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Helping to close out the academic school year is a diverse MFA thesis show at Tufts University. With work ranging from painting and mixed media to film and video installation, certain works exhibit an unusual mix of risk and skill, producing a layered and compelling experience.

An example can be found in the downstairs Koppelman Gallery at the Aidekman Arts Center where Kathleen Rugh has built an elaborate system to feed 16mm film continuously through a film projector. Normally relegated in a movie theater to silence in a sequestered room, here the projector is the star of the show. Shooting 5 minutes of footage into a blackened room, the projector is attached to a large plywood wall. A number of spinning reels first capture the film, then send it through a intricate series of pulleys stretching the length of the wall.

A mix of object and function, this large film feeding system is its own strange organism. It groans and rattles, snickers and squeaks, offsetting the clattering sound of the projector. How beautiful the process of film projection is! Aside of witnessing its elaboration into a cinematic object, following the lifecycle of the film itself is fascinating, like the possibility of watching the circulatory system at work. At different vantage points, a hypnotic visual pattern develops within the pulling of the film as each frame sequentially reveals its images.

Unfortunately, the projected film of varying types of weather, though pretty enough, is a bit overmatched by its internal contents; perhaps it's simply my disappointment at role playing a passive audience member again after just having been the observant explorer.

Upstairs in the Tisch Gallery, Nelson Da Costa exhibits paintings with fractured imagery of silhouetted individuals against a batik-like patterned background. Luscious and colorful, the paintings have a mournful resonance to them that hints towards elements of violence. In this regard, it was especially odd to see these paintings paired with the bizarre sight of painted nude female models on exhibition during the show's opening.

Working in screenprinting and mixed media, Alexis Adams and Nicole Kita share a wall in the main gallery. Adams' brightly colored abstracted landscapes refer to an imagined earth of the future and have the playful sweetness of contemporary anime. Kita exhibits delicate drawings of celebrity figures (one of Jay-Z from Blueprint 2) hung on a bright yellow wall interspersed with manikins of bear and deer heads. They stare into the gallery with wan expressions from the cavity of their eye sockets. One bear head growls silently from the floor.

Framing this central wall are photographic based projects from Nahna Kim and Christine Rogers. In the realm of Tseng Kwong Chi, Kim stages images of herself as a visitor to a series of American vernacular landscapes. (Work from this project can currently be seen at GASP in Brookline) Another photographic series is of Kim portraying various characters in beauty pageants. Perhaps the combination of both projects could add an extra element of stylization to the self-portraits.

Rogers presents several photographic projects and a video relating to a poignant personal journey to rediscover her concept of "family." Finding sites in the Southwest with particular familial associations, Rogers recruits strangers to recreate various family photographic objects such casual snapshots and formal portraits. Together with a narrative based video, an archive is produced that creates a factual record of experiences never had.

Rounding out the exhibition is a stunning video installation by Georgie Friedman called "Seas and Skies." Recalling early landscape photographers like Gustave La Gray who composited the two aforementioned elements to present a certain aquatic ideal, Friedman introduces gentle skies on an artificial horizon with a churning ocean in one piece.

Projected onto a series of temporary walls and pedestals, the video drifts along the floor to walls placed different angles. As the projection stretches up to the 12 foot ceiling, it creates a wonderfully disorientating effect. So seldom is video work used so effectively in its pure visual sensation, immersing the viewer actively within an artificial locale.

Like watching a campfire, the water of the ocean moves in a spellbinding rhythm, soothing and repetitive, it continues. Sitting on a bench watching the waves roll and stir, the viewer is set adrift, and not reluctantly, like Robinson Crusoe.

Tufts University Art Gallery

"MFA Thesis Exhibition" is on view until April 27th in the Tisch and Koppelman Galleries at the Aidekman Arts Center on the Tufts University campus.

All images are courtesy of the venue and the artists.

About Author

Ben Sloat is a Boston-based photographer, critic, and curator. He is a founding contributor of Big RED & Shiny.

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