A New Dimension

UT grads explore new depths in their thesis exhibitions

So far, almost all of the University of Tennessee Art Department's spring thesis shows have been heavy on concept and have incorporated installation into the mix. Is it something in the water or are UT grad students just tired of sticking to one medium? Three students' recent exhibitions reveal some new dimensions.

It's hard to imagine any common ground between an art installation and a cheery Florida tourist trap, but printmaker Katherine Nanfro successfully marries the two for her thesis exhibit. The Journey to Shark Island, which just closed at the Downtown Gallery, takes her signature 3-D animal prints to new heights in a funny yet dark show. Nanfro's collection of birds, dolphins, walruses, seals, and sharks seems harmless at first glance. But look closer and you'll see that these ominous animals stare you down from behind the pretend glass and have blood on their gleaming white teeth.

Nanfro's process involves screenprinting her figures onto a parachute-like nylon fabric and carefully suspending them from the ceiling. To complete the desired effect she adds some motorized birds and trees for color, along with clear plastic walls to resemble the glass of the aquarium. Nanfro's prints look vaguely similar to illustrations found in vintage kids' books, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a large pop-up book to complement the installation. All of this adds up to an ironic Jeff Koons-esque playground for fantastical animals and an escapist dream-world for dreary humans.

Fellow printmaker Sarah Shebaro's samples, loops, and remixes, open through Thursday, April 24 at Ewing Gallery, is an impressive visual and aural juxtaposition of found sounds and images with original medium-format photography and manually altered digital shots. She links the evocative imagery from discarded album covers to her own personal narrative; in effect, she samples the highly stylized worlds that album covers often portray and manipulates them into her visual vernacular. Much like artist Christian Marclay, Shebaro is creating a hybrid of visual art and analog culture, and it's a blissful world filled with sun glints and faded light.

Throughout the gallery, Shebaro disperses mountains of battered records, stacks of used cassette tapes, and wood-paneled stereos and speakers. It seems as if she is concerned more with mining the cover art than examining the actual recording. In "Light Listening" she cleverly places her stamp on an intricate record collage by carefully sanding exotic album covers to exaggerate the effects of wear and tear. "Decidedly Analog" reconfigures a large-scale digital print of an urban landscape into a humorous mosaic by cheekily using clear plastic cassette cases as frames. She playfully leaves watermarks and ink on her photos, and the balance of the imperfect and the idealized is key. Shebaro's images are striking for their perceived intimacy, and yet it's difficult to sort out the personal from the appropriated. The result is an unsettling but glamorous collection of stolen moments.

Time literally keeps ticking at Barron Hall's thesis show, Now, also at Ewing though Thursday, April 24. The ceramics student employs a number of purposeful reminders to drive home his overt theme of the elusive nature of time. In one installation, a tiny stream of sand falls from one of seven identical wooden and glass containers secured to the gallery wall. Attached by wire to each makeshift hourglass-like structure are seven shelves holding identical ceramic vessels. As the emptying sand triggers the shelf to recede and the pristine vase to crash to the floor, the cycle begins again. It is an ambitious effort, and it pays off conceptually.

Keeping with his time-based conceit, Hall also installed a makeshift analog clock directly in the center of the gallery. Its protruding second hand swings wide, forcing gallery-goers to step mindfully aside to avoid a direct hit. Seemingly in a direct race with time, Hall also hung a digital LCD clock in the sculpture garden to count down his own projected remaining days, an obvious attempt to beat the clock.

As if to beat the theme to a symbolic death, Hall also has two hour-long videos of a sunrise and sunset, urging the viewer to find the time to sit and watch. I didn't. But I'll certainly make time in the future to track the careers of these wildly varied artists; who knows what strange and beautiful worlds they'll create next?