Year-end exhibition highlights the work of UC Santa Cruz’s 2022 Irwin Scholars

2022 Irwin Scholar Christy Yee’s 2021 sculptural performance work From Me to You

Throughout the month of June, visitors to the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz will have the chance to see the work of twelve undergraduate artists selected as this year’s Irwin Scholars.

The William Hyde and Susan Benteen Irwin Scholarship Fund, established in 1986, offers twelve annual merit scholarships to further the education of selected UCSC students for proven excellence in the arts. The scholars are nominated by Art Department faculty to submit a portfolio of work and then are selected by an all faculty vote. The annual, professionally organized exhibition has become a tradition in the Art Department and for the Sesnon Gallery for 36 years.

This year’s showcase, titled Irwin 2022: Emulsion, examines, reevaluates, and processes the nuances of questions brought about by living in a turbulent moment of change driven by shifts in politics, the impending climate and mental health crises, and the rapid acceleration of technology. The emerging artists, who developed the theme together, wanted to interrogate the question, “How can we make sense of our position in the natural world and a society that is constantly evolving?” 

Emulsion, on view June 1-30, features new work created for the exhibition by Aja Bond, Marceline Cyrus, Brennan Elliott, Thomas Goldie, Nico Gu, Elena Ibbetson, Valerie Jackson, Lucien Jacobs, mari mafnas, Amelia Smyth, Elijah Solow Ohashi, and Christy Yee and includes animation, photography, immersive installation works, printmaking, painting, sculpture, and more.

The artists have been involved in every aspect of exhibition planning from conceptualization to marketing and art installation. “This annual showcase gives the students the full experience of what putting an exhibition together is like,” says Gallery Manager and Museum Preparator Louise Leong. “Right now, we are working through important display decisions, really talking with them in the space about how to create a relationship between the audience and the work. It’s such an important learning experience and is certainly the most hands-on and supported exhibition effort by students of the year.” 

Christy Yee, one of the exhibiting artists, decided to tackle one of her most ambitious project concepts for Emulsion, the creation of a duplicate of her own body in red as a form of self confrontation, “ shedding a skin and looking back at the shell that held me,” she writes. She gathered a trusted team of seven to help. “I was covered in a quick-setting silicone followed by a layer of plaster. I had to sit in the same position for three hours, completely still, slowly becoming inhibited from movement, speech, sight. And for the latter half of the three hours, my muffled speech was my only form of communication. This acted like an exposure, having to rely on the skills and minds of others to make my idea come to life.”

“This cohort of Irwin Scholars is showing exceptional attention to the production of their artworks,” says Enrique Martinez Leal, Associate Professor of Art, who served as faculty advisor this year. “The Irwin Scholarship has proven to be an astounding opportunity for UCSC art students by providing them with the material resources and professional support of faculty and staff to develop their projects. I feel this process has advanced their understanding of creative practices and will serve them well in the future as it reflects their evolving sensibilities.”

The Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz is free to the public. The exhibition opens with a free reception on June 1 from 5-7pm. More information about Irwin 2022: Emulsion is available on the exhibition page. Gallery hours and directions can be found here.