M.F.A. Theses 2012

2012 M.F.A. Degree Recipients:

Marie Bourgeois | Benjamin Funke | Christine Lenzen | Jessica Zekus | Jackson Zorn

Marie Bourgeois (M.F.A., graphic design, 2012)

Fierce Cosmetics Campaign

The cosmetics industry is notorious for portraying unrealistic paradigms of feminine beauty in advertisements. Through elevated promises in copy lingo and heavily manipulated imagery, cosmetics ads contribute to the establishment of female-worth as a surface feature, held to unattainable standards. The ugly reality of the cosmetics industry is that many beauty products contain concerning levels of skin irritants and toxins. As women consume certain makeup products, their skin could be fed harmful carcinogens or chemicals that cause premature aging, rashes. The cosmetics industry is highly under-regulated by the FDA and many toxic chemicals do not appear in ingredient lists for beauty products.

The Fierce Cosmetics Campaign is the culmination of three years of exploration around the themes of advertising and identity. Not only does the work poke fun at elevated language and overtly seductive imagery in cosmetics ads, it also informs consumers about the dangers of toxic chemicals in makeup. This work focuses specifically on three big-name drugstore brands who are major offenders of using toxic preservatives. Three posters, along with a website, product stickers and magazine inserts, boast the most posh ways to contract cancer and acquire skin irritations. The sterile imagery is tarnished with printmaking techniques that are created using actual makeup materials. As a medium, makeup resembles paint, yet each beauty product contains its own unique texture and pungent smell. Removing these substances from their intended packaging highlights the product’s “ick” factor. In order to help viewers see the gelatinous gunk intended for faces in a more realistic light, this process of printing with makeup has been documented. The Fierce Cosmetics Campaign includes a combination of traditional visual communication approaches and guerilla tactics. The guerilla tactics act as a means of subverting ad messages at the points of consumer interaction. By jolting the viewer at an unexpected moment, the hold that the advertising fantasy has over a consumer can be broken, even if for an instant. The implementation of the guerilla portion of this campaign has also been documented.

By contrasting the unattainable images of femininity presented in make-up ads with the ugly reality that many beauty products contain toxins, the Fierce Cosmetics Campaign questions the out-of-control nature of ad-focused consumer culture and the graphic designer’s role in contributing to, as well as subverting, the advertising industry. Graphic design is at its best when it focuses on informing and aiding the public. This work sets out to explore ways graphic design can empower rather than manipulate.

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Marie Bourgeois | Benjamin Funke | Christine Lenzen | Jessica Zekus | Jackson Zorn

Benjamin Funke (M.F.A., sculpture, 2012)


Collectively, Kill Yr. Idols references the life and death of Kurt Cobain, a media icon whose life ended in tragedy.  Cobain’s suicide marked the end of an era in grunge music. In retrospect, this event came to emblemize the melding of genuinely independent punk music with the commercial mainstream.  While Cobain was alive, he frequently vocalized his criticisms of the corporate music industry. His disdain was aimed at corporate structures such as major record labels, commercial radio stations and MTV® — all entities that he was very much beholden to.   However, once Cobain signed over the rights to his music to the David Geffen Company in 1991 his control over his music began slipping away.  His independent punk ideology was engulfed by major corporations’ profit models.

Kill Yr. Idols alters and distorts the complete series of Nirvana music videos and album artworks produced during the band’s final years, during the period of its Geffen contract.  I altered the original images by using a practice called “data bending,” which involves the manipulation of a digital file’s source code (the zeros and ones).  When this code is selectively altered, the video becomes severely damaged, and the results can be almost unrecognizable.  The new data-bent imagery recalls hallucinatory images produced in the mental state known as hypnogogia, characteristic of the state in between alertness and sleep.  When altering these images I deliberately evoked this state to parallel the limbo moments Cobain must have experienced in the transitional space between life and death, when he had no control of what was going on around him. The videos are silent in order to reference the loss of Cobain’s independent voice during the period of the Geffen contract, however the sounds of the projectors dominates the space, amplifying the machines power over the images. 

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Marie Bourgeois | Benjamin Funke | Christine Lenzen | Jessica Zekus | Jackson Zorn

Christine Lenzen (M.F.A., photography, 2012)


My mother’s house is full of ghosts. These ghosts are not malevolent; they do not slam doors or flicker lights. Instead they live in photographs, letters, and trinkets collecting dust on the living room mantel. Objects and photographs become a placeholder for the memory of people who have passed. We project our remembrances on to them, allowing them to shoulder some of the weight of our memory. Not forgetting, but not fully remembering either.

Utilizing photographs taken from my deceased grandmother’s archive, my work draws from research on familial folklore, public and private memorial rituals, and contemporary photographic theory to explore the dichotomy of remembering and forgetting. Recent work, the series Re:Collections, explores this dichotomy through the subversion of traditional understanding of memorial, preservation, and the archive. Images evoking our culture’s collective memory (young adulthood, marriage, parenting, etc.) have been reproduced and are subsequently destroyed. This purposeful staining and destruction of the photographs alludes to the desire to forget the past. The stained photographs are then wrapped in cheesecloth and dipped in wax in an undermined attempt to preserve what is left of the image. Although the intent behind the gesture is to protect, the act only obscures the photographic traces further; denying full access to the images and the memories they presume to contain.

Flickr subscription set-Christine Lenzen Works


Marie Bourgeois | Benjamin Funke | Christine Lenzen | Jessica Zekus | Jackson Zorn

Jessica Zekus (M.F.A., ceramics, 2012)

Youthful Days

My work acknowledges the inherent complexities of childhood and activates our own bittersweet memories of it.  Not all childhood memories are filled with ‘lollipops and lullabies,’ though they are the ones we would most likely prefer to remember.  Our memories have an amazing capacity to recall the moments in our lives when we were the most emotionally affected.  Some of these moments we cherish, while others we would just as soon forget.  Our memories of both extremes (and everything in between) contribute to shaping who we are, how we see ourselves, and how we view others.  Childhood is a fragile time.  It is a time during which self-discovery is dependent on the presence and affirmation of others.

Clay as a material is also fragile.  Raw clay, like children, contains seeds of potential and, yet, both by nature are vulnerable; they cannot hide their imperfections.  My work celebrates this fragility of clay and the coiling process by allowing the material and the craft to be seen.  By exposing the coils, the history of each piece and the evidence of its maker are revealed.  The exterior surface records the impression of a thumb as it glides along the ropes of clay.  The layered surface looks knit-together as the coils wrap around each curve and bind every limb.  The malleability of the clay is restricted only by the handling of the coils.  It is my goal to preserve this hand-crafted method as well as enhance its capabilities.

Through the process of coiling and in keeping within the ceramics tradition, each child’s form is a completed vessel; the form begins with a pair of awkward feet and concludes with a deliberately curious gesture.  By specifically crafting an archetype of the child figure to be believable rather than literal, I have pushed the limits of how figurative a vessel can be.  My result is the abstract figure.  My work conveys the image of childhood, or youthful days, as perceived by the passage of time and the distortion of memory.  These ceramic figures exist in a peculiar reality that hovers somewhere between an unconscious daydream and a nostalgic experience.  When we ponder our days of youth gone by, our reflections radiate emotions of joy as well as sadness, the tenderness of love as well as the pain of loss.  What significance do we place on childhood?  How do we grapple with our memories? 

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Marie Bourgeois | Benjamin Funke | Christine Lenzen | Jessica Zekus | Jackson Zorn

Jackson Zorn (M.F.A., painting, 2012)

The Temptation to Exist

The bodies depicted in my work are desperately trying to find placement in an indefinite space. In this ambiguity, we can relate to the objects not only as slightly recognizable biology but beings that are alone, uncomfortable, and questioning their residency. They too exist lacking any guidance other than being tethered to their own physicality. These creations came out of the primordial mire and are base life. Though they may not be perfect evolutionary specimen with their gaping veins, fractured bones, and overly exposed organs, they have evolved to their evolutionary peak. They have evolved as far as they need to be. Simply to exist.

To these outsiders, Illusions and myths have been disregarded; to exist in the physical world is the end goal. Pre and Post existence is inconsequential. To not be physical is to not be at all.

The drawings firmly reject humanist conception of consciousness as exclusive to humans, instead focusing on the limitations, inevitable demise, and abjections of our base biology. The impermanence of the physical only proves how important it is to discuss, study, and understand.

I drew the compositions to spark recognition of pulsing forms from across the biological gamut. Fragments of internal organs, bone, insect casings, fur, antlers, tentacles, fissures, viscous liquids and a myriad of other bits and pieces to focus on our existence as beings that extend no further than our own physiology. We are without inheriting meaning.

As depicted, life is constantly growing. The temptation to exist is evident in all of my work. Proliferation is irrefutable. In the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm “The history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expandsto new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”*

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Marie Bourgeois | Benjamin Funke | Christine Lenzen | Jessica Zekus | Jackson Zorn