Jose Tinoco Interview by Peter McEldowney
Instagram: @j0setin0c0 (tw: b-slur) Jose Tinoco is a Latinx artist who identifies interchangeably as gay and queer, currently in his second year pursuing an bachelor’s degree in Art at UCI. He is a regular Tom of Finland Volunteer and former Moca Teen, involved in public arts programs ever since high school. As a result, his relationship with identity, race, gender, and sexuality has been closely engaged with the art histories present in the Los Angeles area. Among his favorite artists are David Wojnarovicz, Tom of Finland, and Felix Gonzalez Torres. In his piece IV, a series of four xerox prints on drawing paper, Jose questions the spaces in which gay men supposedly belong. Just from his name, he regularly faces xenophobia and slurs often voiced by faceless beings. The anonymity heightens a sense that this bigotry is not just one person, but an ubiquitous force. The voice is everywhere, and it exists because of the emboldening anonymity that the Grindr space permits for its racists. The piece asks: what does it mean to be so named by someone nameless and where do we go from there? Jose repeats the screenshot four times in different states of degredation and malfunction. In the image he has two names: an anti-Mexican slur and his real name, Jose. The repetition of this screenshot works to deny the prophecy of this racist: “You won’t get anywhere with a name like Jose.” Jose undoubtedly has made a name for himself in his ambition coupled with his early exposure to the arts, and in incorporating this person into his body of work, taunts his own marginalization. Jose submitted IV to the AHUA Annual Undergraduate Show, and this year’s theme is Querencia. Querencia is a term for the feeling a bull has when it feels unkillable in the ring. Anonymous may have felt like hot shit behind a faceless profile on Grindr, but the artist has dragged him into the arena of art.
Jose Tinoco IV
When you make work, what are you thinking about? I’m basically thinking about how this works in tandem with queer art of the past, and I’m constantly looking for art historical references and seeing how I fit within that timeline. Do you feel like you are bound by art history? At times. I like to make work that knows its references and feels important. Does art need history? I think in order to have a full grasp of it, you need to know some history. It definitely depends on what you’re doing. I don’t want to be one of those queer artists thats just taking photos of people’s butts and saying it’s queer art. I feel like I need to, kind of like how all the past art periods have gone where they kill their masters, I need to know my masters before I kill them. How do you distinguish between the art history that does matter and doesn’t matter? I buy a lot of art books and I read a lot of theory books that break down art to its most analytic form so that I can use those analytics for my own personal work. It’s important to have the language to talk and understand what you’re doing with your own art. You are basically making gay history and preserving it at the same time. How does it feel to preserve it? It’s a lot of office work, but it’s honestly worth it. Some days I look up at the wall and see a giant dick and I feel like I’m doing the Lord’s work. It feels at times like you’re living in a past life; I feel like I’m making work sometimes that’s from the eighties or from the seventies. Preserving gay history while also making art is like living in a gay utopia, where all you think about is queerness. It gives you such a broad understanding of what it means to be gay in America at different point in time. How does your Latinx identity factor into the whiteness of art history? It’s something I grapple with. Oftentimes, these gay spaces are so dominated by whiteness, so it’s important to impose myself in that space to be a voice for my community. Finding an intersection between my racial and sexual identities. Figuring out how gay Latinx bodies fit into spaces such as hook up culture and Grindr culture.
What does querencia mean to you and how does your work communicate that? It definitely means just finding those spaces where you feel the most powerful, but not every space can be totally safe. I like finding spaces where you feel the most powerful but also vulnerable. I think there’s power in vulnerability, and allowing yourself to be in vulnerable spaces can take back power. Taking back power in these Grindr slurs? Definitely. Taking it back, reclaiming these slurs, and preserving my name are so important for this piece. I need to know my masters before I kill them. How do you distinguish between the art history that does matter and doesnt? I buy a lot of art books and I read a lot of theory books that break down art to its most analytic form so I can use those analytics for my own personal work. It’s important to have the language to talk and understand what you’re doing with your own art. How did you make it? They’re on drawing paper printed on with laser inkjet. I manipulated the image on Photoshop and printed it. My printer was actually running low on ink, so it created these ghost forms of the screenshot and it imposed the normal screenshot on top of them, creating a kind of collage. The repetition is pretty integral— it’s desensitizing. And there’s four generations of my name. Pop art is huge on repetitions, are you drawing on it? Yeah, I’m thinking about Warhol here, but not in terms of a repetition that mimics commodity, but rather a repetition that’s confrontational. Perhaps more like Barbara Kruger. Kruger is definitely more political than Andy Warhol. Have I ever told you the story of when I met her? So in this internship I was a part of, we were able to interview her—it was a super amazing experience, I wish we could’ve recorded it. She’s a really interesting woman. I was sitting right next to her. I wanted to ask her about the commodification of her work when so much of her work is so anti-consumerist and anticapitalist. I find it interesting that she still sells merchandise with her artwork on it, which is a little hypocritical. So I began asking her that question and she cut me off and said, “I never said any of that, those are just the labels people gave me.”
How do you feel about that disconnect between artists and their art? I have a lot of discussions about this with my mom, and with myself. I absolutely love Lars von Trier, but how do I separate how much of a shitty person he is from how good his films are? A lot of his films are sometimes addressing things he’s done in a very demeaning way, so it’s been really hard to grapple. Art is such a big part of the person, so it’s hard to separate the two. Getting back to your piece, the screen hurts your eyes very literally when you look at a phone. Turning this image into a pigment, would you say you are in some ways removing harm or is it still as fanged as it was when you received it? In some ways it neutralizes through the repetition, but I wanted to take the digital into a physical space. When you’re online, nothing feels real, but putting it on paper makes it like a painting, and preserves it and immortalizes it in a way that can never go away. How does the blank profile factor into the work? It would be easier to accept if I could put a face to the person; it would be able to blame this racism on a person. But then blankness feels like it could be from anyone, and that it is perhaps everywhere. I mean, it’s like what Oscar Wilde said: “Give a man a mask and he’ll show you his true face.” Do you feel like you are taking away or examining that blankness? I feel like I’m examining it. Because it’s blank, no one else knows. Maybe they’re looking at the artwork now. Maybe they know that they became art, and the fact that I would never know if they did is a little maddening but also very exciting. I mean it’s almost like a wanted poster! It honestly is, in some ways.
Eleanor (Xiaoyue) Yu (余曉悅) Interview by Joanna Nguyen
Website: www.lucienyjin.wixsite.com/website Can you introduce yourself and your artwork? My name is Eleanor Yu, and I am a second-year studying Art and Film and Media studies. For my artwork, I got the prompt for this exhibition and I was thinking about how during quarantine, we are all looking for our power source or something like that during these hard times. The background story of this artwork starts when I was traveling from the United States back to my home country, China. China has a policy of mandatory quarantine for seven days at home, after an additional mandatory fourteen-day quarantine period in a hotel upon arrival to the country. Regardless of the test results, whether you have symptoms or not, or whether you are positive or not, you have to go through this quarantine. I originally went to my house by my old high school, which is kind of empty right now, to work through the seven days of quarantine. It was quite lonely because when you are in quarantine, you are not allowed to have anyone stay with you. I was alone in my high school home, and there were only a few things left that were all from my high school, my past. I found a pile of instant polaroid photos, but they were all faded away. They were exposed to sunlight for too long and I realized that the photos were from a trip to Australia back in middle school, when I was with my sister for that summer. So they were good family memories, but they are all faded away right now. It's interesting that when I look at the photos, I am still reminded of those memories. It still gives me that source of power, like it is a mixture of nostalgia and happiness. It is not a single emotion; it is more complex. I started thinking about what keeps us going in life. We take photos as a kind of way to frame these fleeting moments, to catch those memories. But photos or artworks, they fade away eventually, right? So what stays forever? I was thinking about this question, and this artwork was created.
Eleanor Yu Nothing Left but our Memories
How long did it take to make your art piece? I spent a few hours finding and selecting objects to put into the frame. In general, I did not take too long making the entire piece. I think I spent a whole afternoon making the frame, and I took the photo at dawn. I like to do art in large chunks of time, so this was done during the whole afternoon. I don’t like doing art in one-hour chunks; it’s disturbing. So this artwork is a photograph of your mother holding in front of her this frame of faded polaroids and other small miscellaneous items. What made you decide to take this photograph of the frame with your mother? I was thinking about how if I only had this frame and I took a photo of it, it just wouldn’t feel right. It is not what I want to express. I had this thought of my mom holding this frame but covering her face, like the artwork is part of a gesture of refusing. It is like a barrier between the viewer and the model. I wanted my mom’s hands to look a little bit older, like have more wrinkles, but she tends to look quite young. I wanted my mom to represent the single role of family and of aging. She was weary and kind of sloppy and messy that day, and I think it was quite simple for my piece. I had her sit down with the frame, and I wanted her to cover her face with the artwork to create a distance between the viewer and the model. So this presentation is quite intimate, if you think about it. If she didn't cover her face, it would have been a close shot, but because she covered her face with the frame, I was able to express distance while the viewer is confronting the frame and the memories it contains. In regards to the items in the frame, can you describe what items you put into there along with the processing of finding and incorporating them into your artwork? I put a lot of random things in the bottom of the frame. I wanted to visually represent the broken memories falling out of the empty polaroids, like memories becoming shattered pieces after a while. The items were also found in my old house with the polaroids. They are something that could represent my memories when I try to recall what was in the picture, but also what I think the memories should be or what I remember happening during that period of time recorded in the photo. It is symbolic and surrealistic in a way. The match and the cigarettes bring me back to the time when I was back in Australia, where my sister-in-law smoked a lot. It is not that pleasant, but of course there are some pleasant memories related to her, which is why I also added a plastic flower inside of the cigarette. (cont.)
(cont.) In regards to the items in the frame, can you describe what items you put into there along with the processing of finding and incorporating them into your artwork? There is also a sense of conflict because when you reminisce about memories, especially memories spent with family, it is not necessarily good. It is more complicated with both good and bad. In the frame, I also added an Australian coin in front of a “20% off” coupon with the coin covering the letter “o.” In Australia, most coins have an image of the Queen’s head. I also put a pin from the band Sex Pistols, and they have a song called “God Save the Queen,” which is ironic as they basically roast Queen Elizabeth in that song and it was quite political. I was into rock bands at the time, so I put the pin inside. I thought it would be fun to have two queens in the frame, but they have totally different meanings and connotations. A lot of things I put in the frame weren’t Chinese or Australian, but rather made in America. I did not have many of the materials I needed, because everything I had was out of the house or already gone, so I used a lot of American-made items and it was fun. They still represent my memories. I chose the items not out of random choice, but artistic choice. I wanted to choose them and arrange them the way I wanted inside the frame, in a way that I think is visually pleasant and expressive. What was your thought process while making this art piece? Well, an interesting concept I was thinking about when making this is that art is quite magical. Let me explain it a little bit—it’s kind of weird, you know? When you think of artwork, it's a little bit like you are a witch and you are creating magic. When making a piece, I need to choose and select certain elements and items to add to it. Some are small random items, but some pieces I just feel an emotional connection with them and with others I don’t. I don’t understand why, but I think that the process is quite magical. I’ll pick random things and see whether I have a connection with them to make into a totally different art piece that can resonate with other people. I was thinking about this concept when making this artwork, and I was quite fascinated with how amazing art is. Another part of making this artwork, a question I asked myself was when choosing from multiple polaroids, was why I chose this specific polaroid to add to the work. What is the difference when I can no longer see what is in the photograph?
The pandemic has changed the lives and lifestyles of many people. One such example is the radical change in the consumption of art and media. What is your current experience with the pandemic? I am an international student, and one thing that I experienced during the pandemic and while in quarantine was the attitudes of people towards Asians. I actually experienced a lot of discrimination at the beginning of the pandemic. I was one of the earliest people to start wearing masks on campus back in March, when the pandemic was beginning to spread to the states. I would be teased and ridiculed on campus for doing so. I had some people tell that it wasn’t helpful or necessary to wear a mask, or walk beside me and cough. They thought that I didn’t understand English and would talk really loudly about me and why I was wearing a mask. I think my experience can reflect the lack of empathy and understanding towards Asians and Asian-Americans. I just think that people should try to understand each other better during these hard times, as we are all just normal people. Another experience that affected me was the emotional and psychological issues that come with self-isolation and quarantine during this pandemic. While traveling from country to country, I felt like a delivery package. You have to wear gloves, masks, and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). You are covering yourself in plastic to keep yourself safe and travel to different countries. Everyone is busy doing their jobs, so they won’t give you extra care or smiles. I feel objectified, like a package drifting to be delivered from one place to another. It feels quite lonely. It is a really hard time and everything and everyone is so isolated. Everyone is busy and struggling with their own things, and they don’t have time for others. I think that it is quite pathetic, and this should be a time when we care more about each other and are more united. How do you think art will change throughout this pandemic? Any thoughts on how future art would change after the pandemic? How would this also affect access to spaces such as art museums? I think that during this time, a lot of artists are getting inspired by this pandemic and making lots of artworks. I think in the future, lots of museums will hold exhibitions about the pandemic. When art museums are reopened, I wonder whether people will pay more attention to art compared to the past, since they can no longer go to museums currently. I am so very worried about whether people will forget about going to museums after the pandemic, after becoming used to staying at home. (cont.)
(cont.) How do you think art will change throughout this pandemic? Any thoughts on how future art would change after the pandemic? How would this also affect access to spaces such as art museums? We will see, but I think the medium will change a little bit because a lot of people are paying attention to more digital media nowadays. I think there will be a shift to videos and other remote types of artworks. One of the functions of art—especially in more contemporary art—is to ask questions, rather than just give answers or just to make something aesthetically and visually pleasing. I think art can ask us questions about current events, such as the pandemic. Where are we going? Why are we doing this? What is the meaning of all this, what is the meaning of suffering? Art can push us in ways we never thought of. By doing so, art can reflect on our lives and difficulties, to help us get through tough times. Have you recently—or prior to the pandemic—been to any museums or galleries that interested or inspired you? Not recently, but right before the pandemic, around February, I was visiting San Diego and I went to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Their exhibitions were very interesting and the city life was more in-sync and alive compared to Irvine. America has such great museums and I wish I had the chance to visit more of them prior to the pandemic. What is your go-to art technique or style? Do you have a favorite art period/artist that you are inspired by? Not necessarily, but I do agree that this piece is more contemporary. Prior to the pandemic, I liked to paint and draw realistic things or even sometimes create animated art pieces. So far, I do not really have a preference because I think I need to become a more experienced artist to say that I have a specialty. As of now, I don’t really have a preferred style or technique. In general, I really Goya and his works of art. I like the feelings and emotions he expresses in his paintings. He inspires me a lot in my art work. I cannot be him; you need to have a painful soul to be able to make his artwork. The way he renders figures is quite impressive, and the transformation of his art into a crude, dark, and grosteque subject matter is really interesting. I have a favorite Chinese artist named Zhu Da. He created paintings during the end of the Ming Dynasty and the early Qing Dynasty. He was known for his ink paintings and calligraphy of fish and landscapes. I really like the way he paints eyes.
Some artists argue that art does not need art history while others argue that art does need art history. What is your opinion on this discourse? I believe that it was Duchamp that said that artwork is eventually completed by the viewers, by the audience, not the artist. There is no such concept of a complete artwork, but I definitely agree that the viewer is the last step in the process of art, approaching completion. Therefore, art history is important for art. In regards to interpretation of art, there is no right or wrong interpretation. With art history, historians are able to seriously look into the work and understand the context better. Art history has meaning in the art world but also independently as well. I think it is meaningful to art, as I am able to gain inspiration for my art through art history, from papers and articles. It is so interesting how people can write a whole essay about a single art piece and work so hard to understand it. That type of work is crucial.
Oliver Golden Interview by Zoe Portnoff
Contact: N/A What was your process in conceptualizing and creating this artwork? Usually, this is the time of year when I would be visiting the friend I had made the artwork about and for. Because of the current pandemic, that didn’t happen and I haven’t been able to leave the house in a while. That made me start thinking about not just the physical spaces I inhabit, but what they literally mean to me. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this work? The format of this work was really inspired by this letter from cartoonist Alfred Joseph Frueh to his wife, Juliette, in 1913. When unfolded, it turned into the shape of an art gallery that they were going to see together. To me, it represented this idea of love not just being the words and the ways that you talk to each other, but also the physical spaces you inhabit and the things you do together. This more physical idea. I’m generally not a fan of defining love like that, but especially in a time when all of us are so alienated from each other physically, it was a reminder of the ways we connect to each other beyond words. The fact that it was a love letter—I have a lot of complicated thoughts about this, but essentially this letter was discussed and described as a beautiful gesture of love specifically because it was a romantic letter rather than a “normal” letter. In terms of personal relationships, we really remember historical figures by the love that they have for their romantic partners and have this fascination with their communications, but not as much for their platonic relationships. It made me think about how all the physical spaces I have shared with my friends have gained meaning because of those friends, and because they’re spaces that I want to share with them. I’m reclaiming that act of love by creating this new physical space that can travel the distance between us as a letter.
Oliver Golden Home-Sick
I always think of the idea of found family, especially in juxtaposition with this heterosexual love letter, as something that really resonates with queer tradition and queer spacemaking. Oh, yeah. Found family is absolutely a queer concept to me. Home and family are wrapped up in these ideas of physical space, and growing up as a queer teen, a lot of the places I found “home” were not physical. They were online, or in the words that I sent to other people. This artwork reclaimed physical space into my own experiences now. I love that your artwork has these two forms with completely different kinds of legibility, first as a flat, written letter and then as this expansive yet fragile three-dimensional space. How does your artwork transform and play with the associations we have with paper communications? With letters, words are thought of as this intensely intellectual plane of communication where you’re speaking your feelings into reality. But I find that the moments that I feel most connected and loved are in the physical space. So it was an attempt to marry that intellectual, high-minded awareness of love letters, with the experience of loving and being loved simply through existing in the same place as someone. When I originally created this piece, I had to form it in this really fragile, three-dimensional structure, and if I did something wrong I’d have to tear a whole section off. And then when it collapses into this more sturdy, flat letter it collapses that feeling of love that fills this entire space into this compact area. It’s extremely fragile to build up, but at the end you collapse all that space and effort down into this dense little package of paper that can fit in an envelope. It’s a very nostalgic artwork, both in its subject matter and form. The long-form letter has become a much less common form of communication in the digital age. What associations with letter writing did you have in mind when you were creating this work? The long-form letter is very strongly associated with either family relationships or romantic partners. They have these connotations of intense bonds that are socially recognized in a way that I don’t think pure friendship is. I wanted to equalize the importance of those bonds, especially when found family as a queer structure is always less recognized than the heterosexual bonds of the nuclear family and romantic partners. I wanted to assert that these relationships are just as important, whether or not society recognizes them as such.
What was your process in creating the paper diagram? My friend actually offered to draw up a diagram of her floor plan for me, but I explicitly asked her not to do that because to me, the letter was a culmination of the time that I spent there and my memory of the physicality of it. There’s this idea I think of a lot, that when you remember something, you’re not remembering the specific moment; you’re remembering the last time you remembered it. That always makes me think about how memory is inherently collapsable and builds on itself with inconsistencies, but that’s where we gain the meaning from it. If I remembered every exact detail from that space, it wouldn’t be as interesting. Instead, what I modeled were the bits that I remembered because they meant something to me. There’s the table where we ate food together, there’s the staircase that was always too steep. So you’re really translating these associations that you specifically have with this space, rather than the exact dimensions in this very mathematical way. Yeah, for instance there’s this one room I barely put any detail into because I’d never really entered it. And then there were the bits I knew really intimately and put a lot more detail into. Can you describe some of the rooms with more detail and your associations with them? This seems like a weird one, but I really wanted the staircase to be made of one sheet of paper that I would then fold to open correctly. A lot of the other furniture I made from strips of paper that I glued together, but I really wanted this staircase to be this solid chunk because in my mind it’s such an imposing area. It’s this difficult little part of the house because it’s unusually steep and hard to walk up and down, but I have such intense memories of it. They had this big, fat cat that would thunder down the stairs and have so much trouble with the steps. It also led up to my friend’s rooms on the second floor that we didn’t really hang out in, which was this other level of intimate space separated by the staircase. There’s also the kitchen, which I spent a lot of time in because I enjoy baking, but I also wanted to highlight it because it’s such a center of a nuclear family space. A kitchen makes a house a home, and all that. We’d all cook together and eat together, and when my friend was out at work for the day I would bake something so that when they came home they could have something delicious to eat.
(cont.) Can you describe some of the rooms with more detail and your associations with them? All of the bits that I put most detail into and remember the most are intensely tactile and physical, or places that represented this homemaking and found family ideal. It’s both a representation of a physical space and a representation of my memory and my values. I know you’ve also created a lot of collage work in the past. Did you include any found materials or similar collage elements here? It was exclusively blank paper and pen. When I create collages, I like to think of it as a ritual where it’s not just the physical images or pieces that are significant but also where they came from and how that informs the work that I’m making. So for this work, I felt that if I used collage elements, it would rob it of the integrity of love being something that you build yourself. It would put associations into the work that you don’t want. Exactly. Even if no one would get that except me, it was important to me. What interests you about paper as an artistic medium by its own right, rather than as a surface? With collage, I really like how the images have a further meaning beyond what I craft from it. Meaning is a collection of all of the things that have been part of this work, before it becomes a whole. Collage is a billion different things that you condense into one whole, bringing all these disparate elements together. When I take images from different sources, I’m acknowledging what the original source material wanted it to be, and transforming it into my own thing. It’s also been a really collaborative practice for me. I’ll have my friends send me magazines, or go look for used books together. It’s inherently collaborative because of all the hands that these materials pass through: the person who designed the book, the person who owned the book before you, the people that you create the art with, the people that you create the work about... It’s an art that’s passed through many hands on its way to you. and I like to think about that when I’m creating something. I want to honor the other people who have come on this path with me.
But in juxtaposition with that ethos, the majority of this artwork is made up of this blank white paper. Besides the desire not to inject those associations with found materials, it’s really representative of this temporary model that comes with renting, and having your home be conditional upon your labor and your current life situation. A lot of us feel like we’re living in this borrowed time and borrowed space, and we’re just putting things on top of these surfaces as a temporary reclamation of a space as ours. The permanence comes from the memories made and the love felt there. So in this work I’m really showing what has been made permanent for me, through these experiences and acts of friendship and love that have occurred in this space.
Interview by Zoe Portnoff Contact: N/A Your works all revolve really strongly around childhood experiences and objects. Can you talk about how the nostalgia of childhood influences your artwork? In a lot of my works, I focus on human connection. I feel like a lot of people base their personalities and identities on their childhood. In the still life, for example, I like to use scent and different senses to evoke nostalgia. I’m pretty sure that scent is most linked to nostalgia as a sense. I also use flowers a lot because I had a lot of flowers in my childhood, and sprinkles because I really liked doughnuts as a child. Those scents and tastes bring me back to these really personal and specific moments. I think it’s really important to make that connection to the past because people base everything upon what they learn as children, and making that into art is something I really enjoy to do. Yeah, I really got the sense that your art is full of these objects with personal significance that only you know the whole story behind. Exactly! I think that’s a great part of art. Artists create to express themselves, and only one person can channel their personality and their experiences into a piece of work that they create. So I definitely agree with that. Can you tell me about some of the multimedia elements you include in your work? Painting is all good and fun, obviously, but objects that you hold close to you have so many different associations—it means more. I also love to work with textures. For example, Circle Back is painted on top of fabric. I really enjoy using fabric in paintings because I feel like mixing those textures gives different depth and elements of composition.
This painting of my sister and I uses chains to represent constriction in connection. The flower petals are a physical manifestation of scent, the sense most connected to memory and mind, as the glorification of the chains represent the push and pull of the swing, constriction, and connection. My sister stands as a symbol of my childhood; a symbol of the memories I have grown with and am constantly unlinking and linking back to.
How do childhood objects and experiences relate to the larger theme of Querencia? There’s this idea that one of my friends, Maggie, described to me that I found to really connect to my work. She calls it time travel— when you hold something, or have an object that ties to a specific memory, like a movie ticket that holds a lot of precious memories, you remember all these specific moments and feelings in such a visceral way. You have this experience of coming back to a feeling of comfort and safety with childhood objects, like toys. Some of your art has a bit of a surrealist feel to it, like your painting Pendulum that shows the links of a swing breaking apart and falling alongside flower petals in the breeze. What do these elements symbolize to you? I actually had a series of paintings that used chains a lot because of their associations as a connector, but something that’s binding. They can hold something together or restrict it. When I started working on that piece, I wanted to emphasize that family can mean different things and hold different associations, and I wanted to use the chains as an example of that. My sister and I, who are the subjects of that painting, love each other very much, but family is still really complex and everyone has different experiences that change how they think of the concept of family. I find it really interesting how you manipulate the familiar structures of the playground, both in Pendulum and Circle Back. What about the space of the playground fascinates you? Well, in terms of proximity, there’s a park right near my house and a lot of my childhood memories are in that playground. Playgrounds and parks really symbolize childhood, but interestingly it’s also where kids develop a lot of their fears. A lot of my fears stem from the park. I was kind of scared of heights. Yeah, I was really fascinated by the composition of your piece Circle Back because you make this part of the playground look so threatening and it’s so defamiliarized from the context of the rest of its surroundings. I’m glad that translated! When I was younger, I was so scared of going on, like, the monkey bars and other things like that. But even remembering and acknowledging that fear can be a really comforting experience. I wanted to use colder colors in the entire piece because it really changes the association of this metal object from the playground to a more threatening and stark object.
Erin Choi Circle Back
This piece pushes the perspective to portray how a child would see the monkey bars in order to turn back time. The black birds bring an ominous air to the painting as the monkey bars loom overhead to try and express the feeling of fear and insignificance when facing the unknown.
Erin Choi Still Life (Things Yet to be Misplaced)
Gathering childhood objects, I used free flowing waves of smaller artistic aspects floating across the canvas to represent the feeling of nostalgia through scent. Painting on two separate canvases to represent the separation of memory and reality, this piece's significant and odd disruption further emphasizes disconnect and reconnect.
In Still Life (Things Yet to be Misplaced), you used two panels separated by an assemblage insert to depict childhood objects. What was your process behind choosing these objects? Are you more interested in their individual or collective meaning? When I was collecting objects to put in the middle, I was looking for bright objects that pertain to childhood and that had all these different textures. If you look in the middle, you can see that I included a bunch of Nerf bullets, which worked out really well because the color matched the background of the painting! It’s kind of abrupt and intrusive to the viewer, but it’s also a part of the composition that fits in really well with the colors. It’s a toy that a lot of people are familiar with, so they can relate to it in that way. There are a lot of really specific meanings for me, but also more general objects and things that everyone has different nostalgic associations with. I put them in there because I wanted there to be this separation between your memories and things that are actually there. An actual, physical object versus a memory. So I wanted as many general, random things as possible. You include such a wide variety of found materials in your artwork, from yarn and paper to tacks and nails. It really invites the viewer to imagine how the surfaces of your art feel. What kind of tactile experience or relationship do you hope to provoke between the viewer and your art? I really just wanted the viewer to be able to see the art and understand its meaning through that tactile relationship. I think that if I make art and people can relate in some way, and feel more comforted by the fact that others feel a similar thing to them, then I’ve fulfilled my goal as an artist. With the sharp pieces particularly, they’re not very friendly—they’re pointed directly at the person viewing the art, but it mixes with this warm feeling of relating to another person through these textures and objects. Did you conceive of these paintings as a series? It depends on which piece. I definitely felt that the still life and Pendulum were tightly woven together, because I included a lot of objects that I shared with my sister in the still life. In general, the four pieces are so related just because I come back to this subject matter so often.
Erin Choi First Curiosity
This piece expresses the connection between opportunity unbound by physical limitation. The abstract, flexible colors and forms tell the infinite possibilities in the mind of this young girl, as her big eyes shine with curiosity, her small hands holding the round light which represent future imagination.
Did you start out as a painter and start bringing found materials in later, or has that always been a part of your technique? I actually didn’t start oil painting until last year! I definitely was working more with pencils, I did some sculpture, and some painting, but not oil paint. When I started oil painting, I also started using mixed media because it was this completely different and experimental experience for me. I went to an arts high school and got to try out tons of different things through that. I actually shifted to digital art, learning 3D modeling, animation, and concept design. I try to meld those two skill sets in a lot of my current art. This year, I’ve actually steered away from studio classes because I really want to be able to develop my art at the studios in person. But the lecture classes are so interesting and have all these perspectives about art and culture I’ve never considered before. It’s definitely weird having my first year at UCI in my room. I haven’t even been on campus yet! Technically, I went once just to get my vaccinations, but all I saw was the student health center. I know the UCI art program is really known for its more conceptual approach to art. Did that play into your choice to attend this university? Definitely. I wanted the opportunity to explore tons of different mediums and appreciate the conceptual approach to art, rather than just learning the technical skills really well for a single medium.
Interview by Arina Lurie Instagram: @joyful.breeze I was really struck by your text submission with the piece. I thought it was really beautiful and really captured our theme really well. When you heard about the idea behind Querencia, how long did it take you to come up with this piece? Did you know immediately that you wanted to depict your partner? Upon hearing about the theme, I spent a long time thinking about a physical space that made me feel safe and recharged. I was in a weird transition of moving out of my childhood home, one with plenty of bad memories, so I couldn't think of any. Then I realized querencia could expand beyond that, and that's when I knew I wanted the piece to be of my partner. How did you get into digital painting? I actually started drawing digitally when I was twelve with a mouse on DeviantArt, and then I got my first drawing tablet the following year. I stepped away from it for a while when I was learning how to paint with my favorite medium, oil, but the drying process takes way too long sometimes. That's when I combined the two, and used traditional painting methods but with a digital medium. I'm really interested in the composition of your piece. The angling is so interesting to me with the tilting and then the line of fuzzy glowing lights that outline the setting. Thanks! It's based on an old picture I took during the early days of our relationship, when we were just getting to know one another in my R.A. dorm room. We would lay out mattresses on the floor, and I love soft, warm Christmas lights. When I was taking the picture, I was trying to get all those elements into frame.
Is Done Well
Typically the childhood home is where one feels strong and safe, and prepares for another day of fighting outside of its comforts. For me, rather, it was the reverse. Everything outside of the home was an opportunity to recharge before entering the ring again against my abusive household. But the outside world was inconsistent and unreliable. It often had sharper teeth and swords, and I was growing more and more defeated. It wasn't until I met my partner that I felt what true comfort, love, and strength could feel like. This painting depicts the first sense of calm I felt by his side, sitting on a floor of mattresses in my first room away from my parents, lit only by warm Christmas lights. After spending my whole life with no Querencia to return to, being harassed and stabbed indiscriminately from all parts of the ring, Kyle gave me the opportunity to heal my wounds and regain my will to fight.
I think your piece brings up very interesting and true distinctions about the difference between a house and a home. Especially when you consider that the space in which you first found this love and safety and comfort is a small dorm room! Definitely. That's something I've been exploring my whole life, finding a home for myself. That dorm room was the first place I lived at after moving out. I really loved the contrast in your statement when you described your past house as being sharp like swords and then the piece looking so warm and fuzzy with blurred lines, no sharpness or pointed aspects. Yeah, softness and warmth doesn't really exist in my childhood home. If I'm the bull and Kyle is my querencia, my old house was the bullfighting ring and my mom the matador. I think you conveyed it beautifully. How has your art making been affected in the midst of the pandemic? Honestly, it's just made me reconsider my career. I originally wanted to work as an environmental concept artist for games or movies, but my mom wanted me to go to UCI so I pursued teaching instead. Now that teaching has been so heavily impacted by the pandemic, I've decided to explore my original path of concept art again. When did you know that you wanted art to be your primary focus? Was there a turning point with a specific piece or artist or game? Definitely when I went to Ryman Arts. It's this art academy that's completely covered by a scholarship, providing you lessons from college professors and really high quality materials. I'd always been obsessed with watching the behind the scenes for animated films, and Ryman led me to my love for landscape art. Realizing there was a career in environmental concept design was the perfect combo of those two passions. There wasn't a turning point per se, but I've always loved the environmental design from Don Bluth and Laika films. With games, Animal Crossing: Wild World for sure. I always loved the environments in Studio Ghibli movies. Yes, those too! I only got to watch Spirited Away when I was growing up through weird bootlegs!
Has art always been a safe space for you? Absolutely. Although my mom tried to get me into more "useful" hobbies, she couldn't stop it from being my escape. In my DeviantArt days, I was also being bullied in school for my ethnicity. The anonymity of my art online helped me gain my confidence, and even meet really awesome friends. This year especially, the conversation about diversity in artistic subjects and the representation of non-white straight men in the art world has been quite loud. Do you think the art world is becoming better with diversity? What do you see as the path forward for the art world? That's a great question. I was actually in an art history class with you last year regarding African American women in art. I think that class for me was the first time I realized the importance of representation in art, and how much weight it carries, as a reflection of the era in which it was produced. As a queer mixed race woman, I've never really gotten to see anyone like me in major artworks or even in media. Those that did exist were either cast completely wrong, or were written as being conceived by embarrassing or violent means. No one in my family was hapa either, so I felt very isolated. It wasn't until college that I met other hapas, like Zoe (who’s also working on this exhibition), and queer Asian-Americans, and grew incredibly proud of my identity. But representation in art, in all forms, would have helped me come to terms with my identity much earlier. And the art world is now beginning to realize that, allowing artists of all backgrounds to share their stories, perspectives, faces, bodies.
Interview by Peter McEldowney Instagram: @johnnovak.xyz In disembody.exe, you reference the disembodying process of a rave’s strobe light fracturing a body’s movement through space and time—do you feel this process is empowering? Yes, I think that's ultimately why people go to those spaces—to experience something out of body and to really force yourself to push your limits. I think electronic music and the spaces it takes place in are about just letting loose, seeing how far you can go, and enjoying yourself. Was this made during or before lockdown? During; I was working with Gabby M., who just graduated from the MFA program, and Gabby S. from the Honors program last year. I was kind of down at the time, I wasn’t too happy. I think lockdown made other things in my life much bigger. That was compounded with not having an outlet—I couldn't go to a music show and lose myself for a few hours. I just went to Tumblr, found this video, and turned it into a gif. I didn't know how to download a video, so I took a bunch of screenshots. It was funny, because in the process I was becoming a strobe light. I reconstructed these images in photoshop and put it into a video program, and the program had its own glitches because of the transfer into the gif process. In the absence of the rave which we can no longer attend, what meaning does this work now? It's funny; now that we can’t go and participate in these electronic dance experiences, I have been able to watch livestreams of DJs in Berlin streaming their own sets from my own home. Even though we can’t experience it in the physical world, we can still experience it digitally. The piece being 5x5 inches, it reflects kind of the format of Instagram posts. It’s a kind of vicarious way to experience this phenomenon.
The techno rave receives much of its power from its disembodying principles by deconstructing time and space as strobing lights and pulsating beats reverberate through the body, inducing a transcendent experience. Digital media technology has this same disembodying power by ripping apart and reassembling our new digital forms, further extending the boundaries of the human as we experience new life in virtual bodies.
You say that the video is found footage off Tumblr, right? Gabby encouraged me to—there are already so many images in the world and we are already kind of using our Tumblr blogs and curating things and making them a part of ourselves, even though we didn’t originally create them. It strays enough from my photography practice that it's still pretty fresh. I think the way we share images, which can mean totally different things for each person, is really interesting. This is a forty- or fifty-second long one-angle straight-on view of this raver in Eastern Europe and the strobe is going on and off, and you can just see snippets of him as the strobe goes on. I don’t know where it comes from, which I think is kind of cool, but I’ve seen lots of videos like this that imitate how people would act in a rave or techno show. I think because of Tumblr’s restrictions now, it’s hard to find the origins of content like this since they've erased so much of its community. How do you think that your earlier art show that had a heavy preoccupation with skate culture, Bodies, factors into your photographic process? I think everything translates from skateboarding—the culture, not so much the act of skateboarding. So many skaters are artists, musicians, entrepreneurs trying to push the envelope of what we can do. I think skate culture is all about making your own space where you want to be. In another project, I documented the workers in a bar that I worked at that no one acknowledged, but the photos gave them a kind of importance—not just as workers but also as people. That really stems from skateboarding for me. It’s not like how it used to be, where skateboarding could get you shunned. I don't like people classifying me as a skateboarder—I shunned a lot of that— because I disagree with a lot of actions and ideologies of skateboarders. But my ethos is to become what I want to be rather than what someone else wants me to do. You can see this in the way the person’s shaved head in disembody.exe is kind of an act of self-criminalisation. A lot of people have adopted these looks and have drawn power based on these negative assumptions. I want to incorporate these negative assumptions, but I also want my work to be humanizing in some way.
John Novak Marks Fade, Memories Remain
Marks Fade, Memories Remain can be read as both a positive and a negative with the impact people have left on our lives and the ways in which their presence is still felt long after they’ve left. The multiple exposure technique conveys the otherworldly presence of the individual, and I have found photography to be a powerful tool in expressing an authentic representation of the self and the world in which we inhabit.
I thought your art had a kind of queer aesthetic to it. Are you a part of the community in any way? My two mentors have both been queer, and the women that pushed me to explore both art and sexuality further have also been queer. It has a lot to do with not being part of the norm; you aren’t restrained by the boundaries of how you are supposed to experience pleasure. I want my art to incorporate femininity as well as masculinity. The queer community has definitely pushed me to be more exploratory. I find that queer artists and women artists always offer something radically different from the established art world. The LGBTQ community is less stuck in the norms of what is expected of us. What was your thought process behind Marks Fade Memories Remain? This one has to do with pain and loss, and how those things can kind of help us. It's something unavoidable in life. It's both a positive and a negative. It could be positive in the sense of having gained that experience, and negative in the sense that you could want someone there when they can't or don't want to be there with you. It shows our ability to take risks that are scary for a lot of us, but loss in these risks make us stronger, and there’s power in that. It's showing us what we really want and why we wanted it and what we ended up not wanting. This piece is inspired by a historical analysis of an individual, and how the loss of his lover became a catalyst for him to pursue a lot of things in his career. Without this loss, it wouldn’t have spurred him into doing what needed to be done. Because it hurt him, a lot of things were able to come to life. Would you say you have a positive relationship with pain? I think with skating, you can’t progress without being hurt. Whether it's emotional or physical, it can be hard for a lot of skaters to deal with. You don’t get there without falling and failing a bunch of times. Always wishing to come back to it makes it worth the pain. I think that enduring pain can be a powerful experience, and it can manifest a version or an idea of yourself for a specific moment. Whose hands are these? They're the hands of my friend, Gabby S. I told her what I wanted to do in this artwork, and she wasn’t crazy about it at first! We were still kind of new in our friendship, and this image kind of cemented our friendship between us. It's one of my most successful images to date, and people seem really drawn to it.
What has your experience as an art student at UCI been like? To be honest, UCI was not what I expected. My experience wasn't what I initially wanted it to be. It pushed me in all the ways I needed to be pushed, and I'm really happy with that experience now. If my experience had been what I wanted it to be, I wouldn’t have formed the friendships that have been instrumental in pushing me and my own work. I’ve really grown my interest in computational artwork and we don’t really have that much of that at UCI, so instead I was able to take a class at UCSD with not only art students over there but also computer scientists. Just to be there as that art student without a background in computer science was interesting. But I still am happy that I chose to go to UCI. If I went to any other school, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, and I like where I am right now. When it comes down to it, I'm so thankful for the people who make up the program here. I wouldn’t have made disembody.exe without the push to be experimental.
Shohreh Esfandiari Untitled I
I was inspired by Jackson Pollock’s abstract artworks and my art history course about modern American art at UCI. Pollock's large action paintings from 1947 to 1952, also called "drip" paintings, were formed by pouring and manipulating liquid paint atop canvases on the floor. My first abstract painting was made with acrylic colors on muslin fabric (88 x 37 in). The second uses the same painting style with acrylic colors on muslin fabric (72 x 44 in). The third one piece, is inspired by Andy Warhol's artworks and my art history course on Pop art at UCI. Warhol was known as a leading figure in the visual art movement of Pop art during the 1960s to 1980s. I created these three images inspired by the 2020 year and COVID-19. It was my expression of an unpleasant situation in 2020. These three pictures were painted and added by sculpture clay, (12 x 9in). This artwork's medium is acrylic colors, clay, and drawing pen for calligraphy on canvas.
Sophie Fromal I Wander
This piece was inspired by the song "I Wander" by Ha:tfelt. This artwork is meant to look like a map in my mind. All of the ideas are flowing together, but there are windows that open to reveal memories of people, places, and things. When I sit alone and think, sometimes I feel like I am strolling through a garden, but every flower and blades of grass is a new idea waiting to grow.
Sherissa Go Untitled
In my youth, when I became old enough to start taking the bus by myself, I found myself spending many otherwise empty summer days in Chinatown. I believe I did it to find some connection to my Chinese side, which, until that point, had caused me to feel great shame and internalized prejudice. (I’d blame my family, but I haven’t done enough introspection to do so confidently.) I never learned Chinatown’s flow. I felt as if there was always a barrier between me and its bustle and inhabitants. No matter how much time I would spend there, no matter how much time I would spend there, no matter how much of its history I learned, I felt like an other. But I remained optimistic. I began to see the neighborhood through rose-colored glasses, and I gave it a secret meaning for myself. It was a poor, one-dimensional outlook, but for thirteen-year-old me, it felt good enough. It felt like the start of a process of self-acceptance. Now, at age twenty, I firmly believe that it was.
Max Kuer Hometown
In my hometown, the response to death and violence within the community is always the same: how could this happen, here? Death haunts suburban spaces as antithetical to the imaginary safe bubble of white picket fences. Death in the suburbs interrupts the expected life cycle that returns the children of the suburbs to the suburbs over and over again. This work explores the tensions between the suburban hometown as a space of cyclical life, with death considered an intruding outsider force rather than a part of that cycle. It expresses the terror of suburban life cycles and the fear of the influence of one's environment upon one's identity. This artwork engages with the necropolitics of suburbia, and the simultaneous impulses of marginalization and assimilation I experienced while slowly learning the meaning of existing as queer and biracial within a white suburban community.
Audrey Hernandez Peterson I Love You Scott
Prior to the pandemic, my space of security and strength was in my friends and peers in Irvine. In the first months of the pandemic, I reflected on the virtual state that these social circles now occupied and the loss of physical socialization. Importantly, I also reconsidered the parasocial relationships to different Youtube personalities that also only existed on a screen just like my real friends. Rendered from a digital collage that was composed of Youtube screenshots and computer text, the final drawing is a negotiation of these parasocial internet relationships that, in many ways, are indistinguishable from my new virtual social circles.
Evan Nozaki Temple
On the balcony at night—under smoke and dim string lights—burning incense by two moths on the wall. Temporary roommates of opposite likeness, but together in the same space, so they enjoyed the moment. When the night passed and they separated, the smell of incense lingered, and their moment together became a temple.
Landing Streak of clouds across mountains far away. I lose myself so often in places I can't really be. My mind is somewhere else than here, in the spot on the horizon. Time will pass me but I'll feel satisfied with how I spent it, through a haze of experiences that are half translated by mindlessness. Meditation is sanctuary—I live through my hypnagogic illusions, comforted by the promise and onset of a dream world.
Blanket Underwater in open air, in a blanket of fog. A comfort without touch, the feeling of dispersing into obscurity. There is no pressure on my body or my soul, and I can breathe without drowning. To know I will fade is the most loving comfort of all—a release of existential tensions onto a bed of soil and sleep.
Mayra Sierra Universe
In life, you will experience moments when you feel so overwhelmed by the chaos of the world that your soul will need to pause; in this moment, you will have a few seconds where it’s just you with a worried mind and a racing heart, thinking about the endless possibilities of today and tomorrow. During this moment of vulnerability, you are going to have to look within for the affirmation you need to continue being your most powerful self. In this silence so loud, remember your trauma because though these experiences have marked you for life, they give you the ability to continue fighting beyond the possible.The universe and you are intertwined by an invisible force of power, a manifestation that comes from having faith in yourself. With the exhibition’s theme, Querencia, I found myself thinking that just like bulls in the ring, humans similarly return to something that balances their state of being and or gives them the spark they need to continue with their daily lives. In my artwork, there is a human figure surrounded by chaos, loose strokes created by a thin palette knife. Though there’s motion all around, the stillness of the figure sets free peace from within, giving the sense that life will work out. This single moment that we as humans experience from time to time, especially with the rise of unexpected overwhelming anxiety and deteriorating self-doubt, inspired me to create my artwork Universe. Universe is a reminder that you have power within, and although you can’t see, hear, or physically touch it, your own power will present itself when you least expect it. In the end, everything will be okay. You are the universe.