MCAD exhibition highlights women leaders and collaboration

<i>Slag and Bloom</i> by Sara Downing, Stephanie Hunder, and Elizabeth Sunita Jacobson

Slag and Bloom by Sara Downing, Stephanie Hunder, and Elizabeth Sunita Jacobson

While Susan Cain from the New York Times makes a compelling argument for creativity in solitude, there are still plenty of reasons to believe that a team effort can produce results that a single person couldn't. A new exhibit at MCAD shows the different possibilities that spring from creative minds aligning, as female department chairs have teamed up with alumni and students to create projects that allow each artist to let go.

"Intersections: Women, Leadership, and the Power of Collaboration" has its successes and not-so-successes, but as a whole it is a great study of what can happen when artists put their minds together. 

Each piece in the exhibit contains a statement from the artists about how the collaboration worked for them. Artists had different takes on what it meant to work together. In some cases, the pairs or groups created one piece, while others worked on similar topics or themes. There were also participants who didn't necessarily set out to make art that was in collaboration, but rather found the intersections in the work they'd already made.
Slag and Bloom is one of the most successful collaborations. The series of rectangular serigraph and collage on panel pieces were made by Concordia University art department chair Stephanie Hunder, alumna Elizabeth Sunita Jacobson, and current student Sarah Downing. In their statement, the artists write that the group met together several times to talk about ideas until they eventually decided to quit talking and start printing. They mostly worked alone, with each artist responding to what was left behind by the last artist. 

The result is a remarkably cohesive series. Even with three different artists working from their own interests, the piece as a whole works together. Body parts merge with texture and landscape gorgeously. The artists may not have known from the beginning what they were going to come up with, but the end result is a triumph, and something that probably none of them could have created on their own. 
Like the Concordia University group, Elaine Rutherford from the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University along with three alumni -- Steven Lemke, Nate Burbeck, and Chloe Briggs -- created a singular piece amongst them. In their statement, they write about trying to find a true collaboration, where there was no understood or assumed hierarchy, and evolved a process of relinquishing control. The result is an installation that explores the idea of a souvenir. The work includes a projection screen showing different tourist destinations, and shelves and tables in the room with many objects on them, including plates, houses made out of frames, paperweights, old pictures, twine, keys, and wax. The whole thing is a bit hodgepodge and doesn't have a sense of completeness, but the group deserves kudos for really embracing the idea of working together. 

A number of artists in the show didn't so much collaborate as find commonalities in their work. Linda Rossi from Carleton and her former student Alec Soth both showed photographs taken from the college's Goodsell Observatory. Aside from the subject, the artists' work are quite dissimilar, but it's interesting to see a teacher and student -- both who have found success in their careers -- take on a specific location in different ways. 
In the case of Val Jenkins, the Fine Arts Chair at the College of Visual Arts, and her former student Kim Benson, common interests and mutual inspiration feed the collaboration. Jenkins was inspired by Benson to revisit a body of work taken from images of torture found in mass media from 2001 to 2003. The two found mutual inspiration from issues of war, human suffering, and the body in pain. Both of the artists are talented in finding beauty in the grotesque. Benson's expressionistic images of gore and violence are both difficult to look at and also mesmerizing, while Jenkins works are more subtle, but equally unsettling given their original subject matter. 

The most successful collaboration in the show is between Priscilla Briggs from Gustavus Adolphus and her student Blong Lor, who together have created an amazing group of photographs taken from the Hmong Village complex on Johnson Parkway. More than any of the other projects in the show, it's really apparent that these two artists were able to find their stride as a team. Photographs include things like Hmong dolls with remarkably white features, a Hmong elephant in American flag colors, and a figurine soldier next to a Master Card sign. Nearly all of the photographs indicate a pervasive American imperialism that has infiltrated a culture to the extent that Hmong merchants themselves are selling "whiteness" or at least "Americanism." It's quite a bold collection, but has a sense of fun too. It's a perfect satire, because it is taken from real life. 

So while Susan Cain might be right that some people need to work alone to create their best work, the MCAD exhibit shows that "groupthink" (a term she uses with derision) can result in excellence as well. Perhaps there's a time and place for both. 


"Intersections: Women, Leadership, and the Power of Collaboration"

Opening reception 6-8 p.m. Fri., Jan. 20

MCAD Gallery

2501 Stevens Ave., Minneapolis

Through Feb. 12

Gallery talks noon Thu., Feb. 2 at noon and 6:30 p.m. Wed., Feb. 15

Lecture by Yesomi Umolu Wednesday, February 8 at 6:30 p.m. in Auditorium 150