For Design | Media Arts graduate student Joanna Cheung, the adjectives shiny, warm, sticky and sweet bring to mind art. Specifically, they bring to mind the first piece in her exhibition, which is a kind of wax sculpture embedded with wires that, when turned on, make the sculpture begin to melt like a candy bar.
After 33 weeks with 20 classmates, eight teachers and two advisers, Cheung’s exhibition, titled “A Shiny, Warm, Sticky, Sweet Event,” incorporates three projects and will take place today at 6 p.m. at the Grad Gallery in Broad Art Center.
The title of the event describes the materials Cheung used while constructing projects she has been working on since the beginning of her time in the Design | Media Arts program. Cheung’s work consists of a broad survey of materials such as wax, hammocks and televisions.
“The work is a reflection of my first year at Design | Media Arts: my classmates, my teachers … it’s basically an embodiment of everything that has influenced me in this department and who I’ve been interacting with,” Cheung said.
According to graduate Design | Media Arts student Lauren McCarthy, the unusual style of art is valuable because it shows how much artists can do with new technologies and through working with tools and materials, like wax, that are accessible to all.
“I’m excited to see the wax piece in particular because she’s been working on that the longest,” said Cheung’s Design | Media Arts graduate classmate Katie Ammons. “(It) has an extremely ephemeral quality about it … she’s putting the most time into the most transient sculpture, which therefore has a kind of existential feature.”
While Cheung initially planned her piece around the idea of a wall that would begin melting away if two people on either side stared at it at the exact same point, Cheung soon learned that her art’s real value would come from viewers’ own interpretations.
“What inspires me initially often doesn’t get translated. Your perception of your piece is really different when you actually manifest it,” Cheung said. “While I initially wanted to (make) the wall with calibrations and sensors and wanted to have wires melt the wall away, my adviser made a point that I needed to keep it simple and have people perceive it any way they want.”
Another project being displayed is a set of five hammocks interconnected to each other by a pulley system. All the hammocks are wrapped in insulation fabric, which muffles sound and leaves one cocooned in this warm environment. According to Cheung, other people act as counterweights to the hammock you are in, and you can still feel these other participants moving since all the hammocks are connected.
“I was reading a book and there was a section where they described the system to how rumors are generated … there’s no origin, you don’t know how they start or how they are going to spread,” Cheung said. “This description of rumors parallels the hammocks. If you sit in one and someone sits in another, you don’t know where the movement is coming from. You’re constantly being tricked by other people or your environment.”
When she studied architecture as an undergraduate, Cheung became interested in the idea of framing space with something virtual for her last piece. Collaborating with fellow Design | Media Arts graduate student Gabriel Noguez, who studied film at UCLA as an undergraduate, the two worked to produce a television installation series where viewers’ lines of perception are manipulated. By stationing televisions at the end of a hallway, Cheung and Noguez allowed television images to blend into the environment that one is actually in by blurring the point where the hallway appears to end and the television images begin.
“Because there’s a TV down this hallway calibrated to frame the space, you can put any image on the television, like a cat walking by, and you wouldn’t be able to tell if the cat is real or virtual,” Cheung said.
Cheung said she hopes “A Shiny, Warm, Sticky, Sweet Event” will be an all-encompassing reflection of what she has learned during her first year in the Design | Media Arts program. She aims to make experiences that bring people together through experimenting with different materials, tools and technology.
“It’s almost like she’s making interfaces, but with physical things … for example, with the wax piece … the whole point is for it to disappear and for you to deal with what happens when it melts away,” McCarthy said. “That’s what I see the whole exhibition being about: What is the thing between us, and how can adding something or changing the dynamics a little show us something new about our relationships.”