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New Currents in Contemporary: UNC-Chapel Hill Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition

CHAPEL HILL, NC.- Each spring, the Ackland Art Museum at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill presents New Currents in Contemporary Art, an exhibition of works by graduating UNC-Chapel Hill master of fine arts students. Marking the culmination of a two-year program, this exhibition introduces seven emerging artists who interpret ideas ranging from the personal to the political in a wide variety of media, styles, and approaches. Organized by Barbara Matilsky, curator of exhibitions at the Ackland, New Currents in Contemporary Art features the work of artists John Hill Jr., Gretchen Huffman, Nestor Armando Gil, Angela Grisales, Erin Paroubek, Edie Shimel, and Dave Sinkiewicz.

"The Ackland is pleased to present the work of these seven exciting new artists," said Ackland Director Emily Kass. "The ambition, maturity, and skill on display in this exhibition are profound and impressive."

The first work that visitors encounter in the exhibition is the cab of a 1982 International eighteen-wheeler sited on the front lawn of the Ackland. This piece, Dave Sinkiewicz's Watchtower, is a fascinating mixed-media installation. The interior of the truck, which will be open to the public, is a reproduction of the cabin of Dr. Theodore Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber. Replicas of Kaczynski's personal possessions - including his ascetic bunk - fill the rear of the truck, while the front holds a video mounted in the truck's windshield, weaving together footage of roadways in both Chapel Hill and Baghdad. This distinctive contrast in technology represents two divergent ways in which Kaczynski could have engaged his genius: either as a social outcast - the path he eventually chose - or as an integrated part of society, a path that could have directed his skills towards the good of mankind.

War is also referenced in Nestor Armando Gil's Incidents, an elegant fifteen-foot long scroll spilling from the ceiling to the gallery floor inked with handwritten descriptions of civilian deaths in Iraq. Drawing is a meditative act for Gil, who spends countless hours "marking time" and transcribing information culled from official reports as a way of "bearing witness" to the tragedy of war. The pillow upon which the artist kneels to create this ongoing calligraphic drawing is poignantly included as a part of the piece.

A playful spirit is evoked in Gretchen Huffman's mixed-media prints and drawings. Inspired by personal experiences, dreams, and stories, her work is packed with visual details that enrich both the narrative and composition. In Huffman's imaginary world, animals and humans often become interchangeable characters that express a wide range of emotions: awe, disgust, disbelief, and especially humor.

Fantasy and pattern are the subjects of John Hill Jr.'s intricately detailed drawings. Using archival colored pens, Hill documents his thoughts with virtuoso technique. Personal landscapes, densely compressed with people, places, and "the minutia of everyday life," are transformed into high relief when visitors don the 3-D glasses provided by the artist.

In Erin Paroubek's oil paintings, internal and exterior worlds converge in glowing color and textured surfaces. Canadian geese are a favorite subject, serving as a metaphor for our inability to grasp absolute reality. In her compositions, Paroubeck relishes the layering of patterns, which become a stabilizing element both visually and psychologically.

In Coppice, a black felt installation hanging from the ceiling, Angela Grisales merges nature and the human psyche. Fascinated by seed pods, fruits, insects, and fungi, the artist finds "beauty in the grotesque, warmth in weirdness, and solace in mystery." Viewers can enter an environment that is creature-like in form but soft and inviting. Within the gallery, Grisales creates an intimate space for quiet reflection.

Edie Shimel's black and white photographs are poignant elegies to the cycle of growth, decay, and destruction of civilization and the environment. Innovatively layering her own photography with appropriated imagery from the nineteenth century, the artist reinterprets The Course of Empire, a famous series of paintings by Thomas Cole. Recognized as the dean of American landscape painting, Cole was the most prominent artist to critique the destruction of nature during the Industrial Revolution. Although Shimel's subject matter is apocalyptic, the imagery is both mysterious and sublime.

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