New exhibition celebrates Virginia

In new Ruffin Gallery sculpture collection, U.Va. grads showcase innovative art experiments

"Touched by Virginia," an exhibition displayed in Ruffin Gallery through Oct. 22, celebrates Virginia through work collected from artists who have a connection to the University. Featuring contributions from University alumni, "Touched by Virginia" also featured a Final Friday reception at the University Art Museum, as well as artist talks and a "Firework Drawing Workshop" by Rosemarie Fiore. This group sculpture exhibition, curated by Assoc. Prof. William Bennett, is a testament to the inspiration provided by the University.

True to its name, the collection echoes a sense of touch - both of being touched by one's time at Virginia and also of carrying that unique touch toward the greater world. The works presented, which range from Fiore's psychedelic 'pyrotechnic' photoscapes to Judith Leemann's small, city-like constructions, are not connected by obvious visual tropes, but rather by what lies behind the pieces themselves: the collective experiences of the artists who created them, all of whom were influenced by their time at the University.

Speaking to the multiplicity of these experiences, the exhibition itself is fragmented, from the poetry written by the artists about their own work to the tactful arbitration of sculptures and installations. Maya Mackrandilal, for example, incorporates an assortment of mediums through the creation of "performance collages" that focus on dance to deliver their message of gracefully disturbed beauty. For Mackrandilal, "Touched by Virginia" must be an excavation and exploration of one's own roots, as she argues in her poetic catalogue to the exhibit: "My blood remembers that intimacy/ Do I reject it, in order to be whole?/ Or do I wander the borderlands - neither one thing, nor the other."

This notion of exploring one's roots is perhaps the best way to approach the exhibition. Certainly, Ashley Williams' Teeth Carved Out of Forest is indicative of this bodily, primeval take on sculpture, a take on the evolution of contemporary art and the evolving relationships between humans and a perpetually beastly world. The exhibition also raises the question of how daily life intersects with these new conventions of art, with sculpture that encompasses firework, muslin and even dog fur on a canvas.

Perhaps because of this commitment to tactile imagery, "Touched by Virginia" remains a collection of varied objects, and, subsequently, of varied ideas. The artists, though united by their connections to the University and by similar approaches to quintessential doubts of art, have become unique individuals with different journeys through life. They show how the University acts as an origin point and how college is a sort of fundamental frame to the people we become. Each piece is a very different sensory journey through Virginia that strives to connect the most important aspects of separate lives.

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