At the 2012 MFA Thesis show at the ICA, the idea of a common thread is gratefully, dizzyingly absent. The show's 11 artists are immersed in an assortment of heterogeneous methods and mediums — it's not always a tidy package, and it's the viewer's job to unpack it.
‘SMOKE EYES’ Oil on panel, 12 by 12 inches, by Shirah Neumann.
In such a varied show, starting points are rendered arbitrary, but surely the U-Haul trailer stationed in the center of the gallery's large back room captures the attention first. It's part of a "Portable Nature Restoration Unit" assembled by Edwin F. Bennett, who manipulates natural ecologies and stages them as interventions in the social world. Using clay, paint, canvas, wood, burlap, and more in the bed of the six-by-eight-foot storage unit, Bennett has fashioned a synthetic copse, an immersion lab of woodlands that might be described as a conceptual inversion of Andrea Zittel's modular living units. I naturally wanted to crawl into Bennett's model, but some of its stagier elements — the exposed plywood, for one — dulled the fantasy a little, making the piece seem more sanitized than it might have been. On the other hand, it's an irony probably not lost on Bennett himself, and could equally have been by design.
More transparent are the processes of Robin Koss, who approaches nature and labor through iterations of verdant, vinelike collage. Layer and texture are fundamental aspects of each piece, whether an etching or video, and the repetitions of her craft find a resonance in her subjects, such as the multiple digital film scenes of people methodically raking and gardening, which Koss has crossfaded into a warm, glowing haze.
Julie Gray's artist statement frames her treated photo and fabric work as an exercise in self-actualization, but their subtle, postmodernist statements about various cultural signposts are even more articulate. All twelve of her 20-by-20-inch frames depict some clashing of cultural aesthetic: in the cross-stitch "American Flyers," the renderings of various aircrafts guide a granny square textile pattern; in "Assembled Self Portrait," a black and white portrait photograph features a young woman in a spotted summer dress — obviously stylized to a '50s aesthetic — though the tattooed script across her clavicle is incomprehensible to the era.
Shirah Neumann's oils are oddly piquant, five canvases of impressionist settings in bold, spotty colors painted with a loose, impassioned brushwork. It's the show's murkiest conceptual terrain, yet Neumann's works are welcome and lovely. The meadow-set pinks and blues of "Storm Cycles" can feel a little tart, but it's almost a primal instinct to want to know more about the world behind the haunting and ceremonial diptych "Protector 2."
The fantastic installation by Kim Vose Jones transforms a gallery corner into an enigmatically uterine playhouse, the walls teeming with a spore-like cluster of airplane neck rests and dryer lint. Opposite is a pattern showroom by Jessica Van Swol, who endeavors to transform an articulated toy snake into workable, domestic textiles. She leaves blueprints and an instruction manual to describe her process, handy to those who get a charge out of deep, multidisciplined design theory.