This week, the SPAC Gallery showcased the work of graduating seniors Lexie Hoffman, Emily Lowenberg and Naomi Trego. These senior shows serve as an opportunity for graduating artists from Seattle Pacific University to demonstrate the technical and conceptual development they’ve experienced during their four years of undergraduate education. The present senior show is the seventh in a series of nine.
As a whole, the current show is honest and vulnerable. But as a showcase that aims to show the best work of the students, I felt that this show seemed incomplete and unrefined.
Upon entering the gallery, the first works one encounters are by Lexie Hoffman. Hoffman’s installation is a visual consideration of the role of the auditory experience in the context of humanity. In her exploration of unusual media like wood, old books and other three-dimensional materials, Hoffman generates a familiar, relatable sense of physicality. By combining elements that relate to the sense of hearing – i.e. pictures of ears, a wall piece reflecting different musical tones, actual music – she creates a complete sensory experience for gallery visitors. The most impressive components of Hoffman’s show are certainly her wood pieces. Hoffman has created rich, earth-toned images by carving, burning and staining the wood with coffee, tea and wine. These pieces have an air of familiarity while begging viewers to take a closer look at the detail in each. It is disappointing, though, to see Hoffman’s beautiful wood etchings juxtaposed with more poorly executed pieces, including pencil lines draw directly on the wall and an artist’s statement that, although insightful and well-written, lacks poignancy because of the way it is presented: handwritten and in pencil. Overall, Hoffman’s work shows brilliant craftsmanship and great promise.
Next in the gallery, one comes face-to-face with the work of Emily Lowenberg. Lowenberg’s show incorporates video and a wide variety of other elements including old furniture, used communion cups, wine pumping through clear tubing and used shoes. Although Lowenberg’s pieces show innovation and creativity, the show as a whole feels somewhat contrived, as if it has been forced into an explicitly Christian framework. Lowenberg’s artist statement sheds little light on her intentions, and instead explains why, as a Christian, she feels led to create art. And in fact, each of Lowenberg’s pieces are explicitly Christological. The piece “Wailing Wall” has a beautiful aesthetic quality that is heightened in meaning through Lowenberg’s use of communion cups. However, the title “Wailing Wall” is heavy-handed; it feels as if Lowenberg is not allowing the raw beauty of the piece speak for itself and is instead forcing the piece to shout “reconciliation and salvation.” This forced quality, which emerges throughout the installation, gives the viewer the feeling that Lowenberg merely selected several pieces that reflected Christianity and put them together. Though the concept of Christian redemption flows beautifully throughout the show, the pieces themselves lack aesthetic cohesion.
The final installation in the exhibition showcases the work of Naomi Trego. For her show, Trego filled ten sketchbooks over the course of ten weeks, one per week. She then installed the books on the wall and allowed visitors to have their way with the volumes. Like that of the other artists in the exhibition, Trego’s work seems somewhat unpolished, but unlike the others, this lack of polish is to the point. Trego shows the process that an artist works through and gives viewers a unique insight into the way she, as an artist, processes life day to day. Trego was not aiming for a finished, refined product, but is instead trying to show the messiness and rawness of life as an artist. She is successful in showing this. What is particularly special about Trego’s show is the fact that visitors can interact with the work. One can flip through all of the books, read Trego’s thoughts and touch everything. As a result, Trego’s work connects with the audience and shows an honest vulnerability.
Though the work of these three artists is technically and conceptually quite unique, the show as a whole has a harmonious balance and cohesion. Each of the artists used the gallery space well and experimented with the physicality of their installation pieces. The show overall is particularly concept-heavy, and although this privileging of concept at times results in a lack of polished product and technical skill, the works are honest, and they successfully capture the personality of each artist.