In 1981, Ronald Reagan deadpanned to a convention of carpenters, “Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.’” Technically, status quo means “state in which,” but the joke is resonant because of the toxic stagnancy of 2022 and 2023, when these Pratt MFA students were developing their work. It may seem bizarre to open a review of Pratt’s MFA Fine Arts thesis show, Part 2, with a bad joke by a man who declared ketchup a vegetable, refused to say AIDS, and widened the gap between rich and poor. But this show is all about depicting the mess we’re in as the toxic capitalist, racist, misogynistic, transphobic status quo drags on in the United States and world is caught in such a precarious and discombobulated place. Why aren’t we changing it?
Like many in the show, Niousha Kiarashi is trying to work through the post-pandemic challenges and PTSD that formed the backdrop of the 2022–23 incubation period. As the artist explained to Hyperallegic, “My work is all about invasion, and the messiness of emotions, and how they become part of us at the moment when we start experiencing them, and they invade us … in my work I want to visualize the complexity of emotion as creatures … like species, the way they grow spikes … and different patterns influenced by nature.”
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Kiarashi transformed a closet into an exhibition niche, layering mulch on the floor and enhancing the atmosphere with an eerie soundtrack. A tiny video is visible in the mouth of an unidentifiable ceramic creature with many tentacles. The video reveals another monster within the larger monster, while the tentacles are a metaphor for the complexity of dealing with our feelings, particularly at this time. As the artist stated, “it was not easy to make art in 2023.”
Throughout the course of the show, Cameron Burgoyne has been “activating” the space containing his artworks. Or, rather, wrecking his own works. What viewers are left with is the chaos of dust, paint splatters, and materials strewn about the space.
In a separate room, Michelle Frick presents several “creature” sculptures. An undulating soundtrack of swishing water envelops the space. Something is growing inside each creature — for instance, salamander embryos made out of cast silicone are visible within “Protected” (2022). In an exhibition with so many metaphors for the messes our planet is in, it’s good to be reminded that gestation is also a messy process. The artist addresses climate change through salamanders, a sensitive indicator species. Yet, sadly, global polluters are getting in the way of gestating the next generation of the animals.
Although “place” was presented as the show’s umbrella theme, that curatorial framing came off as a bit vague. Instead, the mess jumped out as the recurring motif. The particular place to which Pratt MFA artists kept leading visitors was not a pristine, organized, or tranquil one. It was a messy one — rife with paradoxes and contradictions. Audre Lorde once remarked that, “The tensions created inside me by the contradictions is another source of energy and learning. I have always known I learn my most lasting lessons about difference by closely attending the ways in which the differences inside me lie down together.”
In other words, acknowledging the mess and its contradictions is a crucial step not only in disrupting our own stagnant inner status quos, but also in challenging those of others. We break the status quo when the wealthy White upper class starts to recognize their own inner messes and the festering contradictions between their genuine desire to do good and their denial about the harms they inflict. Pratt’s MFA students drew viewers in with their unique visual metaphors for messy places.
Making Place: Politics and the Body, Part 2 of Pratt’s Fine Arts MFA thesis exhibition continues at the Pfizer Building (630 Flushing Avenue, 7th floor, South Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through May 5. The exhibition was curated by Sofia Shaula Reeser-del Rio.