Art and poetry exhibition invites all voices

Mason alum and artist Joseph McCloskey-Caballero’s Creation in Ores (left) and Bailando Bacchanal (right) explore common actions taken to connect to the less mundane self in collaboration with theater major Alex Berrios, whose poems “Mirror Talks” and “Laugh Some More” accompany the work. Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications

Sharing art with art lovers at the intersection of the literary and visual arts is something Jordan McRae thinks is truly innovative. He’s one of many artists featured in Conjuring Presence, an exhibition of visual art and poetry featuring George Mason University students, faculty, and alumni at the Fenwick Gallery in Fenwick Library on the Fairfax Campus.

“My inspiration for creative writing––in particular, poetry–– has returned to me. It had been a while since I wrote creatively, let alone for something that would be publicly shown,” said McRae, a graduate student in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ Arts Management Program. “I wanted to challenge myself to start writing again, and this exhibition was the perfect opportunity.”

“Conjuring Presence” features work from nine pairs of artists and poets that speaks to ideas of presence, absence, erasure, and creation. Curator and Mason alum Jessica Kallista, MFA Creative Writing ’02, asked each participant to consider the possibilities and manifestations of presence: “What does it mean to become mindful of the presence of others and the need to work against erasure? Who decides whether some people are or are not allowed to be present to occupy spaces in the arts and academia? How do we acknowledge the past, work for a just future, and still ground ourselves in the present?”

School of Theater faculty member and visual artist Deb Sivigny created the sculptures Caught, Aloft, and Pause (detail above) in collaboration with Mason alum and poet Holly Mason Badra, whose poem “An Aubade with Grain, Gold, and Feather” accompanies the work. Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications

The pairs responded with works including sculpture, textiles, poetry, video performances, and artificial intelligence (AI) “metahumans” that speak with the voices of many. Among the participants are current students and alumni from Mason’s School of Art, Creative Writing program, and Arts Management program, as well as faculty in poetry, game design, theater, and visual art.

So much of the history of art exhibitions, and academia, is problematically notable for who is excluded,” said Kallista, who teaches in Mason’s School of Art. “I worked consciously as a curator of this exhibition to conjure the future we want to see, a future that is diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible to all.”

Kallista said that the exhibit is an intentional effort to pivot toward an inclusive future that invites, elevates, appreciates, and applauds previously excluded voices. “The exhibition is exciting, and the collaborations are phenomenal, demonstrating that diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are the secret so many of us have been shouting: We can do much more amazing work when all voices that believe in equity are invited to the table.”

Jax Ohashi, MFA sculpture major, was paired with poet and third-year MFA student Simonne Francis.

Mason MFA student and poet KS Keeney's poems “Midnight” and “Portrait of a Lover” accompanied videos by experimental multidisciplinary artist StrangeLens whose “Goatface La La Land” is pictured above. Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications

“The piece I made for this show, which fittingly takes place in a university library, resembles the form of a book,” Ohashi said. “The ties for the accordion pages reference the form of butterflies, a universal symbol of hope, travel, and change.”

Fenwick Gallery Manager Stephanie Grimm, art and art history librarian, said that this year’s works are engaging with AI and game-based technologies, like Mason alum Boris Willis and Vivek Narayanan’s Encounters, which features “metahumans” narrating a series of texts by the artists.

Angela Terry, an MFA graphic design student, produced an image, a school photo of herself in grade school. “I thought the innocence of youth would be a great offset of something hidden that should have a presence. The pink polka dots are there for decoration, to create a distraction. The white text stating, ‘i am here,’ conjures presence by letting the viewer know something is there,” Terry said.

McRae worked with Terry to develop a co-created project. In this project, Terry produced a visual arts piece, and McRae produced a poem.

“I wanted to center this poem on my meditation practice and how I came to meditation,” McRae said. “Radical Honesty aims to show my internal progression with my mindfulness journey. “

Many of the works can be viewed online through Mason Exhibitions, and the full exhibit can be seen in Fenwick Gallery through Dec. 11.