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Open Studios Provides Window to Studentsí Art and Lives

Ioana Patringenaru | March 26, 2007

One makes giant tree-like sculptures. Another makes documentaries revealing some of her darkest secrets. Yet another teamed up with cooks and anthropologists to create a vitamin-rich meal and sell it on the streets of Mexico.

They and about 50 others will show their work April 6 at UCSD’s Visual Arts campus. The student-run event includes more than 50 MFA and doctoral students. “It’s going to be fantastic,” said second-year MFA student Sara Hunsucker, one of the event’s organizers.

UCSD Open Studios

The goal was to show students’ work to the San Diego community and to gallery and museum directors and curators, collectors, art schools and other higher education institutions, Hunsucker said. “It’s a great way to have a social event, a cultural event and a celebration,” she said.

Diversity is one of the Visual Art Department’s strengths that will be on display at Open Studios, said current department chair Louis Hock. Students work with many mediums, including painting, sculpture, the Web, digital film making and photography. They also come from diverse backgrounds, spanning a wide range of ages, nationalities and ethnicities.

Crossing Borders

Take Raul Cardenas Osuna. He’s the one who assembled a team to create a nutritious meal and sell it in the City of Puebla, about 50 miles east of Mexico City. He has shown his work around the world, from New York to Beijing.  Cardenas Osuna was born in the Northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, then moved to Tijuana 18 years ago, where he still lives today. Shortly after getting there, he crossed the border and visited UCSD’s campus. He fell in love with the university’s program, he said. “I promised myself I would be part of it,” he said. Cardenas Osuna has now been able to fulfill that promise. UCSD helped him evolve as an artist by building strong relationships with faculty and peers, he said. “There’s a wonderful combination of things happening in my professional life,” he added.

Work by Raul Cardenas Osuna
A work by Raul Cardenas Osuna

His work focuses on analyzing and understanding places, lifestyles and quality of life, perhaps because he’s trying to define a lifestyle for himself, he said. “The more I search, the more I get closer to what that is for me,” he explained. In one of his most recent projects, he was trying to better understand people’s relationships with food in Mexico and how they impact the urban landscape. Selling the vitamin-rich meal was part of the project. Cardenas Osuna now is working on a map showing how Puebla residents spend their money on food. He will have photographs and documents from the project on display in his studio.

Painting and Sculpture

Other MFA students will exhibit more traditional artworks. Third-year graduate student Sharon Levy, for instance, plans to show a 9-foot painting of the cross-section of a tree. She also plans to assemble a few tall, tree-like plywood sculptures, part of a project titled “The Wood.”

Levy said she found herself as a sculptor during her time at UCSD. After graduating from Bard College in New York, she came to UCSD’s MFA program as a painter and made mostly autobiographical works. Then little by little, the characters in her paintings faded away and the settings came to life. She is not sure why, she said. “I’ve been in denial that I like making sculpture,” she said. “There’s something really satisfying in creating something with your hands.” She is now trying to put objects together that will create a psychological space and evoke a specific mood, she said. But at the same time, she’s not trying to fool anyone, she explained. Her last works have been about feeling small and uneasy and about mystery, she added.

Documentary Work and the Web

Work by Katherine Sweetman
An installation by Katherine Sweetman

Katherine Sweetman’s work deals with mystery, too, and more specifically secrets. She started out making movies. Then she made her first documentary as an MFA student at UCSD. She followed one of her friends back to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Sweetman had an agenda for the trip. She wanted to convince her friend not to marry an abusive boyfriend. She failed, but ended up making a documentary about domestic abuse. She also ran into a moral dilemma. By making her documentary, she was essentially using her friend’s misery and trauma to make entertainment. So she decided to make half the documentary about herself and share some of her secrets too. “That made it ethically OK to make the videos,” she said.

Sweetman went on to make documentary about herself, a former boyfriend addicted to drugs and their hometown, Denver, Colo. “He sort of left me for cocaine,” is how she describes her ex. She found him on the social-networking site MySpace. He’s still doing drugs, she said.

Sweetman then became interested in what drives people to reveal their secrets in a public forum. After she made her documentaries, people kept asking her why she put all that personal information out there. She wondered why other people did it too, she said. She’s particularly fascinated by video blogs posted on the video-sharing Web site YouTube. She finds them moving, she said. For Open Studios, she will exhibit an installation showing snippets of those video blogs.

Open Studios is important because it puts UCSD on par with prestigious art schools, including the California Institute of the Arts and the University of California, Los Angeles, Sweetman said. “The goal is to give students and the program more visibility,” she said. 

Additional Information
Who: UCSD Open Studios
When: 2 to 8 p.m. April 6
Where: UCSD’s Visual Arts facility
UCSD Open Studios www.ucsdopenstudios.com
More on Raul Cardenas Osuna at www.torolab.org
More on Sharon Levy’s work at http://www.sharonlevy.com/
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