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Saturday April 1st

MFA students explore architecture and memory in thesis shows

Allison Coleman's thesis exhibition "Rosy Retrospection" explores themes of memory and nostalgia. Courtesy of Allison Coleman.
Buy Photos Allison Coleman's thesis exhibition "Rosy Retrospection" explores themes of memory and nostalgia. Courtesy of Allison Coleman.

UNC’s Master of Fine Arts students are currently putting their talents on display through a series of thesis shows at the John and June Allcott Gallery.

The University's MFA program lasts two years. During the second year, each student has a week-long exhibition for their thesis project. Art history professor Katherine Guinness has worked closely with the MFA students throughout the process of developing their thesis shows.

"They teach classes during that time, they have intense meetings with teachers and classmates in their studio space, take classes themselves, they show their work to fellow students and teachers to have it critiqued several times a year — they also have visiting artists and teachers critique their work,” Guinness said. “That is a lot of focus — and so they grow as students and artists in amazing ways really quickly.”

Carley Zarzeka was the first of seven students to have their work displayed.

In her exhibition, which was on display from Feb. 26 to Mar. 2, Zarzeka was inspired by architecture — specifically the American subdivision and infrastructure. 

“The show itself is a lot about the standardization of building materials, and the domestic sphere, and how we see common everyday objects, but don’t ever actually look at them,” Zarzeka said. “So, repositioning them in a way to see them out of context, but as new objects.”

Guinness said that although Zarzeka has had immense growth throughout her time at UNC and in the MFA program, her progression has not always been strictly linear.

“Carley’s show had pieces from the beginning of her time at UNC, and then some pieces she had made almost the week of the show,” Guinness said. “Her work, especially, is so interesting in how it builds on itself — she might take a piece from an old work and put it in an entirely new work. She builds and builds that way, and it makes her process very interesting, but hard to track progressively.”

Fellow MFA student Brittany Anderson, whose show is being displayed April 9-12, was also inspired by architecture in her exhibition.

“The exhibition is filled with works of art that are embodied through either industrial or raw materials — such as natural elements like rocks, dirt, unprocessed paint, unprocessed charcoal — versus the industrial, mass-made concrete and plaster,” Anderson said. “I’m kind of joining those two relationships.”

However, in Anderson’s exhibition, architectural components go hand-in-hand with environmental elements.

“I typically work deliberately with landscape, so I’m always interested in where I’m hiking, where I’m walking, where I’m living,” Anderson said. “I’ll travel to different countries, states and national parks and collect things on my little journeys, whether it’s a specific little rock that I think is interesting, or maybe some kind of branch, or some wood. I’ll sit with these raw materials for a while until I can figure out what I want to do with them, and that same goes with the industrial portions of my materials as well.”

Although their aesthetic inspirations are similar, Anderson and Zarzeka are hoping to elicit different responses from viewers, and communicate different parts of themselves.

“Throughout the entire gallery you’re constantly using a different sense, whether it’s smell, touch or sight,” Anderson said. “Especially if you are an artist. Maybe they can relate to the juxtaposition between this humorous, questionable state that I’m proposing on your place in the art world, with this love of nature — and just going back to the roots of landscape in general.”

While Anderson hopes to portray this specific idea, Zarzeka aims for her work to impact each individual differently. She used universal objects in her exhibition that she hoped would elicit memories or personal connections from her audience. 

“The idea of shifting perspectives of things we see everyday is fascinating and interesting," Zarzeka said. "And probably walking away from the show you’ll start looking at rooms and spaces that you’re in everyday with a new perspective.”


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