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Monday, September 27, 2021

The lives of UC Davis art students in quarantine

UC Davis Master of Fine Arts (MFA) candidates share how their artistic outlook has changed since the start of the pandemic

For four UC Davis graduate students earning a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered their use of art mediums and their sources for artistic inspiration. Kelley O’Leary, an MFA candidate whose mediums include sculpting, collages and animation, has recently been devoting more of her time to digital work. In one of her art series, titled “Water Country,” O’Leary layers still images bearing a theme of water and animates them to create movement. In another series, titled “Maps,” O’Leary compiles images taken by Google Street View to create collages. 

“The great part about my work is that I’ve been working in these virtual worlds where no matter where you are, you can go to the location that you would like to go to,” O’Leary said. “I’m not glorifying Google Maps, but I […] think there’s something interesting about being able to be somewhere else from a screen.” 

Toward the beginning of quarantine, O’Leary became inspired to create a video piece entitled “Sterilize,” where she scrubs down an iPhone in a sink with soapy water as an expression of obsessive tendencies felt during the pandemic to maintain a sterile environment.  

“I think we’ve all kind of gotten into a rhythm of how much we’re willing to do and what actually matters, like wearing a mask and washing your hands and sanitizing, but maybe you don’t have to wipe down your groceries,” O’Leary said. “So I was just playing with this idea of obsession and fear of getting the virus. My phone is something that I don’t even really think of an object a lot because it’s just this thing that brings me into another world or connects me to people, and then all of a sudden, it’s like, ‘No, this object is a cesspool.’”

According to O’Leary, the additional time she has had to herself in the midst of quarantine has been beneficial for her creative process as an artist. 

“I’m an introvert, and so […] I’m kind of thriving because it feels like I can really go into myself, and that’s where I get my inspiration from,” O’Leary said.

Morgan Flores, another graduate student currently working on earning her MFA, was in the middle of a project centered around themes of love and touch when the pandemic began. 

“I had been painting about […] love and connection and touch, and so I remember the week that the pandemic hit very strongly because I was like, ‘How am I supposed to paint about this?’” Flores said. “It definitely caused a disruption in that theme because, as everyone knows, that was when we first heard the term ‘social distance.’”

During lockdown periods, MFA students were not able to access the studios from which they would normally work. Since the pandemic began, Flores has centered her art around sustainability, using objects she has been able to find in her house. 

“I want to be able to make art wherever I am,” Flores said. “I don’t want to be dependent on having studio space because when the pandemic hit, the MFA students had to completely abandon their studio.”

Helia Pouyanfar, another MFA student, has been inspired by themes relating to hardships during the pandemic.      

“I think the thing about the pandemic is more of, ‘What are the concepts or ideas that rise from it?’” Pouyanfar said. “Like the idea of accessibility or equity, […] the pandemic highlights those ideas.”

Though Pouyanfar has drawn inspiration from the struggles of the pandemic, she wants to be mindful of how her work may be received in the future. 

“One […] challenge that artists always have to think about is being careful with timing your work,” Pouyanfar said. “You think about it in the future, 10 years from now or 20 years from now, when people have no idea about how living in a pandemic is, how are they going to react to your work if it’s timed in a specific setting?”

Sofía Del Pedregal, who is working toward her MFA degree in Chile, created a group for international artists in which they could offer each other feedback and support.  

“I designed this network with artists from the U.S., Hungary, Brazil, Venezuela [and] Chile,” Del Pedregal said. “For all of us, it was something that helped us to face the situation, to deal with the emotions. We were making art, exchanging images, but at the same time, we had a lot of Zoom meetings and it was like a support group.”

Much of Del Pedregal’s art is based on the theme of ruins, which she finds to be pertinent to the current state of the world.

“I think art is a way of processing information and dealing with things, so […] I was working with ruins as a main subject and then here we are facing this ruinous landscape situation,” Del Pedregal said.

She has found that collaboration with other artists is crucial during this time. 

“Crisis generates active collaboration processes,” Del Pedregal said. “One thing that has [most] influenced my work is the notion of collaborating as a fundamental way of surviving critical times.”

Written by: Lyra Farrell — features@theaggie.org 

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