Undergraduate Juried Art Exhibition

Every 20 seconds, a figure  with a face masked haphazardly in black yarn entered the University Art Gallery, each chanting the words, “Oh, say can you see?” and stopping before five white flags stitched with unknown Braille markings. The figures chanted in an inharmonious, staccato rhythm of various languages until a single voice reverberated throughout the gallery and faded.

This describes the performance directed by Melissa Maldonado at the opening reception of “eleven,” the ninth annual undergraduate juried art exhibition in conjunction with “Circadian,” the annual solo project by Arielle Ramirez that exhibited at the Room Gallery last Thursday night. Both exhibitions received a warm welcome from supporters as the annual traditions offered students the opportunity to have their art featured in a formal setting.

Juried by Mara Lonner and Shelby Roberts, the process of selecting works began in winter quarter of this year and ended with works from 11 undergraduate students: Pinglin Huang, Natalie Kovacs, Brian Lac, Lana Linet, Melissa Maldonado, John Nguyen, Eliot Persico, Clarissa Ruiz, Maria Guerrero-Solórzano, Jason Michael Stepina and Boin Sydney Yang. These students’ works had themes that seemed to overlap one another in discussing topics such as the influence of media and the structuring of identity.

“[The juried exhibition] is about crafting something that makes sense from all the disparate things that are brought in. What I think is important about these works is that they set up a dialogue between each other that is interesting and beyond the work itself. Each one is individually interesting, but as a group, they are even more interesting,” Roberts said.

Upon entering the exhibition “eleven,” the range and mastery of artistic mediums is impressed upon the viewer, from video installations to ink wash paintings, from photo series to cardboard prints.

“I appreciated the skill level of each one of the works. There is a consciousness about the different crafts that they are working with,” Lonner said.

The layout of the exhibition was designed to foster the inherent dialogue between the works about common themes.

One common theme was the permeation of media in the forming of individual identity. Brian Lac’s series of paintings present imagery of a “broken world” where subjects are disfigured and displaced in recognizable social settings such as a living room, where video games are played, or a movie theater, where a film is being watched. The viewer is not viewing the media alongside the subject, but looking at the subject. As the figures become subjects of critique, this leads to an intrinsic examination about the viewer’s own relationship with popular media.

Natalie Kovac examined a specific part of the conversation about media, in the context of romance films and online dating websites. She created a video that recreates her encounters with men on the online dating site OkCupid, where she responds to their messages solely with the dialogue of female heroines in popular romance films. However, it becomes clear that no matter how vacuous the responses she provides, the men constructed their own ideal of Kovac based on these idealized, female characters.

Other works continued to explore identity in different contexts. John Nguyen creates a novel identity of a “free spirit” in his photo series “In the Presence of” as this spirit interacts with various local settings in Irvine.

“I was working with landscapes and the interaction with them, so I tried to depict a free spirit that is in an environment that it doesn’t know of. I was trying to create an aesthetic of a strong, yet subtle presence,” Nguyen said.

Melissa Maldonado’s installation, paired with the performance opening night, presented the idea of cultural blindness, as she worked with foreign languages being spoken and stitched on the flags. Foreign languages make up a part of cultural identity that is systematically separated from American culture.

“I wanted to talk about metaphorical blindness, how people don’t understand someone’s situation or be able to empathize,” Maldonado said.

Visitors made their way back and forth last Thursday night from the University Art Gallery to the Room Gallery, where the solo exhibition “Circadian” by Arielle Ramirez was located.

This exhibition presents a body of work with a clear, visual thread — variations of highly charged oil paintings on circular wood surfaces. Ramirez regards the image of the circle as representing both a memory that keeps repeating itself as well as a moment of realization.

“What I wanted to produce visually was a visceral effect where when the person comes upon the work, they have so many things going on in their lives, but it’s this one cathartic moment of realization. There’s so much going on visually that I compare it to the explosion of bodily processes,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez feels fortunate to have been chosen for the solo exhibit, as ultimately, not everyone is able to show his or her work. She encourages undergraduate students to seek out opportunities to have their artwork displayed not just within the school but also in local galleries in Orange County.

“Any opportunity to be able to show your work, to get your name out there, is priceless. Without showing your work, no one is going to know who you are and what your work is about. Without it, your work basically doesn’t exist in the world,” Ramirez said.

“Circadian” and “eleven” are on display in the Room Gallery and University Art Gallery, respectively. These exhibitions will be open to the public until April 20.