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Student’s art installations illustrate humanity and environment connection

Alexia Magdaleno stands in front of the Broad Art Center dressed in green. The fourth-year design media arts student creates multimedia works inspired by topics like the natural world and their hometown. (Alice Yang/Daily Bruin)

By Elise Van Meter

April 4, 2023 8:24 p.m.

Alexia Magdaleno is entwining ecology and emotion through multimedia.

The fourth-year design media arts student said their growth as an artist is intimately tied to their journey as a first-generation Mexican student. A native of Salinas, California, which has an immigrant population of 36.4%, Magdaleno said her creative vision has been touched by the resilience and resourcefulness of her community. The vibrant agricultural city, from which Magdaleno has gained ecological consciousness, has further fostered within them an evergreen intention to learn and grow, as realized through art, Magdaleno said.

“Everything is ecological. Humans are not separated from anything in this world,” Magdaleno said. “(In) all of the choices I make as a creative, I’m always thinking about what else they are tied to, what they are connected to, what they affect.”

Magdaleno said she engaged her earthly curiosity in the spring 2022 in her creation “Intertwined,” a sustainably sourced installation composed of repurposed kelp fabric. Following an extensive period of research and fieldwork, Magdaleno said they dedicated hours to hand sewing the upcycled textile into kelp vines. This planetary awareness, she said, frames her artistic vision.

[Related: MFA student Jackie Amézquita’s mixed media art sprouts ideas of regeneration]

Suspended from the ceiling of the Design Media Arts Shootroom, the ecological installation conveyed a sense of physicality and otherworldliness, said UCLA Design Media Arts vice chair and professor Peter Lunenfeld. Magdaleno’s recycling of earthly materials, he said, created an immersive environment that allowed its viewer to encounter a kelp forest from below. Lunenfeld said the installation fostered simultaneous sentiments of tangibility and unreality.

“Alexia is someone who really understands the continuity between the virtual and the real,” he said. “That piece sort of played with that ambiguity.”

Magdaleno’s sensibility persists in their contemplation of human emotion, they said. In a photography project titled “LOVE IS ______.,” Magdaleno said she recorded her subjects’ perceptions of love and sought to foster an environment compatible with vulnerability. Alumnus Eleonor Palabrica, a fellow creative and project participant, said the process engaged intimacy, beauty and authenticity, as Magdaleno refrained from posing their subjects and instead engaged the candor of the moment.

Magdaleno stands in front of a railing and wooden slits. One of her recent projects, "Street View," centers on people caught walking on Google Street View and each individual&squot;s motion-filled lives, goals and intentions. (Alice Yang/Daily Bruin)
Magdaleno stands in front of a railing and wooden slits. One of her recent projects, "Street View," centers on people caught walking on Google Street View and each individual's motion-filled lives, goals and intentions. (Alice Yang/Daily Bruin)

Magdaleno said the product, a collection of black-and-white portraits accompanied by telling quotations, further reflects her desire to chronicle human life and rumination. Magdaleno said they sought to illuminate the introspections of their participants. She added that she then interpreted and captured these deliberations through photography, translating articulated emotion into visual art.

“To be able to archive their thoughts and their feelings and their existence in that moment was very important to me,” Magdaleno said. “I’m a very archival person. I really like to document human experience and human interaction.”

Magdaleno said their most recent installation, “Street View,” featured in the 2023 Design Media Arts Undergraduate Exhibition, further evinces their fascination with human interaction with the world. The project, an animated selection of chosen figures cast against a vivid green background, stems from her years-long endeavor of locating individuals captured on Google Street View, Magdaleno said. Upon discovering these digital actors, they said they were compelled by the unknowable intentions and unfolding journeys of these anonymous people.

Lunenfeld said Magdaleno managed to illustrate a spirit of pleasure and engagement with the world. He said “Street View,” in particular, engages a human concentration and an ecological underpinning, as the faces of the figures are blurred to direct focus to the raw material of the clothes. This accentuating choice serves not only to subtly critique the consumerist spirit of production that causes earthly harm but also to celebrate difference, Lunenfeld said.

[Related: Graduate student Saskia Baden’s photo collections explore duality of femininity]

Magdaleno’s conceptualization of “Street View” has not wavered, as she said she has known precisely what she wished to craft since first imagining the project. They said their motivation to realize this vision has persisted as their creative process and technical knowledge have evolved, allowing the installation’s translation into the animated adaptation showcased, as well as into a live rendition in class. Her originality, Palabrica said, allows Magdaleno’s multifaceted artistic identity to surface in each piece.

“They don’t water down their creativity or what they envision their art to look like for other people,” Palabrica said.

In creating “Street View,” Magdaleno said she also endeavored to sustain a dialogue of dreams. Beyond articulating their realization of their own aspiration in this piece, they said they are keen to inspire their viewers to ponder and pursue their ambitions. Magdaleno added that in her coming works, and upon her artistic and technical growth, she hopes to envelop and amplify the stories and dreams of others, particularly those of the people of Salinas and other immigrant communities.

“The hope is … showing people (that) these people around you also have dreams – just appreciate the dream,” Magdaleno said. “You don’t have to think too much about the position that they’re in right now, just that their dreams are precious.”

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