Hartford — An exhibition at University of Hartford’s Joseloff Gallery this week isn’t about flat images of art on a wall.
In this case, visitors can sit in the exhibition, smell it, hear it and even read in it.
The exhibition is called, “Ephemeral Streams: The Only Way is Through.”
The University of Hartford’s annual master of interdisciplinary fine arts thesis exhibition takes place through Saturday at the Hartford Art school’s Joseleff Gallery.
The work by eight MFA students “highlights the impetuses kindled by two years of social disruption by COVID,” according to the university. Each artist created a collection of their creative thoughts during the crisis, which changed the way they communicated since classes and interactions were online.
The styles, forms and materials — including a mother’s cremations — make the exhibition unique, according to the university.
There will be a closing reception Friday from 5 to 7 pm, although the exhibition will continue through Saturday.
Acting MFA director Mary Mattingly said the students focused their work on “place-based” creative expression, focusing their work on elements of their natives locale with emphasis on ecological, social and other factors
The project came about because “these artists all started an interdisciplinary MFA program together at the University of Hartford during the height of the pandemic,” Mattingly said.
“They met one another over online classes, and formulated projects that related to care, and socio-ecological connections, or other issues that were close to them,” Mattingly said. “They all focus on using natural materials or scrap to create monuments to people, for instance an artist’s mother who passed away; nature, for instance, a dome-like beaver house people can enter; and deities…”
“It is one of the best exhibitions the program has had and I want to invite people to visit,” she said.
Artist Julie Chen, formerly of West Hartford and currently living in Rochester, New York, said the exhibit is work by Cohort 5 of the Nomad Interdisciplinary Master of Fine Arts Program, members of which are about to graduate. There are eight people in the cohort, according to Chen.
“As the graduating cohort of international artists, we weave our personal geographies, professions, passions, and beliefs into our final exhibition,” the group said in a statement. “Our work contributes to the wave expressions erupting as ephemeral streams from two years of psychological disruption at the hands of the visible and invisible global climatic forces at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The statement noted that “this virulent phenomenon overshadowed and exacerbated systemic social inequalities in the midst of a rapidly changing climate — all of extreme importance to the C5 Nomads.
“As artists, individually and collectively, we demonstrated tenacity to persevere knowing the only way is through,” the artists’ statement said. “Each of us offers our own story of the creative ideas and processes which pulled us, pushed us, and sustained us as we continue to generate the type of thoughtful, meaningful, and important work that is presented in this show.”
“We (the cohort) were disrupted by COVID, being mostly remote in a place-based program,” Chen said.
She said that, in general, the pandemic disrupted what was happening in the world, including the Black Lives Matter movement, the #me too movement, and climate change, that the cohort felt the need to “push through”. Chen’s projects of grief, loss and memory are inspired by the death of her mother, Peggy Chen, in 2018 from pancreatic cancer and also relocating from the Hartford area.
“It’s definitely not a typical art exhibition with flat images on a wall,” Chen said, noting there are elements to “sit in, smell, listen to, get inside of.”
One of the significant portions of her exhibit is a costume made of her late mother’s clothing and masks made of her cremains and paper clay.
“It’s a depiction of my mother with what remains of her,” Chen wrote in a description. She uses it as a costume in performances of movement.
“As a costume for performance, I imagine her last days of life when she regressed inward and away from her physical body, and reunites with all her past selves and becomes fluid with them,” Chen wrote. “She is all of them and none of them at the same time, searching for comfort and peace.”
Chen’s exhibit includes a telephone birthday message from Peggy Chen and a reading lounge with Julie Chen’s library of books on grief, loss, mortality and remembrance.
Other MFA artists exhibiting their work are Mauricio Vargas, Aiyesha Ghani, Katie Grove, Kathryn Cooke, Arnethia Douglass, Monica Kapoor and Roberta Trentin.
In another example, Douglass, 71, of Bristol, has an exhibit that incorporates mythology and the environment, that shows “polluting and destroying Earth” through global warming, deforestation and chemical pollution.
Her exhibit is conveyed through photographs and sculptures. Douglass does counseling, workshops and other activities for a woman’s group who have overcome addiction, and uses “getting in touch with nature.”