For students enrolled in the MFA program in the Illinois State University College of Fine Arts, the MFA Biennial is a chance to show off their artistic chops.
The MFA program at ISU is designed to help students develop a mature body of work by exploring the relationship between studio work and intellectual inquiry. Every other year, the MFA students break out of the studio and classroom and share their work with the public -- and each other.
"It gives the students and opportunity to see their work outside of the studio and outside of the classroom and see it within the context of what their peers are making," said Kendra Paitz, head curator of the University Galleries. "So, these relationships start to emerge that maybe are not so evident when these works are in separate studios surrounded by just that artist's work."
"The range of both materials and the conceptual problems that they're dealing with is really incredible," said Barry Blinderman, director of the University Galleries in Uptown Normal. "Long before the show, we had a meeting with the students and said that we have 16 and a half foot ceilings here. What are you going to do to take advantage of this extraordinary space? We encouraged the artists to go beyond."
One of the young artists that took Blinderman's advice is Emily Lehman. Originally, Lehman was simply going to submit a couple of paintings to the show. But Blinderman suggested she bring her studio, which is full of collage elements, out into the gallery. Lehman eagerly accepted the challenge and brought her work, Cheek to Cheek, to the gallery. The mixed media installation takes full advantage of the ceiling height, with strings, fabric, bricks and more forming a fort-like space.
"I thought it was a great idea, "said Lehman. "But I just didn't know, because everything had just existed in one space before. The installation in some ways about me unpacking my studio. There was no plan until I arrived at the site. It's sort of the no plan plan. I was interested in responding to a space, responding to what I'm subconsciously thinking in the moment and the materials I had at hand. Maybe because I had no plan it was not intimidating, but exciting to me."
The MFA Biennial is currently up through Feb. 12.