From a woman talking to a giant octopus, to a maze filled with nothing but a TV playing footbal, to a colorful walk-in movie theater exhibit, there was plenty of variety at the Visual Arts Open House.
Twenty-six second-year candidates for a Master of Fine Arts at Columbia’s School of the Arts invited visitors into their studios in Prentis Hall, the school’s warehouse-like structure on 125th Street, for a glimpse into their creative processes Sunday night.
The studios were each presented in different ways—some were structured like art galleries, while others retained the air of the workspace. In these studios the artists’ tables and tools were splayed out throughout the space. The addition of sofas gave the area a lived-in feel.
The pieces ran the spectrum from the blurry, distant-feeling portraits of Owen Westberg, SoA ’14, accented by candlelight, to the apocalyptic shrine of Bruno Pogacnik’s, SoA ’14, cyber shaman. According to Pogacnik’s pamphlet, the grotesque creature is “riding the tidal wave of meaningless data straight into the oblivion of technological dystopias.”
On the third floor, a gallery by James Case-Leal, SoA ’14, held what looked like a well in the middle of the room, filled with black, inky water, and portraits of light trying to break through on the wall. It gave the whole room a deeply bleak, but strangely hopeful, atmosphere. Case-Leal said his art reflects his first experiences working in a small, lightless studio at Columbia.
“I found myself craving a very direct, visceral light,” Case-Leal said.
Works by Shahar Yahalom, SoA ’14, featured the playful motif of a woman smoking a cigarette or smelling a flower, transposed upon different surfaces, a motif that Yahalom had been playing with for over a year and a half.
“I feel that there is something really interesting about representing a living figure in a still object,” Yahalom said. “There’s something about the cigarette and flower that’s referred to breathing that somehow indicates that this is a living creature and not a dead creature.”
Her other pieces, including upside-down animals, expounded upon this theme, adding a certain life to the studio.
Jesse Wakeman, SoA ’14, explained that he just likes “going out, shooting, and trying to turn off my brain as much as I can.” His black-and-white collection featured shots of city life, half of them through bus windows.
“I like how it abstracts the world, how it creates these frames that cut people off, and how the glass really separates you from what you normally see,” he said. “It’s a different way of looking at the world.”
The studios show artists all on very different stages and paths in their careers, with no clear unifying thread except the artists’ affiliation with Columbia. Rather than run these artists through a prescribed curriculum, Columbia seems just to be giving them the space and tools to let their imaginations run free.