Last week, Portland State’s Master of Fine Arts candidates opened their final show of the year, complete with a pair of artist lectures and receptions. But not to worry: Viewers will have the rest of the week to take a peek at the closing thesis exhibitions.
Last week, Portland State’s Master of Fine Arts candidates opened their final show of the year, complete with a pair of artist lectures and receptions.
But not to worry: Viewers will have the rest of the week to take a peek at the closing thesis exhibitions.
The shows, which opened Monday, April 29, and run through Friday, May 10, feature the works of MFA candidates Rene Allen and Steve Brown.
Allen’s exhibition, titled “Close Quarters,” stands on display at Neuberger Hall’s Autzen Gallery and features a mix of architectural installation, drawing and writing. Brown’s video exhibition, “Liquid Whisper,” displays as a single projected piece in the Art Building’s AB Lobby Gallery.
In the Autzen Gallery, Allen fixed a collection of framed floor plans on graph paper along the wall. The line of plans, some intentionally incomplete, offer an ambiguous look at rooms of all shapes and sizes.
Toward the end of the line, the frames get stacked and staggered three or four high at points. The plans, 41 total, represent all of the bedrooms Allen remembers over the course of her life.
“I did a version of this piece in an architecture class before deciding to expand on it,” Allen said. “I was thinking about home and what that means to different people and to me. What’s really interesting to me was that I remembered the rooms but I couldn’t remember when or in what order I stayed in them.”
On the wall in front of the door, Allen fixed a large sheet of paper with penciled text on it. The work offers a story arranged in a series of questions and instructions.
The reader, asked to consider a space and a collection of things stored in cupboards, begins to visualize what might populate their imagined space as they read.
Allen pointed to the influence of acclaimed artist Bruce Nauman as part of her inspiration for the written work. She also noted her interest in keeping the writing personal through handwritten text.
“There’s nothing more alienating in an art show than a wall of vinyl text,” she said. “I chose pencil and paper because it’s person-to-person.”
Allen also put her building background on display with a minimalistic, abstracted house that dominates the floor space. The crisp white structure faces the gallery windows, inviting visitors to duck under the shoulder-height roof to have a peek inside. Within can be heard the looped sounds of the house being built.
“I was thinking about the iconic house that kids draw, and thinking of how to abstract that shape,” Allen said.
Allen also explained the planning process, in which she sized the house to her own dimensions, leveling the roof at her shoulder height and the width according to her wingspan. She noted a recent trend in her work: exploring personal, nonstandard dimensions in the architectural process.
“I was thinking about a house designed and made by one person, for one person,” she said. “The only point that I have to go from is my own point of view. That’s been a big leap for me. I always wanted to be removed from the work.”
Brown’s “Liquid Whisper” consists of a stand-alone piece that takes over the space of the AB Lobby Gallery. Black curtains sweep over the doors and windows, blocking all light.
The video, made on tape, features an ambiguous narrative taking place in fantastical environments derived from album covers and other imaginings.
Actors in simplified costumes navigate the environment without dialogue, using gesture to explain their efforts to escape entrapment and otherwise negotiate their immersion in the surrealistic other-space.
Brown explained his interest in leaving behind his previous work when applying to Portland State. Previously a painter, he acknowledged hitting a wall with his earlier work and subsequently developing a taste for performance and video.
“I had some specific goals when I came to PSU. I wanted to reference things less, and make things that were truly my own,” he said, pointing to a series of paintings depicting Alice Cooper’s bassist, Dennis Dunaway.
“Like a lot of awkward kids, I probably idolized rock stars too much,” Brown joked.
Brown showed a series of videos produced during his studio sessions at the university, in which he explored the assets and limits of VHS and digital video alike. He explored placing figures and characters in imaginary spaces and the light-capturing properties of jelly.
Brown also worked on other work-generating experiments, such as starting a rumor that he was starting a band called Caramel Apple. That rumor led him to develop a video for the band for last year’s Open Engagement art conference at PSU.
Art MFA candidates’ exhibitions
“Close Quarters” by Rene Allen
Autzen Gallery, Neuberger Hall, room 205
“Liquid Whisper” by Steve Brown
AB Lobby Gallery, Art Building lobby
On view through Friday, May 10
“I really wanted to make work that wasn’t about my autobiography,” he said. “The faculty really encouraged me to include more of myself in my work.”
Brown pointed out that, in the end, he was most interested in working with VHS, and he ultimately eschewed a digital format altogether for his final production of “Liquid Whisper.”
“The grain is almost like a painting,” he said. “The mistakes and distortions remind me of paint and experimental music. You can make it a wash or a liquid or [a] fluid. As a medium, it has more value than just nostalgia.”
After the lectures, Boas extended her praise to the recent master’s candidates and graduates more generally, citing their efforts to work together and share their skills.
“Within the last couple of years we’ve had a generous, collaborative group of students,” she said. “People have always collaborated formally, but there’s also been an informal collaboration that’s been wonderfully supportive of the arts.”