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Irreconcilable: The 35th UC Berkeley MFA Exhibition

May 20, 2005 - June 19, 2005

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Ehren Tool. Photo: Tristan Spinski.

Each spring, the Berkeley Art Museum collaborates with the Department of Art Practice at UC Berkeley, dedicating one of the museum's galleries to a selection of new work by Master of Fine Arts graduates. Irreconcilable: The 35th Annual University of California, Berkeley, Master of Fine Arts Graduate Exhibition follows upon a rigorous two-year MFA program that fosters growth in the intellectual and aesthetic aptitudes of its participants. In addition to the students gaining the valuable experience of participating in a museum show, the community is exposed to some of the most promising new artists in the Bay Area. The five artists featured in the 2005 exhibition are Chris Cobb, Melissa Day, Jim Gaylord, Clinton C. Hensley, and Ehren Tool.

Ehren Tool, a veteran of the Gulf War, creates artwork that attempts to reckon with his transformative experiences on the battlefield. Tool makes ceramic cups with military motifs and symbols of destruction skirting their perimeters. Expanding on the object in multimedia installations, videos, and interactive projects, he reuses the cups as practical symbols that remind us of our complicity in the causes of war. Tool has given away more than 5,000 cups to politicians, soldiers, friends, and the general public.

In her video and sound works, Melissa Day pushes her audience to consider faith: its origins and history, and how, in religion, language has affected belief. In her current work, investigating her own "spiritual schizophrenia," she examines how the perception of religious faith and spirituality is affected by diminished dialogue. One of her videos includes members of her family humming a hymn. She asks us to consider whether this kind of nonverbal display is irreverent or the opposite, pointing out the underlying mysterious power of the spiritual.

Questioning knowledge and assumptions about what we know in entirely different media are installation artist Chris Cobb and painter Jim Gaylord. For a recent exhibition at Adobe Books in San Francisco, Cobb reordered all the books in the store according to their color. The effect of his installation was an aesthetically stunning arrangement. Underlying the beauty in his artwork are questions about order and how something ordinary can appear unfamiliar. Jim Gaylord's current paintings are based on studies he has made from found photographs. In these studies, he paints over the snapshot. He then re-creates the image in a painting. He leaves the viewer with an uneasy sense that what we are looking at is recognizable, but somehow otherworldly. Humor plays in the paintings' colors and bizarre scenes.

Humor is also an intrinsic part of Clinton T. Hensley's mixed-media artwork. Composing quirky lists of information from dictionaries and polls, he creates sculptural graphs to examine thought processes and catalog what he knows. Hensley enjoys provoking himself and the viewer with the absurd. He seriously pursues the laughing realization that his investigation, and the path down which he leads his audience, goes nowhere.

All of these artists, in their own ways, consider history as the accumulation of knowledge. They express freedom in their understanding of how little of what we think we know is real or true. They attempt to reconcile not knowing with trying to understand the unknown-quite possibly the most interesting experiences life has to offer.

Ellen Russell
MATRIX Curatorial Assistant