In the sound sculpture “Gnaw,” a demented stuffed animal shakes while making weird chewing noises. In “Cradle,” plastic fingers are hot-glued together to form an organic tower that’s equal parts disturbing and comforting. In “Soap,” a rainbow of soap baseballs questions the masculine tradition of sports. And in “Bunting for Babylon II (Coke & Crystals),” a patriotic decoration is reimagined as a critique of runaway capitalism.
These pieces—by John McVay, Emily Sarten, Aaron Cowan and Erin Drew, respectively—are just a selection of the mind-bending art on display in What Seems Like Forever at Test Site Projects. Along with photography by Keeva Lough and textile collage by Laurence Myers Reese, Forever features work exclusively by UNLV students pursuing an MFA in art.
Test Site Projects is a fine art printmaking and publishing house run by Las Vegas artist Erik Beehn, who also teaches art at UNLV. Located just beyond the action of Main Street and the Arts District, its unassuming facade (the former location of Blackbird Studios) hides a paradise of creation. In addition to studios for him and his assistants, Beehn’s space contains a dizzying array of equipment and machines to make the highest quality prints in a variety of methods, such as screen printing and lithography. The products of past collaborations, with artists such as Justin Favela, Rodrigo Lara, Ayanah Moor, Amanda Browder and more, line the hallways.
Beehn works with clients on a national level, but his front gallery allows for connection with the local community.
The inspiration behind curating Forever stemmed from Beehn’s interest in learning more about this cohort of students in the graduate program. Due to COVID-19, the gallery had gone dark for a year. And planning a reentry show had Beehn thinking about “making work in a time of crisis.”
Of course, these artists have endured the challenges of making art and going to school during the pandemic. But Beehn says it’s more than that for the six artists featured in Forever. “They’re all in the midway of their MFA,” Beehn says. “And I feel like in graduate school, people go through multiple crises over that time.”
Beehn says he selected artists he felt were at a turning point or were experiencing that critical moment of growth when things are finally starting to change. The title, What Seems Like Forever, could refer to the pandemic lockdown or the feeling of school or perhaps life or even the span of a civilization. “It seems like it goes on forever while you’re in [graduate school],” Beehn says. “Then it seems like it’s over before you know it.”
The artists explore ideas that seem both eternal and fleeting. Gender expectations, for example, once seemed to be set in stone. No longer. For example, Reese’s “New Hanky Code” consists of jean pockets carrying different styles of handkerchiefs. It hearkens back to the gay community’s secret mode of communication, necessitated by an intolerant society. With the emergence of internet communication, the need for a complex set of secret signals was replaced by the ease of dating apps, which now also seem like they’ll exist forever, until the next thing comes to replace it.
Following a similar path, Lough plays with the idea of permanence. Everybody assumes a photo lasts forever, especially if it’s online, but in “Optical Plastic Surgery (Vaseline),” portraits are faded, ghostly and all but destroyed. The subjects are barely visible, perfected into oblivion. It’s as if an Instagrammer filtered them out of existence.
“In a weird way, I felt that the work tied together, although they’re searching on very different points of the conversation,” Beehn says of the artist-students in Forever. “I think it’s an interesting show.”
What Seems Like Forever Through April 30, Monday-Saturday by appointment. Test Site Projects, 1551 S. Commerce St., 702-706-8512, testsiteprojects.com