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Artwork by Phiton Nguyen 'Yugeniks,' Waterless Lithography Print, 22 inches by 20 inches
Primary's Cool: UCSC student Phiton Nguyen gets into the red, gold and blue in 'Yugeniks.'

Generational Shift

The next crop of artists is on exhibit in UCSC's Irwin Scholars show, opening this weekend.

By Steve Hahn

Borders will blur, collapse and be rearranged when UCSC shows off its most accomplished art department undergraduates at this year's Irwin Scholars show. This year's crop of top college talents blends together different mediums, colors and social identities to shake up everyday conceptions of reality, with results that are engaging, jarring and strangely beautiful.

The Irwin Scholars show represents the end of a long process of review that narrowed all senior art majors down to the top 12 students, each specializing in a different medium.

The Irwin Scholars show is not only a way for UCSC to show off, it also provides young artists a taste of the real world art scene, where organizing gallery openings is an essential part of success.

"These students are wondering, 'How am I going to make a living as an artist?'" says gallery coordinator Leslie Fellows. "For many, this is their first professional show."

In order to help them get a leg up in the world of professional art, the students are each given a $2,500 grant from a scholarship fund established in 1986 by William Hyde and Susan Benteen.

Many of this year's artists train their artistic lens on how society helps form gender identity and gender relations. Levi Goldman tackles this hot social issue with the help of apple packaging materials. Goldman manipulates the material in "abstract ways" to create a sculpture that provides a metaphor for how the individual can reconceptualize his or her own packaging, sexual or otherwise.

"It speaks to the manufacturing of the gender structure," says Goldman. "It is an overt statement on how we shape or choose to shape that social space of gender."

This sculpture is only the latest work by Goldman to explore sexual identity. His last project involved dressing up a male subject in pink and taking photos of him as he marched down the train tracks by Moss Landing. The performance piece, known as The Relocation Project, was a reflection on the breaking down of gender roles that greeted the opening of the 20th century.

"During the early 20th century, men were becoming more genteel, as they didn't have to work as much due to the Industrial Revolution. So a new term came about to describe them: pink men," explains Goldman. "Many things were changing then. World War I also introduced men who were becoming hysterical in the trenches. Being hysterical was previously considered a woman's disease. To have this occurring among men was changing the way people understood preconceived notions of gender roles and attributes."

Seth Charles, another of the Irwin Scholars, takes on gender identity in a different way with his My Sex presentation last year. In this performance piece, he wore an artificial body made of plastic skin and veins. He would engage viewers by handing out syringes filled with orange dye to self-described "women" and syringes filled with blue dye to self-described "men." Each viewer would then inject his or her dye into the plastic veins, eventually creating a series of new colors that reflected the various "shades" of gender with which an individual might identify.

"At the end of the performance I ripped off the fake body and collapsed somewhere between the genders," Charles recalls. "It looked at gender as a spectrum rather than a binary."

At this year's show, Charles will follow up with a digital art piece that investigates the role of trauma and loss in relationships.

The painter Phiton Nguyen, who will present a piece at this year's show, paints objects that seem to be bleeding into each other, yet again evoking the theme of boundary disillusionment. Meanwhile, Vanessa Olson stitches together fabric accompanied with drawings to create mysterious, thought-provoking images.

Other artists featured in this year's show include Misha Capecchi, Julia Fredenburg, Andrew Herbig, Serena Mitnik-Miller, Dana Norrell, Nolan Danger Plant, Corey Riddell and Dustin Steyding--all pushing boundaries and messing with the protocols.

IRWIN SCHOLARS 2008 runs May 28-June 14 at the Sesnon Art Gallery, Porter College, UCSC. Opening reception is Wednesday, May 28, 5-7pm. Free. Call 831.459.3606 or visit for more info.

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