ATC Offers Some Promising Previews of the MFA Candidates
By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

What is ATC? Advancement to Candidacy is a week of exhibitions in the San Jose State Galleries that allow faculty, students and visitors to see current work by graduate students who want approval to proceed to their “theses” — the final body of work that comprises their exit exhibition. This year’s presentations were all over the map in terms of interesting art. At the worst, sometimes it was a one-liner, or boring and meaningless, amateur and poorly crafted, unfocused and/or overly sentimental. The good news is that this work still has time to turn around. And, on the up side of ATC, I found several fascinating shows that made the trip to San Jose State’s Galleries quite rewarding.

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Dina Ropele attempts a handstand with high heels on her hands in her short film, Practice Makes Perfect.

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Ropele’s Nylon, for Lack of a Better Title

The short films of Dina Ropele advance a feminist complaint against the demands of fashion, objectification of women and erosion of self-image. Ropele’s performances in her own films are moving. In Practice Makes Perfect, she wears a pair of high heeled shoes on her hands and makes repeated attempts at handstands. Frequently she falls painfully. Occasionally she is able to balance for a few seconds. Nylon, for Sake of a Better Title is very short. Ropele pulls a pair of panty hose over her head, distorting her face, and pulls it off again. It is simple, reminds us of childhood games, and it is like Practice Makes Perfect, in that there is a perverse comedy embodied in the performance. In How I Learned to Love Myself, Ropele is seen from the back embracing herself and kissing her own arms. At the end she turns around and is smeared with lipstick — dry, ironic humor.

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Ropele with razor.

Ropele’s self examinations turn darker in the next two films. No Escaping Myself is difficult to watch as Ropele slaps herself forcefully on one cheek and then the other for an extended period of time. Even more excruciating is Skin Deep. The viewer fears the worst as Ropele is first seen with a razor blade. The cutting is partially obscured because of the camera view, as one hand appears to carve words into the other wrist.

Dina Ropele manages to present many of the familiar metaphors that reference patriarchal exploitation or repression of women. She enacts them with ultimate seriousness and without sentiment or over-statement of the issues. Her films bring the viewer into an identification with the victim of social abuse and failing self-esteem, without preaching or proposing a remedy.

Pantea Karimi continues her biographical journey in a new series of prints. Again we see a few references to the artist herself as an actor in these black and white screenprints. Mostly, the images are dated photos, illustrations from historic Persian newspapers and adopted familiar symbols while the illegible text mimics the gestures of Persian script. The whole format of the prints is borrowed from these newspapers that have fascinated the artist since childhood. Karimi has stained the papers with Persian tea to create a sense of discoloration through time.

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Pantea Karimi turns herself into the eyes and ears of the news in the context of old fashioned news pages from Iran.

In the context of over fifty years of tense relations between Iran and the USA, many of the prints seem to address the issues that are underlying the headlines. One of her prints repeats a silhouette of the artist herself with her head as a surveillance camera with gigantic ears. The subject of her observations is unclear here, but we may assume she observes the political terrain of the United States and the Iran of her personal history.

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Karimi introduces current issues to the format of old newspapers.

An interesting companion image shows the same surveillance camera aimed at the chimneys of nuclear power plants. A few little bombs are flying around the print like black birds. Of course, nuclear power and weaponry are a major point of contention between Iran and the USA. Figures that are both angelic and demonic appear to be engaged in the power struggle as observed by the inanimate and impartial camera. What does it say to discover the current concerns of international relations in a format of early newspapers? At least, we can say that looking over our shoulder at the military potential of our neighbors never ceases.

Thomas Asmuth is a graduate student in the Cadre Program. Cadre is primarily aimed at actions that can be executed in the digital realm, as broad as that may be. Increasingly, Cadre artists seem to favor social interventions and political activism. Asmuth’s ATC “exhibition” was a mock office in which the artist installed himself, with brochures and enrollment forms for his ADA: Artist Donor Alliance. Taking two issues that are of genuine concern to the artist — the social/business structures of Silicon Valley and human organ donation — he created a fictitious Organ Procurement Corporation. With convincing salesmanship, Asmuth signed up eager organ donors to what purported to be a worthy cause and an investment. Presumably artists might realize their investment at the time they needed an organ themselves or their heirs might collect once the artist was deceased, leaving a cadaver with valuable, healthy organs to distribute.

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Thomas Azmuth adopts the role of pitchman.

Did the eager and earnest who signed up during Asmuth’s performance ask the questions that would have alerted them to the fact that this was all an act? Did they read all the fine print that might suggest contraindications to the honorable donor alliance? Did they read between the lines? Although most visitors to Gallery 5 took Thomas Azmuth’s sales pitch with a grain of salt, I assume, the answer to the above questions is no, no and no. A few people did take it seriously, signed up, and were chagrined to learn that they had been “taken”. And this too, was part of Asmuth’s intentional exploration of the relationship between corporations or legal entities of any kind and an unsuspecting public. Witness the recent housing debacle in which thousands of anxious future home-owners ignored the reality of their income prospects vis-a-vis a looming balloon payment. Further, they signed the pages and pages of documents at closing of escrow that no one ever reads.

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Is the potential client delighted to be supporting a worthy cause or merely chuckling to himself?

Performance art requires good actors, setting the stage, and a context that will be acceptable to the audience. Somehow, in an office in an unlikely place, with a salesman we already knew as an artist, without a suit, but with a directness and sincere approach, this odd pitch generated more than a test of the gullibility of gallery goers. Incidentally, we learned something more about human organ trade.

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