School of Visual Arts MFA Computer Arts Class of 2020

School of Visual Arts MFA Computer Arts Class of 2020

School of Visual Arts (SVA)

Annie Xiang, MIRAGE, 2020. Backlit film, MDF, and interactive installation, 95 x 202”. Photo: Annie Xiang and Darren Santa Maria.

May 27, 2020
School of Visual Arts MFA Computer Arts Class of 2020
May 27, 2020
School of Visual Arts (SVA)
209 East 23rd Street
New York, New York 10010
United States

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On March 11, the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City, like many other colleges, ceased in-person operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The transition to online learning was swift, but for art students whose work relies on the use of studio space and large-scale equipment, the transition proved to be more challenging.

The MFA Computer Arts Program at SVA offers a multidisciplinary approach to learning 3D Animation/VFX, 2D Animation/Motion Graphics, and Experimental Art. The work by thesis students focusing on Experimental Art can range anywhere from immersive and interactive installations, game design, XR experiences, VJing, and experimental animation. With stay-at-home orders in effect, completing their projects seemed near impossible, let alone the traditional gallery exhibition at the end of each academic year.

“Virtuality can never replace a physicality, regardless of how technically proficient or talented you are as a digital artist. With this in mind, it was difficult to move forward and even attempt to try and finalize a virtual rendition of how I imagined my final installation,” says Matthew Rinehart, an Experimental Art thesis student in MFA Computer Arts. In addition to the stress of thesis completion under such limiting circumstances, there was also the fear that everyone has in the face of the Covid-19 crisis and its profound effect on our society. Anney Bonney, a thesis instructor felt the reason behind transitioning to virtual learning to be more troubling than the transition itself. “There’s the fact that our students were much more affected than any of the other thesis groups because they couldn’t finish their projects. They understood the chances of the thesis exhibition being held as normal were very slim to nil. It was heartbreaking and sometimes encouragement went beyond critiquing the aesthetics of their projects. It had to be human, heart-to-heart counseling to help mend the breakage.”

With so many seemingly insurmountable hurdles in their path, thesis instructor Federico Muelas Romero was rightfully concerned about how his students would be able to complete their projects. He was however pleasantly surprised with his students’ resilience and persistence in the face of such uncharted adversity. “It is hard to believe that six weeks after the school closed, the students were able, not only to deliver their thesis projects but to produce some of the strongest thesis projects coming out of the SVA MFA Computer Arts Program ever. When the school closed, we started discussing right away how their projects had to be modified to adapt to this new situation and to come up with a realistic plan to complete them. To my surprise, the students decided to go with their original project designs and do whatever necessary to deliver the thesis projects they proposed in the Fall semester.”

Some student projects took on new relevance in light of the health crisis. Annie Xiang’s thesis MIRAGE is an immersive and interactive installation that focuses on how social media and the internet negatively distorts our sense of reality. Through quarantine however, Xiang realized the positive aspects of social media and the internet. “The isolation and the quarantine caused people to be much more connected with each other online. This time, I saw how beautifully the internet united people and how this virtual environment offered us a comforting place when we lost access to the park in our neighborhoods. At first, I aimed to make MIRAGE a visualized, immersive experience to intimate how people make contact on social media childishly. I then realized MIRAGE was not only questioning the participants’ awareness of virtual identity but also presenting a world of connection.”

The future remains uncertain for everyone, and especially for recent graduates entering the workforce. However, our students remain hopeful and look forward to completing the physical aspect of their projects in the coming months as well as applying for professional and residency opportunities. Most importantly, our students plan to continue fostering the relationships they made with their classmates and faculty during their graduate studies at SVA MFA Computer Arts Department. Addressing his classmates during our virtual Thesis Presentations, Rinehart said, “This isn’t the way our graduate careers were supposed to end, but this is now a part of our story. We are the MFA Computer Arts Class of 2020, and we worked through a pandemic to finish our final projects.”

School of Visual Arts MFA Computer Arts emphasizes creative experimentation and a multidisciplinary approach to making art with computers and emerging technologies. Dedicated to producing digital artists of the highest caliber, the department guides each student in the development of a personal artistic style in a course of study that is individually tailored to meet his or her needs. Students come from around the world to study in this two-year MFA degree program, which has distinguished itself with nine Student Academy Awards. Please visit

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers, and creative professionals for more than six decades. With a faculty of distinguished working professionals, a dynamic curriculum, and an emphasis on critical thinking, SVA is a catalyst for innovation and social responsibility. Comprised of more than 6,000 students at its Manhattan campus and 35,000 alumni in 100 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 31 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit

Participating Artists

Yian Chou
Yanying Fan
Kelsie Hoffman
Zhifeng Lu
Matthew Rinehart
Yalan Wen
Annie Xiang

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May 27, 2020

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