Banana Split

CIA's student show departs from conventionality

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The labels on the walls of the Reinberger Galleries still recall a time of clear-cut professional categories: "Sculpture," "Painting," "Printmaking." But the objects — when there are any — on display at the Cleveland Institute of Art's 65th Annual Student Independent Exhibition are apt to be less traditional.

"Brown Banana," by fourth-year painting major Brian Sabalausky, isn't a painting at all, except at several removes; it's a color photograph of a banana. Sabalausky lists the media shown in his C-print as "acrylic on banana," referring to a decorative band of brown paint that the artist brushed on the skin of the fruit, making it look like something pulled from the closet of Charlie Brown.

As with the "Earthworks" created by Robert Smithson in the late 1960s, photography is used here to stand in for the art itself — and also to serve as testimony about a transformation of part of the physical world. The movement of displacement and representation involved is what Smithson called "non-site" presentation. Half the fun is the play of implications, as presence and absence, physical deterioration and the persistence of memory flicker through a potentially infinite series of variations.

Such ideas make up the theoretical blue screen against which much of the work currently featured in the Independent Exhibition is projected. They also inform the message about priorities that preoccupy contemporary art education.

The three artist/jurors chosen by students to sift through this year's 250 submissions are conceptually grounded ceramic sculptor Kristen Cliffel, Manhattan-based Japanese illustrator Yuko Shimizu, and Pittsburgh multimedia artist Ben Kinsley. Selections range all the way from "Brown Banana" to a life-sized 3D representation of a burger, made of beads and cotton and accompanied by a white bathroom scale. It's the creation of Simone Schiffmacher, a student in CIA's Fiber and Material Arts department.

In a related thematic vein located somewhere in between, one of the show's few paintings, "Monsanto," by first-year student Patrick Keville, includes elements like the crude outline of a cow, a primitive gagged head, and a number of words — "Myth," "Delta" — that result in a conflation of outsider scrawl and conspiracy theory.

The exhibit, comprising 68 works by 42 artists, was organized by fiber department seniors Julia Chepke and Ivy Garrigan, both of whom are included in the show. Chepke's parable-like "Tie Ourselves Together" consists of two long dresses, shredded and joined in an insoluble knot of material below the waist. An accompanying video documents a performance in which Chepke and Garrigan, seated facing each other, become more and more trapped by their gowns and their attempts at sharing.

But isolation isn't necessarily the answer either. In "Writing Lines," a video work by Garrigan, the artist reaches out from under a box that rests on her shoulders, writing "I will keep going" over and over again on the cardboard surface that blocks her face. Whether the message is about art school or life in general, the intent remains legible (sort of).

Persistence and repetition build a kind of identity, but it may be true that to think outside of the box, you need to get outside of the box. CIA's students are working on it.

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