Imaginative Inquiries

“What Makes Your HeART Beat?”: Art Gallery Review

Writer and Editor: Selena Perez

This Spring, I fatefully stumbled upon an organization with similar values as this blog section. Medicine and Art @ UCLA is devoted to showcasing the importance of integrating creativity and the arts into STEM methods. In addition to hosting galleries and events that illustrate the efficacy of this intersection, the organization works with the Creative Arts department at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Hospital to craft an environment in support of holistic health. Through their music therapy and art therapy committees, the organization fosters interdisciplinary healing, nurturing an inventive approach to medicine.  

From May 30 to June 2nd, the student organization held an art exhibition at Kerckhoff Gallery fittingly titled, “What Makes Your HeART Beat?” The prompt asked contributors to question the concept of our most fundamental organ in terms of its metaphorical and anatomical meaning. How do our physical forms interplay with our mental and emotional forms? What is ultimately essential to our vitality as humans? What are we once flesh and skin and social construct are stripped away? Consequently, the gallery was filled with visceral works that touched on a range of themes, from the emotional ties that accompany genetic siblinghood to the contemplation of what exists beyond the body and into the afterlife. 

“See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” by Vivian Sun
Materials: charcoal on paper, wires

“See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” by Vivian Sun features a striking image of a non-gender-specific human gripping their head in anguish. While the image above is 2D, the original piece displayed physical wires overlaying this drawing. Sun’s decision to use only charcoal in the coloration of this piece immediately brings the viewer’s focus to the bright red wires that string from the character’s heart to their ears. These wires are directly juxtaposed to the components of the image not only in terms of dimensionality and color, but also in the sense that they are purposefully artificial despite their attachment to this human who is in a naked and raw state. This being said, I interpreted the wires as a symbol of the connection artificiality (the rapid introduction of STEM) has to our naturally occurring functions. The direct connection from the heart to the ears makes it nearly impossible for the character to “hear no evil”. This is possibly a commentary on how our technological society (including social media) can amplify emotions until the “voices are too loud” to bear, ultimately leading to an anguish that might not occur in a culture that does not facilitate overstimulation as is depicted. I found it uniquely impactful that this piece was titled after a well-known pictorial maxim. In this way, it connects our present reality to a philosophy that has been observed since prior to the 17th century. It expands on the ethical and self-preserving notion of avoiding negative influences by suggesting that this is an impossible principle to live by given our current world.

“Reaching for the Stars” by Skyllar Kuppinger
Materials: Procreate on iPad

On a more optimistic note, Skyllar Kuppinger’s “Reaching for the Stars” presents a skeleton with visible red and blue veins standing amidst a blackened universe while extending an arm upward to reach for the glowing white stars that scatter across the image. The piece was created using “Procreate” on iPad. The choice of digital art via an application immediately speaks to the cohesive suggestion that the STEM and arts worlds can work alongside each other, and have unique qualities to offer one another. This complementary relationship is further illustrated in the skeleton’s expression of awe. Kuppinger states, “as a Physiological Science major, I am inspired by human anatomy. I like to combine the human form with elements from nature to create more imaginative pieces.” In this sense, the artist submits to the notion that humans in all their wonder and curiosity are part of the natural universe just as much as bones, veins, and stars in the sky. This message is vital to our understanding as a society struggling to pioneer space for humanity in our journey toward scientific advancement. 

“Divine” by Emily Jiang
Materials: Procreate on iPad

In agreement with this trend, the exhibition saw another piece correspondingly created via Procreate. The digital artwork displays what appears to be the statue of an angel in a place of worship, as indicated by the high-pointed arches and the large circular window with textured glass. The image is dark and mostly shadowed, with a warm dim light projecting from the bottom right corner. As it pertains to the prompt, “What Makes Your HeART Beat?”, the artwork seems to suggest that belief, religion, and spirituality are not only derived from human nature, but further shape human nature, as within the world of the picture, a human has presumably believed in angels enough to sculpt a physical representation of one. Thus, Jiang’s work is interconnected, as an art piece of an art piece. It works in near irony to holistically question the human pursuit, that is, why we create art in the first place. In this case, it powerfully acknowledges patterns from our origins, given that religions/belief systems as muses date back to the earliest ancient records. I found this to be a genius concept to include in an art gallery that seeks to investigate the meaning of being human as it relates to art and fundamentals. 

The exhibition’s other pieces notably deepened these ideas. From the connection between the human soul and Autumn wind in Skyllar Kuppinger’s “Whisper of the Wind” to the imagining of the human brain as a lively, growing, branching piece of nature in Jenna Yao’s “Overgrowth”, we see a theme of human bodies and souls mimicking mother earth, drawing a connection between our emotional and physical states. The piece titled “Created” by Anonymous, questions brotherhood on a genetic and cultural level as two children, who are presumably a few years apart, clutch to each other in front of a backdrop of their respective chromosomal makeups. Dolores Flores’s “It’s Much Better This Way.” presents an uncanny entity that resembles a human, stitching their skin together so that the spewing flesh and organs can collect themselves, yet again showcasing emotional pain as physical undoing. Mushrooms, flowers, and (presumably) psychedelic trips also make their appearance in the gallery, among many other illustrations of human nature and nature itself interplaying.  

Overall, I found that the gallery incidentally had an ongoing theme: humans stripped down. To states of infancy, nudeness, skeletalness, spiritualness, etc. As it seems, this general consensus among the artists suggests that the intersection of art and physiology lies in nature’s rawest forms. We are at once and have always been, serendipitous beings whose very existence is magical and artistic, as well as scientific. Circling back to our roots is what gives meaning and possibility to the intersection that Medicine and Art @ UCLA strives for. The gallery was enlightening and elicited profound thought on the fundamentals of what it means to be human. Its impact has left me eagerly awaiting the opportunity to revisit the exhibition next Spring. Until then, I encourage readers to virtually peruse past exhibitions here, and maintain curious minds as we work to bring perspective into the world of academia, and disassemble outdated divisiveness.