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MFA students put theses on display in ‘Phase Shifts’

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Only a few months before permanent separation, the Ohio State Master of Fine Arts candidates are unified this week when their theses are displayed under the same roof downtown.

“Phase Shift” will showcase 14 MFA candidates’ works Tuesday through March 21 at the Urban Arts Space. A showing Saturday will also include a reception from 5 to 7 p.m.

The thesis exhibition is a summation of the MFA’s ideas, discussions and experiments with various materials over the past three years, said Rebecca Harvey, interim chair and professor in the Department of Art.

Natalia Arbelaez, a third-year MFA in ceramic and sculpture, is an artist who leaves all of her work untitled because she wants the pieces to stand for themselves.

Arbelaez’s 30 drooping clay sculptures, with bodies “melting” to symbolize aging,  are intended as a reminder that life is temporary. She also said the high-to-low positioning of the figures, varying from 12 to 34 inches in height,  hints at the hierarchy people place on themselves through such things as race and religion.

Liam O’Connor, third-year MFA in sculpture, calls his work a single installation of two pieces. The work includes two videos: “Pillar of Clouds” and “Shamayim,” both of which are his personal interpretations of the Israeli mentality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

O’Connor, a Jewish-American, said “Pillar of Clouds” is hundreds of YouTube clips of rockets shot between Israel and Gaza edited together so the only images seen are the cloud-like shapes left behind by the smoke.

“Pillar of Clouds,” an Israeli term for 2012 bombings, was originally a Biblical description of a form God took on in the Old Testament to guide the Israelites through the desert.

O’Connor said the video tries to figure out how governments are using religious imagery in violent actions by creating a perverse, man-made image of the divine.

“Shamayim” features a horizon on a part of the ocean over the course of an hour, he said. The film is set in slow motion so even the sounds of the waves create a dull roar.

O’Connor said “Shamayim” was about the question of Hebrew vocabulary because shamayim means “the heavens” while sham means “over there” and mayim means “water.”

Michael McDevitt, a third-year MFA in painting and drawing, has created a “narrative installation” telling a fictionalized version of a real-life shooting that happened involving one of his friends in high school.

He said the installation is a large stage set that one can walk into and see different household items represent different pieces of the story.

“It puts the viewer in the position of being somebody who is not directly involved in the story but is inducted in bits of pieces from different sources,” McDevitt said.

Urban Arts Space spokeswoman Kelly McNicholas said the exhibition is a good finale for the MFA candidates to be united at the end of their programs.

“Coming to the show is like a window into the studios of all these artists who have been on campus for the last three years,” she said. “Maybe you’ve seen their faces, but not known what they’ve been working on. This is one of the few times they get to come together for everyone to see.”

Admission to the “Phase Shift: Department of Art, Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition” is free.

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