thesis

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2018 SVA Alumni Scholarship

Congratulations to Julianne Nash and Johnnie Chatman for being selected as recipients of the Alumni Scholarships Awards; and to Naixin Xu for the Thomas Reiss Memorial Award. Reviewed and rated by an alumni panel, the Alumni Society Board of Directors awards aid to the completion of final projects. The Society manages 26 annual scholarships that provide merit based support earmarked for specific academic programs and need based support. The assortment of scholarships allows the Society to provide assistance across majors, programs and class years -- touching more students lives every year. The Society’s flagship scholarship program is the annual Alumni Scholarship Awards program. In 2017, 78 projects were funded a total of $83,400.

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Agglomeration, by Julianne Nash, is at once an immensely personal project in regards to loss, trauma, and personal mortality; while at the same time references the breakdown of human and logarithmic computer vision. Within this series I contend with my fears of inheriting a degenerative form of vision loss by utilizing computerized image stacking algorithms to create digitally manipulated images that are difficult to visually comprehend. I intentionally confuse the patterns that the computer relies on to create a cohesive image by using tools made to blend images based on similarities to force them to blend on differences thus causing the computer to fail in the manner in which it is “supposed” to see.

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 I Forgot Where We Were; is here, by Johnnie Chatman, acts a meeting place for two bodies of work, I Forgot Where We Were… and where we were is here. Together the elements within the series use constructs and idioms of the West and western landscape photography as allegorical elements to facilitate a conversation on black identity as it reconfigures itself against media, historical, and transglobal narratives. The work opens up a dialogue on selfhood and place through the creation of an ambiguous space where a seemingly romantic fascination is met with a critical examination of the past and present through representations of history, time and the landscape.

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Naixin Xu is the recipient of the Thomas Reiss Memorial Award Fund which was established in 2003 in memory of Thomas Reiss (MFA 1993 Photography and Related Media) by his brother, Richard M. Reiss. An avid environmentalist, Tom passed away in August 2002 in a boating accident in Thailand. This annual award is designated to support a thesis project by a final-year MFA Photography, Video and Related Media major whose project addresses a humanitarian issue.


The Westbound Journey (working title) is an 1-1.5 hour long observational and photographic non-narrative film, focusing on a cross-country journey of commodities, which are transported to Tibet by a truck driver, from a small trade city in southeast China to Tibet. The aim is to present, from an observer’s view, a fluid subtle status of the culture itself, struggling between the old and the new. 

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SVA Alumni Society, Inc. is an independent non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation which works to provide support for SVA’s most promising students.The Society works in conjunction with the Alumni Affairs and Development office at the School of Visual Arts serving as the vehicle for granting student scholarships and soliciting donations to fund the scholarships. Due to support from the School of Visual Arts, 100% of all donations to the Alumni Society go directly to the education and financial needs of current SVA students.

Cenotaph for My Shadow

images and text by 2014 alum Jean Bettingen, from the 2015 issue of "All the Best, Alice"

Sometimes I get dizzy and feel overwhelmed. There are probably a lot of people in our globalized society burdened with an over-pronounced self-reflexivity, who feel similarly when it comes to defining themselves. I wonder how I would be able to pin down my essence in a world of flux, a world in which everything and everyone is defined as a project of perpetual reinvention.

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Cenotaph for My Shadow is a body of sculptural and photographic work that addresses and visualizes the prevailing sense of disconnection I feel towards my self and the world, my inability to grasp and comprehend the I, and at the same time, my fear of its loss. This project aims, through various strategies and in mixed media, at the depiction and manifestation of my Cartesian self despite the representational dilemmas of lens based media. I explore the need that drove Roland Barthes, amongst others, toward an ontological questioning of the photographic medium: “What Barthes wants is a rescue of his profound self through the solid evidence of photography.” So do I.

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The sculptural installation “Autopoiesis” suggests the nature and the spirit of my investigations: a 4x5" wet-plate collodion is placed between 8x10" two-way mirrors. The peculiarity of this old photographic medium is that it can be used as a negative to print a positive or as a unique positive. When light illuminates the plate, it glows and brings a positive portrait image to life. As viewers walk around the installation, they experience an infinite space in which the portrait image seems to disperse into nothingness.

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My questions of self-visualization in “Autopoiesis” began when I was 11 years old and my mother died. The only tangible thing remaining of my parent was a cardboard box half-filled with family pictures. Discomfort arose in me whenever I looked at them, not solely because of the pain and grief, but also the intrinsic suspicion that the person depicted in the photographs was no longer my mother; and yet there she was, smiling at me. This sense of disconnection made me question what was captured and embedded in those pieces of paper. It certainly was not my mother in person. I had witnessed her burial; at least that was a certainty. Were those photographs just an anchor to whatever was left of her in me?

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I still remember some of the moments shown in the photographs, moments that I spent in the presence of my mother. But the more time that goes by—the more distance accumulated between the depicted and remembered moments—the more I wonder about the chain of causality between memories and images. Do I genuinely remember these moments or were they incepted into my consciousness by these photographs? This uncertainty triggered the destabilization of my self-perception because I couldn’t comprehend the authorship of my self if I considered my past as its foundation. Did I build my history and identity narration not only on my own perception but also on the moments that another person judged important enough to capture? How is it possible to photographically capture the essence of a person? It seems that in every effort to freeze a person in an image, an unwanted distance to life is created.

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This project approaches its goal through various techniques, incorporating old alternative processes, video projection, 3D capture and 3D printing. This allows viewers to experience my represented self in various forms, and they can explore which media offer a deeper perception of my self. Following Barthes’s concept of air, which is somewhat similar to the description of the aura by Walter Benjamin, inherent in the photograph (Belting, 2013: 195 / Barthes, 1981), a lot of the works in this project abstract deliberately from showing facial details. The air, the essence of a person, does not lay in the detailed representation of the human face, but is or is not captured in the image and may or may not be perceivable by the viewer . It is more likely that the viewer will be able to grasp my air if the distraction of my face has already been subtracted from the viewing experience. Another approach is described by Hans Belting (2011) as he defines a picture as an image with a medium, meaning that the image of my self exists already in an intangible or liminal space and needs a manifestation through a medium to be turned into a perceivable picture. A good example of my investigation into these medial manifestations is the juxtaposition of the pieces “5 Hours” and “Negative Dimension”: they are both the same image, me, but diverging medial forms. “5 Hours” is a black box that contains an exposed but undeveloped film sheet containing a self-portrait and “Negative Dimension” is a 3D print generated through another self-portrait—or rather an image of my self?

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Each piece in this body of work can be considered an attempt to capture the process of self-reflection, an attempt to secure the feeling of constancy. Though the endeavor is also an interesting dilemma in itself: as Jorge Molder put it, photographing yourself creates a being in the between, a space between the self and someone else. Further, following Barthes’s reasoning, the very act of photographing myself transforms me into the eidos of death. This project does not solely try to capture and display my real essence but also investigates the stability of such and its representation as a visible manifestation of my presence just like my shadow on the ground. Is there a way to escape this mentioned in the between? All imagery in this project is in the en-face perspective: straight on, eyelevel, and limited to the bust. The focus on images of the upper body seems appropriate as I assume that my self is located in my mind. Much of my work is dominated by black—I like to consider black as the anti-photograph or a negative imprint as it is evidence of the absence of the constituting element of a photograph: light.

General Assembly

images and text by 2014 alum Yael Eban, from the 2015 issue of "All the Best, Alice."

In January 2013 I set up a Google alert for “Abba Eban,” who was my paternal grandfather. That winter, my parents and I began the laborious process of dismantling my grandparents’ home in Israel after the death of my grandmother Suzy in 2011. She was the archetypical diplomat’s wife and an avid art collector. On January 28th I received the first Google alert by email, informing me that there was new web content containing my grandfather’s name. It was as though my grandfather, though long gone, had an active presence on the Internet. Often referred to as the “Voice of Israel,” Abba Eban (1915-2002) was a diplomat and international public figure for many decades. In 1949 he made a seminal speech to the General Assembly that led to Israel’s admission to the United Nations.

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General Assembly is the examination of a space that exists between the public and private archives that represent my family history. The online presence of my late grandparents is the anchor for my research. I look for specific images and objects that relate to their lives, and follow this trajectory as it moves from the private sphere into the public, or vice-versa. In doing so, I am investigating the consolidation of various modes of representations, and the impact these different forms have on the historical narratives they describe. All types of images in this project are legitimate and of equal value: a snapshot, a press photograph, a fine art photograph, a newspaper clipping, a screenshot of an eBay receipt. Working with these varied layers of representation, I create visual collages of related imagery that trace photographic threads through space and time.

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I am fascinated by the dissemination of images of my grandparents and the objects they owned. I find representations of my family in a variety of contexts—on the Internet, in flea markets, or in my family’s collection. The urge to collect the images I stumble upon and to add them to the ongoing archive is always present. The consequence of this act is a questioning of my own duality as the mostly-American, somewhat-Israeli granddaughter who is expected to carry on an important legacy. As a result of feeling pulled between two places I am denied both identities, and my nostalgia is continuously displaced. This project is a journey of reconciliation between my private heritage and my public persona as artist.

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In the piece Jenkins, I begin with one of my original photographs of what is, for my family, an iconic painting by Paul Jenkins from my grandparents’ home. It is shown hanging above furniture and art that are wrapped or boxed with labels, waiting to be dispersed. Next I layer two family snapshots on top of this photograph, in which the same Jenkins piece appears, and use a graphic match to rebuild the forms of poured paint that define the painting. By only using photographs from my personal collection I assert that the value of the image in this assembly is determined by its nostalgic implications rather than its place in the art world; it is the last remaining link to the private family space that exists now only in photographs. Jenkins invites the viewer to question the provenance of the image and how objects are dispersed. It also functions as a portal between the recent past and the projected future; though it contains no web-based content, this piece points forward to other works in the project and to the theme of finding art objects on the Internet via auction.

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The experience of following the life of an object from domestic space to virtual space can be seen in Three Sisters. I combine a screenshot of a Sotheby’s auction showcasing a specific piece of art, and a photograph I took with the same piece of art when it was displayed in my grandparents’ home. In my photograph, the artwork later sold at auction is secondary to the main subject—the oil portrait of my grandmother and her two sisters. On the table below sits a small frame containing the same image of the young ladies, and a photograph taken decades later of the three sisters as elderly women. I create another repeated motif by merging the two images through use of the frame: I follow the virtual line used to frame the website and connect it to the frame of the drawing on the left wall. On the right side the white curtains bleed into the white space of the web browser, further emphasizing the paradoxical space between digital and analog realms. I have employed this white space as a visual tool in many of the pieces; as an image disappears into the white, it is unclear where the artwork ends and the virtual space begins. The online presence and the physical presence intersect, and the result is my construction of a liminal space.

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In this body of work I ask the viewer to reflect upon the new experience and parameters of the archive and the lives of photographs as objects in a digital age. I deliberately create and explore relationships between the public and the private for viewers, leading them both inside and outside of this construct. In a sense I am presenting visual puzzles; the viewer has to work to follow a thread of information and to put the pieces of presented evidence together. The viewer’s experience echoes my own search and process of discovery. Ultimately, this project acknowledges that I am a part of a family whose representation belongs neither to me, nor to the public. General Assembly is my attempt to comprehend where I sit in this cultural and photographic landscape, both as descendant and as artist.

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