‘Living Document’: MFA Interim Exhibition


Marco Lozzi

Art installations by Holly Rios on display during the Living Document exhibition at the Alvin Gittins Gallery in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Photo by Marco Lozzi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Heather Hopkins


On exhibition for the last time in “the old Gittins Gallery” is the MFA program’s annual interim showcase. As the name suggests, the “Living Document” show serves as real-time documentation of the research process of the seven MFA cohorts who make up the show’s curators and artists.  We were fortunate to be able to get a bit of insight from one of the artists, Holly Rios.

Connection Through Process

Rios, along with the six other MFA students who put together their work to show where their research is, is in the interim. With the University of Utah’s MFA program being two years long and the show being an annual tradition, the students have two opportunities to show their work before their final thesis shows. Every aspect of the grueling process from grant writing to installation and promotion of the show is the responsibility of the MFA students.

Three of the students served as a curatorial team to create the theme and layout of the show, based on the submissions. Jes Booth and Kimberly Pack are two of the team members who made up this department.

Guests of the gallery enter and are greeted with a bookshelf of the student’s own reference and research materials. This adds another layer to the “Living Document” theme. The research becomes a tangible connection between the eye of the viewer and the mind of the artist.

Complicated Standards

The work Rios contributed to the show is part of a body of work she completed as an examination of motherhood. “Are you a mother?” was not only my first question upon finding this out, but is a FAQ to Rios in regards to this work. “I’m not,” Rios said. “… But I have a mother.” This answer, much like Rios’ work, speaks for itself. Both represent a much-overlooked perspective — that of motherhood as a complex institution.

“Motherhood is a complicated standard, that I think a lot of, if not all, of our feminine identities are placed against, and challenged against,” Rios said. “There are expectations that people who have a womb want to become a mother … or whatever uncomfortable and often inaccurate assumptions are placed on women. This has created a lot of limitations and is bio essentialist.”

Rios went on to explain how harmful these notions can be for the trans community. Her work is a look at motherhood in a very honest way that shines a light on some of the darker aspects of it that are often glossed over or ignored by society.

Illegible Without Context

Two components of Rios’ educational background are English and Printmaking. These skill-sets often collide in her artwork. This can be seen in the screen-prints and textual works she has installed in the “Living Document” exhibition. Uniquely mounted in the back left corner of the Gittins Gallery are what look like larger-than-life scrolls, covered in text. On one, the artist’s poem ‘Who am I, if not you?’ — a look at motherhood through the lens of the five stages of grief. On the other, a compilation of platitudes we are used to hearing about motherhood. Rios chose platitudes to include in this work from several sources including literature and “Mom Blogs.” Rios’s selections were based on what she views as ideas about motherhood that are “too simple or too positive to be an accurate representation of human relationships.”

These scrolls are designed in a way to represent paper towel rolls. They are even perforated every 11 inches. A nod perhaps to the “paper towel” roles placed upon women. Rios notes that she chose to have the text printed on the backside of the paper that way viewers are able to see the text but through the fibers in the paper, it is obscured. “Without context, or an appropriate view it comes through as a jumbled mess … illegible.”

Rios noted that though she created the work with a subversive look at motherhood, she understands not all viewers will read it that way. She appreciates and has compassion for a multitude of views on the subject. The work happens to be presented from her own vulnerable point of view.

To see this powerful work along with the work of the six other incredibly thoughtful and talented MFA cohorts, be sure to make it to the Gittins Gallery before Feb. 24. The Gallery Hours are Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Keep an eye out for the five graduating students’ thesis shows, which will be put on view in the new Gittins Gallery space, between April and July.


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