As California lifts its social distancing and masking guidelines for the first time, we are both individually and collectively dreaming up ways to remember, make sense of, and heal from a year of personal, academic, and professional isolation. To that end, the AD&A Museum is proud to share the following interviews with UC Santa Barbara’s MFA students and graduates, on how they survived and found ways to thrive during the pandemic. These interviews were conducted by our 2020–21 interns as part of their work with the Museum. We hope it helps you look back meaningfully on a challenging year, while also energizing and encouraging you for what lies ahead!
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During the past year, the world has experienced unparalleled loss, fear, stress, heaps of information, and had to adjust quickly to change. In the art world, artists have undergone a range of struggles, such as switching artistic mediums, finding new ways to reach viewers, or creating in new and often distressful situations. However, from these endeavors were born many positive changes as well; while art may have been overlooked and even underappreciated during the pandemic, like all humans, it grows and adapts to new situations, never truly disappearing. Our goal is to show that despite everything, art has been flourishing, and countless artists have been creating new and exciting works worth having conversations about. Through our Art Has Risen project, we spoke with four UCSB MFA artists and students: Madeleine Ignon (2019), Lucas Murgida (2021), Dani Kwan (2022), and Yumiko Glover (2017). These interviews gave us the opportunity to discover connecting themes among the artists, such as identity, creativity, and changes in space. Through this project, we hope to bring attention to the fact that art continues to thrive.
I. Madeleine Ignon: Artistic Adaptation, Growth, and Resilience During the Pandemic by Alice Taylor
II. No Studio, No Problem! An Interview with 2021 MFA candidate, Lucas Murgida by Sara Marcus
III. Dani Kwan: Artistic Development in the Digital Age by Kristina Goetz
IV. How Yumiko Glover Uses Art to Express Emotional Impacts of the Pandemic by Stephanie Ando
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Madeleine Ignon: Artistic Adaptation, Growth, and Resilience During the Pandemic
by Alice Taylor
Madeleine Ignon, UCSB MFA graduate, visual artist, graphic designer, and art teacher at UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, shares how she has grown, been challenged, and created during the last year, as well as some of her thoughts on major shifts in art, communication, and other important aspects of life.
One of the major differences Madeleine faced this year was a change in scale of both her studio space and her creations. Having previously worked with (although not limited to) larger forms of art, she redesigned her works to fit new circumstances. Painting a series using vintage matchbooks, which can be seen on Madeleine’s Instagram, is just one example. Furthermore, as a teacher, she experienced challenges in switching to a digital format. “Preparing my classes to be taught online took up a lot of extra time and energy, especially initially, so I had to re-think how to manage my work days. I also struggle with fatigue and anxiety, so this year I’ve had to be really conscious of rest, slowness, and even allowing myself to NOT work.” However, out of the many stresses of the past year, Madeleine was able to reflect on her identity, finding “new trust in the fact that I am an artist whether or not I am able to be ‘productive’ all the time,” an insight that we should all incorporate into our daily mindsets.
During the dynamic circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, being an artist can also be “centering” and “grounding” during difficult moments. For Madeleine, art, no matter the scale, serves as a space where she can immerse herself. As she states, “It’s a way to process things I’m feeling, observing, and noticing—about shifts in culture, and about myself.”
Madeleine’s art deals largely with aspects of communication, language, and text. On her website, she writes about her interest in the “changing qualities, effects, and responsibilities of language and visual text, as well as the emotional, political, and expressive impacts of text in different forms: text as image, redaction, letter anatomy, translation, and hand-written text as gesture.” Because of her focus, during the last year, she has noticed a shift in communication, both in her language, and the language of the world. “On a personal level, I’ve tried to be a lot more conscious of my own language, and to go slower in everything I do. And, besides the ubiquity of words/phrases like ’social distancing’ and ‘unprecedented times,’ I have noticed that our language and styles of communication have shifted, often really subtly, to meet the needs of this moment. Humans are able to hold so much, even things in total opposition. We’re shockingly resilient.” Given that the pandemic was only one major issue of the past year, joined by instances of racism, police brutality, political turmoil, and others, there have also been movements toward giving voice to these conflicts. According to Madeleine, “It’s heartening to see things being spoken about in the mainstream, though we definitely have a long way to go collectively in terms of dealing with racism, racial violence, and ending white supremacy.”
The struggles that we’ve endured throughout the era of COVID-19 will have lasting effects on all of us, and artists are no exception. Madeleine’s hope for the post-pandemic world is that humans will experience and emphasize more thoughtfulness and kindness toward ourselves, each other, and the planet. In the art world, there’s been numerous advances toward fascinatingly unique forms of art and media, many occurring online or in outdoor spaces. While this rise of creativity will likely impress on art for the years to come, like all of us, Madeleine is “craving seeing more work in person — especially paintings,” since the effect on an artwork online is never quite the same.
As with the new and interesting forms of art Madeleine has noticed popping up throughout the past year, she herself has been busy engaging with her own forms of creation. For instance, her set of sculptures titled strewn were presented in CA53776V2.gallery, an innovative space which displays art on the dashboard of a 2007 Ford Ranger. This new and refreshing method of exhibiting works of art is run by Alex Lukas, UCSB Professor of Print and Publication in the Art Department.
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No Studio, No Problem! An Interview with 2021 MFA candidate, Lucas Murgida
by Sara Marcus
Back in the fall of 2019, Lucas Murgida had just finished an amazing, labor-intensive, long-term artist in residency position at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana. He was preparing to start his two-year MFA program at UCSB. He was not thinking about his career, more so diving into research, situating in a new city, and planning out how he would spend his time in Santa Barbara.
For someone starting their graduate experience in September 2019, the thought of the school shutting down as the whole world suffered unimaginable panic, loss, and revolution was unfathomable. For MFA graduates whose lives seemingly revolve around navigating the ever-evolving art world, with museums and galleries closed for months on end and studio spaces quickly becoming unattainable, people like Lucas had to work with what they had, even if it meant altering the way they approached their work.
Lucas has been using the jobs he’s had over the years as research to inform his artistic practice. From 2011–2018, he worked professionally in the adult film industry. Currently, his art focuses on ethically disseminating what he’s learned working in the adult film world in a safe and non-objectifying manner. He utilizes his experience as raw material for his art and in turn, creates a broad and inclusive dialogue.
Lucas took the stubbornness of the pandemic in stride by using his limitations as his guiding force. “Half of my work is viewer interactive; the other half consists of introspective and personal performances. I was already gravitating towards personal performance work before the shut down, but once it began, it seemed like the obvious way to continue.” Luckily for Lucas, the pandemic created a pathway that allowed him to continue his research and artistic investigations unhindered.
While the pandemic hasn’t altered the digital medium of his art, his approach had to shift. “The way I did my art was completely augmented, but the type of art was the same. I tried to make my kitchen seem like a gallery or a studio. I’ve had very few opportunities in my life to have a studio, so I’m used to working with limited space.” While all graduate students in the program have access to studio spaces, the Covid crisis eliminated this opportunity. However, Lucas took this in stride and decided that this could provide him with a new challenge and way of thinking about his art.
“My art practice made me well prepared for the pandemic, because I could just shift gears and reapply all I’ve learned into my creative process. If I can’t use the shops, classrooms, or studios, I can transform my living space or go into a field. I could get materials from Home Depot. It was really hard, but I was lucky to have the skills to make it work.”
For Lucas, there is no separating art and life. The opportunity to teach undergraduate students gave him a positive outlet during his graduate Covid experience just as much as his Friday night routine of eating pizza and ice cream sandwiches before a nice walk on the beach. Having something to do every single day that he could take joy in and possibly apply to his artistic vision allowed Lucas to face the circumstances of the pandemic with ease.
Despite the global pandemic completely transforming the MFA experience Lucas and every other student thought they would have these past four quarters, he has never lost his forward thinking or positive attitude in the moment. The pandemic does not take away the academic validation that receiving his MFA will grant him and it has not stopped him from forging on through his multi-year projects. “My next stage is to hopefully find consistent work and steady income. If it’s in academia, great, if not, I will find a positive next step!”
Where life ends and art beings is all about baby steps. Baby steps for a return to normalcy, and baby steps in achieving goals as an artist. “When I realized that my art can exist in limitless other contexts, I became free to create art on my own terms.” There is absolutely no doubt that Lucas Murgida recognized the extreme difficulty in navigating the pandemic, but his perspective on art and what art represents to him allowed him to overcome any challenges thrown his way one baby step at a time.
Lucas Murgida is a 2021 UCSB MFA candidate. His video installation sculpture piece from 2020, Safe 1, reflects an idea Murgida coined, “the fetishization of safety,” and how this has formed his sense of self after working behind the scenes in the adult fetish film industry. His 2021 video installation performance piece, Safe 2, explores the concept of tools being viewed as servants of people and how humans, in a period of global isolation, can serve tools back. Both pieces can be accessed below.
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Dani Kwan: Artistic Development in the Digital Age
by Kristina Goetz
The COVID-19 Pandemic has forced many to overhaul their daily schedules because of office, school,
and business closures. As a result, there have been necessary adjustments made to accommodate the new
“work from home” normal. One of the largest groups affected by the situation is students, and especially
art students. While art is one of the original “work from home” activities, as you can create art in almost
any space, access to studio space and peer critiques are a large part of an artist’s development; however,
MFA candidate Dani Kwan has not let the pandemic hinder their artistic growth.
I interviewed Dani about how the pandemic has specifically affected their art and their artistic process. I asked how the lack of studio space changed their process, and according to Dani, they worked in “small, tight spaces” like their garage or bedroom. Their actual physical action of creating art was not changed, but that their goals and expectations for the year had to be adjusted. For instance, prior to their time at UCSB, Dani was focused on creating two-dimensional and smaller scale pieces such as their Endometriosis series using graphite on Bristol. Dani states, “I wanted to expand in size, interactivity, incorporating performance, using public space, learning new equipment. So, my approach has changed to make those ideas work in new ways,” which led to the pursuit of using digital technology and the outside world to create and present their work.
Digital technology has become increasingly important over the past year with the use of Zoom for meetings, and turning to social media and television as escapes from lockdowns. Digital technology has also brought on the possibility for widespread collaboration, as well as the potential for new forms of media presentation, and Kwan has taken full advantage of this. As a result of the cancellation of in-person exhibitions, the artist has shifted to creating exhibition webpages where they can present their work while maintaining physical distance. Another aspect that has changed in Kwan’s work is their choice of medium. As already mentioned, they could not pursue their ideas as originally intended because of the pandemic, and with the shift to almost everything being online, they have experimented with new forms. Kwan relayed that they have pursued “motion graphics and VFX, photogrammetry, augmented reality, [and] virtual reality” as new mediums, explaining that it has been a time of exploration and experimentation that they likely would not have pursued under different circumstances. Their most recent project, All Eyes on Me, is a great example: they have written lyrics analyzing the use of social media as a narcissistic exercise and utilized VFX as part of the music video. Though they miss the in-person experience of exhibitions and collaborations, they have found that the pandemic has given them more time to work on things like VFX and other digital technologies.
One of the biggest takeaways from our interview is that Kwan’s mental process surrounding creating art has changed greatly. Not only did they have to mentally shift their expectations for their art and their personal goals for their work, but Kwan also states that the lockdown coincided with their return to graduate school, meaning they had to navigate being a student in the online world, while still working on personal projects. Kwan explains that the exploration of their new life as an MFA student had served as a distraction from the “road to melancholy” which came with the pandemic for so many.
I asked about how their relationship with their art changed as a result of the pandemic. Kwan talks about how during the lockdown their art became their release for the manic feelings that come with being cooped up inside. Like any artist, there is a natural “ebb and flow” to their process. They state, “I have, however, experienced the ebb and flow much more intensely in the pandemic, and I think that’s due to fewer distractions and more time for self-reflection.” Kwan has created some incredibly creative pieces as a result of this, as seen in their MFA first year review which can be accessed through the link below.
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How Yumiko Glover Uses Art to Express Emotional Impacts of the Pandemic
by Stephanie Ando
The COVID-19 pandemic demanded immediate, drastic measures by every human being over the course of the past year. Each member of society played their part in fighting this pandemic and changed the way in which they contributed their skills, whether they were nurses working backbreaking shifts or families staying home to protect their communities. In particular, the role of artists and the escapism they offer society has become more important than ever.
Of these artists, Yumiko Glover offered her contemporary works to express how the pandemic affected her and spoke to her audience in this unprecedented global panic. Born and raised in Hiroshima, Japan, she received her BFA from the University of Hawai’i, and with the Chancellor’s Fellowship, she completed her MFA from UC Santa Barbara where she was subsequently awarded the post-graduate Artist-In-Residence for 2017–2018. Her artwork has been exhibited in solo exhibitions at the Brian Ohno Gallery in Seattle, and the Silo118 Gallery in Santa Barbara. In addition, she has presented in group exhibitions at Sullivan Goss Gallery in Santa Barbara, PØST in Los Angeles, Left Field in San Luis Obispo, CA, Art, Design & Architecture Museum at UC Santa Barbara, as well as in Biennial Artists of Hawai’i (2013), Modern Love: 20th Century Japanese Erotic Art (2015) and 21st Century Women (2019), both at the Honolulu Museum of Art, and the iBiennale MMXIX in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Given her extensive experience in the physical art world as an artist, the pandemic completely shifted her perspective on approaching art. In the past year, she deepened and added different angles to her ongoing concept and series Transience. She chose this title from the Japanese term, mono-no-aware, meaning the transience of life that distills the aesthetics of impermanence, a central tenet within Buddhism. Transience was exhibited at the Los Angeles International Airport in 2019, and was included in the United Nation’s 75th anniversary publication Centerpoint Now (2020).
For this series, Glover created a new painting last summer during the pandemic, one inspired by the cherry blossom season:
“Because the beautiful cherry blossoms that people anticipate for a whole year and then make an intense, but brief, appearance, then die only to be swept away by the spring breeze and rain while leaving their afterimages in our memories. This intense and precious life-death cycle is mirrored by the impermanence of our nature and the material world that we took for granted for so long.”
Using the pale pink colors of cherry blossoms and symbolism in Japanese culture, Glover aims to capture the preciousness of lives not only from those that were lost unexpectedly due to COVID-19, but also in general in our daily lives.
Yumiko Glover is a practicing artist in Santa Barbara, California and her art can be accessed at http://yumikoglover.com and hopefully in person soon!
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The project was developed within the Museum Internship Program Seminar under the guidance of Intern Program Coordinator Leticia Cobra Lima. Blog post organized by Mina Nur Basmaci.