RISD Sculpture MFA, Class of 2017
August 4 – 20, 2017
Jared Akerstrom, Bobby Anspach, Julia Betts, Ellie Tomlinson, Makia Sharp
Curated by Jen Liu

Opening Reception:
Friday August 4, 2017, 6-9pm

Ellie Tomlinson

Ellie Tomlinson, I Am Come Back to You III, 2017, Cyanotype on Arches Natural White, 30 x 22″

RECOGNITION BY COMPONENTS starts with a simple idea: of disparate parts making up, but also subverting, a greater whole. In this exhibition, the five artists of RISD’s Sculpture MFA 2017 graduating class embody this theme from a variety of material and conceptual positions.  Each in their own ways destabilizes conventions of component utility: use function, aesthetic purpose, and speculative excesses merge and swap. As those component parts morph, first impressions become fleeting detours: the results are objects that are not what they initially appear to be.

The title of the exhibition borrows from Irving Biederman’s theory of bottom-up visuality, in which we recognize objects only after breaking them down into discrete geometric forms. An incomplete theory, it still yields an interesting paradigm: a whole not greater or other than its parts, but greater/other/and. Conflict and multiplicity characterize the whole and its parts in perpetuity, an intriguing parallel to the contemporary cultural and political condition, of questionable but critical consensus.  

In Jared Akerstrom’s semi-improvisational assemblages, each part is carefully formed and intimately motivated.  From 3D-printed connectors informed by modular architecture to carved wood abstractions, each is intrinsically autonomous, stable.  However, they combine precariously, physical/visual instability echoed in a greater relational recombination – a body of work made of pieces in temporary coalition against the forces of gravity. There’s a similar tension in Ellie Tomlinson’s pieces, but the axis of conflict shifts: small off-label goods become untethered from their fabricated purposes, and are re-tethered to crafted structures indexing interior body parts and entrapment. Serial systems – stacks of lobster cages, cyanotypes of grinning faces – are entities occupied with absorbing parts for no other purpose than its own integrity, extended models of a gestalt body logic of compartmentalized magical thinking.  

In the bricks of Julia Betts, we see a failure of absorption – the plaster forms fall short of containing the studio trash they’re meant to contain. Minimalist aspirations implode, interior rot rises to the surface, the hoard displaces its author.  Material unruliness challenges the possibility of categorization, and each brick creates an emergency of care – turning geometric seriality from resolution to organic expansion. In Bobby Anspach’s work, this last idea takes on a performative-immersive tilt, in which the white cube invites you into its interior life. And what does it yield? A solitary spectacle, an eye-tingling expanse of infinite dots – but this dreamy infinitude is branded, thus doubly contained from the inside as well as its exterior. Reduction is key to Makia Sharp’s work as well, but in the tonal spill works, there’s a slow creep: of liquid across a lightly wrinkled tablecloth, of difference of degree from one image to the next, a slow motion error of manners or neglect or worse. Minimalist aesthetics morph into maximum horror, narrative inaccessibility per near-invisibility touches an existential nerve: all manner of eclipses emerge in turn. 

— Jen Liu

Jared Akerstrom
Jared Akerstrom received an MFA in Sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2017. Jared’s work has been included in numerous group shows, notably at Y2CAN at Convivium33 in Cleveland, Ohio, Prisoners Cinema at Gelman Gallery in Providence, Rhode Island and at A Sponge & A Sigh at the Museum of Human Achievement in Austin, Texas. In addition to group shows, his work was featured in Taking Shape, a three person show at FORUM Artspace in Cleveland Ohio, and a solo show Formulated Play at Survival Kit in Cleveland, Ohio.  Jared has been a resident artist at Black Balloon editions in Cleveland, Ohio as well as a fellowship recipient to Vermont Studio Center in August 2016.

Bobby Anspach is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. His work is born out of a desire to share something with a dying world. Over the past few years he has made various installations which utilize form, light, and sound in order to momentarily reorganize the viewer’s relationship to space and to the world. The viewer is invited into a space which has been designed for maintaining continuous eye contact with themselves or, in some cases, with another person. They do not work when continuous eye contact is not maintained. He was the recipient of the RISD Graduate Division Fellowship, the RISD Fellowship Award, and the SLH Young Scholarship. He has shown his work in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and California. He was also invited to participate in the 2005 NPPL world series.

Julia Betts
Julia Betts was born in 1991 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and is currently based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2014, Betts graduated from the University of Pittsburgh (BA), and was recognized with six awards and two undergraduate research grants.  In 2017, she graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design MFA Sculpture program – with a focus on the performative aspect of her practice through performance-centered coursework at RISD and Brown University, awards including the SLH Young Fellowship.  Betts has exhibited in solo shows at venues including Second Sight Studio (Columbus, Ohio) and Unsmoke Systems (Pittsburgh). In addition, she was artist-in-residence at Second Sight Studio and Bunker Projects.  

Makia Sharp
Makia Sharp is an interdisciplinary artist living and practicing in Oakland, California. In her current practice, she is engaged around notions of light and space, and their dual nature as both banal and transcendent. Her work spans across different media, often existing as photography and installation. Specific and controlled conditions are established in the work, sensitizing the viewer to phenomena that exist just on the edge of disappearance.  Makia has shown her work in solo and group shows across the country as well as internationally. Recent shows include Providence, Utah, and New York City. In 2017 Makia was nominated and awarded the AICAD Post-Graduate Teaching Fellowship at California College of the Arts where she will be teaching in both the Photography and Sculpture departments.

Ellie Tomlinson
Ellie Tomlinson is an interdisciplinary artist, born in 1992 and raised in Washington D.C. Currently, she lives and works in Providence, RI, where she recently received her MFA in Sculpture from RISD.  She previously attended Kenyon College, where she graduated with distinction.  Her work explores how fabricated, commodified objects and experiences might generate authentic feelings and memories. In her installations, domestic and industrial objects are reduced to rubber, plastic, color, and form, highlighting their potential for haptic engagement and symbolic interpretation. Most recently, her work has been shown in New York, Providence, and Savannah. While at the Rhode Island School of Design, she was a proud recipient of a Sylvia Leslie Herman Young Scholarship, and was nominated for a Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship.

Jen Liu is a New York-based visual artist working in video, performance, and painting, on topics of national identity, economy, and the re-motivating of archival artifacts. She is a 2017 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in Film/Video, as well as the NYSCA/NYFA Fellowship in Digital/Electronic Art. She has presented work at The Whitney Museum, The New Museum, and Issue Project Room, New York; Royal Academy and ICA in London; Kunsthaus Zurich; Kunsthalle Wien and das weisse haus, Vienna; the Aspen Museum of Art; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; MUSAC, Leon; as well as the 2014 Shanghai Biennale (China) and the Coreana Museum in Seoul, Korea. She has also received multiple grants and residencies, including Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany; Sommerakademie, Bern, Switzerland; de ateliers, Amsterdam, NL; the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, New York; among others. In 2016 she was a resident artist at Para Site in Hong Kong and LMCC Process Space on Roosevelt Island, in 2017 she is a resident artist at Tulsa Artist Fellowship in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in 2018 she will be a Swatch Artist in Residence in Shanghai, China.

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