Lighting Artwork by MFA student John Spano '16
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MFA in Studio Arts Alumni Spotlight: Teresa Braun

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Teresa Braun, Who From Below, 2016. Still from video installation.

Teresa Braun received her Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art from Montclair State University in 2015 and her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture with honors from the University of Manitoba in 2011. Since then she has kept up an experimental practice that involves video, drawing, sculpture, and interactive performances. She has gone on to co-found the multi-media, immersive theater company, Asylos; as well as the performance duo, Sacra. She has also taught courses in the Department of Art and Design at Montclair State University, has given visiting artist lectures, and spoken on various artist panels.

With several exciting events coming, Braun reflected with us on her time at Montclair State and how the MFA in Studio Art has influenced her current practices.

“I draw on my Mennonite background and family lore to tell tales of ancestors circulating through animal, plant, and human bodies,” Braun said.

Having grown up in a small Mennonite community in the Canadian prairies near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Braun uses this experience to build an “extensive cosmology.”

“I seek to deconstruct shared assumptions—such as how to slaughter a pig, or what constitutes a pig—through ritualistic enactments that I refer to as reverse births and unbutcherings.”

Braun’s current work specifically references a story of three young sisters buried at an intersection of farmland which became a family cemetery. The surviving siblings planted a Cottonwood tree above their graves, which still stands today. Braun said, “When I was a child, my family reworked the cemetery but were unable to locate the graves of the three girls. My father says they were ‘taken into the root system of the tree.’ By grounding my embodied mythology in this physical place, I seek to weave fragments of my history into narratives that contribute to the legacy of my bloodline.”

Braun has exhibited her work in New York City at Brian Morris Gallery, Westbeth, Central Booking Art Space, and Brooklyn Fireproof East. She has exhibited internationally at The Plug-In Institute of Contemporary Art in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and La Petite Mort Gallery in Ottawa, Ontario. Currently, she is exhibiting a video installation, Teresa Braun: Who From Below at Catharine Clark Gallery, Media Room in San Francisco, California.

In addition to Braun’s solo studio art practice, she is a founding member of Asylos, a performance collective that creates multi-media immersive theater. Braun said, “The Asylos ensemble explores collaborative development through poetry, prose, and highly engaged movement. We are currently developing a trilogy of shows devised from words by iconic American authors and musicians, including Silvia Plath, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith.” Asylos has performed at Dixon Place in Manhattan, NY; Glasshouse in Brooklyn, New York; Figment Festival on Governor’s Island, and Five Myles Gallery in Brooklyn, New York.

Sacra consists of artists Teresa Braun and Ayodamola Okunseinde; they explore the idea of the sacred in private and public spaces. Braun describes Sacra as using “rituals to facilitate transformation within participants by challenging notions of self in a socio-political context, problematizing ideas of belonging and questioning belief systems.” Sacra has performed at Rhizome for the Washington DC Fringe Festival, aboard Swale as part of EcoHack 2016, and at Eye Beam in Brooklyn, New York.

Teresa Braun was initially drawn to the Master of Fine Arts program at Montclair State University because of its interdisciplinary nature, graduate teaching assistant opportunities, and proximity to New York City. She spoke of many experiences at Montclair State that have helped to shape her art practice.

“The World Making class in particular challenged me to see my work in entirely new ways and introduced mind-mapping techniques and experimental approaches to making. Strategies I still use today in my art practice,” said Braun.

The summer after her first year, Braun took an internship at the Kasser Theater with Richard Scheckner where she was able to build props and immersive environments for Imagining O. She said, “Richard wrote several books on performance theory and environmental theater; it was amazing to see him work and be part of that process.” This experience was invaluable for Braun’s development in sculpture, performance and installation works.

Braun references the artist monograph that all MFA in Studio Art second-year students must write and design as a useful tool in understanding her own work. She states, “In the final year, I created an artist monograph to contextualize my practice and link together various projects. This was a great way for me to look at my practice as a whole and has led to subsequent pieces and performances.” Braun continues to use her monograph as an art object that anchors her time-based work and provides viewers with more context. Currently she is including copies of the monograph in handmade boxes as a way to edition and sell her video work.

While her time spent in the MFA program was challenging and exciting, the transition out of graduate school and into the art world has proven even more so. Braun said, “It’s hard to suddenly not have constant guidance from your peers and mentors. Fortunately, I’ve kept in touch with most of my colleagues and professors from the MFA program. I’m thrilled to say that the network I established through the University community has led to many critical discussions, shows, and an ongoing sense of support.”

Teresa Braun, MFA
Co-founder, performance artist, Sacra
Co-founder, performance artist, video director, Asylos Theater Company
Adjunct Faculty, Montclair State University