A cloud of surgical masks, stacked news headlines, voice recordings, and silhouettes of students surround a single white empty folding chair in the Bowman Hall Gallery space. The exhibit “Waiting Room” was created by 11 students in Dr. Victoria Papa’s Fall ‘22 course Creativity & Survival as an immersive art installation about the pandemic and the student’s understanding of intersected trauma. Each year students execute a collective project.
With the class divided into four teams – design, installation, performance, and promotion – “Waiting Room” asks its participants to explore the intersecting crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and strategies for coping with the future’s ongoing sense of uncertainty. It communicates the imaginative potential of collective witnessing as it makes space for individual reflection.
“The students were able to bring different skillsets and interests into this project and connect what we were learning to the course and their major,” Dr. Papa said. “It allowed students to think through the foundational ideas from the course. There was a real sense of community around the whole project.”
COVID-19 isn’t the only topic addressed in
the exhibit. It also examines supremacist cultures, the Black Lives Matter movement, reproductive rights, healthcare accessibility, queer and trans rights, and the Earth.
Eleanor Gubbins ‘24, who worked on the installation team, spent the semester
working on the materials essential to installing the exhibit, like making wheat paste as the adhesive agent for the artwork. While she is an English major, she utilized skills she developed by participating in theatre during high school.
“It was cool to create something,” she said. “It’s not something you do in your everyday English class, and I learned so much more about COVID-19 and people’s experiences from this class than I’ve had in the last three years.”
She reflected on the brainstorming conversations with her classmates at the beginning of the semester when the planning began and how they all knew they wanted a piece of themselves in the project by incorporating an audio component and silhouettes of various classmates.
“We experience things that are so completely different and exactly the same. The duality of the differences and adversities that we all face and the emotions that we feel in different situations can evoke the same feelings,” Gubbins said.
Throughout the day of the opening reception, students in the course sat in the chair in the installation for an hour each. Unfortunately, Gubbins could not attend the opening reception in person because she contracted COVId-19 however, her roommate was able to face time her. “It was so ironic and weirdly full circle,” she said.
“COVID-19 continues to alter our day-to-day experiences,” Dr. Papa said. “It’s still this looming threat.”
Gubbins also worked with her classmate Corin Carpenter ‘24 to apply for an undergraduate research grant to fund the project in addition to support from MCLA Arts & Culture and the English & Communications Department. Creative consultation was provided by Professor Melanie Mowinski, Nicholas Rigger, Assistant Director of MCLA Arts and Culture, and Erick Ramos-Jacobo, an Arts Management student.
For the layout of the installation, design team member and senior Ashley DelRatez ‘23 mocked up blueprints using her Adobe InDesign skills to present to the class. She assisted the design team with installation and helped record audio files which consisted of a list of questions that was sent to all the students. Their responses were recorded and then layered with clips of media headlines played on a loop.
“I’m so proud and happy with how it came together,” DelRatez said. “Our team put in a lot of work and it was a great experience to get to know my classmates better.”
“Waiting Room” is on display in the Bowman Hall lobby through February 3rd.