Taking an abstract idea and turning it into a tangible object you can see, touch -- and, in some cases, even hear -- is a challenging task.
Yet that's what visiting artist Adria Julia asked seven Cal State Bakersfield students to do six weeks ago when he posed the question: What is a campus?
Their responses -- in photos, descriptive text and 60-second videos -- will be presented as an artistic installation Saturday at CSUB's Todd Madigan Gallery.
In an age when getting an instant digital picture with your cellphone or a point-and-shoot camera is literally a snap, Julia introduced another technique: a camera with film that had to be developed.
"None of them had used a 35-mm camera before," Julia said. "The students are used to immediately seeing the image -- with this they had to wait to see the images and this gave them time to think about it and to work on the narrative."
At the start of the winter quarter the 38-year-old Julia, a native of Barcelona, Spain, and the students toured the campus. He asked each one to show him their favorite building on campus, and then to think about the structure's history as well as its form and function.
"Mine was Donahoe Hall because most of my classes are there," said Karen Dever, an art major who plans to graduate in June.
Like many others, Dever had walked through the doors of DDH, as it's often referred to, hundreds of times but never noticed a large portrait of its namesake that hangs on one wall.
"So I asked myself, who was Dorothy Donahoe and why is that portrait there?" she said. "Then I started doing research and learned how involved she was in the community, and then I found out that the California Education Act is named for her and that was fantastic."
Doing research is part of the project. Information gleaned from the archives at the Walter Stiern Library was the basis for the text several students wrote to accompany their photos.
Another student, Mariah Sherman Graham, found that working with Julia helped her to look at the campus in a different way.
"Every student has a different perspective about their experience here," she said. "Everybody has their own little bubble they live in."
Ken Taylor, on the other hand, took photos of inanimate objects as if they were "seeing" the campus. For one shot he placed the camera inside an open locker with the lens looking outward.
In another, he perched the camera on top of an orange construction cone and got a picture of people walking by with only their feet and lower legs showing. He used the camera's timing device to snap the shutter.
This week, the whole class, which includes Elizabeth Crum, Steve Garcia, Brandon Landers and Ana Sianez, is involved with installing the exhibit.
Between Saturday and March 9, when the exhibition ends, the students will act as docents in the gallery, explaining the work to visitors and answering questions. Julia also will be on hand to greet and converse with visitors at the opening reception.
During a phone conversation with the artist, who lives in Los Angeles, I asked what surprised him most about the project.
"I liked the interaction with the students; they are involved in every stage of the process," he said. "And I worked a lot in the archives at the library," learning about the history of CSUB.
In a collaborative press release, the students said Julia's personal work is focused on three major areas: travel and experience, observing regulated behavior, and how the individual interacts with the collective.
In "Campus," the release continues, "we see these tropes at work, giving new meaning to our campus seen through the eyes of the artist and the students -- an interaction has taken place and new revelations shown."
Madigan curator Joey Kotting emphasized the value of the students' opportunity to assist an artist of Julia's stature, noting that he has had solo shows in Dublin, London, South Korea and Madrid, as well as in Los Angeles and the Orange County Museum in Newport Beach.
"To be an artist's assistant you get a better education," the curator said. "It's almost like being an apprentice."
"Campus" is the fourth exhibition created at the Madigan Gallery by an artist invited to work with art students. Its purpose is to give them first-hand experience on what it is like to develop a show from conception to completion.
"We're not here just to make pretty pictures," Kotting said. "The whole idea is to get students to really think for themselves."
Dead Poets event
Thursday evening at Russo's Books, about 10 local poets and writers will read selections from their favorite poets of the past. It's the second annual event of "Dead Poets Live," which grew out of last year's observance of National Poetry Month.
The readers will also honor Kevin Shah, coordinator of the group, who is scheduled to receive an award this afternoon for two projects he organized in October 2012: Mango Street Poetry Slam and Mango Monologues. Both were performed at The Empty Space and were related to the First Book, First Bakersfield selection for that year.
Teresa Twisselman of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office notified Shah of the honor.
"The award is the Celebrate Literacy Award given by the International Reading Association," Twisselman said. "You were nominated by our local chapter, the Kern Reading Association."
Oral history tips
If you have thought about doing a family history but aren't sure how to go about it, a free workshop Saturday at the Beale Memorial Library may be just what you need to get started.
Local history librarian Chris Livingston will talk about techniques for making oral as well as written histories. He will also provide information about preserving tapes, videos and digital recordings to share with future generations.
Incidentally, the Beale also has a Genealogy Room, which has numerous research documents such as lists of passengers on ships that arrived in New York, San Francisco and other American ports in the 19th century. It is staffed by volunteers who can help you with your search.
In addition, official census documents as well as birth, death and marriage records can be retrieved via databases available on the library's public computers.
Jason and deMarco
If you're looking for a special Valentine evening, the pop duo Jason and deMarco will give a concert -- on their southwest U.S. tour titled "Celebrating Families of Diversity" -- from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at First Congregational Church, 5 Real Road. Along with their music, the singers will share their journey to fatherhood. Admission is free, but offerings will be accepted. CSUB project opens students' eyes to art around them