Color of Collaboration

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By Reuben Barrack, Gabrielle Garcia and Alexis Guzman

Photos by Camille Carrillo and Stephen De Ropp

Faces brightened and fingers pointed in wonder at the walls of the Sesnon Gallery as alumni and current students immersed themselves in the mural room on Feb. 5. Chatter, photographs and social media captured the mural produced by the students of Curatorial Practice.

The two-credit Curatorial Practice course is offered through Porter College and is taught by Shelby Graham, the director of the Sesnon Gallery. The 20 students enrolled in the course also worked with Tom Franco, a collaborative artist and UC Santa Cruz Porter College alumnus.

“When I was here as a student, I always wanted [my art] to show at the Sesnon Gallery,” Franco said. “I figured the best way to show my work was with the students.”

The Franco “Co-Lab” is a kick-off reception in association with Firehouse Art Collective for UCSC’s 50th anniversary alumni exhibition, “50/50: Fifty Artists in Five Decades.” Firehouse Art Collective, a nonprofit organization directed by Franco, is based in Berkeley with five different locations, all providing space for artists to create and collaborate. Franco said he developed these spaces to create a community for the arts.

“The mission is to have spaces for art to take place. The goal is to share more of a creative lifestyle. When that is happening, then the arts continue,” Franco said. “The worries and concerns, or the things that prevent art from thriving aren’t present, so the questions fade away when it’s the right lifestyle [and] everything feels good.”

Attendee Chloe Rosen was one of the many students struck by the colors on the walls. As a new volunteer at the Sesnon, she expressed her excitement for contributing to this rare creation unveiled at Porter. As she stood next to a ukulele player at the event, her eyes wandered all over the walls.

“I love the different styles coming together, I just want to live in this room forever,” Rosen said. “It’s an amazing thing because not all schools can say they have an art gallery like this and it sets Porter aside from the other colleges.”

Although only four of the 20 students enrolled in the class are art majors, students contributed creative and thoughtful portraits to the mural through a synergistic effort. Franco was happy to give exposure to the students in the course who hadn’t previously had a background in the arts.

Alex Paisley, a fourth-year anthropology major, said most of the students in the class, herself included, didn’t know what they were getting into when initially collaborating with Franco. Paisley explained this collaboration involved an introspective thought process.

“I have very little painting experience. We came in and right away [Franco] just sat us down and we meditated,” Paisley said. “We had to picture ourselves in Santa Cruz, like a self-portrait, and then from there we started sketching on the walls.”

Julianna Chavez, a third-year art major and Porter affiliate, decided to take the course based on her interest in becoming a museum curator. Chavez and her classmates are expected to learn these curatorial principles, but they also must work on a class project — a giant mural filled with self-portraits of the students, covering the Sesnon’s walls.

Chavez described her portion of the mural as a green-skinned version of herself, walking down a Santa Cruz sidewalk in her underwear with a pink, fuzzy blanket wrapped around her, smelling roses from a bush while enjoying the comfort of her surroundings. This mural helped her forge a new concept, or type of learning that she hadn’t experienced in other art classes — collaboration.

“Normally, I’m an individual artist. I usually work alone,” Chavez said. “The significance of the mural has been learning to collaborate and work with people and discovering more about yourself through others.”

Third-year biology and environmental studies student Vienna Alvarez also gained similar experience through collaboration. When Alvarez began working on her section of the mural — a Zapatista activist, a revolutionary in southern Mexico with braids coming out of a ski mask — another student in the class, Iztlaxihuathl Dominguez, wanted to produce an image of a luchadora mask with braids as well.

Since both students proudly identify with their Mexican heritage, Alvarez expressed the need for her and Dominguez to work on their portraits together. Both the luchadora and the Zapatista are shown holding hands, signifying how these females are empowered through their relationship with fighting, whether in the wrestling ring or for human rights.

“Not a lot of people around us went to [this] political extent, which made it hard to integrate [our] mural piece within everyone else’s,” Alvarez said.

While the imagery of Zapatistas, luchadoras and a green-skinned woman might not fit within the flow of a mural on the surface, they are all connected by the theme of how Santa Cruz shaped these individuals on a personal level. Alvarez said before coming to Santa Cruz, she felt like she was stuck in her own egocentric bubble, unaware of any societal issues worldwide.

“Santa Cruz has not changed me, but shed what society has built upon me for my 18 years. [Santa Cruz] shed me like an onion,” Alvarez said. “So instead of showing the shedding, I was going to show what the shedding has become — a female figure with a Zapatista mask over it.”

Adding to the diversity of imagery on display, celestial planets were also pictured in the mural room. Aurora Kasten, a fourth-year Latin American and Latino studies major, painted a portrait of Mars. Her self-portrait was developed after being led in a visualistic meditation in class by Franco. She then wrote a poem about her face and transformed the poem into a painting.

“The poem I wrote is about outer space, and how my skin — more specifically, my acne — exists using metaphors of space,” Kasten said. “My face is the universe. My zits are constellations and Mars has a crumbly and dry surface.”

Kasten was excited to share the evening with the class, along with the larger community of those who witnessed art come alive at the Sesnon.

“It’s bringing together people from multiple departments. It’s also bringing together faculty, staff, community members and alumni,” Kasten said. “It’s bridging the divide between the school and the community, and also connecting us as current students with alumni.”

Although the mural won’t last forever, Franco said it helped shape everyone overall.

“The process is the experience,” Franco said. “The walls will be painted over again, but all of us will walk away from this having certain physical, mental and spiritual awareness about how often you get to work intimately with a group and influence the art community.”

The “Co-Lab” art show will take place at the Sesnon Gallery until March 13. Gallery hours are 12-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 12-8 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Visit the Sesnon Feb. 13-14 at 12-5 p.m. for a special Valentine’s Day card making event.

“50/50” is on display at the Porter Faculty Gallery and the Blitzer Gallery until Feb. 28. Porter Faculty Gallery hours are 12-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 12-8 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Located at 2801 Mission Street, the Blitzer Gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.