Alshaibi, Serafim named Mellon-Fronteridades Faculty Fellows

Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi and Assistant Professor Marcos Serafim, with the School of Art’s Photo, Video and Imaging program, have been named Mellon-Fronteridades Faculty Fellows.

The program, run by the University of Arizona’s Confluencenter, funds UArizona faculty members and graduate students working on interdisciplinary research projects that explore, analyze and elevate the lived experiences, cultural resources and border dynamics of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Fellows’ projects focus on building new public understanding and interpretation of the U.S.-Mexico border dynamics, tensions, innovations, dreams, and realities, positively impacting border communities.

Six faculty members and six graduate students — including MFA candidate Andrés Caballero — are among the 2024 Mellon-Fronteridades Fellows. Here’s a closer look at the projects by Alshaibi and Serafim, from the website:

Regents Professor
Director of the Racial Justice Studio at Arizona Arts

Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi
  • Project Title: “Borderland Migrations & Metaphors” (BMM)
  • Project background: The project will use creative inquiry pláticas, in combination with podcasting, to produce trans-disciplinary stories of the U.S.-Mexico border. Plática is an anti-colonial feminista methodology that prioritizes social relationships based on trust, mutual vulnerability, and reciprocity. This approach contrasts power relations that characterize the traditional dichotomy of researcher-subject.
  • Project aim: BMM will create a space for co-creating knowledge through conversational interviews with BorderLab fellows from 2021-2023. Fellows are invited to reflect on their projects; how they are currently thinking about borderlands as an identity, location, and idea; and how they have been changed by borderlands research. Interviewers and fellows co-theorize as they connect everyday lived experiences with their research process. BMM conversations are recorded in a studio, thematically analyzed, sound edited, and enhanced within an iterative process. The result is a series of five podcast episodes.
  • Quote: “The project will enrich public scholarship on the U.S.-Mexico border through its collective voicing of distinct insights of BorderLab fellows, its use of sound as the primary medium in which to produce knowledge, and its accessibility within and beyond the academic community.”

Assistant Professor

Assistant Professor Marcos Serafim
  • Project aim: To create an immersive audiovisual installation and a performance piece that increase accessibility to available data about HIV/AIDS in the US/Mexico border employing cutting-edge tools for data visualization and documentary strategies.
  • Background: At the periphery of both countries’ economies, the region is affected by systematic social and economic disparities that co-exist with institutional racism and structural violence. In Arizona alone, HIV incidence among White individuals has had a 64% decrease from 1988 to 2020, whereas Hispanic individuals have had a 49% increase in new infections during the same period. In response to a pressing intersectional matter, the project explores queer-mestiza/o-PLWH (person living with HIV) subjectivity merging lens-based and computational strategies for image generation.
  • Quote: “The project lends immediacy to a complex entanglement of physiological, sociopolitical, and anthropological matters related to the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis. Health risks travel fluidly between borders.

Graduate fellow Caballero tells lucha libre story

The first time Andrés Caballero entered Arena México, called the “cathedral of lucha libre” professional wrestling, he was hooked.

“I remember feeling intoxicated by the energy. Everyone was wearing masks, and the crowd was screaming and laughing,” said the Mexico City-area native, a Master of Fine Arts student in Photography, Video and Imaging at the University of Arizona School of Art. “I wanted to know who the people behind the masks were. I wondered about the referee, the people working in the venue, and everyone involved.”

Now Caballero is getting a chance to share that wonder with the public after being named a 2024 Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellow by the university’s Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry.

The award will allow the Fulbright Scholar to finish a project, “Borderlands Masks,” which includes large-scale prints, video and oral history recordings as he explores the fascinating lucha libre wrestling events around the border region in Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona.

School of Art Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi and Assistant Professor Marcos Serafim also were named Mellon-Fronteridades Faculty Fellows. Each year, the program allows graduate students and faculty to carry out interdisciplinary humanities-centered research and creative scholarly activities focused on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Andrés Caballero installs one of his lucha libre photos in a group exhibition at Groundworks Tucson.

Caballero grew up just outside Mexico City and attended Tecnológico de Monterrey High School, hoping to study engineering. But he changed his mind and enrolled in a Communications undergraduate program at Universidad Iberoamericana with a concentration in Cinema. He received his BA and began to concentrate on documentary films and photography.

As his skills improved, Caballero started to study Mexican identity through lucha libre events. He’s been working on the subject for about two years, presenting a photographic exhibition called “Your Insults are Welcome” inside a Mexican wrestling arena. 

“My favorite luchador was El Santo, especially because of all the movies where he was basically a Mexican superhero fighting evil forces,” Caballero said. “Later on, I was very much inspired by stories such as Fray Tormenta — a part-time priest and part-time luchador whose sole purpose was to raise money for an orphanage that he founded.”

For his project, Caballero will use the fellowship funding to travel to Phoenix and Nogales, where he’s meeting with promoters and attendees of lucha libre events.

“I’m interested in how people feel connected to certain traditions which become part of their identity even when they are outside of their home countries,” Caballero said. “This is how people relate to lucha libre, and here they find a community in which they feel identified and welcome.

“With this in mind,” he added, “I wanted to shift the focus of this project to attendees of the events and give them a chance to create their own persona, just as a luchador would. To put on a mask and think of a backstory for their character. I want to tell the story of these collaborators and have people relate to the characters in the photos.”

In late May or early June, he hopes to host exhibitions before Mexican wrestling matches that will show large-scale prints, audio recordings and VR headsets playing 360-degree videos. The exhibition locations are still pending, but “people can arrive early, see the artwork and then enjoy the event,” Caballero said. “I’m trying to expand beyond the usual art spaces to show work — and promote Mexican arenas as cultural spaces.”

“Andres is a gifted young photographer who comes from a photojournalist background,” said Alejandro Macías, an assistant professor at the School of Art who is among Caballero’s project mentors. “I’m interested in his research. … Personally, I’m drawn to the mystique and masked identities of luchadores, their dramatic performances, feuds and acrobatic skills. It’s obviously entertaining but I’m also interested in the duality of their lives and how we, as an audience, have zero to little knowledge of who these masked fighters are outside the ring.” Andrés, through his research, intends to take a deeper look into the lives of these wrestlers, in and outside the ring.”

Caballero, who turns 27 in March, received a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a graduate degree in the United States. He’s happy he chose the University of Arizona School of Art and its Photography, Video & Imaging program, which is ranked No. 3 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report.

“It is an open space of collaboration, creation and critique,” Caballero said. “Receiving constant feedback from experienced artists is an essential part of developing any artistic project. (Professors) David Taylor and Martina Shenal have been important mentors, but even faculty from other departments such as Alex Macías and (Professor) Ellen McMahon have provided insights into my research. It feels like a very thriving place for any artist to be in.”

Macías, who has exhibited his own lucha libre paintings, is impressed with Caballero’s photography.

“What drew me initially to Andres’ work is how he carefully composes and accentuates particular bright colors among a black and white color palette,” Macías said. “It’s visually appealing but also adds drama to an equally dramatic sport.”

Macias was excited to participate in the exhibition “Lucha Libre: Beyond the Arenas” at the ASU Art Museum in 2022 and was invited to participate by artist and curator Julio Cesar Morales. “Much of my work in general responds to the conflict of my own Mexican-American identity,” said Macías.

Who are Macías’ favorite lucha libre wrestlers? “Rey Mysterio, for his high flying acrobatic moves and L.A. Park for his comedic style and skeleton-type appearance,” Macías said.

“So far what I’ve offered to Andrés are a few ideas on how he can keep pushing his work conceptually in the way he manipulates his figures through photography,” the assistant professor said.

KGUN9-TV interview with Andrés Caballero

Andrés Caballero is an MFA candidate in Photography, Video and Imaging. (Photo by Alexis Hagestad)

Internships give students professional insight

Linda Garcia Escobar wants to be an art educator after growing up in a family of teachers and artists. Marcelino Flores hopes to expand his hobby of creating monster sculptures into a full-time venture, and he’s already showcasing his work at toy shows.

The two undergraduate students might have different career goals, but they share one thing in common: Both are glad they pursued local internships this semester through the University of Arizona School of Art.

“Roots of Resilience” artists (from right) Linda Garcia Escobar, Lyrissa T. and Gem Elena Abarca, with one of Escobar’s weavings.

Escobar, an Art & Visual Culture Education major, has written prompts and prepared weaving-themed activities for the University of Arizona Museum of Art (UAMA). Flores, a Studio Art major in 3D & Extended Media, has learned lab skills and how to present gallery work at GeoDecor Fossils & Minerals.

“Internships are important because they give you an insight into the work and career you want to pursue,” Escobar said. “Not only that, but I’ve been able to work alongside and learn from supportive professionals — and gain experience.”

One of those professionals is Chelsea Farrar, curator of community engagement at UAMA, who calls Escobar “amazing” and a “perfect match” for the museum. That’s because Escobar was beginning to explore textiles in her own artistic practice at the same time UAMA was opening an exhibition that included weavings by contemporary artist Marlowe Katoney, a School of Art alum. Escobar engaged visitors in the museum’s “Making Care: Drop-In Maker’s Space” with her textile activities and is documenting their responses and participation as part of her research.

“As a future art educator, Linda used the UAMA as a laboratory for experimentation, which brough novel ideas and art activities into our museum galleries and events,” Farrar said. “These activities have brought new visitors to our museum while engaging with them in ways we rarely see — they are staying in the museum for extended an extended period of time.”

As for Flores, he and fellow interns Isabella Way and Eliza Saunders helped install and present work at GeoDecor’s gallery during the recent Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, including fully mounted dinosaurs, a gigantic Eocene crocodile, woolly mammoth tusks, limestone murals with fossil fishes and palm fronds.

The three are also applying their artistic talents at the local company’s fossil lab, where they practice restoration techniques, preparation of newly discovered fossils and steel fabrication for the mounting of specimens.

GeoDecor interns (from right) Marcelino Flores, Eliza Saunders and Isabella Way.

“As a kid, you tell yourself one day I want to be an astronaut or a paleontologist,” Flores said. “So going into the fossil lab, I thought, oh my gosh, this is … not just a dream.”

By introducing paleontology to students, GeoDecor co-owner Christine Lindgren said interns also can expand their artistic capabilities through a mastery of 3-D printing; sculpting and color matching for fossil restoration; and commanding a diverse array of Dremel tools to free fossils from their matrices.

“We love having art students in the lab because they already come to us with a sense of precision, dexterity and a keen eye,” Lindgren said.

Other local internship possibilities

Over half the School of Art’s majors participate in internships before they graduate.

The nearby Center for Creative Photography holds an open house every August, where students from all majors can inquire about internship and student worker opportunities in areas such as archives, Digital imaging, learning and engagement and community engagement.

AVCE students Elizabeth Amphayvong (intern) and Jenna Green (graduate assistant), for instance, are part of the CCP’s Learning and Engagement team. Five other School of Art students also work at CCP: Branden Hale (PVI); and Grayson Agrella, Hannah Ramirez, Sco Scofield and Avery Johnson (Art History).

In recent years, other students have found internships on campus or with local organizations, non-profits and companies such as:

  • African American Museum of Southern Arizona
  • Arizona Historical Society
  • Arizona State Museum
  • Asthma & Airway Disease Research Center (UAHS)
  • Ben’s Bells
  • Coit Museum of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
  • Darkroom at the School of Art
  • Digital Print Studio at the School of Art
  • Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium
  • Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research
  • LetterPress at the School of Art
  • Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
  • Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
  • Museum of Optics, College of Optical Science
  • Pay It Forward Tucson, Inc.
  • Remember When … Photography
  • Rialto Theatre
  • Sculpture Tucson
  • Silhouette Photography
  • Sonoran Institute
  • The Drawing Studio
  • Tucson Museum of Art
  • UA Biosphere 2
  • UA Campus Health
  • UA Campus Recreation
  • UA Digital Humanities
  • University of Arizona Athletics
  • University of Arizona International
  • Western Archaeological Conservation Center (WACC)
  • Within Studio

Faculty members encourage students to talk to the school’s academic advising center about finding internship opportunities. Approved internships can qualify for academic credit.

“We often tell students that you can do anything with an art education and degree, and these internship opportunities are an excellent example,” said Professor Karen Zimmermann, associate school director. “Art students are good critical thinkers and problem solvers.”

As a result, School Director Colin Blakely said Art students who’ve honed their communication and creative problem-solving skills through internships are prime candidates for almost any job.

“We graduate lots of students that go into successful careers in the arts, in design, in education, in galleries, in museums. But we also graduate students that are incredibly successful in any number of other fields,” Blakely said, “whether it be entrepreneurship, whether it be law, whether it be business, whether it be even health sciences.”

Like Blakely, UAMA’s Farrar said she’s proud to watch School of Art students succeed after graduation.

“We’re so lucky to have had the chance to work with an incredible group of interns over the last few years,” Farrar said. “Many of them have been accepted to competitive graduate programs, while others are working in higher education, K-12 education or in other museums. … Knowing that we’re playing a role in the education of future generations of artists, educators and museum professionals is very rewarding.”

Get to know Linda Garcia Escobar

A senior who plans to graduate in fall 2024, she would like to pursue a career in teaching and consider graduate school. She transferred from Pima Community College after growing up outside of Los Angeles in Montebello, California.

Linda Garcia Escobar, with her performance piece “Platos y Sentimientos.”

“My uncle Oswaldo is an art teacher, so he always involved my sister and me in the arts,” Escobar said. “I grew up seeing his paintings and other sculptural work around the house and that’s mainly where my curiosity in the arts and painting came from. I wanted to make work like he did. When I finished school at Pima, I didn’t have a plan on what to do next so he along with my mom, who is also an educator, guided me into art education.”

Escobar’s art has been featured three shows, “The Place of Painting,” “The Undergrad Art Exhibition” and “Roots of Resilience.” In the latter, Escobar showcased her textile weavings.

“I have always been drawn to textiles for their colors and patterns, I grew up around amazing weavings from Guatemala and I had always wanted to explore and understand them,” Escobar said. “I like how repetitive the making process in textile work is, it is calming and meditative.”

Escobar praised School of Art Galleries Director lydia see for introducing her to weaving and UAMA’s Farrar and Willa Ahlschwede, assistant curator for Education and Public Programs, for their guidance.

“They are amazing educators and the most supportive and encouraging mentors I have ever had,” Escobar said. “Dr. Ryan Shin and Dr. Kate Collins (visiting professor) from the (AVCE) department are incredibly supportive and have always shown interest in the work I do outside of the classroom. (Faculty members) Alejandro Macias, Jonathan Marquis, Erin Digiovanni and Tioni Collins always offer to help and support my work as an artist.”

What student interns do at UAMA

Interns are directly involved with curating exhibitions, writing text for labels, or planning and facilitating our educational programs at the University of Arizona Museum of Art.

“Our interns work alongside staff in curation, education, registration and marketing, and it is often the first chance they have to understand how museums function,” Farrar said. “For the museum, it is such a beneficial opportunity for us to connect with students and have their voice be a part of our planning process.”

Farrar hopes students walk away having a bigger picture of what professional opportunities in museums might look like.

“And most importantly, I hope they leave feeling like their work at the museum matters and that they feel confident to enter the professional art world,” she said.

Get to know Marcelino Flores

Flores grew up in Tucson and started watching monster movies at a young age. He traveled 15 miles a day to attend Palo Verde High School because of its robotics team. The team, however, was canceled his junior year, so he started to focus on sculpture and his first love: Godzilla.

Marcelino Flores, exhibiting his Godzilla work at the Toy Exhibition at the @andgallerytucson.

“I began sculpting in high school just to kill time,” Flores said. “With each piece, I would pour weeks and months of work into it.

“I felt challenged to capture the sense of incredible mass and awe of the giant creatures. Slowly this hobby grew into a future I want to invest all my time into.”

After graduation, Flores studies aerospace engineering at Pima Community College, but then COVID hit.

“I was like, man, studying math and physics and computer programming isn’t the same as sculpture,” Flores said. “So, I re-evaluated what I wanted to do,” and transferred to the College of Fine Arts at Arizona.

“I really like sculpting,” he said. “It’s an interesting journey, going from tech to art, but I’m happy, especially with the resurgence in Godzilla on television and movies.”

Flores is selling his Godzilla and other monster sculptures at toy conventions in Mesa, and he plans to attend the Tucson Comic Con again this September.

What student interns do at GeoDecor Fossil & Minerals

GeoDecor, which moved from Los Angeles to Tucson in 2010, is an internationally recognized fossil, mineral and meteorite company that works with interior designers, collectors and museums. The company began accepting interns from the School of Art this spring after Lindgren gave Zimmermann and Professor Kelly Leslie a tour of its lab last fall.

“I think it might be a big surprise to art students, to find out that there’s a whole field (in fossil restoration),” Lindgren said.

At the GeoDecor lab, on East 37th Street, interns work closely with her husband, Thomas E. Lindgren, co-owner of GeoDecor and a guest lecturer at the University of Arizona Department of Geosciences; Makoto Takigawa, the head fossil preparation artist; fossil technician Zach Durling, a recent University of Arizona College of Science graduate; and partner and 3-D printing specialist Jeff Parker.

Possible tasks for students include handling, moving and storage techniques; organization and maintenance techniques of the fossil lab; and lab skills such as preparation, restoration, mounting and exhibition techniques.

“Working as an intern here takes certain skills, like color matching and spatial aptitude,” said Takigawa, who received his BFA from the former San Francisco Art Institute. “It’s nice to have students with that kind of talent.”

‘Strong’ student work highlights BFA Exhibition

Hundreds attended the Feb. 22 opening reception of the 2024 Bachelor of Fine Arts Exhibition, which runs until March 22 at the Joseph Gross and Lionel Rombach Galleries.

Students, parents, alums, faculty and staff celebrated student artists graduating with a BFA in 2024. The exhibition features undergraduates from Photo, Video & Imaging; 2D Studies; 3D & Extended Media; Illustration, Design & Animation; and Art & Visual Culture Education.

“Those of you who attended the opening can attest to what a vibrant event it was and just how strong the student work on view is,“ said Andrew Schulz, dean of the College of Fine Arts.
The event marked the first time the Olive Road Stairs were open (temporarily), as well as the inauguration of the new doors that provide direct access from those stairs into the Joseph Gross Gallery.

“Many people mentioned to me how excited they were by these changes,“ Schulz said, “which further our divisional goals of increasing visibility and access as ways of elevating the arts on campus and beyond.“

The BFA Exhibition, juried by faculty chairs from each division, was curated and produced by Student Gallery managers with support from Galleries Director lydia see.

More upgrades to the Arts District include the re-opening of the Arts Oasis, including the restoration of School of Art alumna Barbara Grygutis’ “Front Row Center“ public sculpture installation, the completion of first phase of the “Arts Alley” that extends to the Tornabene Courtyard, and the reopening of the renovated Marroney Theatre.

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Students presenting in BFA Exhibition

Violet Brand
Passing Memories
Composite digital image

May Luna
Fetal Position
Poplar, steel, paint

Saedi Wadman
Lil’ Guy Carousel
Book binding materials, wire, markers, mirror cardstock

Iliana Gonzales
Hell Above
Oil on canvas 2023

Joseph Chico
Gemini Twins
Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop

Alli Gray
Bickle’s Pickles
digitally illustrated comic on enhanced matte

Marmada Shiming Sun
Humans are Built to Listen
Client book

Sabrina L. Vincent
Adobe Fresco, enhanced matte paper, binder board, PVA glue

Ivan Rodriguez
Upgrades: Inspired by Shigenori Soejima
Digital illustration

AnneMarie Standridge
Sky Islands
Paper, watercolor, colored pencil, alcohol markers

Eitan Rosenquist
US MX Border Map Mural, installation view with artist
Digital illustration

Olivia Morey
Why Everyone Feels Like They’re Faking It
Digital illustration

Jessica Valencia
Masso Bwe’o
Digital illustration on Enhanced Matte

Malaquias Palacios
Conserving Our Rain
Digital illustration

Madai Ruiz Palacios
ProCreate illustration on Epson Lustre

Emilee Gustafson
When Passions Meet
Aluminum & bronze casting

Jeremiah Aaron Garcia
Breaking The Mold
Digital painting on enhanced matte

Tate Harper
Doodle Daydream
Alcohol marker, Micron pen

Ryan Pittner
Conceptual typography: artist book and prints

Alisha Stadler
National Gallery Redesign

Luis Esquer
Advocacy for Others
Digital illustration

Aspen Stivers
Dynamic Duos: Fight or Flight
Procreate, Illustrator, & Photoshop

Cameron Kramer
There is Nothing for You Here
Acrylic paint, acrylic ink, charcoal, steel wire

Rick Prober
Pastels and ink

Hoa Hoang
Digital painting

Kayla Bradshaw
The Met Rebrand Poster Series
Adobe Illustrator

Maddy Tucker
Victim v. Victimizer
Screenprint on paper

Screenprint on paper

Henry Frobom
Typographic concrete poem

Maya Wong
Voyage Home
Bronze, wax

Discipline, Passion, & Skill
Wood, wood treatment, fire

Nathalia Lara Pizarro
Chalk pastel

Morgan Birky
TV Girl
Wire, clay, fabric, acrylic

Renee Arrieta
Let the Light In
Wood, watercolor, and acrylic

Diana Marie
Will the Ozempic Era Change How We Think About Being Fat and Being Thin?
Digital illustration

Ballad of a Twenty-Something
Digital illustration

Vivian Nguyen
Digital illustration

Cami Hagen
Coat of Arms
Digital illustration

Christy Williams
Levuana Iridescens
Clip Studio Paint, drawing tablet

Hannah Kleker
Mara turnaround
Digital illustration on enhanced matte

Foam, clay, wood, fabric, acrylic

Maia Lettow
In Utero
Graphite, wax, spray paint

Erika Elizabeth Moreno
Cheat Meal
Oil on canvas

Ana Paula Monobe
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Acrylic and oil on canvas

Roland Swedlund
Photo transfer on panel

Photo transfer on panel

Photo transfer on panel

Out of Time
Oil on canvas

Birds of Misfortune
Chalk pastel on paper

Iliana Gonzales
Grave Rubbings in Graphite and Water-Soluble Pastel on Paper

Makayla McCarthy
Empty Waves
Oil on canvas

Brianna Lisa Castillo
Oil on wood panel

Inner Echoes
Graphite on

Delaney Paige Cruse
love you too
Medium Format Film, Silver Gelatin Fiber Prints

Ariana Buck
Silver gelatin prints

Belen Muro Quijada
Del Hogar a La Fábrica: Narrativas no Contadas Del Trabajo
Digital photogtaphs printed on Baryta

Nichole Kotowsky
Where’s My Mind?
Digital photograph on Epson Lustre and medium format film on fiber paper

Yesenia G Meraz
Digital photographs on Epson Lustre

Ary Frank
Like Father, Like Daughter
Digital print on watercolor paper, digital print on Epson Lustre, wood name tag

Amber Cole
Excerpt from ‘Beyond Boundaries’
Digital prints on Epson Lustre, nonbinary pride fingerpaint, permanent marker, AI content recognition

Braden Hale
An Inheritance
Photo book
Visitors are invited to handle the book carefully

Seven Hazel
Moments In Ourselves
Digital and archival family photographs on enhanced matte, archival family photographs
on PhotoTex

Rachel Palmer
Moving Confusion
Digital photographs on Epson Lustre

Sabrina Mendivil
Head in the Clouds
Paper mache, polyfill, spray adhesive, desk, stool, notebook, pencil
Participants are invited to sit and doodle in the notebook. Please use only the provided pencil, and refrain from explicit language or drawings so that all ages and lived experiences may participate safely.

Gabrielle Sharon Loewen
Pawn to Queen
Resin, PLA filament, acrylic paint, electronics

Eden M Squires
Digital Thoughts
Steel, recycled electronics, fiberglass, cast aluminum

Olive Bingham
Risograph comic zine
Visitors are invited to handle the zine carefully

Kaya Glasner
Francine & Delia Turnaround, The Journey Inland,
segment from Ingrained
Digital hand-drawn animation 01:00 min.

Brianna Marie Salazar
Narrated short film with poem (which visitors are invited to take) 01:33 min.

Mallory Barry
Digital Video. Thread, melted plastic, condensation, trash, sd card, microchip, hot glue, hair, coffee pot, chain, written letter, skin, bleach, bath tub, bandaids, computer cursor, Bupropion, melting ice, june bugs, charcoal powder, shadows, dried flowers, Gabapentin, clear marbles, dirt, digital scale, water.
03:31 min.

Tucker Grams
Organized Game
Video, cardboard, paper
(which visitors are invited to take) 04:54 min.

Jesse Neal
Untitled Animation
2024 04:54 min.

Esperanza Ries, Olivia Cabelli, Truman Adams
cardboard, housepaint, Chicago screws, pine, adhesive
Esperanza was created to interact with Little Amal from the Walk with Amal project and represent the Tucson community as a whole. She danced with Amal at the Tucson Children’s Museum before welcoming her to the University of Arizona. As indicated by their names, both encouraged a message of hope.

Lens of time: School of Art plays part in Millennium Camera

By Mikayla Mace Kelley, University Communications

On Tumamoc Hill, hikers climb and descend daily. Animals skitter across the desert floor for years. Saguaros will grow and die over decades, sometimes centuries. But for a millennium, a photographic camera will stand sentinel over Tucson, prompting passersby to stop and think about what the future may hold.

Dubbed the Millennium Camera, the device was dreamed up by the experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, a research associate at the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts (CFA).

(The Arizona Institute for Resilience helped fund the camera through the CFA Arts | Humanities | Resilience grants program, with support and guidance from School of Art Professor Ellen McMahon and Associate Professor Carissa DiCindio.)

Jonathan Keats

For a camera to last so long, it must be simple. Through a pin-sized hole in a thin sheet of 24-karat gold, light will slip into a small copper cylinder mounted atop a steel pole. Over 10 centuries, sunlight reflected from Tucson’s landscape will slowly fade a light-sensitive surface coated in many thin layers of rose madder, an oil paint pigment. When future humans open the camera in 1,000 years, they will see an extremely long exposure image of Tucson through all its future iterations.

Keats and a team of researchers from the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill installed the camera next to a bench facing west over the Star Pass neighborhood. The bench invites a pause in the hike and the camera encourages hikers to imagine what the future will hold, Keats said.

“Most people have a pretty bleak outlook on what lies ahead,” he said. “It’s easy to imagine that people in 1,000 years could see a version of Tucson that is far worse than what we see today, but the fact that we can imagine it is not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing, because if we can imagine that, then we can also imagine what else might happen, and therefore it might motivate us to take action to shape our future.”

Making a camera – and a city – that will last

Conventional cameras typically rely on quick chemical reactions (or more recently, digital technology) to capture an image. The problem is that future humans might not have the technical knowledge to process images in specific ways nor have the technology to do so.

What’s more, there is no conventional photographic process that is insensitive enough to be able to take a photograph over a millennium, Keats said, which is what led him to the idea of sun-faded pigment. That rose madder will fade at the correct rate is an educated guess on Keats’ part.

“One thousand years is a long time and there are so many reasons why this might not work,” Keats said. “The camera might not even be around in a millennium. There are forces of nature and decisions people make, whether administrative or criminal, that could result in the camera not lasting.”

If the camera does last, however, Keats outlines what we can assume the final image will look like: The landscape’s most steadfast features will appear sharpest (although the land is not completely stable, so there will be some inevitable blur to the image). Conversely, the most dynamic parts will be softest. Sudden changes will result in what will look like multiple images overlapped.

“Let’s take a really dramatic case where all the housing is removed 500 years in the future,” Keats said. “What will happen then is the mountains will be clear and sharp and opaque, and the housing will be ghostly. All change will be superimposed on one image that can be reconstructed layer by layer in terms of interpretation of the final image.”

But as much as Keats hopes to provide the future with a record of the past, he also wants to encourage people of today to plan for the future. Specifically, he thinks we should think through where populations might continue to sprawl on the landscape and reflect on that growth in relationship to the natural environment, something he said we need to be doing urgently.

“By no means is the camera making a statement about development – about how we should build the city or not going forward,” Keats said. “It is set there to invite us to ask questions and to enter into conversation and invite the perspective of future generations in the sense that they’re in our minds.”

Keats is adamant that the camera is not opened before 1,000 years.

“If we open in the interim, then it diminishes the imagining that we need to be doing,” he said.

A global perspective

To determine the best location for the camera – somewhere accessible to the community that looks out over a dynamic part of the city – Keats had many conversations with people with deep ties to the hill, including the Desert Laboratory’s director of operations, Clark Reddin, and community outreach assistant Robert Villa.

“Tumamoc Hill has a very deep relationship with the people of Tucson and the hill has a history to it that has this great vantage metaphorically and literally for looking across generations,” Keats said. “The petroglyphs on Tumamoc Hill, for example, are a record of people looking very carefully at their environment and leaving a trace of what they’ve seen. That is really a form of communication across generations. In the same spirit, the Millennium Camera provides a way to observe and interact.”   

Keats wants to install at least one more camera on Tumamoc Hill looking out in a different direction, perhaps eastward overlooking downtown Tucson. The two views will mirror each other, and reveal the dynamics of human interaction with the environment.

Contingent on funding, he has also identified the Santa Rita Experimental Range as another Millennium Camera site.

Experimental Range director Brett Blum and Keats identified a location “where the future is fascinatingly and deeply uncertain – an interface between the natural and human environments,” Keats said. As on Tumamoc Hill, it is also a place where the public can engage with the camera and think about the future.

He is also looking to install the cameras around the globe. In China, he is planning to put one in Chongqing, as well as in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. In May, he will install one in the Austrian Alps.

“This project depends on doing this in many places all over the world,” Keats said. “I hope this leads to a planetary process of reimagining planet Earth for future generations.”

Background on funding for camera

In 2022, when McMahon heard that Keats was working on Tumamaoc Hill as a research associate, she contacted him and learned that his Millennium camera project was not sufficiently funded to take it to completion.

Professor Ellen McMahon

Knowing that his project would benefit from stronger connections with campus as a whole, and the School of Art in particular, McMahon introduced Keats to DiCindio. Her research centers on art museum education, with a specific focus on museum-community partnerships and creating opportunities for dialogue and connection in art museum programming.

Meanwhile the Arizona Institute for Resilience (AIR) transferred funds to the College of Fine Arts to support five projects that demonstrate how the arts build resilience. McMahon created a call for proposals, which was shared with all faculty in the CFA, College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture (CAPLA), College of Social & Behavioral Sciences (SBS) and the College of Humanities in late 2022.

AIR’s goal was to support scholarly and creative activities in the Arts and Humanities that advance the institute’s mission of supporting interdisciplinary groups, including with off-campus partners, to address resilience in our natural and human communities. Five projects were selected, and all were featured in the “Ways of Knowing, Ways of Being” exhibition at the Center for Creative Photography in October 2023. 

Keats and DiCindio proposed a project which funded the Millennium Camera, three public environmental art workshops and assessment of the impact of the workshops on people’s ecological awareness titled, The Nature of Change: Experiments in Societal Transformation Through Environmental Art on Tumamoc Hill. In addition, McMahon and Jennifer Fields, director of the Office of Societal Impact, received a planning grant from RII to create a proposal for an arts research and integration initiative. This funding supported the “Ways of Knowing, Ways of Being: Arts Research and Integration” exhibition, a related series of workshops guided by Keats at CCP, and assessment of all of the activities.

Associate Professor Carissa DiCindio

Jenna Green, a doctoral student in AVCE, and DiCindio conducted a study to better understand how participants continued to think about and engage with ideas from the workshops and Keats’ art — and the effect it had on their own experiences creating art. That involved McMahon, Green and DiCindio conducting focus groups with workshop participants from Keats’ CCP workshops and with the scientist/ artist collaborators who were part of the grant project. 

“It was especially rewarding to see how people engaged with the ideas from Jonathon’s work,” DiCindio said. “Their responses, through the art they created, their conversations in the focus groups, and in the reflective statements they wrote, demonstrated how deeply they considered concepts of local ecology and climate futures and the personal connections they made between these concepts and their own lives.”

Added DiCindio: “Jonathan’s project is a great example of how impactful art can be as part of research in ecological issues. I was especially struck by the ways that the participants engaged with the concepts of Jonathon’s work in the workshops and by continuing on in the study.

“I think the potential in this area is limitless,” DiCindio said. “We focused on workshop participants for this study, but it is also really wonderful that many people will engage with his art as public installations.”

The School of Art contributed reporting to this story.

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