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Life is Ridiculously Awesome: 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibition

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The Department of Art and Art History presents Life is Ridiculously Awesome, the 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibition, on view May 16 - June 9 at the Stanford Art Gallery. Join us for the opening reception on Thursday, May 18, 5-7pm.

Gallery Hours: Monday - Friday, 11:00am - 5:00pm*

Life is ridiculously awesome! According to the five extraordinary artists and 2023 MFA graduates whose works comprise this exhibit, this title was chosen for its tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, for its absurd response to the relentless violent chaos all around. And yet, as curator, I also see this phrase as a sincere and deeply apt descriptor for the way in which these five artists manage to create great art in the midst of it all.

This group was just wrapping up their application interviews to Stanford’s Art Practice program in late February of 2020 as word of a pandemic began to trickle into the news cycle. By late summer of that year, when they should have been busy moving into their new studios on campus, the world was deep into lock-down and two of the cohort were thwarted by new and difficult visa restrictions.

As we stared at each other over Zoom in their first Concept seminar that autumn, my heart ached at the distorted discontinuities afforded by our main means of communication. Fortunately, when the faculty arranged to offer an additional third year to our two-year program, all five students said yes. And now, all here three years later, I see a more cohesive and tight-knit group of accomplished artists than I have ever before experienced in my twenty years at Stanford. Life is ridiculously awesome!

And yet their work is not defined by the pandemic, nor by the relentless cloud of global distress. They each possess a profound inner voice and outer vision that still echoes with the same concerns they expressed in that first interview, albeit more evolved and refined. Andrew Catanese’s paintings, sculptures and prints divine the animal-other as us, environmentally bound up in an enigmatic mythical exchange. Performative and visceral, their layered allegories act as mirrors to the soul. Tina Kashiwagi continues to mine the rich and complex legacies of family. Diaspora, gender fluidity, and resistance to cultural hegemony act as springboard for probing, personal, and tender vignettes. Liz Maelane offers nuanced portraits of her home communities from mundane moments to the complex co-existence with the platinum mining industry. Her work celebrates cultural heritage, ancestry and joy in the face of capitalism and socio-political imbalances in South Africa. Krystal Ramirez challenges our blind comfort with the built world around us and its so-called invisible workers. Modernist concrete structures melt, drape and glow in contradiction to our expectations, and signage confounds our quick consumption. Oleg Savunov creates poetic photographic portraits of both people and structures evoking pre- and post-Soviet life. Through propaganda-style publications, he portrays the unfolding catastrophe of war and his own tragic loss of homeland. His fascination with landscapes as interiors boldly overlaps Russian and Californian meadows, lakes and woodlands in defiance of a bordered world. It’s been a deep honor to work with these five talented artists for the past three years. I look forward to seeing where the world will take them, and where they will take the world. Life is Ridiculously Awesome will echo through our minds and our memories, first with a laugh, and then once again with awe. - Gail Wight, curator 

Andrew Catanese [They/Them]: 


Andrew Catanese is a painter, printmaker, and sculptor from the American South. Catanese’s work searches for new ways to understand ourselves and our relationship with the “natural” world. In their paintings, Catanese melds aspects of the human with animals, foliage, and other organic forms. The body becomes an ever-changing site of transformation, a bridge between realms. Adapting hybrid networks between the human and non-human, Catanese’s work finds ways to talk about new constructions of the self. The work insists on a fluid and transformative understanding of our bodies. They earned a BFA in Studio Art at the Sam Fox School of Art at Washington University in St. Louis. They are currently working towards their MFA at Stanford University. Catanese has shown their work in galleries and museums throughout the United States, including Johansson Projects (Oakland, CA), Maune Contemporary (Atlanta, GA), Macon Arts Alliance (Macon, GA), Banana Factory Arts Center (Bethlehem, PA), SOMArts (San Francisco, CA), and Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art (Augusta, GA). 

Tina [They/Them]: 


Tina Kashiwagi is an interdisciplinary artist and educator from San Jose, CA. Using digital media, video, installation and performance, their work engages with the intersections of personal and family histories, queer identity, and intergenerational trauma.  They aim to explore narratives that delve into the cultural memory and intergenerational dialogues within BIPOC communities, with a particular focus on Asian American families and diaspora. Kashiwagi creates installations fusing tangible objects with ephemeral time-based media as a means to investigate the symbiotic relationship between physical and non-physical realms. They also utilize performance as a tool to embody their ancestors and creatively re-envision ancestral narratives. This approach allows them to bring to life the stories of those who came before them and to explore alternative perspectives and possibilities, providing a means of connecting with their cultural heritage while also challenging dominant cultural narratives. Tina received their BFA in Studio Art and Art Education from San Francisco State University in 2016 and are a member of Oakland art collective Macro Waves. They are currently based in the Bay Area and are pursuing their MFA in Studio Art at Stanford University.

Krystal [She/Her]: 


Krystal Ramirez is an interdisciplinary artist and educator from Las Vegas, Nevada. Her practice focuses on our relationship with places of reverence and devotion. She analyses the symbolism and textures of the neon-clad desert of Las Vegas, observing light, color, architecture, and the spectacle for their sensory, experiential, and commanding presence. These explorations span media, including photography, painting, installation, sculpture, and fiber arts. She weaves private memories with collective cultural experiences to assemble narratives in which the intimate and communal are fused to explore more nuanced American experiences. She received her BFA in Photography and Studio Art from the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. Ramirez is currently based in Las Vegas and the Bay Area and is pursuing her MFA in Art Practice at Stanford University. She has shown in museums and galleries throughout the United States, including the Nevada Museum of Art (Reno, NV), Barrick Museum of Art (Las Vegas, NV), NMSU Art Museum (Las Cruces, NM), SOMArts (San Francisco, CA), and Gallery 400 (Chicago, IL.)

Oleg [He/Him]: 


Oleg Savunov (b. 1983) is a photographer and visual artist from Saint-Petersburg, Russia. His work integrates photography, video, and mixed media to explore intimacy in visual examination through portraiture, architecture, and landscape. Through the formal aesthetic and stylistic neutrality, Oleg reveals the intricate nature of our shared and personal fascination with photographic imagery and clearing space for the viewer to think independently about the questions of visual perception, the socio-cultural implications of landscape, and self-reflectivity. He explores and examines the techniques of visual investigation in photography as they relate to philosophical, conceptual, and existential ideas to see how the past shapes the present and to determine how a multi-layered visual narrative can convey information beyond the capacity of language. Oleg graduated form Moscow State Pedagogical University in 2006 with a law degree, then studied press photography at the Faculty of Press Photographers of Saint-Petersburg, Russia (2012) and continued his education at the Fotodepartament Institute in Saint-Petersburg, where most of his current interests were developed (2015). Oleg is currently in his third year of the MFA program at Stanford University. Oleg’s work was exhibited in Russia, Spain, Italy and US and published in magazines, like Amuse, InRussia, The Guardian, F-Stop, Calvert Journal, GEO, and The Village.

Liz Maelane [She/They]:


Liz Maelane (b. 1991) is a filmmaker and digital media artist from Johannesburg, South Africa. She works experimentally with animation, video, sound art and installation to unpack African diasporic performance, heritage, displacement, re-memory and joy. After studying architecture at the University of Cape Town, she moved to Nairobi, Kenya where she worked as an arts and culture writer, photographer and editor for Up! Magazine, Yummy Magazine, and contributed columns for the Business Daily Newspaper and Kenya Airways in-flight magazine. She later earned her BFA at Tufts University and moved to Los Angeles where she worked in film production and interactive art experiences. She is currently completing her MFA in Art Practice at Stanford University where she has had the opportunity to teach experimental animation and abstract art through the lens of indigenous knowledge systems.

*The MFA Thesis Exhibition will be open for limited hours on commencement day, Sunday June 18th.

Installation: May 8 - 12, Deinstallation: June 19 - June 21

Stanford Art Gallery is located at 419 Lasuen Mall on Stanford campus. Visitor parking is free all day on weekends and after 4 pm on weekdays, except by the Oval. Alternatively, take the Caltrain to Palo Alto Transit Center and hop on the free Stanford Marguerite Shuttle.

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