Turned Loose 

Candidates for VCU's master of fine arts get one more chance to unleash their aesthetic on the city.

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This summer, after thesis work and studio pack-ups are complete, most of Virginia Commonwealth University's M.F.A. candidates will be leaving Richmond for larger art centers, academic teaching positions and residencies. So now's the time to see firsthand the art that will launch their careers.

In two rounds, Anderson Gallery will hold thesis exhibitions for students in the craft and material studies, painting and printmaking, photography and film, and sculpture departments. Round 1 runs through May 6; Round 2 runs May 11-29. If you go, here's something to keep in mind and what to expect:

Labels don't matter. At VCU, conceptual and formal exploration trumps disciplinary boundaries, so don't try to keep track of these artists' major areas of concentration. Yes, traditional forms of their disciplines will be included, but more common are crossovers and hybrid forms of manipulated media.

During Round 1, Lauren Clay, a painting student, will exhibit three-dimensional, sorbet-colored, paper-model structures inspired by utopian and modernist architecture. Clay shares gallery space with craft department student Josh Rodenberg, who challenges the expectations of craftsmanship to produce an installation in wood that is intuitive in form and construction.

Remember the environment. Commentaries on human connection (or disconnection) with the natural environment run through both rounds. In Round 1, Bryant Dameron's videos record individuals ignoring their immediate surroundings while observing live-feed video broadcasts of it. In Round 2, Amanda Sauer presents large photographs of landscapes, some bucolic, others curiously infringed upon. Nellie Appleby, also in Round 2, groups found objects such as televisions and fake plants with her poetic photographic work, challenging viewers to pick and choose what's desirable and what's not.

Portraiture is alive and well. During Round 1, Shane Rocheleau photographs individuals at close range from behind a two-way mirror. The resulting shots capture faces whose gaze is literally divided. Rocheleau interprets his large color images as "a study of the struggle between self and other." In the same round are Amy Vaughters' solemn photographic portraits of abandoned homes.

Dan Currier's sensitive documentary film, "Labeled" (Round 1), is a portrait of 53-year-old Elaine Riddick Jessie, an African-American house painter and a victim of North Carolina's eugenics program in 1968. In Round 2 another filmmaker, Jacob Dodd, presents a portrait of his Italian immigrant grandmother in "Nunna."

Identity is a mystery. Matt Spahr, half of the team of brothers who turned the board game Candyland into a sugary environment at ADA Gallery last fall, continues to grapple with childhood in his Round 1 installation. A collage of disparate objects such as a surfboard, a model ship, and grow lights explore, as he states, "the clashing of histories, parallel narratives and masculine identity."

The subject of filmmaker and dancer Vanessa Fassié's video "Reunion" (Round 1) is based on the artist's personal history. Overlapping still shots and film clips of her youth with sequences of more recent dance footage, Fassié creates a dreamlike collage of time and motion. In Round 2, Sarah Mizer also uses light to produce pensive images. Here the light illuminates words constructed of clear glass.

Humor prevails. Amanda Douglas (Round 1) and Heather Harvey and Faridah Al Rashaid (Round 2) take shots at cultural expectations by presenting witty and irreverent versions of common objects. Douglas criticizes the beauty industry by inventing outrageous hairstyling appliances. Harvey modifies wall and sometimes floor construction to create the illusion that invisible forces are reshaping the environment. In Al Rashaid's finely crafted wood furniture, tabletops are interrupted with ripples and bulging masses. S

Round 1of the MFA Thesis Exhibition runs through May 6. Round 2 opens with a reception at Anderson Gallery May 11, 5-7 p.m. Through May 29. 828-1522.

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