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Students showcase work at Art Murmur

Mills MFA students showcased their eclectic pencil sketches, paintings, photographs and miniature machines on the white walls of the Blankspace Gallery in North Oakland Friday, Sept. 4 in collaboration with Oakland Art Murmur, a monthly art reception that occurs at various galleries in the area.

Map by Peter Linden
Map by Peter Linden

The event, aptly named “Stimulus Package,” raised money for the students’ senior thesis show next May and, in honor of the economic climate, most of the art for sale was under $40. This is the third year in a row Mills students have had a show at Blankspace as a way to raise money.

On the left wall of the gallery, five black and white photographs hung from the wall, depicting blurry geometric shapes, trees, and the fuzzy form of a basketball hoop.

Second-year MFA student Chris Fraser, wearing a striped sweater and thickly framed glasses, explained the process necessary to create his small, foggy photographs.

“My recent work all deals with the experience of seeing. I often use my body to make photographs and videos,” he said.

Fraser isn’t kidding — he took the pictures with his mouth.

“I go into a dark room and put a sheet of film directly between my teeth. I cover my mouth, walk outside, mold my lips into a small opening, and then remove my hand. Once done, I go back into the dark room, unload the film, and develop it. The process is simple, yet it requires much concentration,” he said.

“Anyone who’s ever whistled or said the word, ‘Ooooh,’ has made a picture with their mouth. It’s as natural as breathing. But we’re unaware of the phenomenon because there is no way to look directly into an almost entirely closed mouth. That is what the film affords me, a view into that familiar space. I load the film, walk outside, and kneel or sit in front of the object I want to picture. Stillness is important. I then move my lips into just the right shape. Any formation will make a picture, but only certain formations make them interesting. I close my eyes and then let the light in.”

Upon closer inspection, four oddly shaped black spots frame the four corners of each photograph. They are his molars, and add a touch of biology to the simple yet beautiful pictures of his house.

On the opposite side of the room, propped against the right wall, a television played a video of Lake Merritt. The camera, focused on the edge of the water, slowly panned down to capture the image of a used condom floating on the surface.

A mysterious figure held a bottle of water in front of the camera with a homemade label that read “Lake Merritt Water.”

The homemade labels were custom made by Doug Williams, a second-year MFA student who created the video. He was selling water bottles filled with lake water, on sale for $4 a piece.

In the center of the room, a doll sliced in half was divided into two clear boxes suspended in used motor oil, cooking oil and glitter in the center of the room. On the wall behind it hung small gold boxes decorated with pictures of simple machines and pulleys in black ink. The artist, Joey Castor, playful and unshaven, not only created the little gold boxes, but also a small miniature square rock that gallery-goers were encouraged to move by tugging a string that glided upon a few small twigs.

“My work focuses on class and labor issues,” Castor said. “Lately I have been looking at how physical labor affects the body, both mentally and physically. I am also interested in using the body or human form in my work without actually showing it in the work; it is more implied.”

In another corner, a black curtain hid a closet-sized room illuminated by a bluish glow. Inside displayed a puffy white cloud suspended from the ceiling, with the projected image of clouds rolling by above it.

“My work deals with the relationship between physical space and emotional reaction,” said the artist, first-year MFA student Amy Ho. Ho is an installation artist who often uses projections in her work.

“In the piece, Cloud, I was hoping to create a contemplative atmosphere that focused on the motion and movements of the clouds in the video. The work references the cycles and transformations that happen around us in nature and brings attention to the way we relate to our environment,” she said.

The event was a success in more ways than one.

“Most of the fundraiser work sold, allowing us to make a nice catalogue for the thesis show,” Fraser said.

But he also said he enjoyed how the gallery show allowed the seniors to get to know the incoming graduate students. “Because the program is so small, it produces tightly-knit graduating classes, with strong ties between years. The Blankspace show gave us a chance to work with the incoming grads, speeding up the getting-to-know-you process. We’re only two weeks into the semester and already things feel good,” he said.