MFA Interim Exhibition: Common Ground

Alvin Gittins Gallery | February 16 - 26, 2021

The MFA Studio Arts Club presents Common Ground, a group exhibition showcasing the work currently being produced by students within the Graduate Program. This work traverses a rich variety of themes, from the social and cultural enormity of examining systemic racism in the American South, to the micro-realms of neurodivergence and personal trauma.  Adapting to the necessary precautions of these unprecedented times has allowed the MFA Studio Arts Club to produce this interactive virtual walk-through of their exhibition. We hope you will enjoy the show, and afterwards make sure to visit each artist's individual websites and social media to experience more of their excellent work.


Artist Statements

Christina Riccio:
IG: @christinariccioceramics

Mental illness is a constant, unrelenting struggle from which my sense of reality is irrevocably tied. The pull of ceaseless darkness threatening to drag me under, alongside of the constant and unrelenting cycle of irrational thoughts, causes an invisible battle created by depression and anxiety. While this battle may be unrecognizable to others, I can feel my symptoms crawling, slithering, and squirming throughout my mind and body. Manifestations are a physical representation of managing symptoms behind closed doors.

Keep It All In
The creation of a façade is an inherent coping mechanism used to endure the extensive symptoms that come along with mental illness. Functioning, smiling, and unbroken are just some of the many things I try to present to the world, even while I am suffering internally. Appearing unperturbed and unconcerned helps to conceal the inner turmoil of a mental breakdown; with the intention that if no one knows, no one will ask. However, the dichotomy between keeping it all in and presenting a façade is exhausting, and can make existing extremely difficult.

Façades are almost impossible to keep up over time; the longer the façade goes on, the more exhausted I become. Eventually something has to give. When the façade cracks and breaks, everything just starts pouring out of me. Every single thought - whether fleeting or otherwise - finds its way to the surface and out into the world; like a flood that cannot be stopped. Shattering the façade uncovers everything I have been trying to hide. While being exposed feels alarming in the moment, there is always a sense of relief that washes over me after I have let it all out.

Holly Nielsen:

Mothers Circle
Charcoal lends itself to both soft atmospheric marks and hard–edged lines, hosts for figures and shapes hinting at magical realism. This piece represents myself as a mother. The main figure’s arms and hair move to encircle her children in protection and love. The larger scale of the mother, compared to her children, represents the freakish power of giving life. The mother's body is distorted and shapeshifting. Large hands and feet combine with the jetting down motion of her elongated, folded body as she transitions.

Mother Tree
I've applied charcoal in two ways: marking the board directly and rubbing it into fabric to apply thin layers. Faint washes of acrylic paint add to the charcoal marks, which lend themselves to an atmospheric mystery. The roots of this mother tree encase the fragile light sources, keeping them gathered. The mood may invite or haunt, alluding to motherhood’s complexities; certainty, uncertainty, horror, strength, dependence, beauty, scrappy resilience and gumption intertwined.

Tess Wood
IG: @tessw_art

On August 9th, 2020, I prepared my possessions and left my hometown for a wholly unfamiliar environment.

Relocating amid a pandemic has impeded the growth of calling new surroundings home. The built-up anxiety and the piling uncertainties have significantly challenged my sense of belonging. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, my appreciation for hiking and exploring the outdoors has prevailed unwavering. It is a stable foundation to ease the now shattered adaption process.

My landscape works are a physical response to my surroundings through hiking and a digital memory aid. Peoh Point is a response of hiking shortly before leaving Washington. Zion, and both monoprints, Canyonlands and Little Cottonwood, are my landscape responses as I find common ground between my home state's comfort and my residency in Utah.

Candace von Hoffman
IG: @candacevhart

Throughout my childhood and well into my early adulthood, I believed in the fabled “American Dream” and that all Americans are given equal opportunity at birth. I consumed explanations from adults that the color of an individual’s skin didn’t matter and so I passively accepted the ideology that I “didn’t see color.” As I grew older and my naiveté towards who is afforded opportunities in this country began to wear off, I still participated in intentional silence. I was purposefully silent because I was afraid to be misjudged or misplaced in acknowledging that I was beginning to understand my privilege and the horrific violence that this privilege is rooted in. My ancestors were slavers in Mississippi. They had the authority to own and control black lives. As I attempt to grapple with this aspect of my identity and the residual racism that has been passed down generationally, I am beginning to understand the importance of sharing my awareness, intention and struggle through poetry and photography. I am learning that people are more likely to listen and entertain freedom in a society that encourages humanizing and honest critique of oppressive teachings, beliefs, and personal choices made by whites.

Eric Robertson
IG: @ericrobertson

Brine is a food, a flavor, and an industrial material. Like so many things, it connects us to the natural world in often unseen ways. The Great Salt Lake is brine, has brine, becomes brine. This primordial bath forms magnesium, which is the strengthening agent of aluminum industrial alloys. If you drove here, flew here, took the train here or are viewing this on a computer, then you have this brine to thank.

Reilly Jensen
IG: @quaffingreilly

This piece simulates complex associations between real and imaginary material culture of an anthropologist-turned-artist. Comprised of mundane objects and symbolic baggage, these associations between tools (used to measure culture) and cultural objects (used to seek identity), are mixed in context. As they are used to investigate the world, they intermingle and influence each other to create new compounds and new ideas, which may or may not be objectively true.

Juxtaposed by the delineation of personal and public space this piece is the search for and creation of personal knowledge. It begins (and ends) like any field season. The artist, like the archaeologist, finds refuge in the empty halls of cultural buildings, seeking permission to access knowledge.

Hannah Nielsen
IG: @hanielsendoodles

A Waiting Room

Liminal space: From the latin, limen, meaning threshold. A place existing between one stage of being and another. It is the ephemeral suspension of a room which only exists to be passed through. 

 There are periods within our lives which feel like a liminal space. We are stuck in a room, a lobby, an airplane terminal, trapped between the previous chapter of our life and the next. In this installation I visualize my personal Waiting Room, a room which hints at the possibility of what might lie ahead of me, and occasionally, what I have left behind. But none of those exist right now. Because I am in the Waiting Room.

Installation. Media includes oil and latex paint, canvas, found object, and acrylic glass. 

Bryce Billings
IG: @brycebillings

The Door Home and a letter never sent. 

Looking back through memories there is a door that once crossed through can never be reopened to the innocence of childhood and yearning for home.

As a way to observe and process trauma, including the experience of abandonment and psychological breakdown that occurred during the artist’s time spent as an LDS missionary, they created “The Door Home”. During their 2-year period in a foreign country, sent to exclaim “the word of God”, the artist endured a constant battle with religious scrupulosity and extreme Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The resultant outcome was a psychological collapse and overwhelming sense of abandonment. During this time away, the artist sent less than a handful of letters home. The paper ship set on the waters of memories records the letter never penned and never received. 

Seated here on the bench (made by the artist’s father) holding the memories of home, you are invited to explore your own connection and process to the past. While this shrine of reflection is a recreation of their specific childhood door to experiences and loved ones within, the artist invites the viewer to pen their own “paper ship” letter and set it sail on the reflection of memories to a “door home”.

Lost Portrait

How do we define ourselves? 

Who are we? 

Are we our Identity? 

Are we our talent, failures, or mistakes? 

What if who we think we are is put into question? 

We go through life, starting over and over often recreating the same path. These attempts are the constant state of trying to define who we are, attaching to what we do, see and experience, yet the only constant is the awareness that “I Am”. This piece is an attempt to see who we are when all else is taken away.

Special thanks to Dana Hansen and Preston Kramer for their work on the online exhibition tour.