On one side of the room, a flat screen TV displays the same image of a man’s face being sliced, shifted and reduplicated in a rough stop-motion video; on the other sits an installation made with old tools, twigs and tree bark, held together by a rusty metal wire that links the natural with the man-made. Such is the nature of School’s In, presented by the Yale School of Art to showcase student work from this past summer.
The show is a heterogeneous mixture of works — from painting to digital art — and subject matter thrown together to create a coherent whole out of unlikely counterparts. Each work flows (but not seamlessly) into the next, due for the most part to the exhibit’s lack of nameplates or titles on the individual pieces. The viewer is left to distinguish for herself where one piece ends and another begins. In an exhibit where certain works span multiple canvases, picture frames or even media, this interconnectedness makes for an unorthodox viewing experience as one attempts to navigate through the four rooms of the show.
In the first room, the screen with the male face grabs your attention immediately. That same face is also seen on the adjacent wall, crumpled up and edited into various photographs with backgrounds ranging from the inside of a hardware store to different scenes of nature. The omnipresent face is even at your feet, printed on a piece of fabric strewn on the floor just in front of the photos.
The real winners in this room, however, are the two portraits of a woman and a young girl on the left wall. These two photographs exist separately, but are part of the same scene — one can imagine that they are both just created out of a single, larger photo. The women stare unabashedly out at the viewer with skeptical expressions, evaluating you as you evaluate them.
In the next room, another photograph caught my eye — a black and white one, which shows a little girl holding her hair and staring at her reflection in what I can only assume is a storefront window. We cannot tell what the girl is thinking as she looks at herself, but her open-mouthed gaze leaves enough room for interpretation.
As I made my way through this room, however, I couldn’t help but feel that some of the works were a little banal. “Here’s sex, here’s loneliness and over there are human mistakes,” I could say to someone asking me what themes were at play. Here I’m referring to specific works: a photo of a woman in a seductive pose on a bed, a painting of a worried-looking woman petting her smiling dog and a well-intentioned but nonetheless plain installation consisting of a number two pencil with some rubber hanging off the eraser.
School’s In redeems itself at the end, though. When I walked downstairs to the final two areas, I found myself shocked, disgusted and intrigued all at the same time. A zoomed-in video of a man’s face is projected onto one wall. The two-minute video clip shows him first painting his own skin, and then tilting his head back and spitting out red paint all over himself. I began to think that the focus of the exhibit was on people, but the amount of nonrepresentational works on the lower level quickly shattered my assessment, the last room featuring an array of sketches and paintings filled with vaguely geological forms. I was left frustrated and confused, but also quite impressed by the magnitude and scope of the exhibit.
School’s In’s true strengths lie in the diversity of its content — the works on display span a variety of artistic media and proudly occupy their own spaces regardless of what has been placed next to them. It is this element of discontinuity, however, that weakens the exhibit’s overall effect. School’s In is unified in one way, though: It is a collection of experiments by Yale art students — work done for academic exploration and not necessarily professional gain. It might be best not to overthink the name or try to connect the pieces, and appreciate the exhibit for what it is: a showcase of student work.