Fall 2020 Exhibition Essays by Curatorial Research Intern Chlo Finley

Artist Paul Finch teeters on a slack line in tall white boots with chunky heels and a geometrically patterned dress.

Curatorial Research Intern Chlo Finley (Craft/Material Studies BFA 2021) has worked on a number of exciting projects throughout the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters at The Anderson. Finley has conducted curatorial research in support of a wide range of projects, collaborating with Anderson staff, the Special Collections and Archives department at Cabell Library, a team of virtual exhibition designers, and more. In addition, Finley organized and curated Craft Consciousness, a juried exhibition of undergraduate Craft/Material Studies students that was on view March 3–13, 2021 at The Anderson. Finley has also shared their insights and observations in thoughtful posts about each of the Spring 2021 exhibitions from alumni artists on The Anderson’s Instagram page.

Below are three essays and one interview composed by Finley regarding exhibitions by 2020 MFA alumni artists that took place at The Anderson in Fall 2020: Sydney Finch’s Paul by Paul by Paul, Kyrae Dawaun’s Get Down Pat, Jared Duesterhaus’ Return Scripts, and Mariana Parisca’s Parakupá Vená / Fall From the Highest Point. Each text is accompanied by an image captured by Ray Warren (Photo + Film BFA 2021), Photography Intern at The Anderson.

Performance by Sydney Finch
from Paul by Paul by Paul.
Photo by Ray Warren.

Painting and Printmaking MFA alumni Sydney Finch dazzled The Anderson with performance, costuming, and material history in Paul by Paul by Paul, which ran from October 20–28, 2020 and included live performances running from 12–5pm for the first four days of the exhibition. Finch’s wearable garments doubled as both an artistic and sculptural collection of repurposed material artifacts through which to explore queer identity and historical context, specifically focusing on entertainers and the aesthetic elements of costume. 

As more exhibitions blend physical and performative mediums, The Anderson has stood out as a destination for live performances even amongst Covid-19 concerns, offering virtual screenings and socially distanced live opportunities. Finch’s performances were built on a tension between gravity and bright white gogo boots, with swirling glints of light bouncing from accoutrements adorning the collection. The garments hung, suspended and from racks, in a circular outline not unlike a circus stage. Finch defined the collection as “a circular creation, based on experiences of inventing my own personae and performing myself again and again.” To produce these pieces, Finch up-cycled existing and functional wear in order to both preserve and subvert the original material’s histories. Paul described the process “as being the afterlife of that material. I find almost everything through organic means, like sifting through the wreckage of history. I treat thrift stores, antique stores, Etsy and eBay as ad hoc cultural archives.” These garments and the accompanying performance served as an exemplary showing of functional creative production meeting conceptual execution.

Installation view.
Kyrae Dawaun, Get Down Pat.
Photo by Ray Warren.

Kyrae Dawaun’s installation Get Down Pat, the Painting and Printmaking MFA alumni’s thesis exhibition, challenged viewers to navigate dream-like architecture and to explore colloquial meaning at The Anderson. The show was on view from September 10–24, 2020. Black individuals, emotional and expressive, filled their canvases as if from a real and personal memory. The Get Down Pat exhibition was originally scheduled for the Spring 2020 semester until the pandemic changed everybody’s schedules. However, for Dawaun’s exhibition, this delay proved not to be a setback. In the September following the height of the summer protests honoring the Black Lives Matter movement across the U.S., these painted figures’ presence in the gallery felt especially poignant.

Dawaun’s artist statement for the exhibition claimed the installation explored “colloquially understood etiquette and behaviors with regards to a preparedness necessary in facing systems of adversity: harbor, wean, manifest.” As an example, a lonely landscape titled a harbor scene (anatomized) faced two portraits collectively titled harboring (diptych). The play on words between these pieces connected what it feels like or means “to harbor” – or what we may understand colloquially as “to hold” – as in “harboring affection” or “harboring resentment.” In Get Down Pat, words and their usage are a means of accessibility to the artworks; an acknowledgment of the systemic inaccessibility that plagues fine art in regards to inclusivity. Dawaun touches on this more in the abstract of his MFA thesis, “Mother is How I Got Down Pat”: “Accessibility to space (the art space), language, and the right to politics are goals inspiring the evolved features in my studio practice.” Dawaun’s installation is successful in creating an inhabitable space via architectural means that embodies the same patchworked surrealism of the paintings within.

Installation view.
Jared Duesterhaus,
Return Scripts.
Photo by Ray Warren.

Soft voices cast across a dark room enticed visitors to stay awhile with the unseen, but heard, characters of Jared Deusterhaus’ installation Return Scripts last semester at The Anderson. The show was on view from September 18–25, 2020. This exhibition, rooted in writing and performance, allowed the Kinetic Imaging (KI) MFA alumni with a painting background to demonstrate how an artist’s practice can be dramatically reimagined if they are willing to pursue creative risks in their work. Deusterhaus’ risk paid off, bringing into question the nature of narrative, self-reflection, and personal truth. 

CF: First, I’d like to ask you just very generally about your practice from when you first began your master’s up until your thesis show and what that experience was like. What kind of things were you making as an undergrad and how has that informed your graduate work? What is VCU’s KI grad program like? 

JD: I started grad school coming out of a painting program. During my last year in undergrad I changed my entire practice. I started using performance, I taught myself a very backwards way to animate and started scoring the animations. All of those avenues developed while I was at VCU. KI was kind of the perfect place for me, I had a lot of ideas that I could plug into these different modes of making. Everyone in KI was supportive in helping find the technical language to back up what I was making.

CF: What are some of the experiments you conducted in your program, and how did that experimentation culminate in this thesis show end-result?

JD: I try to constantly surprise myself and go outside my comfort zone. Stretching is a creative necessity for me. Before VCU, writing and theater were not a part of my practice. What started as a creative exercise then became an entire thesis. A lot of experimentation came in the form of shrinking and dissecting narratives. How to make a singular story feel both personal and enormous at the same time.

CF: What role does performance take on in your work?

JD: My work tends to be pretty insular. It’s mostly interested in a singular experience and less in the cumulative understanding of our greater culture. Performance is a very direct way to allow others into a small story. Everyone becomes complicit in what these two characters are doing in a very real way.

CF: Would you please briefly describe Return Scripts as it exists in its final form? 

JD: Return Scripts is about a transformation. It’s a version of a piece that I’m looking back on, but it’s not quite what I want to say anymore. Instead of throwing it away, I used it as a ladder to see how high I can go with it. It’s partly about the performance of that story and partly a new story all it’s own.

CF: This show was originally set for Spring of 2020 and was instead pushed out a few months by Covid. During that time, did any of the work or concepts you originally had for your thesis show change or develop? Was the sort of globalized effect of the epidemic significant to your work or your process at all?

JD: Most of my original plan for Spring was different from the show that I put on. Not just because of logistic reasons, but also in that time I felt I wanted to say something different. A lot of what became Return Scripts is about this return to a past self and reflection on that distance.

CF: What do you want people to understand about this work?

JD: There was so much material that existed behind this – there’s been practically two years of writing at this point. I’m still today working on the final part of this story. It’s admittedly a bit messy though. There’s a desire for resolution, but I could keep writing this for a long time and probably not find it. As disappointing as it is to not find a greater end to reach, for me the whole piece is about the small parts within the greater whole.

Installation view.
Mariana Parisca, Parakupá Vená / Fall From the Highest Point.
Photo by Ray Warren.

Venezuelan-American artist Mariana Parisca brought the bolívar crisis to an American audience at The Anderson in Parakupá Vená / Fall From the Highest Point, her Sculpture + Extended Media MFA thesis exhibition that ran from September 15–25, 2020. Upon entering the installation, a 1980s Ford engine flanked one side of the room while a collection of brightly colored plastic refuse lay sewn carefully into a dark cushion doubling as a projector on the other side of the space. Each sculpture served to reference the true global currency: oil, a key player in the economic crisis currently suffered in Venezuela.

On the walls beyond were projections of microscopic investigations of the bolívar bill’s materiality, with swatches of beautifully pigmented fibers darting across the screen like something alive. One of the videos addressed the installation’s central metaphor directly by showing footage of written Spanish describing a man falling from Parakupá Vená, the tallest waterfall in the world, over imagery of the waterfall itself. The same narrative was also spoken aloud in synchronized English. On loop, the story describes the seemingly limitless decline in value of the bolívar. Beside this projection, a bank vault lit from within by black lights is set into the wall. Protected inside are wallets woven from bolívares crafted by Venezuelean artisans for whom their homeland’s currency is valueless as such, and must be used as something else.

With Parakupá Vená / Fall From the Highest Point, Parisca asks, “what caused Venezuela’s drastic economic decline? I look at the images in the bills through a microscope. Through this looking, colonial images of the land regain their material infinity . . . I consider Parakupá Vená, the tallest waterfall in the world, and wonder, ‘what is Venezuela really?’ Value exists beyond the collapse of the global hierarchical structures of colonialism, neoliberalism, and abstracted polarized political ideologies, I know it.”

To read more about Parisca’s research and practice, as well as the aforementioned ideologies that impact the global economy, see her Spring 2020 interview with Chase Westfall, Director and Curator of Student Exhibitions and Programs at The Anderson.