The Graduates

All-white walls enclose an unidentifiable treadmill-like device, the whoop, whoop, whoop-ing of its enormous belts sounding throughout the room. This gallery-within-a-gallery at the University of Chicago’s DOVA Temporary exhibition space in Harper Court was created by graduating Master of Fine Arts candidate David Cordero. The artist began thinking about his thesis project, “Grind,” using a set of tiny models set in shoebox-sized boxes, as a live sketchbook for the works he could create for a full gallery exhibit. This “testing space” for his ideas required the construction of simple, recognizable objects scaled down to thumb-size. Playing with the ambiguity of those shapes we commonly utilize, the blown-up result is majestic proof of technological innovation; it’s confusing and beautiful, and mechanically perfect, begging the question, so what does it do?

Cordero’s show was the last of five solo 2010 MFA thesis shows held at DOVA Temp. Each of the exhibiting students–André Callot, David Cordero, Sophia Cara Dixon, Andrew Fansler, and Nicole Mauser–was handed the task of transforming the space for four or five days. Shows were scheduled at the same time each Friday beginning on April 9, in the hopes that art enthusiasts and members of the UofC community who turned up for one show would make it to the rest. The turnout last Friday was small, even an hour after the start time. When asked who usually turns up at these exhibits, one MFA candidate replied, “We do.” With a few exceptions, the people walking towards the exhibit were other MFA candidates, a few of their professors, and visual arts undergraduates.

In a conversation before the show, Callot seemed dissatisfied with the low visibility of their work at the university. “These thesis shows should be about finding attention for our artists.” Callot acknowledged the possibility of a lifetime of poverty, attributing it partially to the University’s historically lopsided relationship with the MFA program. In his two years here, Callot has come to believe that “the University doesn’t give a shit about art.” Spending any amount of time within the space of Lorado Taft’s Midway Studio suggests the same. Old complaints of poor air circulation, faulty door locks and alarm systems and the resultant losses of expensive equipment due to theft and break-ins have gone, for the most part, unaddressed. “Midway Studios has the charm and ambiance of an abattoir,” said Callot, adding, “Every time it rains, art is ruined. Every time.” He went on to describe the relentlessly noisy construction on an arts center that few of the MFAs believe will be erected by its slated completion date in 2012.

After the November 2009 destruction of part of Midway, MFA students were in obvious need of a new space. So when the Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences moved out of an old brick house at 60th Street and Kimbark Avenue, the building became an almost secret home of the arts. In the last year, it’s seen everything from noise rock concerts to potluck-style Thanksgiving dinners, though on any given week night the typical scene is an assortment of graduate students working deep into the night while conversing over a few beers. “I feel nothing but love for and from my friends here. We’re mishpoche,” he says, using the Yiddish term which means, roughly, “crazy family.”

The five MFA students, along with Masters of Arts Program in the Humanities candidate Young Joon Kwak, have collectively named themselves Gamma Ray Burst Six, and will exhibit their work in various forms of collaboration and installation at Pilsen’s Roxaboxen gallery starting this Friday, May 28.

The friendship and creative influence that each of these graduating students have shared has helped them produce art that third-year visual arts major Paul Siple called “really fucking good.” At the very least, the students expect their group exhibition to be “one more way to get someone else to pay for our drinks,” as Callot puts it, so that the GRB6 can celebrate the time they have had together before moving on to other venues.