This past Wednesday, the Yale School of Art held the opening reception for “Esoteric Rodeo”, the second-year MFA student exhibition. The show features artists from all four SOA departments — painting, photography, sculpture, and graphic design. The reception was really very lovely, and I’m sorry if you missed it. The show — without the live performances — will be running at 1156 Chapel St. from now until Oct. 1, though, so there’s still time to experience it.
The art school is a nondescript square building with windows — it looks more like a corporate office than a place where paint-splattered Creatives™ in dirty, white Nike Air Force Ones and kimonos purchased from Urban Outfitters do business. But going inside sometimes feels like entering another world, a world apart from Yale University and salmon shorts and spikeball. I feel silly saying this, but it feels like even the air is different. The art school has an energized aura — the cool air blown in by the AC is probably imbued with the students’ creative energies and rosemary or some other cooler, more obscure herb. (What am I saying? This article doesn’t make sense at all.)
Whatever they’re putting in the air is working, though; “Esoteric Rodeo” was one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen at the art school. I felt like I was looking into strangers’ diaries — each of the performances, paintings and sculptures played with artificiality, vulnerability and comfort. Many ostensibly playful pieces exposed darker and darker undertones the longer I stared. (I have no idea what I’m talking about. HELP!)
One of the more notable works of art include Selva Aparicio’s ART ’ 17 oyster suit. “Oyster Bed” is composed of mollusc shells sliced and sewn vertically together with wax thread. It’s draped over a humanoid form and presented in the middle of the hallway, blocking much of the traffic in and out of the building. I bent down to get a closer look, only to realize that the suit was breathing. There was a person in the suit — an act of performing mortality. (I hate myself).
Past the human oyster, in the second room, were many hip art students with septum piercings milling about (this is spiraling out of control), their beers gripped softly, effortlessly. I saw a boy in bright blue stripes, and a girl with gorgeous green hair. They were staring (perhaps longingly) at a picture of a girl with neat black hair facing away from the camera (“Cold Shoulder” by Asad Pervaiz). I grew aware of the low hum of nearby conversations. I started to fear that I would be forced to engage in conversation.
This leads me to one of my favorite pieces in “Esoteric Rodeo”: Alexis Brown’s ART ’17 printed email correspondence with Evan Snow, a man most known for being a flawed key witness in the murder trial of Alex Nieto. Snow was out walking his dog when San Francisco police shot and killed Neito. On the stand, Snow testified that he didn’t see everything because he was distracted by a female jogger’s butt at the time. He also said Nieto looked like a gang member because he was Hispanic and wearing a red jacket. Brown emailed Snow about what the red jacket looked like. Snow attached an image of a quarter-zip San Francisco hoodie, a poignant commentary on how small biases can lead to gross injustice. (I am just repeating what I heard on Law and Order yesterday.)
The emails hung across from a room upstairs that held the art installment fittingly named “THE BALLAST,” because it is a ballast (angry enough to warrant an all-caps title). Encircling the ballast was small, blue print that read:
“The ballast serves as the rock and foundation for vessels in a fluid world. Massive and voluminous it may also be fragile and degrade when neglected. Like a malignant tumor a broken ballast must be removed from the vessel before the damage spreads; yet like a heart, it must be replaced as the ballast is the core upon which all the vessel’s other system depend.” I spent a few minutes just circling the ballast, rereading its message.
It made me feel guilty. I like to make fun of art because it sometimes it feels inconsequential. I don’t instantly understand the importance and beauty of Pollock’s paint splatters or some of the art installments in “Esoteric Rodeo” the same way I understand the importance of economics or theater or politics. But sometimes, it hits home. Art can be wild and powerful — it can strengthen and empower and change the way people, en masse, think.
Art communicates in a language not all of us understand — a sort of Esoteric Rodeo. (I somehow found the strength inside my weak bones to drive this article home.)