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In the Studio: The Unreliable Mind

Sunni Forcier, Erin Carty and Madison Luetge tackle notions of fleeting, fallible memory.

As we prepare for the 41st M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition on March 29, our “In the Studio” series gives readers the chance to get to know the artists behind the work. See what inspires our School of Art grad students!

Sunni Forcier, Erin Carty and Madison Luetge’s evocative work captures the concept of memories. Through sculptures, paintings, videos and photographs, the artists explore how illness, longing and distance can reshape one’s mind, blurring the past and present.

Forcier’s studio walls are covered in manipulated photos and etchings, browned by acids — no borders, no frames. The pictures hang in clusters that spill into and away from another, leaving a mournful space in between them.

Across the Fine Arts Building in the graduate painting studios, Carty’s images are layered with iridescent blues, golds and purples that glint and wink in the light, adding depth and texture to soft, almost wistful, scenic shots.

In Luetge’s studio, nostalgia reigns supreme. Closeup paintings of restless eyes and worried lips live beside biting sculptures and, though varied in scale and material, all of the work feels intimate. The sculptures are made of distinctly personal found objects — cigarette butts, pastel wedding ring boxes and teeth — and several paintings incorporate handwritten text, scrawled letters that invite viewers into a fragmented story.

Learn more about Forcier, Carty and Luetge in our Q&As below!

Sunni Forcier, Photography/Digital Media 

How would you describe your art style and work?
I was talking with someone the other day about how my work is about collections, collecting imagery or books or things to put in the books. But my work is also super personal. All of these ideas that tie together are something close to me. It’s like a whisper from me about myself to the viewer. 

What concepts are you working with?
I’m working with the idea of my grandfather, who has dementia, with these photo-based etchings. All of these prints revolve around that idea. Some of them are family photos, and some are photos that I’ve taken. I think that this concept has allowed me to work with my family’s archive in a really interesting way, and I hope that more people can get something from the work. 

How are you handling the idea of something so intangible like memory in this work?
The installation is really important to me because that’s how the viewers are going to interact with the work. I think that the arrangement can be helpful with this piece because it is about deterioration and memory. I’m arranging them in clusters, and then kind of fading them off into one another.

Some of the prints will have bigger paper. Some will have closer borders, and I’m using different color paper, too, as a way to convey this message of uneasiness, of my grandfather’s failing memory — some things don’t look the same. I’m not going to frame these prints; I’m going to pin them. The little pins just makes it more intimate for the viewer to be able to come close to it. You can see the deckled edges and the embossment. Those are some of the little things that I enjoy about the process. 

Erin Carty, Painting

What are you currently working on?
I have two series going on. One is my thesis work, and the other is for a show opening in the fourth floor gallery the same night. Both of them deal with the concept of in between space — a liminal space — the middle ground between two objects, and the comfort that I feel there.

For the thesis show, I’m taking photos of aerial views from planes, and combining them with photos my parents took when they were younger or with my own photos to create these new places and new memories. Sometimes I’ll find photos from the same places that were taken at different times, so when I combine them it creates a new memory where the past and the present meet. 

What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
By bringing the past and present together, I create these non-accessible places. The viewer will never be able to access them, because those moments were only available at that time.

However, I want my viewers to experience that same sense of familiarity in unknown places that I feel. This series evokes my feelings into an actual image, rather than just me dealing with my feelings internally. Sometimes it feels that I’m all over the place, but I feel really secure in that middle ground, and I hope people get a sense of that space and comfort. 

In addition to painting and photography, you also work in video and screen printing. How has the graduate program encouraged your interdisciplinary approach to art making?
I’m really grateful that it’s a three-year program. The extra year helped me explore different ideas and new concepts. I had the chance to try things I hadn’t done before, to take classes I wouldn’t have considered taking, like “Re-membering & Forgetting” with Tia Simone Gardner and screen printing with Pat Masterson. I like working with professors from different disciplines because they give you a new perspective and allow you to consider your work in new ways. Due to this exploration, I became a stronger artist and know that my practice has expanded into something that I never thought it would become. I'm really appreciative of the time I had here and the people I've met.

Madison Luetge, Painting 

What themes or ideas are you exploring in your work?
Right now, I’m working with photos I bought on eBay. I’m able to change the narrative in each one by blocking out a figure or space with blue pigment. It gives the images this distance, but the pigment is also shiny, so it draws your attention to it. Mainly, it’s about misremembering the past and glorifying your memory, even though you can’t always trust it.

The text-based paintings, and some of the images, which are supplemental to the text, are about the idea that none of us are strangers. The text is always taken from somewhere else, someone else’s handwriting — usually anonymous — and then I take it, edit it and try to figure out what I want it to say. 

What artists do you look to for inspiration?
Tracey Emin is amazing. I love her. She’s such a badass. Also Sarah Lucas, in terms of the objects I make, and Jenny Saville in terms of painting. I love John Singer Sargent; he does this incredible thing with fabric and flesh that I haven’t seen anywhere else. 

What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
I want them to see more than just a strange painting of cigarettes or cotton candy spelling something out. I want someone to be able to walk into my studio and be able to find at least one thing that they can relate to and realize we’re not really strangers; we’ve all shared in this experience. I want them to click with at least one thing and say, “I’ve felt that way before; I can connect with this.” I just want to make a connection. That’s all it is.

The M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition opens at Blaffer Art Museum on Friday, March 29 at 6 p.m. and will be on view through Saturday, April 13.