Picking apart parasites in student art exhibit

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
UC Berkeley senior Alissa Dawson's mixed media sculpture titled "Maybe it's Maybelline."

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One student grapples to steady a teetering stack of wooden boards — another displays participants’ dreams by having them blow ink onto a blank sheet of paper. A pedestal sink streams flowing, milky-looking water, and clay sperm dangle delicately from fishing line on the ceiling. These scenes — though seemingly unconnected — are in conversation with one another and create the patchwork of experiences for UC Berkeley professor Stephanie Syjuco’s advanced sculpture class art show entitled “Para-Site.”

The exhibition, which opened April 2 and runs until April 12, is the end result of months of planning, conceptualizing and experimenting of the 18 students in the class. Located in Worth Ryder Art Gallery and room 178 in Wurster Hall, this show is the first of its kind to need two locations to display the artwork. The students’ ideas, bold and impressive, became too big to be contained in Worth Ryder’s gallery space.

The students interpreted the theme of “parasite” in many ways, exploring the parasitic nature of anxieties, the beauty industry and the art world itself. The result is myriad media, swirling colors and ideas that span two buildings and shape a dialogue between the artworks due to their shared space.

Two students, Christopher Lee and Mayela Rodriguez, collaborated on a project and created their own gallery setting within Worth Ryder. The gallery space containing Lee’s project is painted dark gray to distinguish itself from the surrounding room and boasts a partitioning wall — but inside houses only a pedestal with a book showcasing Mayela’s artwork and looping flat-screen televisions on the walls.

“I was really fascinated with the idea of ‘riding coattails’ without any permission,” Lee said, discussing the fusion of their two projects. “What would happen if I just started putting my name on things?”

Every students’ exploration of the theme is very personal. Classmate Taylor Harrison — whose constantly running sink was inspired by the parasite of depression — spoke more with The Daily Californian about his concept.

“(This piece) is parasitic in a vague sense of the term,” he said. “There’s water in this closed system, and it never leaves — the two are stuck together. It’s called ‘Sinking Feeling.’ I chose a sink because it’s something I use every day, and it’s something you wash your face off in — but nothing’s going down this drain.”

Across the room from Harrison’s sink, there is an installation called “Return.” A section of the wall is painted patchily in red. Borrowed literary classics lay on a table with Tagalog vocabulary sewn into the pages in red thread, along with a reprinted copy of “A Tale of Two Cities” that eventually becomes written completely in Tagalog and a CD recording of the artist relearning her native language interspersed within “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. The artist, Cara Martinez, explained the parasitism of being bilingual in her own words.

“After having moved to America, I forgot my native language,” she said. “English became a kind of parasite in my mind; in a way, it ‘forced’ Tagalog out to allow me to learn English more easily. I inserted Tagalog words into Western classic literary books. In this way, I allow the Tagalog language to become a parasite to the English language.”

Walking through Wurster Hall’s dimly lit corridors to the second gallery space, one feels the parasitic nature of Mark Lam’s piece taking hold in the form of white clay representations of sperm hanging from the fluorescent lamps. Entering the room, the observer sees dozens of sperm swinging from imperceptible wires around the room, converging on one focal point.

“I wanted to represent how ever-present sexuality is in our culture and how it invades our unconscious, like a parasite,” Lam said of his work. “I also wanted to comment on the masturbatory nature of an artist displaying his work.”

Billowing cloths caress the corner of Worth Ryder, and an oil-slicked structure is suspended in its center. Each installation in “Para-Site” is its own entity that also engages in a parasitic relationship with the gallery space as a whole.

Contact Cara Cerino at [email protected].