The Raw deal [with video]

The Raw deal [with video]

Second-year art major Laura Lin is framing a handful of portraits—many watercolors, a few oil pastels, most still bearing the heavy pencil lashings of a young artist—on a makeshift table beneath a single lamp and an open ceiling. A mass of cords and lamps lay pooled around her feet, the inner workings of her exhibition space tugged out of their skin and heaped onto the half-painted floor in a big, intestinal mess.

Video from the opening reception at Rawstuff on March 21.

In the room adjacent to Lin, the curators of the current juried art show at Rawstuff—sculptor Jamin An, printmaker/cinematographer Sean Kelly, painters Heather Beardsley and Ashley Williams, all third-year art majors—are huddled in the center of their exhibition space, deciding what to make of it. Kelly looks at a group of paintings, runs his fingers through his red beard, remarks to An: “If you want to have these in dialogue…”

“Let’s just keep putting the work out and see what we have,” answers An, brushing back his shaggy black hair. The four grow quiet, reconsider their space.

Typically, UVA art students wait until their fourth year to show their work; they amass a functional, expressive body of work and string it up at the UVA Off Grounds Gallery at the corner of Main Street and McIntire Road. But Rawstuff’s show is more of a Frankensteinian free-for-all than a functional body, a collection of spare limbs and extra organs strung up where room allows, thanks mainly to a stroke of good luck.

Works in progress: Beneath a gutted ceiling, UVA second-year Laura Lin puts the final touches on a painting for Rawstuff’s juried art exhibit.

This fall, UVA’s studio art program will relocate to Ruffin Hall, the program’s new $11.8 million home on Carr’s Hill. Last summer, associate professor of art William Bennett—also a member of Les Yeux du Monde—made his usual trip to Studio Arts, the supply store on West Main Street owned by local developer John Bartelt. “We’re in temporary facilities,” says Bennett during a phone interview with Curtain Calls. “And I was looking for a place where students could not only exhibit work, but make work.”

Bennett expressed as much to Bartelt, who purchased the Under the Roof furniture store across Main Street with architect Bill Atwood for $3.2 million last October. Bartelt plans to move his operation into the remodeled Roof space and, eventually, to turn the current Studio Arts space into an eight- to nine-story building. In the gap between the destruction of his current building and the creation of his new one, Bartelt offered to lease the top floor of the Under the Roof space to Bennett for the price of utilities. Bennett, long interested in expanding UVA’s art exhibitions beyond the perimeter of the campus, accepted.

The path to Rawstuff is as unexpected as its creation. A few days before they meet in person, CC asks An for directions to the space, and he receives the following abbreviated directions: “Rear side of Studio Arts store. Behind dumpster. Past trash. New parking garage looming. Up fire escape, to Rawstuff.”
Now, standing around a pile of paintings, prints and sketches of wildly varying quality—100 submissions in all, pared down from an original 180 submitted pieces—the foursome seems perplexed as to where to begin hanging, as if their journey to the space has left them too dizzy to begin. It is only days before the show opens, but Bennett told Curt that he will not renew the lease on the Rawstuff space; both Rawstuff and the Off Grounds Gallery will swap exhibits weekly from April until the end of May, and both will be vacant by June 1.

On one hand, the Rawstuff crew is inventing a gallery from scratch and destroying it only months later, too quickly to learn how to interact with their beloved monster. On the other, their enthusiasm lends the space a sort of identity: A fake wall in the space’s gut has been sliced in the shape of a man, the silhouette of cheap, white wood pulled out, yellow insulation puffing out like a dissected stuffed animal. There are plans to screen six short films on a loop during the show. The floor is half-painted and, while An tells Curt that it will be finished by the time the show opens on Friday, March 21, CC wishes the four would leave it be.

Lin finishes framing her paintings, bids farewell to the Rawstuff staff and exits the space, leaving down the red, metal stairwell that runs up the back of Studio Art. Curt decides to abandon the space as well, but stops at a pair of paintings by a girl named Rachel Spence, another second-year student. He reads a note attached to one of her paintings, written in a looping, juvenile script: “The piece can be hung with pushpins or nails or any other simple hanging aid.” There is no solid identity here for gallery or artists—not yet—but there is something being made.

Navigating the Book Fest

Where is it?, you’re wondering. The author interviews? The schedule? The words about words, the text about texts, the requisite Virginia Festival of the Book write-up?

Curt has a question for you, readers: How do you decide what to read? You pick a book or a writer that appeals to your tastes in humor, narrative, whatever, and then try to cram it into your free time. You struggle to polish off a few pages during lunch and curse yourself when you can’t work through a full chapter before bed each night. And the writers don’t have it much easier.

Take Jennifer Zajac, who started her first novel a few years ago. Between her work hours as an editor at SNL Financial, Zajac pens the best type of clear-headed motherhood essays for WINA-1070 and local National Public Radio station WVTF. Rather than crank out a half-hearted novel, Zajac compiled some of her most enjoyable essays and published I Read It Somewhere, So It Must Be True, which she’ll sign during the festival’s book fair at the Omni Hotel from 9am to 5pm on Saturday, March 29.

Or, there’s Taylor Antrim, a graduate of UVA’s creative writing program with a master’s degree in fiction, back in town to read from his first novel, The Headmaster’s Ritual, on Thursday, March 27. (For a complete listing of authors and events, visit Currently an editor at ForbesLife, the 33-year-old still fields loads of freelance assignments (read his February profile of actress Rachel Weisz in Men’s Vogue) and is already off and running on his second novel, set in New York City following a flu pandemic. How does a writer pick his battles?

In the end, readers, the Book Fest rises and falls based on the books you’ve read and the books you haven’t, what you can cram into the word counts of your lives. And Curt’s word count is up; choose wisely, local literati.

What books are on your nightstand? E-mail with arts news and book recommendations.

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