Exhibition Celebrates Undergrad Art
“In search of the present, one hovers in the chasm between two negations: the past and the future.”
As visitors of the 11th Annual Guest Juried Undergraduate Exhibition Opening entered the University Art Gallery (UAG) on Saturday, April 4, these are the first words to greet and introduce them to the theories explored beyond the gallery’s entryway.
The exhibition, which runs until April 18, features a variety of works from 12 undergraduate students in the Art department plus one prestigious solo exhibition by Juan Meneses, a fourth-year studio art major, in a separate gallery.
Having a solo exhibition as an undergraduate student is an honor completely unique to UCI, as none of the other UC’s give an undergrad this kind of opportunity to present their work, according to both Juli Carson and Daniel Martinez, art professors at UCI. They curated the show, calling out to undergraduate students for work of all media and points of view.
“The exhibition reflects the robustness of the honors program with the curatorial program,” says Martinez. “Because we are challenging the undergrads, the excellence levels between them and the graduate students blur.”
After selecting which artists will be featured in the exhibition, Martinez guides them through two weeks of intensive development in order to see the fullest potential out of every piece. Meanwhile, Carson assigned them each the task of concisely explaining in 150 words their theoretical processes.
From Adrian Garcia’s zine series and Sabrina Sharifi’s photography, to Jenny Kim’s audio recordings and Susana Zhong’s video installation, the UAG housed every art medium one can imagine.
In the solo exhibition, Meneses’ mixed-media piece “Voids” contains elements of photography, painting, sculpting and exploration of found art. Meneses scavenged the neglected streets of Los Angeles to find scrap metal and artifacts of the city to arrange in the gallery space.
“With a lot of these steel pieces, there is zero manipulation,” says Meneses. “I just kept messing with the material and testing ideas to try to create the image of one large drawing that is bigger than just a photo.”
On a macro level, the steel, painting and photos work together to create a greater image of L.A., almost like a map, connected together strategically with thread arranged on the floor.
Meneses says, “I wanted to bring attention to the large communities ignored because of freeways, the separation that they cause.”
While Meneses brings awareness to separation and distance, back inside the UAG James Barnes’ piece “Love Object” encourages people to come closer together.
His piece involves a multitude of wooden blocks with a wheel attached to the bottom and strings on the top. The idea is for one person to tie their feet to one block and rely on a partner to wheel them around the gallery. On the wall facing participants are three drawings with the instructions, “Find someone. Get tied up. Don’t let go of each other.”
Couple after couple attempted Barnes’ challenge but the size of the block and physics of the wheel proved to be too powerful for many partners. Laughter, squeals and occasional shouts of victory filled the air at the back of the gallery.
Nathalia Fagundes, who managed to be somewhat wheeled around before the block slipped from under her feet, says, “Art is usually a one on one experience but this allowed interactions with other people, as opposed to just you and the piece.”
While art can have fun expressive qualities, it can also have more serious political themes as well. Grigor Harutyunyan, a fourth-year studio art major, took his installation as an opportunity to spread awareness about the Armenian Genocide.
Part performance piece, part text-based artwork, “Sakin Ol” mainly is an enormous red banner hanging from the ceiling with the words, translated into English, “Keep Calm, Move On, Recognize the Armenian Genocide” painted on it. Along with the banner, Harutyunyan recruited several of his friends to walk around the gallery all wearing matching shirts that brought attention to the piece even more.
“2015 marks the centennial of the Armenian Genocide,” says Harutyunyan. “I wanted the piece to obstruct space — it can’t not be noticed. The whole point is to raise awareness and to symbolize oneness.”
Harutyunyan’s piece coincides with UCI’s recent recognition of the Armenian genocide, which means “the school, as a public institution, now backs it up,” Harutyunyan says.
Whether the piece’s intention is political, social or even religious, the point is each piece is still personal. Carson and Martinez make clear that none of these installations were assignments but rather all self-generated by the students.
“We are looking for students committed to ideas and have potential,” Martinez says.
Through this exhibition process and the honors program, undergraduate artists can be better prepared to compete with other artists to get into graduate school and beyond.
“With these pieces coming from themselves as opposed to an assignment, we are better preparing them to being a student in the world and of ideas, not just a student at a university,” Carson says.
“The art department allows us all to have huge conversations of intellect with each other,” says Menses. “Everything we learn can connect back to our art. It is the hidden jewel of UCI.”