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Two to Watch

Last Thursday I attended the MFA Photography degree show at Columbia College Chicago and saw work by two artists that was as good as most of what you would see in a commercial gallery or museum. I happen to have worked with these two students in the semester that just ended, one in a directed study program, one who took the Journal and Sketchbook course as an elective class. Most of the credit for their great work in the show comes from their major, and the teaching and guidance that they received in the Photography Department. But I was extremely proud to feel that I had contributed maybe five or ten percent to the final degree work.

David Rodriguez's piece, "Better Place" (above), distinguished itself from everything else in the show by containing the least physical amount of conventional photography. He constructed a table frame with welded rods emerging from it, which climbed up to a point that resembled a mountain-top. About five of the facets formed by the peak contained prints. A wood panel painted in a pastel colour lined up with this peak when you look at it straight on. From seeing ideas develop in his sketchbook this semester, I know that this piece combines personal associations about place and relationships, with a formal investigation of cultural signs heavily influenced by Ed Ruscha. If this was in another context, you would say that this was a sculpture rather than a photograph -- though the piece as a whole added up to an image. I think that the genre is unimportant: call it what you like, it was a very impressive and thought-through investigation of form.

Ani Katz is that rare bird: an artist who is as good with words as she is with images. Having seen my own work that combines print-animation and narrative, she requested to work with me on a directed study program to develop an installation that combined spoken narrative with video slideshows of her photographic work. The visual material was well on the way to completion when we first met. The work we did together focussed the writing more on key personal moments, and brought out the theme of her relation to her family more. This was all there in embryo in the writing: I just saw it as my job to lead Ani to recognize it. For the degree show, she created a three channel video piece, synchronized with recordings of her voice reading selections from the written material. Just as with David, she created something that went well beyond the conventional form of displaying a photograph, or the narrative form of even the most documentary type of photography. I saw the things that she had taken from our sessions together, but I also saw that she had created something bigger, more weighty, more expansive, by projecting it in a large space: a sustained, mournful meditation on loss and coming of age.

If they continue to make work with these individual vocabularies they have developed, I am convinced that these two artists will have a great deal of success.

And if you live in Chicago, you can see their work as part of a one-day exhibition in my studio of pieces produced by Journal and Sketchbook alumni from this year and previous years. Details to come.

(P.S.: Thanks, David, for introducing me to the correct pronunciation of Ed Roo-shay.)


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