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A Gaze Redirected, by Olga de Klein

14-Sep-2011

Walking into the Cress Gallery at UTC for the opening of Show One of the Senior Thesis Exhibition I felt I was looked at. From all walls, left, right, in the back, even on the panel in front there were faces, staring at me in intense and thought provocative ways. I first observed Michael Woods painting “The Blue Print,” an intense grouping of recognizable figures, masterfully mixing those that were in politics and those that have been figments of the imagination. They were seated in a formation reminiscent of da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” obviously discussing modern day matters of importance. I shared my impressions with Mr. Woods and asked him if he was willing to share his own view of his work. What was the real matter of importance? Had he intended to appropriate da Vinci’s famous painting?

“Overall,” Mr. Woods answered, “it is about Man's willingness to go to whatever measures necessary to prolong world domination over another group of people, whether it be a government or a religion.” And yes, “I am also playing with ideas like the History of Painting. The reference to da Vinci falls more under the History of painting, than the religious reference of world domination. But I am opening up a conversation that involves both ideas.”

On the left wall at the gallery was the “Effects” exhibit of Sarah Kyle. Ms. Kyle, in a series of photographs, documented how, over a period of six months, the medical world prescribed her a wide variety of chemicals to eradicate a pelvic pain, the cause of which was never found. It is a grim display of the power of pharmaceuticals, and how they wrench havoc on the physical and psychological states of a person. Sarah Kyle’s expressions certainly speak to the many faceless patients who have experienced similar fates.

Suzanne Heartfield’s thesis entitled “If We could Only See…” covers the entire back wall and exists of two giant photos of both a female and a male face. I felt as if I was inside a computer, looking out at the dazed users in front of me. The message is poignant. Our culture has succumbed to artificial and impersonal ways of communicating, and instead of relating with one and another, we disconnect. There is hardly any face-to-face contact and when I asked Ms. Heartfield if her generation was consciously aware of the effects impersonal communication had on society she replied, “Our culture is driven by text messages and online communication devices. They are used honestly more than people just talking to each other. It is really a sad point of complete deprivation of human connection and social stability our humanity is approaching.”

Darana Ratlegde’s “Untitled 1 – 5” series of oil paintings explores the contradictory elements of the hidden and the revealed. The viewer is confronted with the task to piece images of the female body together and make up their own mind. I got the distinct feeling that the figures were really gazing at me, asking openly what I thought of them, if they made me uncomfortable, and if so why. Ms. Ratledge cunningly plays her audience and ignites an inner dialogue that stirs the imagination.

The other students in the show include Sarah Bang, Troy Bowman, Catherine Coll, Casey Graves, Austin Reed, Audrey Robertson, Katie Schultz, Jared Thompson, and Stephanie Whiting. Their theses span the gamut from cultural identity, fear, and nature, to technology and emotions, episodic memory, and bioluminescence.

When I left the gallery, I could not help but thinking that Lacan, Debord and Foucault would have thoroughly enjoyed themselves at the exhibit. As a viewer, I came away with the sense that their philosophies still ring so true in our present day world. It is encouraging to know that this generation of students is aware of maladies in the structure of our society, and can express that in a most creative way!

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