For the six young artists represented in this excellent show, it’s likely that spring 2016 will be remembered as one of the greatest bursts of creative activity in their careers. Sequestered together beneath the stands in their Harder Stadium studios, every one of these talented individuals has come up with something new in the last months of their time at UCSB, and the result is a sense of cascading inventiveness spilling out of the space and into the general atmosphere of UCSB’s campus center. For example, on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 (as she will every day at the same time until the show closes on May 29), Emily Baker appeared to activate her installation, and, in particular, to fulfill the title of the piece known as “Quiet Practice.”
Baker arrived at the school two years ago as a graduate of Cal State Chico with a concentration in furniture design and a background in competitive gymnastics. At UCSB, where the MFA program requires students to dig deep in order to reimagine what it means to be a contemporary artist, Baker began connecting some of the complex mixed feelings she was experiencing as she aged out of the gymnastics world with complementary insights into what she had to offer as an artist. The result, as those of us present in the gallery at during the performance witnessed, is an uncanny blend of facture, physicality, and philosophy. For approximately 15 minutes, Baker hung, hoisted, and flipped over a pull-up bar mounted high off the floor in a corner of the room. Her strenuous “Quiet Practice” routine included numerous moments in which her feet, legs, and back made contact with the wall, thus clarifying the origins of painted patches on the walls elsewhere in the space that were made when the artist, coated in black paint, climbed and then slid down a rope attached to metal beams along the ceiling. Breathing only a little harder than normal, Baker took questions after the performance, explaining that her work has allowed her to explain the ways she feels about her body in flight to an art audience.
In the next room, Tom Pazderka’s brilliant, earthy sculptural installations reveal another form of acute consciousness, this one attuned to the obvious differences and subtler similarities between contemporary American and the Eastern Europe in which he was born and grew up. Demonstrating an equal facility with construction materials and critical theory, Pazderka has created an unforgettable universe out of cabins and cabinets, while in the process identifying a set of thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Henry David Thoreau, and even the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, as “people of the cabin.” The mix of salvaged wood, skillful drawing, and profound reflection repays sustained attention, and is sure to gain Pazderka notice in the art world.
Morgan McAllister is a painter and sculptor who is primarily represented in this exhibition by a series of ambitious abstract paintings. “Eleutheromania” (2016) includes the gnomic inscriptions “WHEN FLOODED” and “DON’T DROWN,” and recalls the work of both Jean-Michel Basquiat in form and that of Willem de Kooning in palette.
For George Sanders, the last lap of grad school has meant a flourishing engagement with larger three-dimensional forms, all of them based in his long-standing commitment to examining the support system of painting. By prototyping each of his constructions through multiple iterations in the studio, Sanders has developed a distinctive and instantly recognizable style and vocabulary within the idiom of art made from pre-existing building and packing supplies. “Invisible fresh” (2016) uses striped rope, poplar wood, and Flashe paint to create a scintillating and rigorous composition in line, light, color, and shadow.
Shannon Willis takes over the back room for “Falling in Love While Drowning” (2016), an immersive, video-based installation that also involved mirrors and lighting effects. Swinging back and forth between soothing and harrowing, this highly personal work invites multiple visits and reflection.
Vanesa Gingold’s playful, exquisite sculptures and mobiles complete the exhibition, with a new work in the shape of a human-sized cocoon occupying pride of place on a pedestal. Gingold’s work merges sophisticated draftsmanship with papermaking, sculpture, and even techniques derived from tent and basket design. Delicious, airy dreams like “Afterglow” (2016) reveal a powerful intellect from within the intricate traceries of their woven details. Like all the work in this exciting show, Gingold’s sculptures promise that the reputation of UCSB’s MFA program will only continue to grow in stature in coming years.
The UCSB MFA Exhibition 2016 is at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum through May 29. Daily performances by Emily Baker are at 3:30 p.m.