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Five Emerging Artists to Watch: MICA MFA and MA Graduates III

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The consistent abundance of high quality visual art in the Baltimore region is not an accident. One main reason that international art careers are started in Baltimore is a network of high quality MFA programs. At the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), there are thirteen major graduate programs, including Master of Arts, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Business, Master of Professional Studies, as well as programs with a graduate emphasis. All together, MICA’s grad programs attract about three hundred students each year from almost every state and more than twenty countries.

As each student completes several years of rigorous study and research, most are required to produce a thesis as a cumulative act and these often include exhibitions, written publications, lectures, and other hybrid forms. For many years, the team at BmoreArt has paid close attention to MFA thesis exhibitions and projects, in order to educate ourselves (and our readers) about excellent new artists joining our community and to celebrate their achievements, and this year we have embarked on a collaborative approach to our coverage with MICA’s Office of Graduate Studies.

Working in conjunction with the directors of each individual graduate program at MICA, we have selected one graduating student to represent each program. We have visited their studios, photographed them in the place where they have created their most recent projects and masterpieces, and we offer a look at their practice through a series of interviews.

For our third and last interview series we offer you studio visits with Songyhun Moon, Mount Royal School of Art, Shruti Balasubramanian, MA in Graphic Design (MAGD), Sara Austin, MFA in Graphic Design (GDMFA), Ashton Phillips, Studio Art Summer Low-Residency MFA (MFAST), and Arson Navarro, Photography + Media & Society.

 

Songhyun Moon, portrait by Jill Fannon

Songyhun Moon, Mount Royal School of Art, Interdisciplinary MFA

Where were you, geographically, creatively, and/or professionally, before attending MICA?
I was in Seoul, Korea. I had a studio there for two years and worked from there.

Why did you select this particular program?
Interdisciplinarity was the biggest reason for choosing this program. First, I majored in painting during my undergrad, so most people around me were painters, which made me think I was a painter too. After I graduated, I started to try other media and realized that the environment really mattered to me. I expected that being with interdisciplinary artists would encourage me not to limit myself to one area. Second, since I wanted to explore a wider range of media, I needed to go to a program with diverse expertise. I did not know what my interests would be, so being able to get help no matter what kind of help I need was something I had to consider.

Not only faculty members, but also colleagues came from so many different backgrounds, with different expertise, which really helped me through the last two years in the program. The third reason was a feeling. It may sound a little weird, but I just had a feeling that this program would be the one for me. Looking back, I believe the feeling was right. I learned a lot, and my work changed so much in a way I wanted it to be.

What have you learned from living in Baltimore? How has your perception of the city changed from before MICA until now?

It has definitely changed a lot. To tell the truth, I was pretty worried about living in the city as I had only heard some negative things about Baltimore. But as time went on, I learned more about Baltimore, and I began to realize that this is a place people live and it cannot be that bad. Baltimore can be dangerous, but so can anywhere. I remember once during the school break I was out of town to visit my friend, and when I arrived at Penn Station in the late night, and stepped outside of the building, I felt very relieved to be back in Baltimore.

Tell us about your work. What are your primary materials? What are the main concepts you explore in the work? How do your materials and concepts intersect?

Sometimes I resonate with the material first, or with the concept first, but no matter what order, I usually set a good foundation with the concept and move onto the material. Material wise, I like to work with something that has a more physical presence. Sometimes the material itself already contains the concept and story in it, such as my current project about a map pin, or the concept comes first, and I find the right material for it. As I make more work in the program, I have found that one idea receptively appears through not only my work but also my everyday life. I always wanted to find the absolute perfection and have never achieved it so far. My search for perfection and the frustration that comes from never succeeding have become a reason for me to make work.

What was the title of your thesis show? Please give us a sense of the depth and breadth of the show, where it is, and how you want it to resonate with viewers.

My program did not have a title for our thesis show. However, if I were to name for my works, I would go for “The Temporality and Subjectivity of Perfection.” Through my work, I have found that most of, if not all, “perfection” is not really perfect to everyone, and cannot stay perfect forever.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I am still trying to figure that out. To put it in a nice way, I have a lot of options to choose from. I am worried, but at the same time very excited to see how things will turn out for me.

Songhyun Moon, The Perfect Pin, 2023, Mixed media
Songhyun Moon, The Perfect Pin2, 2023, Mixed media
Songhyun Moon, The Perfect Pin detail, 2023, Mixed media
Songhyun Moon, portrait by Jill Fannon
Songhyun Moon, The Perfect Pin1, 2022, 503 fake map pins, 1 authentic map pin, wood panel, resin, report
Songhyun Moon, The Perfect Pin Part1, 2023, Two channel video
Shruti Balasubramanian, photo by Jill Fannon

Shruti Balasubramanian, Graphic Design MA

Web: shrutibalasubramanian.com

Where were you, geographically, creatively, and/or professionally, before attending MICA?

Before attending MICA, I was geographically based in Chennai, India, where I completed my undergraduate degree in architecture from Chennai Academy of Architecture and Design. Creatively, I was exploring different aspects of design, particularly in architecture, and realised my love for graphic design. I started freelancing back in India during my 5th year of architecture and realised that’s where my heart is. This was a turning point where I decided to switch to graphic design while still building on everything I learned in architecture.

Professionally, I have completed a few internships in architecture firms in India. Yet, I was seeking to expand my horizons and explore other avenues in the design world. That’s when I decided to apply to MICA’s graphic design program, which I believed would offer me an excellent opportunity to learn and grow as a designer.

Why did you select this particular program?

As someone who didn’t study graphic or communication design as an undergrad, I found it challenging to create a portfolio for a master’s program at a prestigious institute like MICA. However, MICA’s exceptional curriculum, including design theory, history, and practice, caught my attention. I knew this program would shape me and give me the creative, critical, and technical skills I desired.

After speaking with MICA alumni about the program, I was convinced it would add more character to my design work and process. Collaboration is crucial for designers today, and this one-year course requires a dedicated effort, but the collaborative environment with my cohort makes it all possible.

The faculty and mentors at MICA have a very subtle way of imparting knowledge. Being renowned designers and leaders in the field, their humility sets an excellent example for every budding designer. The electives offered by MICA give us a great opportunity to specialise in areas of our choice. MICA strikes a balance in electives by including a lot of essential courses for the present and future and practices from the lost art of screenprinting to motion and emerging media.

What have you learned from living in Baltimore? How has your perception of the city changed – from before MICA until now?

As an international student from India, moving to Baltimore for my studies at MICA was a daunting prospect. I was worried about how I would adapt to a new country and whether my own cultural influences would remain unobscured by Western influences. However, Baltimore surprised me in the best way possible.

The city has so much character and celebrates different art styles and cultures, making it an incredibly inclusive place to live. As a person of colour, I never felt like I didn’t fit in, which can be a familiar feeling for international students in their first few months.

Despite the program being just one year, Baltimore has given me many great experiences that have helped me grow as a designer. The Inner Harbour specifically caught my eye with its distinctive historical and modern architecture blend. By exploring the architectural details, I gained insights into how historical and contemporary styles can be combined to create innovative and visually striking designs. The waterfront promenade allowed me to connect with the local community and artists showcasing their talent. The stretch of the street around the Washington Monument was one beautiful place that made me feel I was in a historical time with its well-preserved grand mansions, churches, etc. Overall, my perception of Baltimore has changed drastically since before MICA. It’s a fantastic city I’m proud to have called home for a year.

Tell us about your work. What are your primary materials? What are the main concepts you explore in the work? How do your materials and concepts intersect?

My work explores the intersection between architecture and graphic design and how combining the two can create an immersive experience for visitors. The main focus is on designing for the senses, with touch boards containing objects carefully selected from Baltimore’s streets, symbolizing the attributes of Chennai, India. By allowing visitors to interact with the objects, curiosity is sparked, which is further elaborated in the accompanying publication. The use of touch as a learning tool makes it easier for people to remember and learn about the city.

In addition to the touch boards, the branding of the museum is enhanced through posters featuring patterns derived from Kolams- rice flour designs drawn in front of homes in Chennai to welcome prosperity. These patterns are also displayed through a hand-made terracotta hanging installation using air-dry clay and laser-cut acrylic panels, creating a three-dimensional representation of the city’s vibrant colours.

The highlight of the project is the prompt wall, where visitors can share memories of their own cities and relate them to Chennai through the senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. Through this interactive display, visitors can engage with the exhibit on a personal level and further immerse themselves in the experience.This interactive element creates a sense of community and shared experience, leaving a lasting impression on visitors.

What is the title of your thesis show? Please give us a sense of depth and breadth of the show, where it is, and how you want it to resonate with viewers?

The Rove of MAA is a living museum that takes visitors on a journey through the rich history of Madras to Chennai, from when it was under British rule to what it is today. My thesis focused on developing a comprehensive 3D model walkthrough of the museum and designing impactful branding and wayfinding signage to enhance the overall visitor experience.

The project’s central theme centres on using metaphorical objects to help visitors connect with the city’s history. By drawing parallels between the museum’s artifacts and the visitors’ own city, the design aims to create a more profound sense of connection and understanding. This was achieved by strolling the streets of Baltimore to collect various sensory objects, which visitors can interact with through touch boards that allow them to shake, smell, and hear the objects. This interactive approach enables visitors to connect with the objects more personally, facilitating a deeper understanding and appreciation of the city’s history.

My thesis aimed to develop an exhibit on a smaller scale from the living museum I had designed as part of my architecture thesis.The thesis was showcased on MICA’s Fox 3 Gallery from March 24- April 9, 2023. The objective of my show was to bridge the gap between architecture and graphic design by incorporating sensory design and branding elements. These elements were crucial to completing the thesis, creating an immersive visitor experience.

Overall, my design aims to provide an immersive, sensory experience that engages visitors and encourages them to connect with the city’s rich history more profoundly and meaningfully. By creating an interactive exhibit that draws parallels between different cities, I hope to foster a greater appreciation for cultural diversity and understanding.

What are your post-graduation plans?

After graduation, my goal is to gain experience in the field of design and continue to develop my skills in both spatial and graphic design and use my knowledge to create more immersive and engaging environments for people. In the long term, I aspire to start my own design studio where I can work on projects that I am passionate about and have a positive impact on communities. I believe that design has the power to shape our environments and influence our experiences, and I want to be a part of that process.

To achieve these goals, I plan on networking with professionals in the industry, attending design conferences and workshops, and constantly learning and keeping up with the latest trends and technologies in design.

Shruti Balasubramanian, The Rove of MAA, 2023 Exhibit
Shruti Balasubramanian, The Rove of MAA, 2023, Feedback wall
Shruti Balasubramanian, The Rove of MAA, 2023 Posters, Laser-cut installation
Shruti Balasubramanian, photo by Jill Fannon
Shruti Balasubramanian, The Rove of MAA, 2023, Touch Boards
Shruti Balasubramanian, The Rove of MAA, 2023, Touch Board
Ashton Phillips, photo by Jill Fannon

Ashton Phillips, MFAST Low Residency Studio Program

Where were you, geographically, creatively, and/or professionally, before attending MICA?

I was living in Gallup, New Mexico, on the border of the Navajo Nation when I started at MICA. I kept a small studio there, overlooking a wide expanse of undeveloped high desert wilderness, populated by pinon and juniper trees, sprawling ant and prairie dog colonies, fox, coyote, wild sunflowers, the occasional herd of free range sheep, and the occasional human on foot or 4×4. My creative practice focused on this interconnected human and nonhuman ecosystem, the more-than-human forces like wind, monsoon, and sun that held power over it, and the capacity of these lifeforms to survive and even heal in physically and socially hostile conditions.

At that time, I was also working as a resident artist in a therapy clinic, helping adolescents and young adults develop art practices of their own as part of a holistic trauma recovery plan, while showing my own work in alternative art spaces, including hospitals, rehab centers, universities, and non-profit art spaces.

Not long before that, I was living in Philadelphia, studying painting and drawing at night, practicing law during the day, and feeling into all the ways art can nourish life, repair wounds, and resist power differently than law.

Why did you select this particular program?

I was looking for a rigorous program where my practice as a socially-engaged artist and thinker, attracted to the sensory immediacy and openness of non-representational art, but resolutely grounded in the vibrant material world, could thrive. I was also looking for a community where my transdisciplinary background as an artist/ attorney/ independent researcher could live as a welcome source of enrichment and perspective among similarly multi-faceted artists.

I got both in MFAST. I found a culture of inclusive rigor that empowers students as valuable critical voices and sources of wisdom, capable of giving and receiving thoughtful critique. I also found a profoundly transdisciplinary community, unique among the programs I encountered.

During my time in MFAST, for example, my peers have included a Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor, a trauma nurse, an experimental poet, an international curator, a mathematician, a housing rights advocate, a sheep farmer, a glass blower, a queer documentary filmmaker, a fashion designer, and a war journalist. All are encouraged to add their perspectives to the discursive breath of the community, without any real regard for the edges of what we might think of as “art.” This is exactly what I wanted.

As an artist who already had a fairly developed independent studio practice before grad school, I also valued the independence and geographic flexibility that MFAST afforded me, alongside repeated intensive periods of highly focused critique, engagement, and growth.

What have you learned from living in Baltimore? How has your perception of the city changed – from before MICA until now?

I have found Baltimore to be a model of resiliency and of the possibility for repair and adaptability, even in the midst of ongoing traumas. I was particularly moved by the spirit of survival and the will to grow some piece of sovereignty and community among the host of urban farmers I met while helping teach a section of Baltimore Urban Farms with Professor Hugh Pocock. The drive to reconnect with the earth where it is and how it is and to grow something, however small and fleeting, echoes much of the spirit of my practice. I felt deeply how these gestures of renewal and return can become seeds of hope in an almost hopeless time, even if the carrot we grow comes out gnarly and stunted, and even if that carrot can only feed one person part of one meal.

I will also never forget walking by the Black Trans Lives Matter mural painted across the entire width and length of a block of North Charles Street everyday during the summer of 2021. This monumental street art hit home for me then, as a trans person, and reverberates even harder now as we face down an unprecedented cascade of anti-trans legislation across the United States.

This summer, I was similarly greeted by a full window of hand-printed posters broadcasting “Protect Trans Kids” from the MICA screen printing building. These are small gestures of support, but they make Baltimore feel like a refuge city for trans people in an era when the list of States I am actively boycotting as anti-trans hellscapes because they have criminalized gender-affirming care for trans youth has grown to 18 in less than 6 months (AR, FL, GA, ID, IN, IA, KY, MS, MO, MT, NE, ND, OK, SD, TN, TX, UT, WV).

Tell us about your work. What are your primary materials? What are the main concepts you explore in the work? How do your materials and concepts intersect?

My practice centers on a colony of styrofoam-metabolizing mealworms and other pollution-consuming nonhuman agents (like mycorrhizal fungi and sunflowers) who slowly metabolize heaps of human industrial and consumer waste, breaking the materials down into biodegradable components capable of being reworked into new life. As is fitting for work about metamorphosis and the plasticity of matter, the work has no fixed form or medium, adapting to the dynamics of different spaces and entangling itself within the structures it encounters, but it is most often shown as living sculpture within immersive multisensory installations of metamorphosis-friendly colored light and sound, which incorporate and act upon the human “viewer” as much as the nonhuman “objects” of the human gaze.

I think of the work as having conceptual layers that reveal themselves to the viewer/participant over time. The first, most literal layer, implicates human overconsumption, the toxic legacies of consumer capitalism, and the relative power, beauty, and worth of the lowly mealworm. On this level, I think of the work as an effort to “stay with the trouble” (as Donna Haraway would say) and think beyond human-centric norms about what is precious, what is beautiful, and what is possible.

In a world where trans people and others are routinely dehumanized as dirty, sinful, and insect-like, I’m also thinking about the metaphorical resonance of this work, which centers the healing power and resiliency of metamorphosing creatures, and how it subverts traditional ideas about the sacred and the profane. I use materials that are associated with the sacred in Catholic and other religious traditions, including egg tempera, cast chromatic light, essential oils, translucent veils, and water, as a way of asking: Who and what deserves our reverence now? Who and what is really profane, invasive, contaminating? Who, if anyone, is going to come save us from the consequences of our own destructive behaviors?

Dirt is also an important material in my practice, with all of its associations with impurity, filth, and lust/pleasure. I work with site-specific dirt and municipal mulch, test the soil, and combine it with the seeds of its own repair. These living sculptures become demonstrations of the power of fungi over human toxicity, but they also show the possibility of a kind of muddy healing that does not desire purity or glorify transparency.

What is the title of your thesis show? Please give us a sense of depth and breadth of the show, where it is, and how you want it to resonate with viewers?

My thesis show is titled: Womb/Tomb/BooM – A Multisensory Refuge for Plastic Bodies. It is up through July 9th in the Meyerhoff Gallery on the First Floor of the Fox Building on MICA’s main campus. I will also be giving a public talk as part of this exhibition on July 6th at 11am in the Lazarus Center’s auditorium.

The show includes my largest and most ambitious interspecies installation to date: a 20 x 17 x 15’ resonating architectural chamber lit entirely in metamorphosis-friendly cast magenta and purple light. All four walls of the darkened chamber and part of the ceiling resonate with the live sound of more than 10,000 mealworms consuming and metabolizing styrofoam.

In the center of the chamber lies a 80 x 60” worm bed composed of pine, aluminum flashing, and vinyl that houses a human-scaled architectonic cityscape of living and disintegrating styrofoam structures. Insects in both their larval and beetle form are visible consuming and burrowing in and out of this styrofoam material behind a draped veil of hand-sewn mosquito netting, which stretches up to the ceiling like a canopy over a human bed or a veil over a shrine. The space is designed to provide the mealworms with the most beneficial environment possible, while also positioning the “viewer” as a part of the system, i.e., a participant in this process of metamorphosis, who may be consumed and metabolized by it as much as they may consume and metabolize it.

The space is also meant as a refuge for all kinds of plastic bodies, including styrofoam itself, the mealworm insects (whose bodies undergo “complete metamorphosis” shifting shape from egg, to larvae, to pupa, to beetle), and all humans with “plastic” forms, including trans people and anyone else who might think of their body as fluid and changeable. I want the space to operate as a sensory refuge for these bodies – a place that might disturb the comfortable (i.e. those who are accustomed to a comfortable sense of embodiment and/or the anthropocentric notion of humanity’s inherent superiority over the nonhuman) and comfort the disturbed. I’m particularly interested in the ways that this refuge space might protect or comfort vulnerable beings by reducing the legibility of the visual and auditory senses, frustrating the otherwise ever-present, dissecting cisgender gaze.

In an adjacent fully lit, 3-sided room, a “dirty” bath holds a living heap of bound, biomorphic burlap sacks, stuffed with inoculated mulch and phytoremediating sprouts, confronting viewers with a queer experience of cleanliness emerging from dirtiness – abjection birthing (dis)repair.

The show also includes a new series of layered, language-based works on transparent acrylic, which bring together the marks of pollution-consuming insects, fungi, and my own hand as we deface, remix, and reclaim the visual and semiotic material of toxic legal artifacts for our own pleasure.

Ashton Phillips, Womb/Tomb/BooM – A Multisensory Refuge for Plastic Bodies at MICA, July 2023
Ashton Phillips, Four Statements of Facts
Ashton Phillips, Womb/Tomb/BooM – A Multisensory Refuge for Plastic Bodies at MICA, July 2023
Ashton Phillips, photo by Jill Fannon, at MICA
Ashton Phillips, detail from Ashton Phillips, Womb/Tomb/BooM – A Multisensory Refuge for Plastic Bodies at MICA, July 2023, photo by Jill Fannon
Ashton Phillips, detail from Ashton Phillips, Womb/Tomb/BooM – A Multisensory Refuge for Plastic Bodies at MICA, July 2023, photo by Jill Fannon

Sara Austin, Graphic Design MFA

Where were you, geographically, creatively, and/or professionally, before attending MICA?

I live in Harford County, so I’ve been in the area for a long time. Before the MFA program, I did MICA’s 1 year design MA program, which took place online as it was during COVID. Prior to that, I did my undergrad at Goucher and worked in Harford County at a non-profit.

Why did you select this particular program? Please provide 3 examples of specific attributes, values, subjects, or opportunities that this program offered that were of particular interest to you.

When I decided to continue on with an MFA, I was really looking for a place that would push and propel me on to the next level, so I wanted somewhere rigorous. However, I also wanted somewhere that I could grow a community and work collaboratively rather than competitively. It was emphasized to me that MICA’s MFA program goes out of its way to select candidates who share those community values, which really excited me. Finally, MICA’s emphasis on professional practice was very appealing to me. Doing an MFA is a huge financial gamble, and I needed to be sure that it would pay off in the long run.

What have you learned from living in Baltimore? How has your perception of the city changed – from before MICA until now?

I don’t live in Baltimore, but I do love the city and have learned a lot from being there so often. I think Baltimore has great food, great art, and great people, and that perspective has been fortified by my time at MICA.

Tell us about your work. What are your primary materials? What are the main concepts you explore in the work? How do your materials and concepts intersect?

If I could define my design work in short, I would just say that it generally involves words. My background in philosophy and literature has heavily influenced what I do now, and I find it difficult to work without some language-based element. I like using words to make a point or to subvert a point, and I also think choosing the right words is an important part of making people pay attention to design. Luckily for me, so much of design centers around typography, which is just language arranged nicely.

What is the title of your thesis show? Please give us a sense of depth and breadth of the show, where it is, and how you want it to resonate with viewers?

My thesis show was called Placeholders, and my abstract states that “Placeholders tells a story of memory and loss through the lens of pop culture. Due to its ubiquity and mass accessibility, pop culture serves, for me, as a placeholder for family memories and artifacts. This thesis leverages design’s storytelling power to create a world that blends the widely recognizable with the deeply personal.” The poster included 40 posters using a variety of design methods (typography, type design, illustration, and photography, to name a few) and a simple short story running along the wall. I really wanted viewers to feel delighted and reflect on their own memories with these artifacts.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I’m hoping to land at a studio where I can continue to grow as a designer. The past 3 years have been amazing and I feel like I’ve been given the keys to this really amazing field that I can’t wait to keep exploring. That said, I don’t know exactly where I’m landing yet- hopefully more on that soon!

 

Sara Austin, View Finder, Thesis Exhibition
Sara Austin, DEATH poster, 2021, Print
Sara Austin, Millennial Serif typeface design, 2022, Print
Sara Austin, Next Wave Festival, 2021, Print
Arson Navarro, photo by Jill Fannon

Arson Navarro, Photography + Media & Society

Where were you, geographically, creatively, and/or professionally, before attending MICA?

I was in Charles County, MD and had recently graduated from Frostburg State University with my BFA. The pandemic was still a major issue in public life and jobs were few and far between, so I was back living with my parents. It certainly wasn’t easy on my mental health, but I’m lucky to have a family that does not judge or expect me to rush things. All that said, this stalled my creative practice and I spent most of my time scrolling through job sites and doing my best to care for myself.

Why did you select this particular program?

At the time, the photo program was still Photographic and Electronic Media (PEM) and I had been experimenting with video and sound alongside my imagery so this seemed like a good fit. Later I found out that a new program was replacing this called Photography + Media & Society and hearing that the program would be focused on the social impact of media creation, I was hooked. Our director, Bill Gaskins, also believes in the importance of having a community presence, which was great for me because I’ve always enjoyed this kind of engagement over the endless white walls of galleries.

What have you learned from living in Baltimore? How has your perception of the city changed – from before MICA until now?

Well, first of all, I became a better driver! It’s too easy to drive around the country roads I was used to so the city has really upped my game. Before moving here, all I knew of Baltimore was the school my brother went to (shout out to Kennedy Krieger), the harbor tunnel I’ve been through on my way north, and the surrounding county where my partner lives. Frankly, I had a lot of bad experiences surrounding this city and I was used to the quiet of rural life, so I was worried about living here. Despite this, I quickly got accustomed to life here and have grown so much in just two years. There are still difficult days, but I have definitely found the charm in Charm City.

Tell us about your work. What are your primary materials? What are the main concepts you explore in the work? How do your materials and concepts intersect?

I tend to focus on the impact of trauma, how trauma shapes us, and how we grow from it. My work asks how society creates marginalized people, what it means to exist in “invisible spaces,” and how we can redefine the scars this existence leaves us with. For a while this meant looking at what it is to recognize that you’ve been changed, but lately I’ve been exploring being post-acceptance and trying to heal. The process of this is messy so I try to be forgiving with that in my art and allow an amateur kind of style. More than anything I am enamored with what it is to explore media from an innocent point of view.

I don’t shy away from any material but right now I’m most interested in using photo, video, fiber, and found objects to create environments or tableaus. So much of art is just objects or images ripped from their cultural context and elevated from everyday life. But everyday life is exactly what I want to uplift. There’s divinity in our little worlds.

What is the title of your thesis show? Please give us a sense of depth and breadth of the show, where it is, and how you want it to resonate with viewers?

My latest work, “I Need a Minute,” was exhibited in the Fox 3 gallery at MICA. It asks viewers to examine their relationship with productivity, rest, and the imbalance between them. Rather than giving an answer to the perpetual work-life balance conflict, I urge viewers to just start with examining their routines and simply ask, “Why am I doing this?” In my life that has typically been a point of immense growth when I finally snap out of mindless routine and muscle memory and start to question what is going on. I struggled a lot with how to bring viewers to this point. There’s probably been about ten different versions I had come up with, all terribly complicated and didactic.

In the end, I settled on a living room scene with a chair to sit in and a window to look through. The feeling of having a precious moment of time to be nothing and have nothing expected of you. Beside these are a collage of meditative images, a framed image, and a side table full of readings I’ve annotated covering ideas of disability, productivity, mutual aid, and of course rest. There are also many little objects and writing I made in response that is much more poetic and casual. There’s a lot to look through.

What are your post-graduation plans?

Right now, I just want to take some time to heal and experience life a bit more. I’ve been a lifelong student and haven’t had the time to process that particular trauma, so for now I’m okay not knowing what comes next.

Arson Navarro, detail from I Need A Minute, thesis installation at MICA 2023
Arson Navarro, I Need a Minute, thesis exhibit at MICA, Spring 2023
Arson Navarro, I Need a Minute, detail from thesis show at MICA
Arson Navarro, I Need a Minute, thesis exhibit at MICA (detail)

Individual images of artwork provided by each artist

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