Art Writing | MFA Program

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The MFA program in Art Writing is one of the only graduate writing programs in the world that focuses specifically on criticism. This program is not involved in “discourse production” or the prevarications of curatorial rhetoric, but rather in the practice of criticism writ large, aspiring to literature.

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Dressing for Space: a response to Ralph Lemon’s “Scaffold Room” at The Kitchen

by Jonelle Mannion (Class of 2017)

Ralph Lemon

Ralph Lemon. Scaffold Room. 2015. Installation view, The Kitchen, October 30 - December 5, 2015. Pictured: Okwui Okpokwasili. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu.

There is a scream that goes on until it feels normal, until the alarm reflex has long passed. Not obviously tethered to a body, this scream fills The Kitchen’s vast performance space, a black box at the center of which sits a two-story scaffold-structure, moodily lit. This space is the setting for the performance element of Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room, which exists as a complex of readings, performances and an exhibition, occupying both floors of The Kitchen. The show unfolds in two distinct halves, the first performed by Okwui Okpokwasili, and the second by April Matthis. The scream belongs to Matthis, but she has retreated to some recess of this stark space, and its impact is undiluted by an attachment to any visual source—the scream itself becomes a sonic environment that is lived in, as if its shrill frequency were a default setting. One stops waititng for it to end, submitting instead to a passive state of emergency.

Another moment that climbs inside of time and stretches it out: Matthis arrives on stage, profoundly unhurried, in the charged wake of Okpokwasili’s performance. She sits on the floor and props herself up, her legs splayed out like a doll. She begins to absently emit the words of Beyoncé’s “Party,” which escape form her lax mouth at the pace and pitch of a leaking air mattress. Her body is not invested in enlivening the song’s delivery, or in moving it along. She looks at her nails.

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