afterwards we shared pizza and all became friends. I look forward to seeing the UM graduates again at some point. I am grateful for all the new work I was introduced to.

Exorcism Zekiel Betzer, Utah State University Jurors ChoiceJuror’s Choice Statement, Thomas Pomarico: “Exorcism” by Zekiel Betzer
I chose Exorcism by Zekiel Betzer at the University of Utah State as my juror’s selection. Exorcism has all the elements I look for in painting. I am partial to figurative work because I am also a figurative oil painter and know the deep skill set one must acquire to execute an image such as Exorcism. There is a high level of drawing and painting technical ability within this piece, it almost certainly took a labor of love to bring to life. I am shocked by the artist’s ability to almost completely remove brushstrokes and the color mixing is superb in its realism; the light on the face creates a tension drawing us to the icy blue eyes. A duality is implied through the use of shadow, we are drawn to the subject because of this mystery. Exorcism painting is rooted in a classical tradition via its reference to the dramatic chiaroscuro lighting and the floating horn surrounded by a golden halo which alludes to religious iconography painting. The ram’s horn is associated with evil or the devil in the Christian tradition and we sense a strange entity based on the intense look of the subject and the title Exorcism. Finally I am drawn to this painting because of the gothic tone and the sense of austere dread which I connect to horror films. Many horror films start with an attractive youth soon to be tormented by a lurking evil, this image encapsulates the entire narrative in a single shot.