Last Friday I had the opportunity to attended the reception for the graduate shows by Manuel Pecina and Jana Miller at The University of Texas at Dallas. Both shows were visually stimulating, in very different ways, and I’m amazed at how they played off each other so well.

Pecina’s works entitled The Arena consist of printed photographs on stretched canvases of a performance shown at UTD about two years ago called There is Never a Reference Point. The performance is based on the journal writings and watercolors of Jamie Dakis a woman diagnosed with Dissociative Personality Disorder (more commonly known as Multiple Personalities). I remember seeing the performance vividly because rather than normal seating the audience is seated on stage and immersed in the performance with the actors all around you.

Pencina’s work really captures the essence of the performance with its blurred figures and vague subject matter. His pieces also feel oddly biographical (perhaps due to being shown with Jana Miller’s work) telling a narrative the viewer is a part of yet separate from. The tension in narrative plays right along with the tension in the performance. I remember being overwhelmed at times by all the action going and Pecina’s ability to capture that feeling makes his body of work a treat to behold.

Miller’s show is equally compelling, consisting of several photos of her grandmother Jo Harvey Sullivan, some of her shoes and a few sweaters. Miller has photographed her grandmother performing common everyday tasks, but displays them with multiple Jo’s in a different phase of the task. The result is an army of grandmothers preparing breakfast or checking the mail that conjure up memories of my own grandmothers who seem like little armies always working away at this or that.

By far though, the best piece are the photos of Sullivan’s feet displaying her various shoes. The piece conjures up the cliche “walk a mile in a (wo)man’s shoes” and are enough to make any podophobic squirm.

The shows are up until September 19th and the Visual Arts Gallery at UTD. Go check them out.

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