We Need to Talk… About Art

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Attendees were in awe of UCSC lecturer Kyle McKinley’s piece “100 wonderbeards of the world” on Friday night. McKinley has created 54 of the planned 100 pieces of toast through a process of laser-etching images of famous deceased icons onto bread. Photo by Ali Enright
Attendees were in awe of UCSC lecturer Kyle McKinley’s piece “100 wonderbeards of the world” on Friday night. McKinley has created 54 of the planned 100 pieces of toast through a process of laser-etching images of famous deceased icons onto bread. Photo by Ali Enright

A dozen Ducati motorcycles, an angry baby head sculpture and gallery attendees riding around on Onewheels in an old warehouse seem strange. But all of this was found on the way to the R. Blitzer Gallery, where the second half of the art show “In Conversation” premiered on April 8. The first half opened at the Sesnon Gallery in Porter College on April 7, and together they made up the first UC Santa Cruz faculty art show in over 10 years.

“It’s really great because you see all the faculty and sometimes you think, ‘Are they making artwork?’” said Karina Hernandez, a UCSC alumna who attended the gallery opening. “You don’t really know what’s going on. But they are making these different works. It’s really interesting to see how they’re all really pushing their boundaries.”

All around the gallery, academics  in skinny jeans and cardigans discussed the works using terms like “investigations,” “reification” and “teleological.” The air buzzed with the collective scholarship in the room.

Previous faculty shows only featured tenured professors, but this time around, Sesnon Gallery curator Shelby Graham and manager Mark Shunney invited all arts division faculty members to take part in the show.

“[Faculty members] said, ‘We don’t want to do lectures. We want to do conversations,’” Graham said at the R. Blitzer Gallery opening.  “All of a sudden, that buzz word ‘conversation’ came into play. I thought, ‘Well, let’s just make it all about the work talking to each other, the faculty talking to each other, people getting engaged with conversation.’”

At Porter College, students and members of the public can view “In Conversation” at the Sesnon Gallery and ask themselves and the artists, “Why?” Photo by Megan Schnabel
At Porter College, students and members of the public can view “In Conversation” at the Sesnon Gallery and ask themselves and the artists, “Why?” Photo by Megan Schnabel

Graham and Shunney had a number of works to choose from for the exhibit, including an interactive role-playing video game series by lecturer Susana Ruiz, an octopus sculpture that functions as a water fountain by instructor Sean Monaghan and deceased icons’ faces burnt into toast by lecturer Kyle Lane-McKinley.

Though Graham and Shunney metaphorically arranged the art pieces “in conversation” with one another, the show is literally meant to put people in conversation with the art and the artists.

Comment boxes, where patrons can leave questions for the artists, were placed in the gallery to ignite discussion. Every Wednesday evening during the shows’ run, three featured artists will lead panel discussions and answer these questions at the Sesnon Gallery.

The moderators will help the public engage with artists in ways that are more personal than other art galleries.

“We’re all conditioned to think, ‘Oh, galleries are hands-off. I should just view standing over there or viewing it from there.’ And I walk away, and I deal with what’s coming through my head,” Shunney said. “But we wanted to try and open it up, hence the title of the show.”

The artists want to inspire students to think critically about their pieces. Though Lane-McKinley admits that putting faces on toast brings up more conversations about how he creates the pieces, he hopes people will instead think about why someone would put a face on toast.

“It began with the banal observation that laser cutters can do this miraculous thing of putting Jesus on toast,” Lane-McKinley said. “[Other artists and I] made it as a little bit of a political intervention in the wake of some student protests on campus. We did this toast piece in conjunction with making a very large print of a protest letter signed by faculty [in support of the students].”

While Lane-McKinley’s work began by decrying university administrative actions, other art pieces focused on more national political movements. After investigating five underground oil shale formations in the U.S., newly-hired professor A. Laurie Palmer created a fabric shawl to look like maps of the shale formations, highlighting the dangers of unsustainable energy sources in the U.S.

“Part of what I’m looking to do is connect with the Keep It in the Ground movement, [which aims to promote use of renewable energy],” Palmer said of her art piece.

More than showcasing faculty’s work, “In Conversation” brings the public closer to the artists, creating a greater sense of community. Sesnon Gallery intern Carrie Hoffman spoke about the importance of the show.

“[Our intentions were] to create dialogue around this work, around what it means to be a community, around what it means to be an artist within the conversation of ‘What is art?’” Hoffman said. “‘What is the purpose that it serves? What good is education in the arts?’ [These are] all relevant topics in this whole collection of work.”

Guests enjoyed artwork in various mediums including videos, t-shirts, and paintings. Associate professor Elliot Anderson’s piece” Clouds Averaged explores environmental-art activism through its mixed medium format of a digital photograph and lightbox. Photo by Ali Enright
Guests enjoyed artwork in various mediums including videos, t-shirts, and paintings. Associate professor Elliot Anderson’s piece” Clouds Averaged explores environmental-art activism through its mixed medium format of a digital photograph and lightbox. Photo by Ali Enright

“In Conversation” is showing until May 7 at the R. Blitzer Gallery at 2801 Mission Street Ext. and the Sesnon Gallery in Porter College. Panel discussions take place Wednesday nights at the Sesnon Gallery.