ArtCenter MFAs Find New Beginnings in Past Technology

GLENDALE, Calif. — By the time a product arrives in the public sphere, it often bears little trace of what it once was: A cow becomes a pricey steak, cloth and thread morph into designer trousers. This glossy transformation masks an object’s history, dampening its political potential by obscuring the labor necessary to its production. For Mirror, a group show of ArtCenter’s graduating MFA cohort, these artists explore — intentionally or not — the potentially radical space between raw material and finished good. Older ways of making and reproducing images, be they through painting or computer software, are central concerns in these artists’ work: outdated techniques, objects, and technologies are essential to each practice, but they also inhibit present-day pursuits. The resulting artworks feel delightfully provisional, like statements of intent toward unrealized future creations — but no less meaningful. 

Omar Ceballos’s installation “La Bicla” (2024) stages vintage Chicanx products as if for a creepy museum diorama: square mirrors on a serape reflect inverted fragments of a 1974 lowrider Schwinn, and fishing line ties together a tangled knot of folk-art marionettes overhead. Elsewhere, Shelby Drabman explores the sentiment and cynicism that accompanies contemporary viewings of Americana-style media in her video work “Red, White, and you, too” (2024), in which a sliver of a 20th-century Coke ad can be seen within a cartoonish, hand-drawn coffin. Mediations of the past turn things and images into dead artifacts: Alexandra Lopez-Iglesias’s “Untitled/Quepo en Diez Bolsas” (2024) features a collection of items covered in opaque blue paint, obscuring their original function.  

The distance between these older objects and their present-day display weighs upon the cohort’s work. Image reproduction technologies appear tinged by their respective eras, some rendered unusable: Meghan Sabik’s “Multipurpose Domestic Unit” (2024) features a large photocopier overflowing with printed sheets, and Zengyi Zhao’s photograph “Leica” (2024) offers a dramatic, high-contrast black and white view of the eponymous film camera, evoking nostalgia for analog processes while refusing access to them: the image is digital, produced using an inkjet printer. In Madeline Ludwig-Leone’s stylized landscape painting “Green Projection” (2024), the vista’s DALL-E-esque trees, lawn, and sky are scattered geometrically across the canvas, the composition hinting at computer glitches. These excavations of past technologies are fettered by their reproduction: Oscar Corona, in “Cursed/descruC” (2023), stamps the phrase into two resin casts, the words nearly illegible in the twin molds. 

“I wanted to make a perfect replica of the lizard keychain,” says Hannah O’Brian in her recorded performance, “Lizard Keychain Problem Play (restage)” (2024), “but I couldn’t make one.” Nevertheless, she tries: a ceramic, beaded lizard suns itself in the gallery below a popup tent. This provisional artwork finds an apt corollary at universities across the country right now, where students have erected impromptu encampments in the shadow of laureled, longstanding institutions to protest collegiate investment in Israel. If the work remains unfinished, either at Gattopardo or on campuses nationwide, it is not a defeat, but a necessary beginning.

Omar Ceballos, “La Bicla, part 2” (2024), 1974 Schwinn Stingray, lowrider bicycle parts, six mirrors, serape, sombrero de charro, Squirt Vase, 2024, stoneware, underglaze, glaze, 74 x 80 x 48 inches
Alexandra Lopez-Iglesias, “Lineage and Echoes/Las Adelisas” (2023-2024), paper, ink, soft pastels, beeswax, waxed thread, wood, 66 x 36 x 18 

Mirror: ArtCenter MFA Exhibition continues at Gattopardo (918 Ruperta Avenue, Glendale, California) through May 11. The exhibition was organized by Jan Tumlir.

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