At the Berkeley Art Center, the six graduating artists of UC Berkeley’s MFA program showcase the culmination of two years of artistic development and experimentation. Investigating studio habits, nearby mudflats and the Bay Area at large, their very different practices combine into a collective artistic accomplishment.
Lee Lavy presents a video performance simulating the subterranean effects of an earthquake in his own studio, resulting in a mass of soil and broken concrete. Leslie Dreyer’s work documents her activist interventions addressing the local foreclosure epidemic. Matt Smith Chavez, who refers to himself as an “imagemaker,” blends painting, photography and printmaking in an approach shifting between diagrams, abstraction and advertising.
Photographer Michelle Ott proves even seasoned artists experience dramatic growth during graduate school. In Antarctica With/Without, a series she began in 1999, she photographs scenes around research stations in Antarctica, often cutting the prints to remove signs of people. Ott’s work in the MFA show takes her pre-existing interests into unexpected terrain.
From a distance, the photographs in her Redirected Objects series look empty, but slight variations in color reveal abstract forms and meticulous hand-cut patterns in the prints. The images are scans of everyday objects (a plastic cup) made nearly invisible by shining light above the scanner while capturing the image. As in her previous work, these photographs expose human culture through negation and obfuscation.
Of studying at a research university, Ott says, “Taking classes in other departments (in my case, in Geography and New Media Studies) allowed me to identify new contexts within which to place what I do in the studio.”
“I wanted to leave the range of comfort I had set up for myself,” she says, “and give attention to lines of thinking I hadn't been following through on.”