The air that inhabits: 2023 MFA in Visual Art thesis exhibition

The air that inhabits: 2023 MFA in Visual Art thesis exhibition

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis

View of the air that inhabits: 2023 MFA in Visual Art thesis exhibition, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, April 8–July 24, 2023. Photo: Kalaija Mallery.

June 7, 2023
The air that inhabits: 2023 MFA in Visual Art thesis exhibition
April 8–July 24, 2023
Exhibition opening: April 8, 4–6pm
MFA in Visual Art thesis artist talks: April 14, 4:30–6:30pm
Public tour: July 22, 2pm
Garen Gallery
1 Brookings Drive
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
St. Louis, Missouri 63130
United States
Instagram / Facebook

The MFA in Visual Art program in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts celebrates its degree candidates every year with an exhibition at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum on the Washington University in St. Louis campus. 

The air that inhabits features thesis projects by the MFA in Visual Art candidates in the 2023 graduating class of the Sam Fox School’s Graduate School of Art. The exhibition title is taken from the poem “Variation on the Word Sleep” by Margaret Atwood, chosen by the candidates for its evocation of both the physical and the poetic. 

The featured artists explore a range of artistic practices and mediums, including painting, sculpture, sound, installation, video, and performance. Through their respective works, they explore a variety of themes such as race, class, feminism, environmentalism, consumerism, and more.

Alex Braden says he works “with sound always, sculpture a lot, and installation usually.” His Decanter II: In Defense of Daydreaming explores sound as a phenomenon, using electrical current to create an indeterminate, randomized composition.

Allena Marie Brazier’s work is a layered portrait, representing her geography, family, and self in sculptural form. Back Home and across tha River engages Brazier’s family basketball goal, family photos, asphalt, railroad ties, and sandbags, which are placed in front of a bright blue background.

Alex Rosborough Davis explores the queerness of found objects through their sculptural works. Pieces in this exhibition using salvaged materials include the Magnus Hirschfeld Queer Revolutionary Library, the large steel sculpture Of Prurient Interest, and Beat the Straights with the Pink Wedge (Queer Constructivist Battle Flag), which doubles as a dispenser for their manifesto.

Jamie Lee Harris’s work focuses on the mourning history of the African diaspora, and this exhibition includes works related to her own mourning following her mother’s passing last year. Her sculpture, Maame Wata Awaits for You, made with ceramic, terra-cotta, sand, wood, and copper, commemorates her mother and matches her six-foot-one height. A large-scale painting, We Sing, We Wail, We Wake, for Homegoing’s Sake, features a church scene and is paired with found objects.

Megan Kenyon examines the evangelical church through the lens of women’s experiences, coupled with collective sharing and art making. Her work How I Got Over / To the Church in America places a pulpit with a folio of messages in front of photographs, inkjet prints, and testimonies.

Sharlene Lee’s three-channel video installation Well-spoken flips on its head the narrative of belonging to a place by speaking the local language. The viewer becomes a foreigner, as life-size projections of people speak to the viewer in their native language.

Jorge Rios’s work explores the act of painting itself. His piece Azul, Amarillo, Rojo is “very process-based,” utilizing watercolor and acrylic marker on Arches paper mounted on four wood panels. The paintings mark a reinvention from a body of work Rios had been pursuing previously. “That’s the premise of everything visual artists do,” he said. “You never master anything, you’re always reinventing yourself, so that’s the road I wanted to follow.”

Anna Schenker creates large-format tree rubbings, bringing the outdoors in. Her work in this exhibition demonstrates the vast scale between a large tree trunk (7.30.22 – 8.3.22, VT), which as a rubbing on muslin spans 13.5 × 10 feet, and the tiny seeds that trees come from, which are displayed in small plastic paint containers (Sky Containers, Nov 22).

Seulki Seo’s work aims to expose underlying phenomena across politics, society, and culture. This exhibition includes two looping video installations: Noises, Words, Echoes shows the installation of marine fiber optic cables and mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Sam in Sung Ho, from the series Froward Women, shows an animated, imagined future. Seo positioned both works in the same room, evoking a spiral effect that relates to how we experience time.

Samantha Slone’s A Phantom and a Fly represents a landscape in three different ways: “an image, a domesticated version, and a version that barely echoes landscape.” Slone uses a variety of materials to engage with ideas around power and control, including building the installation so that the viewer can only see the images displayed on monitors by looking at mirrors hanging along the wall.

Karen L. Yung is fascinated by both furniture and rock formations. Her work Home incorporates various objects, sounds, and memories into an antique apothecary cabinet, inviting the viewer to interact with its drawers. The piece also includes several of her stalagmites, significant as a symbol of both energy and displacement.

The air that inhabits: 2023 MFA in Visual Art Thesis Exhibition is organized by Leslie Markle, curator for public art, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. Support is provided by the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and the William T. Kemper Foundation.

Photos by Dmitri Jackson and Kalaija Mallery.

Participating Artists

Alex Braden
Allena Brazier
Alex Rosborough Davis
Jamie Lee Harris
Megan Kenyon
Sharlene Lee
Jorge Rios
Anna Schenker
Seulki Seo
Samantha Slone
Karen L. Yung

The MFA in Visual Art program at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts educates artists who will define and change the future of their disciplines. It instills students with the agency and resiliency that will be essential to the next generation of artists. Chaired by Professor Lisa Bulawsky, the program is home to an inclusive, close-knit community of renegade makers and thinkers and offers students a site of rigorous inquiry, humanity, and intellectual generosity. The Sam Fox School has abundant resources, with expansive facilities and studios that serve as a think tank for intellectual and material experimentation. The program is located within a tier-one research institution and is proud of its home in St. Louis, which serves as both an extension of the studio and site of engagement for art and artists. The MFA in Visual Art professionally prepares students for a diversified approach to the field of contemporary art that nurtures sustained, lifelong engagement while recognizing multiple pathways and definitions for a career in the arts and culture. 

The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis is a leader in architecture, art, and design education. The school advances its fields through innovative research and creative practice, excellence in teaching, a world-class university art museum, and a deep commitment to addressing the social and environmental challenges of our time. Through the work of its students, faculty, and alumni, the school strives to create a more just, sustainable, humane, and beautiful world.

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