Keeping Student Art ‘Provocative’

[caption id=”attachment_7108″ align=”alignright” width=”500″ caption=”Diane Jong | Staff Photographer
The undergraduate art exhibit, A woman comes up to a group of men and asks a simple question: “So do you guys like jokes?” Not realizing where she is about to take them, they say yes. Innocently, she asks them, “What do you call the extra skin around a vagina?” She responds, “A woman!” The smiling faces are quickly transformed into awkward grimaces and blank stares. This video installation by Elizabeth Watkins is just one of the works of art in the “Provocations” exhibit, the annual undergraduate art exhibition juried by Sarah C. Bancroft, curator of the Orange County Museum of Art.

The exhibit features work by UC Irvine students Mitch Esaki, Pamela-Joy Fong, David Gutierrez, Anita Issagholyan, Mena Kamel, Daniel Kim, Maria Korol, John O’Brien, Conan Thai and Jayson Ward. The aptly named exhibit features paintings, sculptures, photographs and video installations that are bound to provoke a wide array of emotions and reactions from viewers.

One such piece is an installation by Jayson Ward entitled “Cake Party,” a piece consisting of a table covered in a bright pink tablecloth, pink utensils and plates, and of course a pink birthday cake. The setup is reminiscent of any other children’s birthday party, but the frosting inscription on the cake is anything but innocent. “Cake Party” is a follow-up piece to a work Ward created in late 2008 entitled “Manifesto.” After posting it on his personal Web site, Ward began to receive anonymous e-mails from an individual that wanted to debate homosexuality and Christianity.

The irony of the presentation is that the extreme response provoked by the hateful and vulgar words is clearly intentional, as Ward explained. “Taking ownership of the angry words, it was my goal to use them for artistic purposes, thereby diffusing them and celebrating them at the same time,” Ward said. “‘Cake Party’ takes the entirety of that final electronic mail message and makes them tangible and desirable by casting them in sugar on top of a celebratory cake.”

“Provocations” also highlights the work of talented photographers like Daniel Kim. Kim’s work is entitled “This Is Where You’ll Be Working.” The photographs portray an average man in a shirt and tie, sitting at an office desk in locations like an abandoned alleyway, a bus depot and on the side of the freeway. The man looks frustrated and confused as he sits at his desk surrounded by trash and the world outside of his cubicle.

“I wanted to explore the boundaries of a fundamentally suburban area and attempt to find refuge in it from both the workplace and home,” Kim explained. “Yet the work does not merely display or denote various locations of Orange County, but also attempts to create a deeper tie between the viewer and itself.”

The photographs of Conan Thai address similar themes; Thai’s series “Attempt to Fly” depicts men in business suits in urban industrial settings leaping into the air as if they are trying to fly. The men in Thai’s photos are trying to “find transcendence within the normal humdrum of life,” Thai said. “This stems from my desire to not become a cog in the clockwork of the waking life, but as we grow older, the actions we take become habitual and ritualized. It becomes necessary to do so to streamline our activities and provide for a minimum of bumps in the road. In doing so, we neglect the paths that diverge and intersect our intended direction.”

Thai and Kim’s photographs show the interplay between man and society as he tries to cross boundaries of what is expected and what is accepted.

The exhibit also features the watercolors of David Gutierrez. Entitled “The Burial Series,” the series of black-and-white ink watercolors portray female nudes as anonymous and faceless, yet elegant and strong. Through the fluidity of his medium, Gutierrez is able to transform the familiarity of the human form into something almost unrecognizable, ephemeral and constantly shifting. The life-size paintings create a sense of intimacy between the viewer and the subject in the portrait, leaving each piece in the series open to different interpretations and inferences by every viewer.

Along with these photographs and paintings are video installations by artists like Watkins and Anita Issagholyan, whose video documentation is entitled “1915, Never Again.”

The video portrays the artist as she scrubs her body furiously to remove the stenciled-on stains of tomato juice from her skin. The stains were created by using a doily as a stencil. Hanging beneath the television monitor screening the video is the rag Issagholyan used to clean herself, marked with the label “Made In Turkey.”

The piece documents the artist’s personal struggle to both deal with the stereotypes of the Armenian- American woman in society (represented by the doily, a symbol of the housewife and mother) and to also try and forgive the tragedies of the past, which is represented by the towel made in Turkey, the country which perpetrated the 1915 genocide of 1.5 million Armenians. The piece represents “a personal battle to forgive the past, as well as a universal effort to mend old wounds while preserving culture and memory,” Issagholyan said.

These works and many others can be found at the University Art Gallery. The exhibition runs until April 17.