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Davis

Davis, California

Monday, September 20, 2021

A sculpted audience

On a nearly annual basis, UC students face unexplained tuition increases and most are unsure of how the funds are used. The most recent decision to increase fees by 32 percent sparked significant controversy and complaints among students and faculty alike.

In response to the disorder and disarray surrounding the current UC budget and administration revisions, students at UC Davis voiced their opinions in the forms of protests, rallies and strikes. As part of this system-wide student movement, a group of art students – Nils Johnson, Marianne Stella, Han Zhang and Mary Guillan – have created a sustainable sculpture that intends to engage the public with the current state of affairs and eliminate any ignorance of the issues at hand.

“[The UC system] is setting fees and raising them at a disproportional rate,” Johnson said. “It creates a sense of elitism within public universities when the purpose is about making education available to everyone … [rather] than [about] social and economic class. [There] is increasing corporate hegemony in the United States and this is one of the many ramifications.”

“This is my first quarter here and [upon experiencing] a raise in tuition already, I feel like there needs to be more awareness and knowledge about this issue,” Stella said.

In Art Studio 150E: Site Specific Public Sculpture, the artists were assigned projects that were to be informative and interactive with the public. The four students based their work on the interventionalist art movement, a form of art that seeks to educate the public through shared discourse and interaction with the art.

“We felt this was the best way … for the audience to interact with the art in a place where it’s extremely visible,” Johnson said.

The piece is inspired by London’s Hyde Park and the contentious “free speech zones.” It consists of an audience and a stage, cleverly placed on the East Quad lawn where rallies and protests have been held earlier this year.

Johnson said the artists chose to place their sculptures on the quad to continue and encourage the tradition of free speech. The location “has served as a hotbed for civil discourse and the gathering of politically-minded activists for decades,” Johnson said in their statement of intent.

Any member of the public is encouraged to stand upon the podium and speak to the “audience” about the matters in question in a civil and intellectual manner.

The audience portion includes 19 life-size figures, representing student protesters, spaced accordingly around the stage. Moreover, the materials used are both conceptually and physically important – they are aimed at encouraging environmental sustainability and politically active voice.

The figures are made of a combination of burlap, wire and recycled materials. The exterior of the figures are formed with wire mesh wrapped in hand-stitched burlap while the interior consists of reusable materials such as plastic bags. The uniformity of the materials and figures conceptually addresses the unity and solidarity felt among all UC students especially in these trying times.

According to the statement of intent, the audience serves to deliver information about the issues thereby educating the public, while also seeking to “humanize the people affected by this crisis [and] maintain public participation.”

Johnson said the piece is intended to “empower students’ agency and give them a voice, literally and figuratively.”

The construction of the sculptures has sparked curiosity and interest amidst passing students and since production began earlier this week, the artists have received many positive reactions and support.

An official reception will be held on Sunday, Dec. 6 from 11 a.m. to noon in the lobby of the art building followed by a walking tour of student sculptures from noon to 2 p.m.

SIMONE WAHNG can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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