The Art of the Cut
By Rebecca Romani
It’s daunting enough to hang the work of a small collective of artists well, but to hang the work of 30 people?
Hard to imagine.
But that is exactly what is on the walls at the Mesa College Art Gallery in a masterfully arranged show that exudes a distinct air of collective exuberance while clearly rivaling group exhibits shown in some the city’s some of the larger, local galleries.
What makes the exhibit even more remarkable is that it is the work of students from Professor Alessandra Moctezuma’s Museum Studies II class – part of a certificate program that teaches students how to curate and install exhibits.
Inspired by the beautiful cut paper works of local paper and embroidery artist, Bhavna Mehta, the class has culled a substantial show from the artist call extended to the Tijuana-Southern California region. Mehta, whose work graces collections and exhibits throughout Southern California, assisted the students with the curation as guest juror.
What could have been a crowded, claustrophobic show is, instead, an exciting layout that flows into itself and plays with space and expectations. Looking at various interpretations of cutting (objects, experiences, social and political situations) the pieces are highly eclectic in nature- fiber art sits across from monotypes, installations dot the space and things hang, vibrate and twirl slightly. The textures are compelling- from egg tempera to glossy dichroic film to found metal, to molded/altered acrylic. And yet none of it feels forced, everything connects with and around everything else. Indeed, according to Akiko Mims, one of the students in the Museum Studies class, the selections are laid out according to shared elements such as color, shape, and subject.
The work runs the gamut from audio to ethereal hanging installation, from the serious to the sublimely amusing. The interpretation of the theme is broad: Jenny Armer weighs in with tiny, detailed portraits of things that cut (Ibis scissors, a sword), while Scott Gengelbach’s brightly colored video of disembodied hands cutting up toy soldiers and throwing them in a garbage has a Sesame Street meets Wegman feel to it- minus Weimaraner.
One of the more striking pieces, by sound artist Margaret Noble, provides part of the soundscape of the show, a medium-pitched sound of something frenetically vibrating. Aptly titled, “Now Is Not A Good Time,” it’s an intriguing mix of innocuous traditional sewing and tatting materials crowned with the seemingly more dangerous rattlesnake tails powered by tiny batteries. It’s tempting to read a cautionary tale of watching too much Little House On The Prairie and the nostalgia that lead us to these current times.
The idea of cutting into or through things takes an interesting form in Kaori Fukuyama’s “Dahlia x Grandiflora ‘Calculus’.” The altered math book blooms into a gorgeous flower rising in carefully cut layers from the book’s covers.
There are many small pieces that are delicate, hardy, suspended and hung throughout the show. Poised on a pillar, Gina Pisello’s “Oxford Blues” stands out for its unexpected form- connected pyramids- cut in robust, repeated architectural patterns laid over the very color that gives it its name- a rarely seen blue, Oxford Blue.
Blue, or some form of it, shows up in a striking monotype, “Fontana” by Jennifer Anne Bennett. Gorgeous, almost Romantic in style, the landscape floats serenely, minus a large circle- like the large end of a telescope- which makes an appearance, equally serene, in an accompanying panel in the same frame. An odd stereo view-like piece, it works beautifully.
Just as beautiful if slightly startling are Laurel Moorhead’s multi-layered cut papered homages to Georgia O’Keefe. Bright, and a bit more aggressive than the works they quote, Moorhead’s take on O’Keefe’s somewhat erotically charged flowers, have a sort of Andy Warhol lunches with Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors quality.
Also on the edge- that of the universe- is Melissa Walter’s “Star Cluster 003,” a mesmerizing combination of layered intersecting circles and an infinity of dots in various degrees of concentration. The effect is both dizzying and enlarging.
Walter also has a site-specific piece installed in one of the gallery windows, a look at invisible wavelengths (“Xray + Infrared”). The piece requires a bit of examination to situate- it’s a clever use of space. And is that an embossed pattern on the infrared?
Several significant works by Mehta also hang in the show. Seen on the postcard for the show, in person, her cut paper and embroidery mandala of a hand holding a dandelion surrounded by multiple circled cutout RESISTs comes off as fiercely hopeful. There is also fascinating cut paper and embroidered work of feet, one with veins and sinews clearly laid out in thread.
As for resisting, resistance is both inside out and outside the show as well as the US/Mexico border as interpreted by various artists. There is no missing the fabulous clenched hand with the pink fingernail in the middle of the gallery. Martha Gil’s aptly named “Resistance through existence, II” is a fierce Nopal of a hand, studded with metal spikes- an apt metaphor not only for mujeres in resistance but for all who live in border regions negotiating multiple identities.
The most immediate and raw engagement with the border is a recent “intervention” by Jill Marie Holslin, Andrew Strum, Perry Vasquez, and Vasquez’s students. The project is a multi-layered take on the border wall prototypes currently also being “exhibited” on the San Diego border. The group created stencils (“E Pluribus Unum/Somos Unidos,” “In case of wall” (person on a trampoline) among others) similar to gobo lighting. The accompanying two-channel video shows how they projected the cutouts on one of the prototypes while the actual stencils have been applied outside the gallery. It’s a daring piece of guerilla collective work done by locals, made all the more relevant by that fact Holslin lives in Tijuana as do some of the students.
The “Art That Cuts” show will soon be making way for new work, but while it is still in residence, it is more than well worth the short trek up the 163. It is not often a show curated by students in a small gallery raises the bar for the bigger, glitzier art spaces in town.
“Art That Cuts” in on view until Friday, 4/20, with special gallery hours. Please check the gallery’s website (http://www.sdmesa.edu/campus-life/galleries-and-attractions/mesa-college-art-gallery/index.shtml) for information on hours and parking.