By Will Bowen
Once a year, the UC San Diego MFA Visual Arts students open their one-room studio doors to share their art with the public. This year, on March 7, some 42 students welcomed throngs of the curious.
Open Studios is the place to go if you’re interested in the offbeat, the quirky, and the conceptual. You won’t see landscapes, still lifes and portraits here. No rocky coasts, flowers in a vase, fruit on a table or swans in a lily pond. And no one judges success by how many paintings they sell.
At UCSD, students are exploring the idea of art and challenging its preconceptions. What is art? What could art be?
The great thing is that each studio you walk into presents you with a surprise … and some surprises are bigger than others.
Student Amber Lundy also works fulltime in the computer security software business, experimenting with her artwork at night. “I will take a switching diagram from computer security software and apply it to human relations,” she said. Because she is also interested in fashion, she’s designing clothing that has a computer built into it. She calls it “Wearable Security.”
One dress has technology that senses a physical threat, like, from a mugger, and will shock the person who touches the clothing. Conversely, the dress is also programmed to glow if the wearer likes the touch of another.
Music department student Kurt Miller, who plays the clarinet, teamed with art student Nichole Speciale from Boston, to create paintings that also make music. Speakers are built into the canvas so that the work is extended outward from the two-dimensional canvas by sound.
“I am interested in materials that intersect the plane. I like to do paintings that
use nails or pins arranged in geometrical patterns because they extend the painting outward. Sound, too, can be used as a medium to extend a painting out into the surrounding space,” Speciale said.
Miller and Speciale are creating a large painting that consists of two overlapping coils of copper wire that will have magnets and an electrical input attached to the back. The coils will double as speakers, and the painting will sing out some kind of sine wave pattern.
“People are talking about how painting is dead,” said Speciale. “They say nothing new is happening. They say that people who use a photograph to paint a picture are not painters but transcribers. We want to see if we can do something different that might revitalize the idea of painting.”
Stephanie Byrd lured visitors into her studio with a 12-foot-tall face of soprano Andrea Green singing opera arias projected on the back wall. The image changed color dependent on the pitch. When green hit, all were fascinated by the ghostly image.
Byrd, who is from Atlanta, said she’s interested in video, new media and interactive public art, which is big there right now. “Public art has been receiving a great deal of funding in Atlanta, so, it’s all over the place and everyone is doing it,” she noted.
Originally, Byrd’s image was projected out and overhead so that it appeared to hover in space and was even more dramatic.
Julian Roger’s studio was filled with large, monochrome paintings — blue, black, brown and purple. Close inspection revealed they were once examples of photo-real landscapes and still lifes, which are what Rogers used to specialize in.
“My series was inspired by my father, who was color blind. When I was 6 years old, my dad would try to explain to me how he saw the world through his color-blind eyes,” Rogers said. “These paintings are a reflection of that experience.”
In Elmira Mohebadi’s studio, something was fermenting. Inside was an old bathtub filled with black water beginning to stink to high heaven. The tub was a prop leftover from a video she did called, “The Witch.” It’s about a girl receiving a ritual witch’s bath of water, soap, lard, dirt, honey and wine.
“I am from Iran where there is a strong interest in witchcraft among women. This interest is related to the traditional legends about ‘the jinn,’ powerful whirlwind-like female spirits that seduce men and take away their power.”
In Gary Garay’s studio an overhead spinning ball reflected beams of light all around the room, reminiscent of a Robert Irwin “light and space” installation. Garay’s ball was made from small and beautiful pieces of abalone shell glued together onto foam. He worked with a Mexican craftsman to create it.
Charles Krause, an abstract artist from New York, was on hand to support his art student niece. Krause said he had his first show on Madison Avenue in 1979. He spent most of the day giving students advice on how they could make their work more of a commercial success. “That’s the next step for these kids,” he said. “They have got great ideas, but they need to make their ideas commercially successful!”