CCAD MFA candidates approach work in new ways for annual exhibition

The COVID-19 pandemic brought many changes for Columbus College of Art & Design Master of Fine Arts in Visual Arts candidates. Instead of working in their studio spaces, some students made art at home—at least for a period of time.

The artists have been creating smaller works and more of them, says MFA Professor and Chair
Kelly Malec-Kosak. This shift in scale may be the most obvious pandemic pivot in the 2021 CCAD MFA Thesis Exhibition, on view by appointment in CCAD’s Beeler Gallery Friday, April 2–Saturday, May 1, but the past year has also brought new ideas and inspiration in unexpected places.  

lydia prakel with their work threads

For instance, Callan Prakel (MFA, 2021), who was mentored by CCAD’s President, Dr. Melanie Corn, found it challenging to paint at the same scale from home as they’d been painting in the studio. While they wanted to continue to explore ideas of queer theory and identity politics in their work, the pandemic compelled them to consider what their practice looks like outside the studio, in isolation, in quiet.

“I wondered how my ideas would look in an installation-based project, or a 3D form?” Prakel says. 

Instead of painting, they began collecting, curating, and photographing objects from their queer community. Using donated pieces of clothing that held significant and sentimental value—items such as the first pair of men’s jeans someone bought after coming out, or a blouse someone wore after they started transitioning—Prakel began breaking down the fabric to create a pulp, which they then used to hand-make oversized sheets of paper. 

Looking closely, viewers will be able to see the individual threads running through the sheets, as well as embossed phrases. The subtle, subdued nature of the work tells a story of those in the LGBTQ+ community who are slowly allowing themselves to be seen.

detail of lydia prakels threads


detail of lydia prakels threads


“It’s about the importance of quiet conversations with those like you, communal experiences only known to those within the community, and reliance on simple, everyday objects to find moments of expression,” Prakel says. “Clothing plays an important role in the queer community and how we express ourselves, find comfort, individuality, and expression as a whole.”

Meredith Swortwood (MFA, 2021), used to spend about 15 to 20 hours a week in the studio, but being forced to leave that space helped her realize that being in a studio doesn’t actually fuel her creativity. 

“In a weird way, it really helped my practice,” says Swortwood, who studied zoology as an undergrad and got to know CCAD’s MFA program while working at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, when she would bring animals to CCAD’s drawing classes. “I realized that I really thrive in my practice when I am investigating things I care about, and those are usually always outside.” 

meredith swortwood working on floor

Swortwood felt particularly drawn to the garden she and her partner built, which is home to six chickens, raised gardens, flowerbeds, and patches of wildflowers. During her final semester, Swortwood began gathering plant materials from her winter garden—dried leaves and petals from her annuals and perennials—and printing with them.

“My apartment became a mad scientist’s dye and printing studio,” says Swortwood, who is interested in using art to explore how behaviors have consequences, especially within a microecosystem like a garden. Her final project will incorporate her garden printings on pieces of used cotton fabric—think old sheets and pillowcases—combined together into a large, 10-by-18-foot work. 

Witnessing these shifts and discoveries is a big part of what Jennifer Schlueter, Dean of Graduate Studies, loves about being an MFA thesis committee

chair at CCAD. 

Meredith Swortwood Detail

“A thesis mentor has the honor of witnessing, supporting and steering a student’s process of discovery,” Schlueter says. “I love being close up to a student finding their voice, their method, their why in the world.”

For this year’s exhibition, CCAD invited back the 2020 MFA cohort, many of whom missed the opportunity to show in Beeler Gallery last year due to the pandemic. Close to half of the 2020 graduates whose work is gallery-dependent came back to show, Malec-Kosak says. Nineteen artists, including 11 from this year and eight from last year, will exhibit work in genres including painting, sculpture, photography, video, fashion design, and illustration.

“What is fascinating to me is that everyone had starts and stops depending on what happened in their life, whether they had to quarantine or switch to online classes,” Malec-Kosak says, “and all of them created something amazing. And we get to see the artistic story of a moment in time through their work.”

Reserve a time to visit the in-person presentation.

Learn more about the Master of Fine Arts program at CCAD or apply here.

Photos, from top:

Callan Prakel (MFA, 2021) with their work Threads.

Detailed views of Threads by Callan Prakel (MFA, 2021) 

Meredith Swortwood (MFA, 2021) puts the finishing touches on Look Down.

Detailed views of Meredith Swortwood's Look Down.