A "Chess Club" of Artists: Colleagues in Creativity Celebrate Their Next Moves

By Catherine Weatherly

UC Santa Barbara’s postgraduate students in visual arts readied themselves for their next professional “moves” at a reception to exhibit their MFA thesis projects last month. The group titled its exhibition “The Chess Club” because they will apply the strategies they have learned in the program to sustain their future work and their careers.

The  MFA Thesis Exhibition Reception took place at the Art, Design & Architecture museum on campus and featured the artwork of graduating Master's students. The free event filled up quickly, with attendees including faculty from different departments and divisions, as well as other graduate and undergraduate students.

 Third-year Film and Media Studies major Nancy Rodriguez tests out MFA graduate Carlos Ochoa’s virtual reality art piece.

Third-year Film and Media Studies major Nancy Rodriguez tests out MFA graduate Carlos Ochoa’s virtual reality art piece.

“I Googled it and saw this exhibition and thought it was really amazing,” said third-year Film and Media Studies major Nancy Rodriquez as she looked at the work.

A written description of the event’s theme emphasized that the artists had spent their two years learning from one another despite having different styles and working in different mediums. “We’re always around each other,” said MFA graduate Carlos Ochoa. “When you start getting really close to people, as we did in the MFA group, the critique never ends.”

Ochoa’s art in particular attracted a large crowd. His exhibition piece, titled So, You Think You Want a Paradise?, provides an interactive experience with virtual reality. Complete with a VR headset and hand controls, viewers can enter into a world of Ochoa’s making, which includes brightly colored shapes, tall mountains, and deep valleys. “I was thinking about creation and ‘what does it mean to create in a world that doesn’t have any mythology,” said the artist. “So, in a way, I’m trying to make my own mythology that takes place in these virtual spaces.”

 MFA graduate Daria Izad’s multimedia art features raw canvas, ceramic, and wood pieces.

MFA graduate Daria Izad’s multimedia art features raw canvas, ceramic, and wood pieces.

Another artist’s piece unintentionally turned interactive. Graduate Daria Izad’s multimedia work exhibits raw canvas drawings, as well as ceramic and wooden pieces. She had been playing around with a needle and cloth before the event and returned to her piece to find that viewers had taken up where she had left off even though their input was not a planned part of the exhibit. People would sit down and begin to embroider their own designs. Izad took this as an opportunity to talk about the nature of art. “Art, for me, is about sharing,” she said. “It’s evidence of an event and a sharing. So, that’s what I wanted this piece to be.”

Graduate Robert Huerta used his art as social commentary. One of his pieces in the exhibit, titled Border (lands), includes two clear boxes, one containing dirt from America and one containing dirt from Mexico. “I brought this land from the US-Mexico border,” says text around the boxes. “The left container holds land from the Mexican side of the border. On the right, land from ‘America.’ They look the same. Maybe they are the same. Maybe there is no border.”

 MFA graduate Robert Huerta collected sand from both sides of the American-Mexican border to show that “Maybe there is no border.”

MFA graduate Robert Huerta collected sand from both sides of the American-Mexican border to show that “Maybe there is no border.”

The thesis exhibition event marked the end of the time these graduates spent learning with and from each other at UCSB. But whatever their individual next “moves” might be, it seems likely those will include keeping in touch with each other. “I think we’ll talk to each other,” Ochoa said of his fellow graduates. “Lifelong friends.”

Catherine Weatherly is a third-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Communication.

 Just a few of the portrait paintings done of the artists, created by MFA graduate Jimmy Miracle.

Just a few of the portrait paintings done of the artists, created by MFA graduate Jimmy Miracle.