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Davis, California

Friday, April 12, 2024

Student sculptures turn the Arboretum into a temporary outdoor museum

The Arboretum’s sculptures also make a case for the value of public art

By CORALIE LOON —- arts@theaggie.org

Last winter quarter, students in ART 151 (Intermediate Sculpture), led by instructor Robin Hill, were told to create public sculptures answering the question: What do you care about? For a few weeks, the Arboretum became an outdoor gallery where strangers could witness a vast, visual collage of student experiences.

One of the largest pieces was “Harbinger,” a 4’x4’x9’ acorn created by Kathleen Mackey, a third-year art studio major and Sacramento City College transfer student. Mackey was inspired to create the giant acorn after being taken on a tour of the redwood grove and finding out that they were eventually going to be replaced by oak trees.

“I was so bummed to see that it was going to be gone, and I kind of went through a sense of grief,” Mackey said. “I started thinking about grief and how close it feels lately; it feels like everyone’s had a loss lately. I wanted a piece that sort of was a commentary on that, that gave people the space to think about what they have in the moment.”

For Mackey, the physical construction of the acorn was cathartic of her inability to create large pieces during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having the freedom to go big and integrate art with nature was something that characterized the other artists’ sculptures as well.

Kimiko Young, a fourth-year Spanish and education/art double major, created “Invisible Pain,” a sculpture of an oversized hand attached to a hollow tree stump. The hand, pierced with nails and sharp pieces of wire, powerfully captures Young’s experience with Peripheral Neuropathy (PN), which she describes as nerve damage to the hands and feet that can extend to other parts of the body.

For Young, this project was about making the invisible visible. 

“I wanted to give a visual representation of what my pain with experiencing PN looks like to people who don’t feel it and who can’t see it,” Young said, “because I get these symptoms such as numbing, tingling, burning, pinching, stabbing and tightness, and none of it is visual.”

Young’s goal of highlighting invisible disabilities was also shared by artist “eeuphomia” (@eeuphomia on Instagram), a third-year art major. Their piece, “Picnic Day,“ featured two ghosts having a picnic made up of monster-like fruit with oversized eyes and teeth.

“My art focuses on trauma,” eeuphomia said. “I thought I could talk about eating disorders, just because it is a taboo topic, and it’s kind of a funny way to introduce it because everyone goes there to eat a snack or hang out.”

For this piece and others like it, being in a public place such as the Arboretum is central to conveying a message about invisible pain.

“Having it in a public space, I feel like it reaches more people just because pedestrians walk there,” eeuphomia said.

Mackey also reflected on the value of public art. 

“I think the wonder that people feel when they don’t expect to be confronted with art can be a really special thing,” Mackey said. This “wonder” can make art even more memorable or meaningful, since it seems to seek out the viewer rather than the other way around.

One piece that confronts the viewer in this way is “Need Balance, Please Advise” by Marissa Brooks, a third-year molecular and medical microbiology major and transfer student. Brooks, who views life balance as an area of struggle, said her inspiration came from realizing she was not struggling alone. 

“There’s got to be more people, especially when they come to the Arboretum. A lot of people are looking for a break,” Brooks said.

Her project, composed of a chair and desk covered in small toys, books and a poignantly-placed scale, invites the spectator to sit down and write in a journal, answering the question: What do you have on your plate?

To Brooks, the interactive aspect has been the best part. 

“There’s a story in there about somebody’s struggle with cancer, and even just somebody wrote ‘I miss you dad.’ I wasn’t expecting it to be so connected,” Brooks said. “It’s funny to be on a campus as large as Davis and be in these classrooms, and some of them have 300 people in them, but to also feel so disconnected from everybody. So this really gave them a space to come together.”

For a few weeks, this collection of student-made sculptures did just that. The pieces were removed from the Arboretum on March 8, but photos and discussions of the pieces can be found on Instagram under the hashtag #ucdart151winter22.

Written by: Coralie Loon — arts@theaggie.org


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