Conjuring Presence

October 20 – December 11, 2021

View online through Mason Exhibitions

About the exhibition
About the Loop Collaboratory
Events & Readings
Contributing Artists and Writers
Recommended Readings

About the Exhibit

Conjuring Presence is an exhibition of visual art and poetry featuring George Mason University students, faculty, and alumni.Curated by Mason faculty member and artist Jessica Kallista, Conjuring Presence asks both artists and audience to think critically and examine many manifestations of presence:

What does it mean to become mindful of the presence of others? What does it mean to join our creativity as we co-sense and conspire together for the sake of enlivening our imaginations and our communities? 

What does it mean to become mindful of the need to work against erasure when we understand who is not present and why? 

How does our presence become a catalyst for transformation and liberation?

Who decides whether some people are or are not allowed to be present to occupy spaces in the arts and academia? How might we work to conjure presence?

What tools and connections do we need to conjure presence? What theories and practices will help us to cultivate presence? Are we living in the present moment? What does it look and feel like to be present in our bodies? When we leave this realm, is our presence still felt? How might our decision to live a fully present life shape our reality for the better? How do we acknowledge the past, work for a just future, and still ground ourselves in the present? 

The artists and poets featured in Conjuring Presence were paired and asked to consider these questions throughout the collaborative process. In doing the work of considering, questioning, and challenging the status quo with radical honesty and presence of mind, together they embrace the power to envision, freedom dream, and co-create otherwise worlds into existence.

Conjuring Presence is co-curated by Heather Green (Asst. Professor, School of Art), Stephanie Grimm (Art Librarian and Fenwick Gallery Manager), and Chen Bi (MFA student and Fenwick Gallery Graduate Assistant). Exhibition support generously provided by Mason University Libraries, School of Art, and Creative Writing program.

Conjuring Presence is on view in Fenwick Gallery and online from October 20 through December 11, 2021.


The Loop Collaboratory is an arts project at George Mason University that partners artists and writers to create collaborative works. Loop Lab takes the notion of the loop as a starting point: feedback loops, strange loops, mobius loops, tangled loops. Loops fasten us together, are circuits of exchange, and trouble the idea of origin and destination. In participating in the Loop Lab, artists will work in partnership through all steps of the creative process, making new work in response to each year’s theme. Through a process of experimentation and recursive relationship, participants return to their own practices with fresh perspectives.


The Loop Lab grows out of a prior exhibition series, originated by artist Helen Frederick (Professor Emerita, School of Art) and poet Susan Tichy (Professor Emerita, Poetry). Call & Response paired MFA student writers and artists, asking “one participant to call and the other respond” with new or extant work. The exhibition was coordinated and curated by a rotating body of faculty, staff, and graduate students at Mason, including most recently Stephanie Grimm and Heather Green (Loop Lab co-coordinators). In many iterations, Call & Response drew attention to important issues of social justice, such as human trafficking. This collaborative program led to unexpected and exciting partnerships between artists and writers, culminating in work as varied as video and sound art, installation, and book arts.

Reckoning with Racial Inequities

Over the years since its inception, however, Call & Response’s scope as an MFA-focused exhibition has led to shortcomings and conspicuous absences. Though Mason has a highly diverse undergraduate student population, this diversity has not been historically present in the University’s MFA programs at the student or faculty levels. In particular, Black graduate students and faculty have been—and are currently—grossly underrepresented in the School of Art. Because Call & Response, under our guidance, continued to operate in this way and draw primarily on the Creative Writing and School of Art MFA programs, we perpetuated those inequities with an exhibition strategy that presented almost all non-Black artists and curators while employing a title that invokes and appropriates a cultural and musical tradition that is, in the US, primarily, an African and African-American tradition. More than simply a name change, the launch of Loop Lab represents a rethinking of the goals and structures of a collaborative creative program in the Mason community.

Path Forward

Placing the inclusion and support of historically marginalized groups at the forefront of all activities, the Loop Lab will continue to evolve. As Mason works to increase racial equity among faculty, staff, and graduate student populations, the Loop Lab will build on the strengths and diversity of Mason’s creative community at large, and, in particular, engage the undergraduate programs of Creative Writing and School of Art. While we are pausing the exhibition for 2022/2023 year to rethink the opportunities for collaborative arts work at Mason, when we return, student participants will be supported by the development of curricular programs led by a rotation of faculty/curators that represent the diversity of our student body and foster models for artistic development. 

Writer and theorist adrienne maree brown observes: “How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale.” The Loop Collaboratory draws attention to how we, as artists, work together with patterns, loops, and iterations, and how those shapes replicate and reverberate, becoming energetic and potentially transformative.


Tuesday, November 9: Literary Reading & Discussion (Online)

  • 7:30PM: Join us for a reading and discussion with the poets and writers featured in Conjuring Presence.
  • Register now through Zoom

Monday, November 15: Artists’ Panel (Online)

  • 7:30PM: Join us for a discussion with the visual artists featured in Conjuring Presence. Moderated by Jessica Kallista.
  • Register now through Zoom

Contributing Artists & Writers

Boris Willis x Vivek NarayananHolly Mason Badra x Deb SivignyAngela Terry x Jordan McRae
StrangeLens x
KS Keeney
Simonne Francis x
Jax Ohashi
Lu Tran x
Arianne Payne
Bita Ghavami x
Eli Vandegrift
Joseph McCloskey-Caballero x Alex BerriosM@tt Nolan x Peter Lee


Recommended readings from the curators & contributors
Click to view title details and location in Fenwick Library.

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