The MFA Show is Back in Town

UO art graduates exhibit their final work at Ditch Projects in Springfield

Hannah Petkau ‘untitled 9’

As an arts writer in Eugene, I have been aware that some artists don’t believe our town appreciates contemporary art. This perception has been at least partly responsible for why the University of Oregon’s School of Art and Design’s students have been presenting their master of fine art shows in Portland. If you wanted to see what the MFA graduates were up to, you had to drive to Portland’s Disjecta Gallery (now Oregon Contemporary), where the exhibits took place.

This spring is the first time in 12 years that the UO’s art program is holding its MFA shows — the culminating work of its graduates — at Ditch Projects in nearby Springfield. The eight graduates exhibiting are Agnese Cebere, Caroline Lichucki, Dana Buzzee, Erin Langley, Hannah Petkau, Kara Clarke, Noelle Herceg and Tyler Stoll.

Ditch Projects was founded by UO graduate students in 2008 but is not otherwise affiliated with the university. The artist-run gallery and work space is meant to be a place where people can produce and exhibit work in unexpected ways, without worrying about commercial restraints or institutional limitations.

If you’ve ever taken a class on modern art, you probably know that reading the accompanying text provides a context for appreciation. For instance, it may not be immediately apparent why Marcel Duchamp’s “3 Standard Stoppages” (1913-14) qualifies as art unless you know that three strings were dropped in a random fashion to then be used as templates for creating other artworks. Embedded in the process is a critique of how we measure the world around us.

Jack Ryan, graduate director of the art program at the UO, says that MFA students write reports along with their final artworks to demonstrate how their art relates to the world. He points out that the UO is a research-based university. So students making art at the graduate level are encouraged to think of their work as products of research, or possibly as research itself. They are adding new knowledge to their field, as doctoral candidates students do when they write their dissertations.

I like the idea that research can be addressed with artwork. In creating a drawing, for instance, an artist can synthesize material — academic and emotional — in a way that isn’t otherwise possible. Also, there’s room enough for all types of research, and why can’t a shape drawn on paper be as meaningful as numbers or words?

The graduates are showing their work in two groups. The first round was exhibited in early May, and the second group will display their art from May 21 to 29 and feature Cebere, Stoll, Lichucki and Clarke.  

Petkau showed in the first round of exhibits, which have already ended. Her drawings of different shapes are clearly related to her cyanotype prints and minimalist sculptures, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. All students are encouraged to have their art be about something, so I went to the show’s book, a handsomely designed catalog by FISK in Portland.

All of Petkau’s art, I read, was “derived from a single still life drawing of magnolias.” The traditional still life with flowers was “rearranged” until its parts were unrecognizable.         

Cebere has a background in dance and movement, having studied with the Martha Graham Dance Company for a year. An immigrant from Latvia by way of Sweden, she is fascinated by mythology of the American West. Her installation “There’s Something Here” addresses how the body is choreographed through a particular space. A virtual reality element, she says, will invite the viewer to engage with a different environment, in which case those who come in after, might look at the viewer as part of the art and move or “dance” around them accordingly. 

Speaking of engaging with one’s environment, I ask Ryan why the MFA show has come back to town. The art program’s contract with the Portland gallery ran out, he says. 

“It felt like time.” 

The choice also is related to the 100th anniversary of the UO’s graduate art program, which is coming up in 2023. To celebrate next year, the MFA shows are returning all the way home to campus. Next year they will take place at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

The MFA Show runs through May 29 at Ditch Projects, which is in the Booth-Kelly Center, 303 S. 5th Street #165, Springfield. Hours are noon to 4 pm Friday through Sunday. Free.