The Mercurial Collective to Present “The Graduates”


by Zulai Serrano

"The Calling" by Mandi Phillips

DOWNTOWN DANBURY’S newest art gallery, The Mercurial Collective, will be holding its fall artist showcase, “The Graduates” on Saturday, September 24 from 4 to 7pm.

The gallery will feature the work of four talented 2011 college graduates  in the mediums of architecture, photography, illustration and painting, along with a reception of live jazz music, food and drink.

by Zulai Serrano



"The Calling" by Mandi Phillips

DOWNTOWN DANBURY’S newest art gallery, The Mercurial Collective, will be holding its fall artist showcase, “The Graduates” on Saturday, September 24 from 4 to 7pm.  The gallery will feature the work of four talented 2011 college graduates along with a reception of live jazz music, food and drink.

The Mercurial Collective‘s curator, Amanda Bloom, handpicked the works of the four graduates, whose art she found to be “mind-blowing” and “impressive”.  Pratt Institute (Pratt) graduates Mandi Phillips, James Freeman and Irina Vinnitskaya, as well as Western Connecticut State University (WestConn) graduate Robert Rae, embodied both the creativity and diversity she wants to bring to the gallery.

New York native Mandi Phillips, 23, currently works for an artist management agency in Manhattan.  Phillips will be showcasing her body of work called “In Transition”, which contains photographs from her senior thesis exhibition.  The photographer’s art reflects the trials and tribulations she faced as a 21-year-old.  Phillips’ true inspiration came from seeing her family after her return from studying abroad in Scotland and reuniting with her cancer-stricken grandfather.

“My family had been smoking pot with my grandfather as a way to make him eat more and feel better,” Phillips said in a phone interview.  “I  came back home to see my family for the first time in three months and there was my grandfather smoking a bowl at my kitchen table…I knew I had to photograph this moment.”

Robert Rae

“This [a photograph entitled “The Calling”] was not the first shot I had taken for the project,”  she continued, recalling the powerful moment, “but after the body of work had been completed, I felt this frame was quintessential to my thesis…It recapitulated what I was trying to say about the practice of evolving.”

After that experience with her family, Phillips began observing the people she interacted with on a daily basis.  She wanted to “pull an honest moment from her subjects”, taking into account people’s actions and how they differed between generations. 

“The producer I was working for at the time had three young kids, and I observed how uninhibited they were with their actions and words,” Phillips said, explaining her photographs capturing younger subjects.  “I noticed a likeness in my grandfather.”

While Phillips captured intimate snapshots through her lens, thesis partners James Freeman, 25, and Irina Vinnitskaya, 22, resurrected and reinvented a building located in Binghamton, New York.  The architectural duo worked with an abandoned, disconnected site in the city to create their body of work, “Rethink/Reclaim/Recharge”.

When deciding on a college path, Vinnitskaya, who lives in the Bronx, found herself attracted to the math and science inherent to architecture after studying at Carnegie Univerisity’s pre-college architecture program. Her interest in urban design began to rise to the surface during her second and third year at Pratt, and she currently writes for ArchDaily and works for SMIT, LWH and Source X architecture and design firms.

“We both are interested in the experience of the public,” Vinnitskaya said in an interview.  “[The project] is very much about the public wanting to be a part of building their city.”  When visiting Binghamton, Vinnitskaya noticed a dimness to the city – wide streets, not much foot traffic – and she thinks this can change in Binghamton, and flagging cities across the world, by engaging the public with their surroundings via thoughtful building and design.

“We started with a model [of the building], and I kept thinking [about] how we can make things connect,” said Freeman in a phone interview.  “We took photographs…and started redrawing, creating specific details like taking bricks from the old building and placing it into a new structure.  The project was about absence and presence in the city while defining your connection to it…I guess you can say it is a bunch of [our] fragmented experiences.”

Freeman is a longtime friend of Bloom’s, and she praised his journey through Pratt’s five year intensive architectural program.  She was fascinated with the concept of his thesis and knew there was a spot at the gallery for the project.   

“I liked the idea of reinventing an area while preserving its ‘personality’ so to speak, working with what is already there,” Bloom said in an email interview.  “Their project is absolutely mind-blowing, and I don’t think people expect to see architecture in an art gallery.”

Freeman currently uses his talents in New York City freelancing at Baumann Architecture and Guild Design Build Collective.  He wishes to one day combine his passions for design and structure into his own design and building firm.  

WestConn graduate Robert Rae, 30, is also a visionary.  James Freeman & Irina VinnitskayaTaking an “anarchy and chaos” class at WestConn proved to be more challenging than he originally expected, but it quickly became the spark to ignite the inspiration behind his senior thesis exhibition.

“It had such a cool  name, so I registered for the class,” Rae explained in a phone interview.  “Then I had to write a 30 page paper.  I was a graphic design major, and I had to sit there and listen to people argue for the sake of arguing.  It wasn’t for me, but I enjoyed the reading,” he said with a laugh.

Rae takes a surrealist approach in creating his drawings and paintings.  For his thesis, he immersed himself in his anarchist and art studies and explored the concepts he read from The First Manifesto of Surrealism by Andre Brenton.  Rae works from his own intuition, starting with a small idea in his sketchbook and then translating it into a larger aspect.  

“It’s about free association,” he explained.  “You don’t have control, you assume the subconscious and objectify it…which leads to a lot of new ideas.” Rae explained that he feels most engaged when he sits down to draw rather than working with a digital medium:

“Your life is the essence of [your art.] I believe art can be intuitively understood, but not necessarily explained…I prefer hand drawings over digital work. It’s more engaging for me, but I don’t think people should create with limitations for themselves…it convolutes [their work.]”

“The Graduates” will take place at 11 Library Place from 4 to 7pm on Saturday, September 24.  Food and drink will be provided for the reception, along with a live performance from The Collin Wade Trio, featuring two-time James Furman award recipient Collin Wade on alto saxophone, Ian Tait on upright bass and Jake Habegger on drums, all thanks to a generous music sponsorship provided by Union Savings Bank.  Complimentary one hour parking is available in the Charles A. Bardo Garage on Library Place.

RSVP and invite friends and family with the Facebook invite here.

“The Graduates” is also sponsored in part by the Danbury Cultural Commission and The Puffin Foundation.  Works will be on display at The Mercurial Collective from September 24 through December 15.  The gallery will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am to 12pm and by appointment. To make an appointment or for more information, contact Amanda Bloom at (203)417-2215 or

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