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Meet the 2015 MFAs

Meet the 2015 MFAs

Our incoming MFA candidates discuss their backgrounds, influences, and artistic practice.

Ruth Burke

Ruth Burke

Tell me a bit about yourself? Where you from, your background?

My name is Ruth Burke. Received my Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University (Go Bucks!), specializing in Art and Technology in 2012. I am very lucky to have worked with artists like Amy Youngs, Ken Rinaldo, and Shane Mecklenburger while I was in school at OSU. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I'm one of 10 kids (eight of which are at least 12 years my senior) and I'm the daughter of a forensic economist and a Common Pleas Court judge.

What is it about the program that appealed to you?

The Stamps MFA program is as interdisciplinary as they come. For me, this means freedom to explore media and various ideas. That's really exciting and liberating. I know the faculty and my cohort will support multi-faceted practices and engagement with people/ideas/research outside of the arts. The opportunity to work with faculty like Holly Hughes was a huge factor in my decision. The program requires international travel, AND Stamps has multiple fully-funded positions.

What fuels your creative process?

Ah. That's a heavy question. I travel extensively and have done so since a young age. Spending time in developing countries, different cultures and different terrain has had a big impact on who I am today. These experiences gave me the ability to acknowledge and do something with the privilege I have as an artist, a white woman, a middle class individual and an American. I'm interested in social history, site-specificity, fibers, ritual, and cultural iconography.

Who is your favorite artist? Why?

My favorite artist is Ann Hamilton. Ann is the multi-sensory queen. She writes and feels poetically; her work is accessible and (I think) transcends boundaries that typically separate people. She's also a beautiful person; a true reflection of her work. I was lucky enough to have worked for her as a studio assistant and being in her studio, seeing things come together, was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life.

What is your favorite artwork that you created?

A tie. Mirror, a performance from early 2014 and Against Western Education, a sculpture from late 2014.

Mirror, Ruth Burke, 2014
Mirror, Ruth Burke, 2014
Mirror, Ruth Burke, 2014
Against Western Education, Ruth Burke, 2014
Against Western Education, Ruth Burke, 2014

Mirror came with a set of instructions:
The body of the performer will remain still for two hours. The arms will be raised infront of the body, elbows bent with palms facing outwards. The audience is invited to return a mirrored stance, touching their hands to the performer’s. The performer will refrain from using speech to communicate with the audience and will rather focus on the two separate palms pressed together. The performer and audience member will create an intimate connection through touch. Both bodies are vulnerable. An audience member may break or create a connection at their discretion. Anyone can be the performer.

Mirror is the first performance piece where the audience had the ability to determine their engagement level. It was a deliberately intimate moment for two people to share. Try it with someone you know... I promise it will be interesting! I feel like I get caught up in being disconnected from reality through phones/computers, etc. Mirror was a way to get back to a rudimentary physical and emotional connection.

Against Western Education is a response to the 200 Nigerian women kidnapped by Boko Haram. I visited East Africa shortly after the kidnapping and engaged in dialogue with locals about the terrorist group. Gender is an important factor in Boko Haram’s tactics, ideology and violent actions. This piece is simultaneously a call to action and a memorial to violence towards women.

Shane Darwent

Shane Darwent

Tell me a bit about yourself? Where you from, your background?

I was raised in Charleston, SC and studied printmaking and photography at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Since college I’ve survived via printmaking, picture framing, artist assisting, museum preparatory work, milking cows, pulling weeds, and yes, even through the sales and accolades of my own art.

What is it about the program that appealed to you?

The interdisciplinary nature of the program, both within the arts and beyond the department was my immediate attraction to the University of Michigan. I have always worked in a range of mediums and taken interest in my surroundings through a variety of vantage points. My undergraduate program at MICA was amazing, but situated in a very intimate, fine arts-based environment. By locating my practice within a large research university I am eager to explore my broad cultural interests through the refined lens of Anthropology, Sociology, American Studies, etc. I’m not sure what that will do to my work, but I am eager to find out.

What fuels your creative process?

I am driven by my desire to share what I find beautifully complicated, or complexly beautiful. The most inspiring moments for me are in the act of looking, and listening to the world out there. Through making work, I hope to spark that same level of passionate connectedness within others.

Who is your favorite artist? Why?

The old Delta Blues musicians move me the most. They both celebrated and mourned their immediate surroundings in a way that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

What is your favorite artwork that you created?

If I must choose, I would have to pick the recent photograph with audio component, Twilight on Chamberlin Ave.

It depicts a mattress painted in a faux postcard-like sunset propped up diagonally in a shopping cart. I photographed it in the middle of the street right outside of my recent studio in Chattanooga, TN in the late winter before the trees began to leaf out. It is an overcast day on a rather dreary street and the bright color of the mattress seems to hover like a ball of light. Before shooting it here, I wheeled it around the neighborhood, trying to find the perfect location for it. In doing so, I amused and annoyed those driving their cars, and inspired the porch dwellers to leave their seats and inspect what was happening. It lead to great conversations with many folks and even sparked some new friendships. Eventually, I worked with a close friend on an audio component that took the form of a dream-like 90-second loop of what the shopping cart encountered. The dogs bark, the sirens wail, and the music bumps to the chattering rattle of the improbable cart. 

Carolyn Gennari

Carolyn Gennari

Tell me a bit about yourself? Where you from, your background?

I was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1985 and received my BA in Art History at Beloit College in 2008.

What is it about the program that appealed to you?

What drew me to this program is its unique mission to integrate creative work with academic research while fostering cross-disciplinary exploration.

What fuels your creative process?

An active curiosity about the narratives that surround and structure objects and their materiality, and how these narratives can be reinterpreted and represented.

Who is your favorite artist? Why?

I'm interested in the work of Zoe Beloff and how she creates vivid worlds through installation and video, blurring the line between fact and fiction in order to reanimate the past and reimagine the future.

What is your favorite artwork that you created?

I work collaboratively and feel like my most recent collaborative project, The Arctic Theatre Royal, illustrates a successful partnership between artists and organizations in my community.

All interviews by MDes candidate Manasi Agarwal.

Learn more about our MFA students: check out their full profiles for images, bios, and more.