Let’s Review: UCSD art exhibit forces you to confront how you’re feeling
By Will BowenHi! How are you feeling? It’s a powerful question and one that the new art exhibition at the University Art Gallery (UAG) in the Mandeville Center on the UC San Diego campus asks you to entertain of yourself as you view the show, “And How Are We Feeling Today?” It opened Jan. 9 and will run through Feb. 14.
“My hope is that anyone who approaches this show — or considers its art work or artists — will start from the question which titles the show,” explained curator Michelle Hyun. Added gallery assistant Merete Kjaer, “There are a range of works here, each of which invites you to interact with it on many possible levels of emotional response.”
There are odd things in this show: a set of three, related video installation episodes; a video linked to a motion sensor and a contraption with a pulley system; a tissue dispenser; a wispy sculpture made of hair flown in from Dublin; a written art manifesto from 1969; the resume, biography and loan payment statements of a student deep in debt; a poster installation about a Facebook project; and a room filled with pipe-like tubular bells hanging from the ceiling, each engraved with a grief statement that you read as you ring the bell.
Hyun said she came up with the idea for the exhibition after following the labor dispute of UCSD campus workers and thinking about how larger economic, polit- ical and cultural systems get into our bodies and control our thoughts and feelings.
Not everyone who attended opening night liked the installation-type pieces and powerful social commentary the show presents. Hyun, who is about as brilliant and well informed a curator as you might ever encounter, creates shows that are always challenging, demanding, hard to access, and difficult to comprehend.
Hyun wants you to think deeply about the work she shows, invest time, and return to the gallery for follow-ups. “If a show is easy to grasp in one viewing,” she said. “It would just be entertainment.”
Many colorful patrons attended the opening reception. El-Gazelli, who came wearing an Australian Outback cowboy hat, described himself as a “sufi mystic,” who’s been coming to UAG shows for more than 20 years. El-Gazelli lamented the old days of the gallery, asking, “Where are the paintings — the fine art? I think art is dead; this show is all about technology!” Charles Saint-Hill, who said he was a “life artist,” came wearing a Mexican Salvation Army officer cap that he bought in Tijuana for $20. He described the show as “inscrutable,” commenting, “You have to live it to penetrate it.”
Armando de la Torre, a member of the Border Corps art collective, said he came to the opening to enjoy the company of friends and artists. He added that he felt the UAG gallery was consistently doing things that were appealing, but hard to understand.
“You have to determine, at some point, if the show is relevant to your purposes, if you are to deepen your investment in it,” de la Torre noted.
Sarah Rebolloso McCullough, Ph.D., the new associate director of the Center for Humanities at UCSD, had an enjoyable time playing the tubular bells hanging from the ceiling in the back viewing room. McCullough, who’s done research on how technology affects us, said she liked the inter-activity of the exhibits and how they provoked different conversations with fellow patrons. She thought the theme of the show was important because “the systems we live in effect the way we feel.”
On opening night, performance artist and visual arts student Fedora Archive (aka Cassie Thornton), explained her astronomical and growing student loan debt, delivering one of her feminist performance art emotional breakdowns about it.
“I say what most people are afraid to say about power, money or what is hurting us,” Archive claimed.
“Nowadays, in education, we are likely getting much more debt than learning out of the situation. I’m using my own emotions as a weapon that will cut
through the silence. I have breakdowns about the value of education, corruption in the UC system, and violence of financialization.”
The value of this show is that it causes you to begin some self-examination and self-contemplation about how you are feeling out there in the world. It’s a bit painful at first, but you begin to look at your bodily sensations, emotions and interpersonal feelings, which seem to be personal, but are actually arising from participation in our current economic and cultural system, referred to as “Late Capitalism.”
Many people are feeling anxiety, fear, dread and even despair about the economic and cultural conundrum that we seemed to have worked ourselves into. What has happened to the great promise of America? We often have to live beyond our means, or live in debt, just to keep
going. We never have enough and always need more, and there is always another bill to pay.
It’s so confusing to sort out and make conscious what are our personal anxieties, and what are the anxieties inherent in our cultural system; how the politics of everyday life direct and control our lives and interests, and shape our desires.
Sometimes we end up focusing on our shortcomings instead of seeing our problems as arising from the milieu we are immersed in, and often sleepwalk through. All too often we can be led to act irrationally or buy into fears that might not be true.
After a painful period of self-searching, this show leads you to liberation, providing some tools to think with and to look at society and at our fears and worries with, which leads to a measure of distance or detachment, and finally, to the possibility of a more creative response to the situations in which we find ourselves.
This show, despite its difficulty, achieves the ideal of art that transforms us and helps us to see the world and ourselves differently.
—If you go
University Art Gallery Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays.
Phone: (858) 534-2107.