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Illinois MFA Art+Design exhibition thrives in digital format

Arriving amid the COVID-19 crisis, the launching of the Illinois Art+Design MFA exhibition in digital format is a sign of our times. Digital launches with Zoom cocktail hours have become the new opening night reception for the art world. They symbolize the can-do nimbleness and resiliency of creative communities. While experiencing art online is no substitute for its real life counterpart, it does offer new and different opportunities for the viewer. And to its credit, the eye-catching and intuitive interface of the Illinois Art+Design MFA exhibition website leans in to these opportunities, delivering a deeply meaningful virtual art experience. 

Image: Collage of images from the 2020 Illinois Art+Design MFA exhibition website. Image from website.

Image: Collage of images from the 2020 Illinois Art+Design MFA exhibition website. Image from website.

The work shared here is diverse in its materials, audience, and purpose; as it should be in an exhibit that brings together the fields of graphic design, industrial design, and studio art. As different as they are, these artists share a deep engagement with both their interior and exterior landscapes. They are thoughtful, inventive, and insightful as they investigate these spaces and communicate their visions. And most importantly, they require us to leave our assumptions at the door and to allow our eyes and minds to adjust to new ways of seeing, and thinking. At a time of loss and widespread chaos, they do what artists and designers do best—create new structures, new paradigms, and new ways of imagining the future. 

The practitioners represented here design new strategies for communicating essential information which reorients its publics toward more sustainable relationships with the planet and its peoples. They are creating new, user-centered products and experiences to enhance entrepreneurial culture and promote sustainability. They are opening their studios to reveal truths about the world, about human perception, cognition, and identity through the infinite array and endless variety of artistic invention. Clearly, their skills are needed in the world, perhaps now more than ever. 

The faculty and staff at the School of Art and Design at Illinois wish to congratulate our MFA Class of 2020 on all their achievements. We are honored to have shared in your journey.

Laurie Hogin

Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

School of Art + Design

In lieu of the walking through each installation, viewers walk through a series of cyber corridors, drilling down deeper into the work. One “wall” offers the artist’s statement of intention, which can serve as a map for the journey. For this viewer, the ability to experience one artist’s universe at a time, a benefit of the format, was a surprising advantage. This is the web in it’s Choose-Your-Own-Adventure best. And, to state the obvious, the medium allows us time to sit with the work, and easily return to it, for reconsideration. In a perfect world, this format would function well as a follow-up to, rather than a substitute for, the physical exhibition. It enables the sort of expansion and deep diving we crave after a work or artists strikes a chord within us. There is easy access to additional work through website and social media links, the latter also offering a chance to engage with the artist. 

You may wish to take an initial spin through the offerings, deciding which artists to explore further. Or you might take your time, experiencing one or perhaps two of these artists’ world at a given viewing. For once, we have the time these works deserve. My chosen strategy, and the direction for the review itself, was to open myself to revelation. For work that pushed the boundaries of its given field. And, I must confess, I was drawn to work that spoke to me in this particular moment and its many challenges. 

Below are the results of my first Choose-Your-Own-Adventure journey through this exhibition. Yours may look different. But however you choose to journey through this constellations of new worlds, you will leave with something new. 

Image: Constructed Places in Mental Spaces, Rachel Melton, 2020. Digital illustration from website.

Image: Constructed Places in Mental Spaces, Rachel Melton, 2020. Digital Iilustration from website.

Rachel Melton’s digital illustration initially drew me in with its mid-century modern aesthetic, but it was her thoughtful vision statement that kept me there and inspired me to journey deeper. Melton upends traditional expectations of the limits of graphic design and its capacity for complex psychological and existential discourse. In a time when the boundaries of our physical worlds have been drawn so tight, notion of mental space expanding in relation to our daily habits and haunts is eerily relevant. 

Image: Digital prototype of Book of the World by Lai Jiang. Image from website.

Image: Digital prototype of Book of the World by Lai Jiang. Image from website.

In the field of industrial design, Lai Jiang’s digital learning environment is well-served by this format. I highly recommend taking the time to watch the animated video to fully appreciate the scope and power of this device. It will make you fall in love with learning again. 

Photo: 2020-01, Luayo Chen. Photo from website.

Image: 2020-01, Luayo Chen. Photo from website.

Studio art graduate Luayo Chen’s investigation of the “soul” of her materials makes for fascinating viewing. The series of photographs are evocative and disarming. A fine example of the power of an artist’s vision; of the deep exploration that begins with the right question. 

These artists are the thinkers this world needs right now. Asking difficult questions and investigating them with the perfect balance of the personal and the political. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they do next. Congratulations to all on a exceptional effort. 

Exhibitors include: Carolina González Montemayor, Chris Beaty, Christopher Robert Jones, Elliott Stokes, Fiorella Xiao, Katie Netti, Lai Jiang, Lauren Ashley Howard, Luyao Chen, Mengyuan Chen, Meredith L Dallas, Miriam Salah, Natalie F. Smith, Qiuyan Tang, Rachel Lindsay-Snow, Rachel Melton, Sara Kramer, Simon Dai.

Enjoy the 2020 Illinois Art+Design MFA Exhbition website here

Top image: Promotional image for the website. Image from Instagram. 

Arts Editor

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