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Graduate student exhibition highlights innovative works utilizing various media

Graduate students Hailey Loman, Ash Garwood and Jae Hwan Lim all have their works displayed in “MFA Exhibition No.1,” the first in a number of graduate student showcases. Their works will be on display at the New Wight Gallery through Friday. (Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)

By Talia Brown

March 11, 2020 10:29 p.m.

3D technology creates new landscapes in graduate student Ash Garwood’s exhibit.

The piece is just one part of an exhibition taking place until Friday at the New Wight Gallery, “MFA Exhibition No.1,” which showcases works by graduate students in the UCLA Department of Art. The three featured artists in the event, Garwood and graduate students Hailey Loman and Jae Hwan Lim, have works on display that utilize different media to cover subjects ranging from oral history to innovative landscape photography and art activism.

Hailey Loman: “Autonomous Oral History Group”

Running the Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, or LACA, motivated Loman to start a new organization: the Autonomous Oral History Group, or AOHG.

An overview of the organization’s accomplishments so far, Loman said her exhibit offers a glimpse into how the AOHG operates. Loman interviews people who have dealt with conflict or difficult ethical situations and then transcribes and uploads their stories to a database to create an oral history, she said. One part of her piece includes a conference table, which she said is a physical example of where the group’s ethics board would meet to discuss how each interview went.

(Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)
Hailey Loman’s piece explores how the Autonomous Oral History Group operates.(Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)

Loman said the horseshoe-shaped conference table has recording devices built into it and is the centerpiece of her exhibit. There will be interdisciplinary panel discussions with other UCLA departments at the table during the exhibition, and Loman said the table will serve a functional purpose at a future oral history center afterward as a place for the ethics board to meet.

“It’s much more idea-driven rather than a place or event where we talk about conflicts and the conversations sort of act as these case studies,” Loman said.

[Related: Design media arts exhibit highlights artists’ interpretations of migration]

The exhibition will also feature transcriptions of completed interviews and banners that explain the mission of the AOHG, Loman said. The banners have work flowcharts that depict how the AOHG is organized, and explain how its members create trust with interviewees and handle difficult ethical questions, she said.

Saida Largaespada, a UCLA alumna who works with Loman at LACA and AOHG, said the main ethical concerns of the group are ensuring that interviewees are not taken advantage of and are given an appropriate amount of privacy. While there are consent forms that allow the AOHG to put anything from its interviews online, Largaespada said the organization will allow interviewees to retract some statements in order to maintain long-lasting relationships with them.

“Giving people a platform to speak about their experiences is really special and a lot of art does that and I think oral history can do that as well,” she said.

Ash Garwood: “Common Fault”

The photographs in Garwood’s series challenge the idea of photography as a mode of claiming and instead seek to create new spaces.

The graduate student’s photo series, “Common Fault,” contains nine landscape photographs created with images of fragments of geological elements, she said. Using 3D software, she said she creates computer-generated imagery by combining the fragments to create new landscapes, and prints the resulting images in the darkroom.

(Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)
Ash Garwood’s piece contains nine landscape photographs created with images fragments of geological elements. (Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)

As a queer artist, she said her work allows her to think about new ways of claiming space and take landscape photography back to a studio practice. She said she wants to think more in terms of expanded photography, the idea of using imaging in new ways. The message of her work is to allow things to change, transition and exist simultaneously through more than one presence, Garwood said.

“(The photographs) seem like landscapes and feel like things you’ve seen before,” she said. “And then the closer you get to the surface of them, the more that all falls apart and it feels very destabilizing … because the space doesn’t exist.”

Rodrigo Valenzuela, an assistant professor of art for whom Garwood worked as a teaching assistant, said Garwood’s project is a result of two years of experimenting with her work, figuring out how to digitally and manually create synthetic landscapes. She was searching for something highly personal, but at the same time technically challenging, he said.

“(She) used this traditionally male-dominated and also very conservative idea of landscape photography, and she came up with (her own) ways to make landscapes something very beautiful,” he said.

Jae Hwan Lim: “Individual Attitudes on North Korean Defectors,” “Letters to the Korean Peninsula” and “Mt. Kumgang”

Art activism defines Hwan Lim’s pieces, which tell personal and political stories of human rights issues in North Korea.

Hwan Lim, a graduate student and co-founder of the Humans of North Korea organization, said his three works depict his experiences visiting North Korea and interacting with defectors from the country. The first piece, titled “Individual Attitudes on North Korean Defectors,” is an audience survey based on a wall text that Hwan Lim said describes two polarized South Korean perceptions of North Korean defectors. Audience members either pick one position or write down their own thoughts on the matter and then put their answers in a ballot box, he said.

(Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)
Jae Hwan Lim’s piece tells personal and political stories of human rights issues in North Korea. (Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)

The second piece, “Letters to the Korean Peninsula,” consists of two letters – one written to his own mother and one written by a North Korean defector to her mother, who passed away. It works alongside the third piece “Mt. Kumgang,” which includes five large-scale, clear film sheets with reappropriated paintings of the titular mountain. Adding a personal narrative alongside the political one helps engage the audience in different ways, he said.

“(The exhibition) is more of three different experiences into three different perspectives,” he said. “So, at large, it creates a whole discourse about understanding North Korea. … I want people to rethink how they perceive the depiction of North Korea in the media.”

[Related: Design media arts MFA exhibition to experiment with context via multiple mediums]

Rachel Chung, a co-founder of Humans of North Korea, said she and Hwan Lim started the organization to create a space for people to discuss human rights. Hwan Lim’s time teaching North Korean defectors as undergraduates helped him develop his thoughts on what art activism can accomplish, she said.

“(Hwan Lim has) definitely shown how to personally connect (the) history and politics behind these countries (with) personal stories,” she said. “(Hwan Lim) tries to develop this direction of collective, empathy-driven experience.”

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