Arresting Artwork 

Handcuffs and white gloves at an MCA opening.

It was a lively occasion when students, teachers, friends, and family gathered in Rust Hall last week to view thesis work by the BFA candidates at the Memphis College of Art. On display were works by 18 seniors, representing the school's 11 departments. The exhibit was the culmination of the students' years of study and their final projects with many professors.

"They are all like my children. It's going to be hard to let them go," said professor of fine arts Maritza Davila.

Paintings and drawings covered the walls, along with two computers showing work from students majoring in digital arts. As patrons moved about, they were recorded by local filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox and his crew, lending the entire event the air of an incubated performance.

Several of the pieces forced the viewer to go beyond simple observation and interact with the work. Michael Hilde-brand's Evolving Gender came with a set of white gloves to wear while leafing through the book that accompanied his graphic work on the wall of the gallery. The book's images, drawn from the Kama Sutra, elicited nervous grins. "It's a little provocative, especially since it seems very personal. But it's great design," said one attendee, Rod Burch.

John Adcock was one of the two students showing digital work. He described the suspenseful nature of creating his animation. "I set everything up the way I want it to be on the computer, then I push a button and go away for 30 hours. I have to hope that when I come back everything has come out well." The result, a continually shifting series of black and white shapes, entranced many viewers.

Mia Kaplan, a drawing major, was showing a large-scale work titled Memos, featuring two panels with wide swaths of abstract color evoking human forms. "I just like the way a large piece looks, the size of it," said Kaplan, who had mixed feelings about this being her final show for MCA. "I think it's bittersweet. I just hope that as a graduate I set an example for younger students."

Ethan Suarez, a fiber-arts major, did a very personal work based on his adolescent experiences as a homosexual in the Boy Scouts. He work included re-imagining merit badges. "This one of Ethel Merman is for theater," he pointed out, "and that's a nipple ring for metalworking."

The relative calm of the evening was shattered by the appearance of two Memphis police officers, who walked directly over to senior Matt Melton and placed him under arrest. The arrest was a part of Melton's work, Cafeterium, a series of photos capturing every high school cafeteria in Memphis. "The photographs' intent was to wonder who we are through the environments we create for ourselves," Melton explained.

Melton had asked the Memphis City Schools for permission to take pictures of the cafeterias. Melton never got permission, so he snuck in.

The arrest, which featured Melton smashing a wine glass and bitterly denouncing the officers, was bathed in a flood of popping flashbulbs from dozens of onlookers who had been given disposable cameras. Melton describes the event as form of protest -- not an attack -- against Memphis City Schools.

"My intention was for the performance to imply that the photographs were taken illegitimately," Melton said. "By attempting this, I was conducting an experiment that explored the way we value the image."

The scene drew mixed reactions from the crowd, some of whom were aware the arrest was staged and others who were not.

"He invited me to this show and then he goes and gets arrested. That is no way to treat your audience," said local filmmaker John Michael McCarthy. Others felt the event was the perfect expression of a young talent at work.

Onlooker Mike Bibbs thought it injected something new into the evening: "Art should be madness, and tonight Matt gave us a hint of that."

2005 BFA Exhibition

Memphis College of Art

Through December 10th

ben@memphisflyer.com

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