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MFA Thesis Exhibition

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An MFA student reflects

Words & illustration by Eric Baskauskas
Photos by Alli Berry

It’s funny. I ditched the working world to come to graduate school so I could avoid feeling like a piece of machinery for a couple of years. I guess it worked, but I must admit that the MFA Thesis Exhibition 2011 installation has left me feeling like I just got churned out of a meat grinder.

That sounds worse than it really is. In fact, it’s a very efficient and relatively painless meat grinder. All people involved in the exhibition process were incredibly pleasant and helpful, from the exhibition staff, to the Media Center folks, to the security guards, and everyone in-between and beyond. As expected with any huge production, I observed plenty of difficulties, but as far as I can tell, each was resolved calmly and effectively. It’s a product of the fact that they do this every year, and that by the time we’re done installing I’m sure they’re already looking toward next year’s show. Hence the feeling of being processed. It’s a privilege to get chewed up and spit out by such a well-oiled machine.

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But if the MFA show is the meat grinder, then the School itself is the slaughterhouse, and I’ve got a bone to pick. Have you heard of those curved pathways for the cows? They make them that way at the stockyards so the cows can’t see the blood-curdling instruments of death that await them at the end of the line. A stress-free cow makes for a tasty steak. They leisurely round curve after curve until, suddenly, they are decapitated. In contrast, here at SAIC they set you up on a straight-line death march toward the end. “MFA show” this and “Thesis” that. I understand that the whole reason we undertake graduate study is to produce a thesis, sure, but I think that the emphasis on final production has a paralyzing effect on a good number of the graduate students I’ve talked to in line. Around here, “What are you doing for the thesis show?” is a question far more common than “What are you researching?” I think that can dampen the exploratory spirit and make us feel, once again, like machines.

Fortunately, the clean exhibition process gets rid of much of the anxiety, and keeps us from running around like headless chickens.

You can’t have your burger and be it too.

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