This past Friday evening, the UC Santa Barbara Art, Design & Architecture Museum opened a new exhibition called “Inside Out,” which features the thesis work of the graduating Master of Fine Arts class of 2013: Erik Sultzer, Chris Silva, Alex Bogdanov, Ryan Bulis, Sterling Crispin, Alison Ho and Tristan Newcomb. The exhibition characterizes each of the seven MFA students’ individual area of study explored in the last two years. “Inside Out” centers around the artists’ shared desire to push boundaries and place objects, images, language, history, digital technology and institutional frameworks in an indeterminate state.

Upon first walking into the museum, I was drawn to a black curtain that concealed artwork in the gallery to the immediate left of the entrance. Inside was Sterling Crispin’s piece “Charon” (2013), a three-dimensional plastic sculpture and a video that embodies the tension between humanity and the technological “other.” Crispin’s work addresses the humanity of robotics and genetics as a new evolutionary stage. In what becomes a strange sort of dance, a drone or autonomous quadcopter that flies towards Crispin in the video responds to his movements in an immersive virtual reality environment with motion tracking capabilities. The projection behind him shows the drone’s flight path as it responds to Crispin’s actions that he then created into a physical object rendered by a three-dimensional printer. The 3-D print sits on the floor of the gallery on a large monitor, becoming a tangible representation of this absurd and strained interaction between humanity and technology.

As I walked through the museum I read in big letters the word “utopia” spelled out to me as I entered a gallery room where Erik Sultzer’s installation “Not Here Not There” is constructed. This project immerses viewers into an abstract construction of a diverse range of objects including a stage, soft sculptures and wooden planks. The installation’s objects are moveable and subject to change by its participants, activating a participatory moment when the viewers encounter the work. The shifts in construction and ambiguous structure reflect a (re)occupied space by museum-goers and their collective effort to make sense of the situation presented to them. The reddish glow of the lights paired with a line of beautiful red booklets — created by the artist and free for the taking — was another satisfying touch.

“Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest,” read a promotional photograph for Tristan Newcomb’s project. Newcomb’s “Jesus Hates You Now” is an ultra-blasphemous, 77-minute, puppet-infused comedy movie intended to destroy all religious beliefs. His film liberates puppets from their traditional childish associations and instead uses them as figures of emotional resonance and existentialist anxiety. The film narrates the cultist deprogramming of the puppet Kevin through the use of video brainwashing and forms of torture by the puppet Barry Bible, in order for Kevin to successfully reenter society as “cult-proof” and immune to any form of religion.

Outside the museum in the sculpture garden overlooking the lagoon laid an expansive garden installation created by Ryan Bulis called “What’s in a Garden?” Bulis performed as a horticultural master who cultivated the lost history of garden objects through the placement of Chia Pets, gnomes and terra cotta sculptures. His installation inspires whimsical and mythological relations between humanity and nature, but also bears a warning of the commercializing of garden objects and natural resources.

The MFA Graduate Exhibition can be described as incredibly diverse yet fascinating and insightful. The years of hard work that Bulis, Newcomb, Sultzer, Crispin, Silva, Ho and Bogdanov have put into developing their thesis works is commendable and also valuable in that it educates others and makes the viewer perceive his or her world in a new way. Through the exploration of new art media, history, language, social institutions and controversial issues, the 2013 MFA students each reveal complex associations to conventional structures or viewpoints, demonstrating their distinct interests, backgrounds and beliefs.

“Inside Out” will be open until June 16 at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum on campus.



Graphic courtesy of Erik Sultzer

A version of this article appeared on page 11 of May 30th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.