En Masse

En Masse is a collaboration between art students from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Kansas City Art Institute. An exhibition of student artists, it is also curated by art students and is the first of its kind for Grand Arts. The project was first conceived as a means of uniting active and talented students from both local schools; its intent was to allow them to join together and produce a show of their own design, with the support and participation of Grand Arts. En Masse is an experiment, an opportunity, and a learning experience for all involved. For both the students and the local art community, the exhibition functions as a celebration of emerging Kansas City art.

Based on faculty recommendations, the deans of each school chose three students to represent their respective institutions. Selected to curate this exhibition were Scott Clark, Candra Cumberford, Garrett Hayes, Bryan Manion, Cori Paulsrud, and Dan Turner. Once this committee had been established, Grand Arts was able to facilitate the project in the same manner as all of its other exhibitions. Its task was to assist with the production of new work for this event, providing all requisite technical, financial, and professional assistance to the artists. Both the curators and the artists were treated as emerging professionals.

Formulating a premise and a title was the curators' first task. The concept embodied in the short phrase En Masse initially served as metaphor for the experience the curators were going through. Guidelines for the process of selecting the exhibiting artists were laid out. Students from both schools were encouraged to submit a package of slides, an artist's statement, and a resume for review. Curatorial criteria for the jury process were then established collectively by the group. These criteria included the technical quality of the work, the artist's approach to materials, and the overall coherence of the submitted proposal. The student panel faced the unusual task of judging their peers in a new and professional setting. This responsibility demanded an honest and unbiased approach to evaluation. Ultimately, five artists were chosen, representing 10% of the submissions received. In the art world, rejection is a daily reality and persistence is a virtue.

Jesse Kaminsky, Demetre Keros, Jennie Pakradooni, Kristine Veith, and Michael Yglesias were selected to produce work for En Masse. Although these artists represent a range of conceptual and formal concerns, similar aesthetic and structural approaches to materials unify the group visually. The collective exploration of repetition in sculptural form creates a comparative and formal dialogue between the works in this exhibition.

Jesse Kaminsky's conceptual and political installation explores navigational systems, representation, electricity, and invisible pollution. He investigates how technology continues to invade and alter aspects of our natural condition. One is reminded of how we are changing and mutating in ways that may not be visually evident. Through the use of magnetic devices, compasses, and natural phenomena, Kaminsky examines both changes within ourselves and our shifting relationship to natural forces. Many organisms use nature's electromagnetic fields as a means to navigate their environment. This natural phenomenon represented in miniature acts as a metaphor for our global condition as well as our perceptions of self in comparison to universal concerns and forces.

Scale, form, and repetition are explored by Demetre Keros. Departing from his previous approach to ceramics, in which patterning, earth tones, and functional forms were investigated, Keros now creates non-utilitarian clay objects. The cast multiple half spheres are covered with a layer of nipple-like shapes. Tactile and organic, these objects suggest strange life forms. Keros's use of repetition results in an enticing quality that invites touch. The large number of objects presented and the repetitive nature of their form emphasize the whole over the unit.

Jennie Pakradooni's installation work invites the viewer to share her sense of light and space. 'My present piece explores the sense of being outside while actually being inside. My use of multiple layers references the planes of sky, earth, and sea. Structurally my piece acts as a shelter or retreat within the gallery. We live in the environments we create for ourselves. Sometimes these environments involve elements which are debilitating to the spirit.' Pakradooni draws her inspiration from native Australian painting, maps, and the complexity of light. To experience her work completely one must be fully immersed in her exploration of space, light, layering, and repetition.

In addition to enriching the educational experience of the students involved, En Masse was intended to fulfill the goal of providing these artists an opportunity to pursue a new direction with their work and exhibit the results for the Kansas City community. Financial and logistical support allowed them to explore their visions uninhibited by their usually limited resources. Whereas student work is generally featured in an educational context, on campuses and in student galleries, this exhibition opened a professional venue to student projects. An intended consequence of the En Masse format was to clarify yet another step in the artmaking process for both the student participants and the public. It may be deemed a success if some of the complex processes of curating and producing an exhibition have been exposed, shared, and demystified for the benefit of these emerging artists and the Kansas City community.

The students approached this task with acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses. According to Cori Paulsrud, 'The whole curating process for En Masse has been a struggle for the six of us curators. We found we had to push and pull, compromising and always hoping for the best results in the end.' The curators' process was their theme. Their intention was to de-emphasize the individual for the sake of the group in the name of community building. To have the work of each artist interact with that of others without a clear demarcation of spatial ownership was a challenge for students who are often highly focused on their individual projects.

Metaphors derived from our relationship with functional objects are investigated by Michael Yglesias, whose 'work expands on the notion of everyday life.' His work focuses on 'how we as people divide our lives up into compartments used for storing, gathering, and living.' Domestic territories and objects are referenced through form, space, function, and scale. Yglesias employs an economy of materials to achieve a rich, controlled, and repetitious surface in the production of his sculpture. Kristine Veith's project is figurative in its reference to nature. In the past, Veith has worked with organic forms, patterns, and light. Her multiple works invite comparison while also establishing a relationship with the viewer. According to Veith, 'people no longer see themselves as part of nature. This project is a hybrid between celebrating nature's forms and humans' relationship to nature. I look to nature to find my inspiration.' She strives to create a sense of connection by engaging the viewer in the natural systems referenced in her work.

Although each artist brings his or her individual vision to the exhibition, the curators' authorship lies both in the selection of participants and the actual installation of the work. The student panel developed the framework for the project both literally and formally. As a project, En Masse utilizes two common types of curatorial practice, invitational and juried. The curators were invited to work with their peers on the basis of past performance, whereas the student artists were selected through the jury process. The students were given the uncommon opportunity to engage in these processes and to acquire invaluable experience in the field. Students were supported unconditionally in their pursuits while utilizing and learning from the existing operational structure of Grand Arts.

What have the students involved in En Masse learned from this experience? Here the student artists who served as curators had a chance to play a role seldom offered to artists. They were able to experience firsthand the combination of factors that makes a solid and convincing proposal. The hours of evaluating packets of slides and supporting materials submitted for this exhibition will almost certainly be of some benefit as they prepare their own proposals in the future. They may better appreciate the necessity of adherence to deadlines and how establishing a consensus can benefit the success of a group. Maintaining one's identity while making compromises is no small lesson for anyone. For the artists chosen to participate in this exhibition, the benefits may be easier to imagine and perhaps just as valuable. Such an opportunity to have worked directly within such a framework and as integral participants in a larger art community may provide some inspiration in the future, when the concerns of the larger world may be more pressing.

© Andrew Wells
Kansas City, MO

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