As a graduate student at the Memphis College of Art, I never gave a second of thought to spending eight days on Horn Island, off the coast of Mississippi and site of the annual MCA student/teacher artists retreat. My reticence could have something to do with the fact that the island was used as a biological-weapons testing site for the U.S. Army in the mid-1940s (mustard gas and asbestos were recently found in a decommissioned military facility, resulting in the immediate closure of the public spaces), but it's most likely due to my absolute fear of squids.
Jason Cole, a 2008 MFA graduate, has been to the island seven times and has work in this year's exhibition at MCA. He has a different take. "It recharges the soul," he says. Each year, Cole brings an assortment of papers to create beautifully rendered watercolors that can only be made there, on that island, at that time, and that capture the color and feel of the landscape. Seeing pieces that are this fresh and refreshing could almost change my mind about wanting to travel to Horn Island.
There are several other highlights in the exhibition. Michelle Duckworth's whimsical and highly detailed ink and stain drawings on wood should not be missed. The pieces are fun illustrations of the daily life of a rat-like creature scavenging the shore for debris while avoiding crocodiles, menacing birds, and other perils of beach life. Casey Prout, a current MFA candidate (and someone who was actually looking forward to exploring the Horn Island Chemical Service Quarantine Station), has created photographs that, like Cole, capture a specific time and place. Most of Prout's time as an artist is spent waiting for a scene to compel him to take a photograph. His time on the island was no different, waiting for hours for that perfect moment when the sun lowers and the storm clouds roll in over the horizon.
The issue with this exhibition is not with the work. It is the sheer volume. With more than 150 works installed in the limited space of the Rust Hall Gallery, Cole's, Duckworth's, and Prout's work has a tendency to get lost among all the similar sticks, clouds, and birds that make up the exhibition.
Through September 28th
Also at MCA is Joey Slaughter's "I meant to get back to you, but I had a lot going on," in the Alumni Gallery. The title refers to all the information and options at our disposal. Slaughter states, "The simple task of communicating is even harder than ever because of the multitude of choices available."
Slaughter, who graduated from MCA in 1997, received a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts to help fund the creation of the nine works in this exhibition. He used the money to produce a series of pieces that "investigate the 'look' of digital information as it is transmitted around us." This is overt in Hill and Valleys #2 and Outage, where power lines and cell-phone towers are as much a part of the landscape as pin oaks and dogwood trees. His investigation is somewhat covert in Spark and Take a Breather, where the influx of digital information is ever-present.
Slaughter takes this exploration a step further by using digital technology such as lasers and CNC routers, along with traditional art-making applications, which results, Slaughter says, "in a blend of tight and loose, machine and man ... [that] allows for a play of spontaneity and precision." His show is an interesting comment on the overabundant and ubiquitous role that technology and its various devices have on our lives.
Over the years, MCA has cut back or eliminated traditional programs and equipment — surface design, fiber and book arts — in favor of using its resources for additional computer labs, animation, and sound studios. MCA is hardly the only institution reallocating space to meet the demands for more technology. It is fortunate that MCA and its students have this exhibition to think about these issues and how they may affect their lives and work.
Through September 30th