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Brush strokes, hip folks and a pot-bellied pig

The past week at USF has been exciting. Students have been busy trying to readjust to the routine of studying for tests and writing papers, all the while trying to find the time to fit in a story or two about the debauchery that occurred over spring break. Although many seem to believe that the fun is over until summer, there are still many events taking place during this time of year. All one has to do for entertainment is look to USF’s art department – a department that knows how to have a good time. This past Friday night included three art receptions, an open house and a rock show.

The USF School of Art and Art History is currently presenting its First National BFA/BA Juried Exhibition, running March 19-30, at the William & Nancy Oliver Gallery and at the Centre Gallery in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center. For those who don’t know, BFA stands for Bachelor of Fine Arts and BA stands for Bachelor of Arts. Therefore, the show consists of the work of undergraduate students working toward advanced degrees in art.

The importance of students is evident, for not only does the First National BFA/BA Juried Exhibition consist soley of student work, but it is also sponsored and curated by the USF student group Master of Fine Arts Organization (MFAO). More than 170 students from 40 different universities submitted work for the show, but only the top 30 artists were selected. The pieces were judged by juror Dave Hickey, the famous art and cultural critic who spoke at USF on Feb. 22. Four prizes were awarded – three of which were selected by Hickey himself, and the fourth by MFAO. students.

The Best in Show award was given to Sorine Anderson for “Traveling through the Dark.” The piece, made of plaster, deer fur and a deer head, resembles a sort of mythological creature – a strange combination of both deer and human characteristics. The body is human, yet covered in deer fur skinned from a real deer, and is topped off by a stuffed deer head. The figure is lying on its side, almost in a fetal position, with its arms tucked under its head. According to Anderson, “the image of the deer throughout history has represented femininity and vulnerability. I find myself reluctantly relating to this symbol, so I use it to portray my situational anxieties.”

The aforementioned vulnerability can be sensed in “Traveling through the Dark.” There is a certain sense of sadness that the piece evokes, and the title itself seems to reflect the uncertainty encountered during our journey through life. The creature seems to be lying, lost in thought, on the verge of tears.

The reference to femininity is contradictory, though, for the deer has antlers and is therefore obviously a male. But perhaps this contradiction is the key to understanding the piece, because it makes the viewer question the roles of female vs. male and human vs. animal.

The 31st Annual Student Art Exhibition will be on display in the Contemporary Art Museum until April 6. Admission to the show is free. MONTAGE PHOTO/JOSE LOPEZ JR.

Another piece in the First National BFA/BA Juried Exhibition that is worth mentioning is Benjamin Young’s “I Care for Him Very Much.” The piece is an enlarged digital photograph printed in 168 portions of a close-up view of the mid-section of a man’s body. The man, dressed only in tightie whities, is using both hands to squeeze together the excess fat on his stomach – a practice usually associated with women. It is a gesture that is both critical and reflective of insecurity. It is as if the unknown man is analyzing his body to determine what changes need to be made. The title, “I Care for Him Very Much,” seems to suggest a love that knows no bounds. The person who loves this man does not care about his excess fat or bad choice of underwear. In fact, one does have to care for a man very much in order to tolerate his wearing of tightie whities. Although it is great to have the opportunity to see what art students across the country are making, it is even more interesting to see what the art students at our own school are up to. Therefore, USF’s Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) is currently presenting the 31st Annual Juried USF Student Art Exhibition – a show that includes the artwork of both USF undergraduate and graduate students.

The juror for the CAM show was Edouard Duval-Carrie, an exiled Haitian painter and sculptor whose work is influenced by mythology, African fables and current events. Past jurors for the show have included the Art Guys, who currently have work on display at the Tampa Museum of Art and The Guerilla Girls. Various awards were given, all of which were cash prizes ranging from $100 to $1000.

One such award was the School of Art and Art History Award for $300 given to Desiree D’Alessandro for the mixed media piece, “Like Son.” The piece is an arrangement of pill bottles with labels colored white, gray or black. The labels vary not only by color, but also by containing either the word “mother” or “father.” Although one might believe that the pill bottles were arranged haphazardly, this was not the case. Instead, the different colored pill bottles are arranged to form the picture of a man.

In order to fully understand the intent of the artist, though, it is necessary to view the piece next to “Like Son” called “Unlike Daughter,” also by D’Alessandro. “Unlike Daughter,” also a mixed media piece, consists of the careful arrangement of colored pills instead of pill bottles. However, similarity exists between the two pieces because the pills are also labeled either “mother” or “father.” But instead of carefully forming the image of a man, the colored pills are arranged to form the image of a woman.

The two pieces, “Like Son” and “Unlike Daughter,” seem to be an attempt to understand genetic inheritance patterns through the use of the words “mother” and “father” as labels. It seems apparent that there are significant differences between the son and daughter, hence brother and sister, and that these differences have resulted in the preference of the son over the daughter. The word “like” seems to have double meaning – representing both similarity and relatedness (father and son are like one another) and also preference (the father likes his son).

It seems understood that the daughter is the one who is trying to understand the mystery, and in fact the artist is female. The two pieces, therefore, may be representations of D’Alessandro’s own familial strife. The presence of pills and pill bottles could be testaments to the aftermath of this strife – a life of depression and/or anxiety that can only be dealt with through the use of medication.

Another award given at the 31st Annual Juried USF Student Art Exhibition is the Tready & Thayer Smith Award for $250. It was awarded this year to Vincent Kral for “I Remember the Night When I Finally Memorized the Gettysburg Address …”

The piece is a short video that films Kral going for a walk around his neighborhood. The video consists mainly of close-up shots of Kral’s face and contains little dialogue. The only dialogue is a brief conversation between Kral and a woman off-screen regarding the walk he plans to take. While walking, a stream of movie titles are heard in Kral’s voice in the form of a voice-over – a technique that works well for representing what Kral is thinking of as he walks. For example, “Fantastic Four, The Score, Harold and Maude, Seven Years in Tibet, Coming Next Week … long ago.” Anyone who has ever seen a movie can deduct that these are movie titles strung together. The question, though, is the significance of the movie titles.

Much meaning can be extrapolated from “I Remember the Night When I Finally Memorized the Gettysburg Address …” The piece serves as a social commentary on the role of the media within our lives. Kral walks alone, isolated, accompanied only by his memories – not memories of loved ones or accomplishments, but memories of movies he has watched. There seems to be an understated sense of unhappiness that Kral feels towards his life – or more like a sense of uneasiness. On the outside, everything is perfect.

Judging from the video, Kral has a very nice home and belongings, which leads the viewer to believe that the subject is successful. However, it is as if these things do not matter to Kral. The only things that seem to matter or have any importance to Kral are movies (and/or the media).

The 30 artists in the BFA/BA Juried Exhibition were selected from a pool of more than 170 students from 40 different universities. Seven of the chosen artists were from USF. MONTAGE PHOTO/JOSE LOPEZ JR.

However, all one has to do to fully understand Kral’s piece is read the title. “I Remember the Night When I Finally Memorized the Gettysburg Address” is a hint to viewers that there is a connection between the Gettysburg Address and the movie titles. In order to fully understand this connection, “The Vincent Code for The Gettysburg Address” is provided on Kral’s personal Web site, The secret to the code is that a movie title containing the appropriate word is substituted for each word of The Gettysburg Address. For example, The Gettysburg Address begins, “Four score and seven years ago,” which becomes the previous example, “Fantastic Four, The Score, Harold and Maude, Seven Years in Tibet, Coming Next Week … long ago.”

Although some might believe that providing the code reveals too much information, possibly spoiling the interpretation of the viewers, the code actually further demonstrates the message of Kral’s piece. The Gettysburg Address is an important part of history – a famous speech by Abraham Lincoln about freedom and democracy. It is a speech that we should all be familiar with and have memorized long ago because it represents everything our country stands for. However, most of us never memorized The Gettysburg Address. Instead, we memorized movies about comic book heroes and suicidal men in love with women old enough to be their grandmother. We don’t relate to one another – we relate to the media.

Speaking of the media, last Friday night, was not a night to stay home and watch TV. Instead, as previously mentioned, it was a night for great art, music and fun, for it was the night that the receptions for both the First National BFA/BA Juried Exhibition and the 31st Annual Juried USF Student Art Exhibition were held.

The night began with the Awards Ceremony at the Contemporary Art Museum, a highlight of which was when Sean Erwin, winner of the Norma Roth Ceramics Award for $250 for his piece, “Employees Please Wash Hands,” pulled gold diapers out of his track suit in reference to being told that his art piece would work the day he wore gold diapers. Not only did the piece work, but he won an award for it as well.

After the awards were handed out, people moved throughout the Contemporary Art Museum, The William & Nancy Oliver Gallery and Centre Gallery to view the art on display in an enthusiasm and abundance rarely seen in the local Tampa art scene. Food and drinks were provided, giving students a chance to earn back some of their tuition money. Outside of the Oliver Gallery, a fire pit made by one of the art students cooked marshmallows and hot dogs, while the artist barked sexual innuendos and S & M commentary to passersby.

As if the excitement wasn’t enough, the night also featured the 9th Annual ArtHouse in the School of Art and Art History in the FAH and FAS buildings between 8-11:30 p.m. ArtHouse is a chance for everyone to get a behind-the-scenes view of USF’s art department. The art studios and offices are unlocked and left open for people to wander through, kind of like open house in elementary school (but with beer and partying). It is a rare opportunity to view the private notes, sketches and personal belongings of artists. The most interesting discoveries included fetish books and even a Freshette, which apparently is a Feminine Urinary Director for women of all ages that protects against unsanitary restrooms, wind, rain, snow, insects, thorus, poison oak and ivy, and uneven terrain. Of all the things I have seen in life, a Freshette was never one of them.

According to art student and Centre Gallery employee, Elena Myhre, the best part of the evening was “going through the studios and seeing so much of works that you would only see if you were in the class. I found many of those pieces to be the most interesting. I wish the party would go on all night.””As for the ArtHouse in general, I thought everything that I saw looked great, although I was running around getting ready for the show,” Kral said. “This is my third year at USF and all three ArtHouse’s I have been to have been great. This year was particularly exciting because, not only did the CAM have it’s annual Student Show, but we also had the MFAO’s First Annual BFA/BA show in Oliver and Centre Gallery which added to the excitement during the Awards Ceremony bringing students from outside of the USF campus.”

The festivities culminated in a performance by Dark Continent, an AC/DC tribute band made up of art students and faculty. The six-member band includes Sean Erwin on lead vocals, whose look could be described as a combination of Bon Scott and Brian Johnson (or any other lead singer from the 1980s). In recognition of the influence of AC/DC, Erwin glued a patch of chest hair shaped like a lightning bolt to his chest. On bass, trombone and vocals, was Stanley Deon Blackwell dressed in a kilt. Blackwell was also the winner of CAM’s Best in Show award. On lead guitar was Kral, Executive Director of Centre Gallery, wearing a long wig and doing an Angus Young impersonation. On rhythm/lead guitar and dressed in a costume that was either a sasquatch or wolfman, was Mikel Bisbee-Durlam, a faculty ceramics teacher at USF. Allen Hampton, dressed as confederate soldier General Lee, was on drums. Completing the band was Shane Hoffman on rhythm guitar, wearing Gene Simmons KISS face paint and a handsome suit. Songs played included “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and “Highway to Hell.”

The band members of Dark Continent weren’t the only unique characters at the show. The audience included a variety of students, faculty, hipsters, a pirate (the hottest guy ever rocking an eye patch) and even a free-roaming pot-bellied pig. The festivities were certainly a testament to the greatness of USF’s art program.