CCAD MFA students make the consumption connection at SOFA Chicago

Installation view of Contemporary Consumption by CCAD's MFA students at SOFA Chicago


What does it mean for a society and a culture when consuming is as easy as a click of a mouse or a touch of a smartphone screen and digital tools become more and more infiltrated in our lives?

Students and recent alumni in Columbus College of Art & Design’s Master of Fine Arts in Visual Arts: New Projects, tasked at SOFA (Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design) Connect Fair in Chicago with creating a concept utilizing “seating,” “lighting,” and “object,”—in other words, to create an area for people to relax, enjoy, and contemplate—made an installation that investigated consumption, contemporary society and culture (and gave them a place to charge their cell phones).

Their work, Contemporary Consumption: The Ease and Regrets of Online Purchasing, was influenced by the likes of artists and Columbus residents such as Ann Hamilton and CCAD Associate Professor of Fine Arts Danielle Julian Norton and New York City-based artist Josiah McElheny.


The dome-shaped object they created served as the surface for projections of online purchases, as a lounge spot (complete with phone charging stations, and constructed from Amazon shipping boxes and other packing material) and as a place for viewers to see their own images merged with the sculpture, thanks to its Mylar surface. Audience members were also invited to write reviews of their online purchases, based off of the project’s library of images.

“Since our project was about online shopping, we tried to really stick with materials associated with that as much as possible. So we used boxes, pallets, bubble wrap, and even paper packing tape. The only real surprise was Mylar as an addition, but we liked that because of its reflective nature. Since we wanted our audience to consider and reflect on the topic, it seemed like a good fit,” said Assistant Director of Graduate Studies Molly Jo Burke.

“We did, initially, want to work more with digital vs. analog, and actually have moving old-school film projectors, however, it wasn’t something we could do and maintain our budget, and we also didn’t know for sure if we would be successful with it,” she said.

Since 1994, the annual SOFA Fair in Chicago focuses on 3-D artwork that crosses the lines of fine art, decorative art, and design, and each year draws about 80 dealers and 35,000 attendees. Fair sales are estimated at $15 million to $20 million.

“It’s a place where students can view how artists and designers make money through galleries and dealers. They are exposed to it over a number of days, they see the setup, the selling that occurs, and then the take down. It’s a little like seeing the mess that makes the magic,” said Burke. The works at SOFA are the kind that help artists pay the mortgage, Burke said. Attending the event, she said, helps MFA students gain perspective about “what it takes to survive in the art world, what kind of balance is necessary. It also shows them how hard a gallerist will work for your art.”

And with the CONNECT project, Burke said, students learn how to navigate a collaborative group project, specifically one that can withstand wear and tear from the public for five days. They also compete with five other schools for a prize (although even being selected to participate is a big deal), they gain experience talking about their work to visitors, and some students also participate in a panel discussion, so they practice public speaking in a more formal setting.

The MFA students also gained experience in dealing with the logistics of an installation happening far from home, and that comes with challenges in terms of parking, moving materials, and more. Despite the inherent headaches that come with such obstacles, the students, to a one, found their time worthwhile and are encouraging first-year MFA students to participate again in 2019, Burke said.

“I asked them if they felt like they learned a lot and it was worth it, and every single one stated they couldn’t believe how much they learned, and they hoped that we would keep entering the competition,” she said.

This year’s SOFA Connect participants were: Yajim Amadu, Sahar Fadaian, Faith Goodman, Grace Korandovich, Yae Reem Lee, Xiaoshuo (Eric) Mei, Jiahao Peng, and Danielle Wells (all MFA, 2019); Phillip Weasley (MFA, 2020); Nathan Gorgen (MFA, 2012) and Paul Tenwalde (MFA, 2018); and faculty advisors Molly Jo Burke and Adjunct Instructor John Cairns.

Photo and video by Xiaoshuo (Eric) Mei (MFA, 2019).

The MFA team’s work will be on view at Chroma: Best of CCAD on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.

Learn more about CCAD’s Master of Fine Arts in Visual Arts: New Projects or apply here.