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Scattered Bruins: Students take advantage of stay-at-home orders to renew, expand connection to art

Second-year art and Russian studies student Talia Markowitz said quarantine has allowed her art to become more experimental, such as her hand-centric video in ode to English singer-songwriter Kate Bush. (Niveda Tennety/Assistant Photo editor)

By Kennedy Hill

May 7, 2020 5:03 p.m.

COVID-19 has caused a global pandemic, discouraging people from engaging in mass gatherings or physical contact. Schools across the globe have shut their doors, fragmenting communities into singular pieces here, there and everywhere. Columnist Kennedy Hill tracks student artists across the globe, recounting the ways each person maintains artistic inspiration while adhering to the new normal.

Westwood has transformed during shelter-in-place orders, changing student art along with it.

The beloved college town is now unrecognizable as students across Westwood are urged to stay home. Stan’s Donuts is permanently closed, and Fat Sal’s Deli seats remain empty on a Thursday night. Talia Markowitz, a second-year art and Russian studies student, said the cozy, string-lighted college town no longer feels like itself. As one of the many students who stayed near campus despite UCLA’s adoption of Zoom classes, Markowitz said her transition from an outdoor LA life to apartment living has shaped her conception of art and execution into more experimental, internet-friendly forms.

[Related: Scattered Bruins: International students from China explore new art forms while in isolation]

“I’ve done a lot more stuff, like working with green screens, and adapted for the online sphere,” Markowitz said.

Originally from New York, Markowitz decided to remain in Westwood to avoid the coronavirus outbreak in her home state. Luckily, most of her friends also stayed in town, allowing her to maintain a sense of community, she said. Shelter-in-place order has its downsides, such as removing the in-person experience necessary to critique and appreciate her peers’ artwork, she said. But it has also afforded Markowitz time to explore art forms outside of her studio courses.

(Niveda Tennety/Assistant Photo editor)
Markowitz said shelter-in-place orders have removed many opportunities for critique while also providing time to explore art forms outside of her studio courses. (Niveda Tennety/Assistant Photo editor)

Experimenting with green screens, Markowitz shot a video in which she reenacts the visual composition and hand-based choreography from the “Wuthering Heights” music video as an ode to English singer-songwriter Kate Bush. Donning a red dress reminiscent of Bush’s original costume, Markowitz lip syncs while executing hand-centric, lyrical choreography in front of a botanical background. Typically, Markowitz wouldn’t have time to dabble in a project so outside her normal practice, but said she found her foray into video worthwhile because the skills she advanced through the project.

[Related: UCLA musicians maximize newfound time by pursuing new projects, art forms]

Quarantine has influenced Markowitz’s conception of art and society at large, while also impacting her physical art pieces, she said. Because of a long-term health condition, Markowitz spent most of her high school days isolated in her bedroom. Now she finds herself in a similar position, but this time for the safety of others instead of herself. This introspection manifests itself through Markowitz’s exploration of more evocative, abnormal art, she said.

“I’ve been sorting these emotions out, coming to terms with this space and what it means for me as a woman and an ill person,” Markowitz said.

When Markowitz puts down the camera, she fills her time with walks through Westwood – often with her friend or cat tagging along. Casey Monahan, a fourth-year neuroscience student, said she frequently strolls through campus as a break from her apartment. But Westwood life poses its own issues. Fear caused by the pandemic seems to be subsiding in Westwood, as Monahan said she often sees students walk through town or gather for picnics on Janss Steps, mask-free. Like Markowitz, Monahan has taken advantage of shelter-in-place orders to connect with art, finding solace in creative writing.

Isabella Bustanoby, a second-year physics and art student, said she has noticed a shift in Westwood’s energy and its consequential effects on her own state of mind. The piercing bleat of ambulance sirens has replaced the rambunctious boom of frat parties, and Bustanoby said the village’s warm ease has curdled into a tentative, looming fear. Like Markowitz, Bustanoby has taken time to reconnect with art by dedicating more of her day to practicing violin and drawing.

“Art has sort of blended into all aspects of my life,” Bustanoby said. “The place where I eat, sleep, have class (and) study is all the same.”

Bustanoby said she is practicing more self-reflection while sheltering in place, allowing her to recontextualize certain art forms through normal, household experiences. Watching shadows and light pass through her bedroom has become a meditative performance, and a pot of green beans has become an audience for vocal exercises, she said. While shelter-in-place orders have isolated student artists like Bustanoby and Markowitz from their traditional sources of inspiration, Bustanoby said it has allowed her to expand her definition of art from the practical forms to those created outside the norm of daily life.

“It may sound strange, but there is a new novelty to observation right now, and observation is 90% of making all art,” Bustanoby said.

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