Call me your guide. Call me your voice. Call me your eyes.
You are about to take a peek at one of the most unique places in Santa Barbara. A space that is its own. A space that captivates a new perspective on what our minds cultivate when we are free to make sense of our surroundings. Do you accept?
In a beautiful city like Santa Barbara where our city was formed through the eyes of a Spanish style architect with red roofs and white walls, we often forget about the beauty of the abnormal. The structure of art not making any sense and making the most sense; forgetting about the rules of assimilation and standing out among the same fresh face. In the heart of the Paseo Nuevo Mall in downtown Santa Barbara, you can find such a place located on the hidden second floor. We are hard to find as we blend in with the common white wall and red roof, but when you come and join us you find yourself in a space you never thought you needed to experience.
We are at Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara (MCASB) where our mission statement is to advance creativity and inspire critical thinking through meaningful engagement with the art of our time.
Tonight is our Curated Cocktails night and there are a numerous amount of people here with the common objective of having a fun night of engagement. At this moment I’m surrounded by art enthusiasts of all genders, race, age and sexuality sharing an experience that will inspire them to search for the art in their lives they overlook.
We are surrounded by art.
I am a Community Engagement Representative intern here at the museum. It is essentially my job to enhance our visitor’s experience, your experience, by providing them with information about the art, facilitating conversation and encouraging engagement with our exhibitions.
I look over to my left and I see our guest of the night, Khvay Samnang.
It is inspiring seeing Khvay Samnang interacting and having conversations about our Blooms Projects Exchange Series exhibition as he is the artist of this piece.
The exhibition is called Bloom Projects: Khvay Samnang, Footprints of Yantra Man and it is essentially inspired by the yantra, a mystical manifestation that has ties to ancient Buddhist and Hindu practices. His work brings centers around the protective powers that people affected by the war hold on to for protection.
I step over to my right and I walk towards our assume vivid astro focus: avalanches volcanoes asteroid floods exhibition, the space I often find myself thinking about the most.
Before entering the space I see a group of friends standing around the acrylic painting and trying to figure out what it is.
This is so weird, I love it.
Is that a penis?
No I think it's boobs.
Well it could be both?
I thought they were maracas.
Do you think they have prints of this painting?
I hear conversations like this quite a bit during my shifts and to be frank, they make for interesting conversations with our visitors.
I take off my shoes before entering the space, and I immerse myself in the art. This exhibition is called assume vivid astro focus: avalanches volcanoes asteroids floods and it is unlike any other. It was founded by two artist: Eli Sudbrack in New York City in 2001 and later joined by Christophe Hamaide-Pierson in 2005.
I walk around and I am completely surrounded by four color filled mural walls.
We are surrounded by art.
As we walk through a portal into this space we find ourselves stepping into the art and becoming part of the art.
There are a total of 49 rugs and each and everyone of them is special on its own, but when they’re put together they make for a memorable experience.
This one is my favorite
One of our visitor tells me. She says she sees herself in the subject. She sees her friends in the woman and it makes her remember of days where they drink champagne, sing along to the Piano Man and talk about their futures.
I tell her I see myself in the woman too. I see the woman I am now and I think about those kind of nights as well.
There are rugs of different shapes and colors. There’s a shock value to some of them which is what it is supposed to do. It’s supposed to make you think about those very same controversial subjects.
There’s the exploration of the female body, boys kissing boys, phallic swastikas combined with the pride flag, the use of “trannie” by the artists as a way to take back the very same word that has been used as a slur in the name of transphobia. It is a term that has been claimed by some in the community as a celebration of their own queerness along with LGBTQ+ icons like RuPaul in RuPaul’s Drag Race.
I think about the space and the different types of people that come visit our museum. We get everyone from high school students, college students, families with their children and couples on date nights.
Personally I find it very interesting the way children are exposed to this space. There’s times where parents choose to not expose their children to the graphic nature of the art and instead make a one stop at the art lab. There are also times where parents let their kids go in and allow their children to view the space as a playground.
I look around and I see kids running around and building forts with the small bean bags. I see them running around with the masks they created in our art lab and making this space their own.
I remember there was a day where I was at our reception desk and I overheard a mother talking to her husband.
They’re just kids. They don’t entirely understand what the context of these rugs are. That’s just for us to think about.
In my experience with the museum, I’ve seen parents being excited about having a space in Santa Barbara where they themselves and their kids can be exposed to a space that allows them to be openly creative and I see the parents joy of being able to expose their children to this kind of contemporary art: art that even children can be a part of.
I go to our interactive Art Lab and I see another fellow intern contributing to our mural.
I enter the video installment room that has a collection of home videos created by the artists of this exhibition, Eli Sudbrack and Christophe Hamaide-Pierson and I do admit that it is a strange place, but nonetheless charming.
I remember two teenage girls who visited the space in the past, and I remember them telling me that they enjoyed this room because as they were taking pictures of each other there, they realized that by doing so they felt a connection to it.
I look around again and I see people engaging with each other and I hear talks of this is new, this is refreshing, this is me. I think about where we are and where we started as an institution and I can’t help but to think about what this place means to some people, whether it be a safe space or simply a place where they can escape any conventional forms of art that surround the norms of the city.
I think about the context of this exhibition: the current climate surrounding the LGBTQ+ community and I am inspired to see so many people engage with each other in this space.
It doesn’t really matter the productivity of the day at the museum; whether it be a social event or a regular day with 50 or 5 visitors. What this place is and what it provides has become a safe space where people can feel free to be themselves and be inspired.
People from marginalized groups, such as minorities and LGBTQ+ individuals, are represented well in the art, which really made the place feel very inviting to me, my friends, and other Santa Barbara citizens around me.
The current exhibition, assume vivid astro focus: avalanches volcanoes asteroids floods, that MCASB has is very applicable to today’s political climate in that it centers on the country’s collective anxieties around climate change and a general uncertainty of our society: politically, economically, and socially. As stated in an essay by Miki Garcia (Chief Curator and Executive Director at MCASB), one aspect that this exhibition responds to is the fear that the LGBTQ+ community lives in: transgender issues, the gun lobby in the U.S and the Orlando shootings.
Personally, as someone who identifies as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, what MCASB provides for me with their assume vivid astro focus: avalanches volcanoes asteroids floods exhibition is a space where I can be surrounded by art of today that entices me to think about what these issues mean to me and how I react to them, as well as have conversations with other people about it in a safe space.
The museum encourages Santa Barbara to feel connected to their marginalized identities and to each other through powerful, sensational art.
It seems that no matter what your background in art is, you can find yourself in it.
As a scientist, I appreciate being able to interact with the pieces in what feels like a more personal way. As a progressive individual who identifies with the LGBTQ+ community, I admire the social justice motifs present in all of the art pieces.
When I think about how this unconventional space fits in with the conventional aspects of the city, I simply think about its own aesthetic. As mentioned before, Santa Barbara is a beautiful Old Spanish influenced city that is surrounded by white walls and red roofs. What we see MCASB doing is creating this new interactive experience for Santa Barbarians and tourists where those conventional aspects about the city are challenged and highlight the need for contemporary art. A lot of people see Santa Barbara as a paradise vacation stop and because of that they don’t really think about issues surrounding it like immigration, the homeless population, the LGBTQ+ community and so many more, but MCASB provides them a space where they are exposed to those issues.
It is important to have spaces like MCASB where people can feel free to have conversations regarding our political and social climate, especially now as we find ourselves close to President Elect Trump’s administration which threatens the progress that the U.S has made with immigration, LGBTQ+ rights and many other things. Any sort of progressive difference that happens starts with a conversation at places like MCASB.
I think about why I love art so much. Why I love contemporary art so much. In any scenario, whether I might be happy or scared, confused or enlightened, inspired or unamused, art finds a way to remain a significant part of my life. It influences a lot of people, not just myself, in the way that they see themselves. It’s a form of self expression and self empowerment. It changes perspectives, it challenges perspectives. It gives some of us something to do. It changes the way that we view the world and our surroundings. It gives us a voice and it gives us an identity.
Art helps us connect with minds alike.
Contemporary art triggers engagement within ourselves and with others. It creates feeling, opinion and inspiration through non traditional expression. It’s relevant to our time, and it’s the voice of today and tomorrow with hints of inspiration from yesterday. It keeps us connected to our community and helps us make sense of the world that we live in.
You take this information and you make sense of it in your own world. You apply your own struggles and you engage with others around you and build more insight to create a meaningful engagement experience. You recognize the power of community. You recognize the importance of representing the vanguard of art. You recognize the power of leading the art of tomorrow through meaningful community engagement at the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara.
*Cover photo by Eli Sudbrack and Christophe Hamaide-Pierson.