Thesis, the Ohio State Department of Art MFA Third-Year Exhibition, opened today at the Urban Arts Space downtown and I have just resurfaced after immersing myself within it. While I don’t want to make too hasty a generalization, I immediately wanted to write a Minus Plato post about Thesis because the experience of the exhibition as a whole made me think about myth as an environment and myth-making as a process. There are many singular tales to be told in Thesis, but what struck me was how coherent the work in generating a collective, mythic experience. I know that this sounds vague and rather “New Agey”, but maybe I can explain what I mean with reference to an ancient text: the curious Tablet of Cebes. Here is a quotation from the Wikipedia entry describing the content of this work:
The work professes to be an interpretation of an allegorical picture of a tablet on which the whole of human life with its dangers and temptations was symbolically represented, and which is said to have been dedicated by someone in the temple of Cronus at Athens or Thebes. The author introduces some youths contemplating the tablet, and an old man who steps among them undertakes to explain its meaning. It is intended to show that only the proper development of our mind and the possession of real virtues can make us truly happy.
Like the old man in the Tablet, each artist in Thesis seems to be offering up some interpretation of their singular experiences – whether of family, trauma, danger, death, fear, happiness, adventure, the everyday, the political, the ridiculous, the sublime – and that these experiences not only manifest themselves, but are in some way transported and translated by some specific formal and material processes. (Each artist’s work has an uncannily individual ‘look’) At the same time, the artists in Thesis, like the youths in the Tablet, all seems to be joined in contemplating a shared experience and to share in a mutual encounter. Perhaps this has something to do with the genre of the thesis-show, a shared end-of-the-road, a converging of individual paths. But for some reason I feel that there is more to it for the artists of Thesis. In fact, as I circled back through the gallery, I became convinced that the exhibition represented a singular community who had come together to work through their individual questions and challenges together in the form of an exhibition. The works support each other, reference each other and are stronger for the company they are keeping. At the same time, each work invites us in and then point us in different directions, leading us to alternative conclusions and calls for different forms of attention. In short, they offer what could be called a mythosynthetic hypothesis that at the same time as making us aware of their coherence and camaraderie, they provoke the individual visitor in a way that singles them out for scrutiny. This aspect of experience the exhibition has an almost paranoiac quality to it. (“This is for me, right? No, this is not for me”). In short, the experience of visiting Thesis was like getting the date of a party wrong and turning up the day after, amid the hangovers and empty bottles. (Actually, for me, it was like missing the party by a whole year, but that’s another story). It made me feel nostalgic for an experience I haven’t had but want to remember having. Perhaps it would be simpler to speak of the erotics of Thesis (it is Valentine’s Day after all), with the attendant processes of identification and transference (how many of these students took Dani Leventhal’s Love seminar?). Either way, like the Tablet of Cebes, Thesis is the transfiguration of an experience that both wants us to share in, but also which blocks the door to what has already been happening. If you can, go see for yourself. (The list of artists can be found in the image below and you can find more information about the exhibition here):