A great part of the fall travel that brings us into so many classrooms and guidance offices each year is that we get to catch up with SMFA alumni as they spread out across the country and the world. This time I visit with Sena Wataya, BFA ‘14.
Last week (at the end of a string of visits through Connecticut and New York) I had the chance to catch up with recent graduate Sena Wataya at the ceremony for the International Sculpture Center’s 22nd Annual Outstanding Student Achievement Awards in Contemporary Sculpture. Sena’s piece, Empty Flag (#1-27), featured a thicket of amassed flags captured in concrete. Their contingent forms had been immortalized (the delicate folds which spoke of the flags’ presence as objects in the world) while the symbolic part of their existence (the colors and designs, and the political and social meanings conveyed by them) had been muted, nullified, or effaced. Sena speaks about a “flip” in his work, “an event that perceptually reverses the experience of something so that known becomes unknown, left becomes right, and head becomes tail.” This “flip” was at the core of his work at SMFA as well. In pieces that ranged from sculpture to painting, installation to printmaking, Sena deftly undermined our expectations of materials, often leaving a viewer contemplating whether what they were viewing was a sculpture, a painting, or a drawing. Sena’s ability to work powerfully across disciplines led him to win both the Esther Bergstein Painting Award and the Chan Sculpture Award while attending SMFA.
Sena Wataya: Empty Flag (#1-27). 2015-2016. Wood, metal, canvas and cement. Dimensions variable.
The day before the ISC award ceremony I had the good fortune to visit Matthew Barney’s ‘Facility of DECLINE’ show at Gladstone Gallery. This restaging of Barney’s 1991 New York debut featured an audacious mix of references to Oakland Raider Jim Otto, Harry Houdini, Barney’s own career as a star college athlete, and various internal and external bodily functions. Barney’s materials included everything from graphite and video to petroleum jelly, prosthetic plastic, tapioca, and cast sucrose. This kind of material experimentation made Matthew Barney a great choice for one of Sena’s summer internships while attending SMFA. Sena served as a studio assistant to Barney, working on his massive ‘River of Fundament’ project. (If you get a chance to see the 6-hour film, keep an eye out for Adam ‘Legs’ Cowell, our Welding Shop Technician – I jumped out of my seat when he appeared onscreen!) Sena’s work continues to embody a similar fearlessness in incorporating materials both high and low, working with traditional media alongside insulation foam, latex gloves, toilet paper rolls, safety tape, and sponges.
Matthew Barney: Facility of DECLINE. Gladstone Gallery.
The International Sculpture Center organizes their awards exhibition each year in order to offer “a glimpse into the future of contemporary sculpture.” They choose from among hundreds of domestic and international students who have been nominated by faculty members representing art programs from around the world. Sena is one of 16 award winners this year.
Congratulations to Sena! I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of his work on our future trips.