CCAD MFA Thesis Exhibition finds CCAD MFA students pushing boundaries, focusing on humanity

Striking, immersive, captivating.

“Before Next There Is Now: 2017 New Projects MFA Thesis Exhibition” at CCAD is rife with works of significance — in size, scope and concept. The projects constitute the second year of the two-year graduate program at CCAD that includes students from a variety of disciplines. The result of this process is work that, rather than provide encapsulated summaries of young careers, evinces creative minds offered the opportunity to take on a new endeavor in inventive and imaginative ways.

“In every thesis show there are some commonalities. [Candidates are] working over the course of a year to make something that is the best representation of the subject matter that they want to portray,” said Molly Burke, assistant director of graduate studies at CCAD. “Some years tend to be more autobiographical and others not so much. This year what we're seeing is a lot more about what's happening in our environment [and] in the world we're living in — not that it's political. There are some political elements, but they're mostly subdued. But things like a disconnect in communication [and] the need for empathy, these things do all kind of relate to what is affecting us. It's looking at what's happening now in our social climate in a political way that's not in your face.”

Installed throughout CCAD's Beeler Gallery, the pieces would be beautiful, eye-catching and appealing as solely aesthetic creations. But, of course, the pieces don't get made without the desire for experimentation and investigation, the compulsion to communicate and connect, and the drive to explore not only art and making, but, through that, the human condition.

Kelsey Joseph's piece is a grid of 24 sheets of clear acrylic, each laser-etched with an actual (oversized) thumbprint. “Empathy & Impact: A Columbus Community Project” is a 10-foot-by-30-foot display that almost can't not draw the viewer's attention, which is exactly what Joseph hopes, because there's a deeper story being told in a companion book.

“The idea is that these [24 thumbprints] are all just regular people, some of whom may be known more in the community, but who felt empathetic toward a cause or someone and started to act on that,” Joseph said. “People think they need to have an ‘a-ha' moment. In high school, I had cancer, and people think that would be my ‘a-ha' moment. But it wasn't. I did stuff with it, but it wasn't my passion. Then there was this moment that was very small. I saw this hat I wanted, and for some reason, I looked at the material and thought, ‘I don't know much about wool,' which is pretty random [since] we wear it all the time. But I saw the horrible things that occur during wool production, and at that moment I changed to a vegan lifestyle that has steered my path since.

“Many people in this book have similar stories, where something seems small but they decided to do something about it. Hopefully these stories will encourage other people to start small and keep building on it. You don't have to know it's your passion, just do something and let it keep building.”

Joseph said that using thumbprints addresses the appreciated but undesired recognition her subjects get for their good works.

“It's something unique to that person, but I didn't put their faces out there,” Joseph said. “And I used clear sheets because I want people to be able to see themselves. First, everyone has a thumbprint. And, second, you can actually see yourself [reflected] in the panels.”

Kelli Williams sees herself in her project: a stop-action, animated web series titled “Tru.” The main character is broadly modeled after the artist, as Tru and the remaining characters address issues such as social media and cultural appropriation.

“I had been trying to figure out why I keep coming back to social media. It's really ingrained in society, and it seems like there's no way to leave it. Even if you unplug, it still affects you,” Williams said. “So I made these minute-and-a-half shorts about this family that lives inside of social media. It's all comedic. I use comedy as a tool … to talk about something that's serious but connect with people and make people think in a way that's a little bit different.

“I'm not being totally critical of social media. I have a love/hate relationship with it myself. But I feel like our virtual selves are never really our full selves.”

Williams' installation includes a loop of the three “Tru” episodes (which she plans to make available online this spring or summer), plus the handmade puppets and sets from the show.

Zane Miller's “Two-Way Protocols” is an experiential and interactive piece that addresses issues of communication. Two plastic cubes suspended from the ceiling not only change as viewers engage them, but that engagement also blurs the line between the viewer and the art.

“It will depend on how people choose to interact with the work. Are there people who are willing to explore or is there a flaw in my experiment?” Miller said. “Who can see in and who can see out? As soon as you ask those questions, you become the subject.”

The piece's title refers to established norms and practices.

“Two-Way Protocols” is in some ways an experiment in shared expectations and whether new lines of communication can be made under different circumstances.

“A protocol is a standardized list for communication. Some of that is law, some of that is etiquette [and] some of that is behavior,” Miller said. “Instead of making a direct statement about communication, [the work] became more about what are the behaviors of people with each other and what are the protocols that exist.”

“These experiments I've been doing the past couple of years have ripped me away from [the kind of work] I had been doing before,” he said.