The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts supports embedded arts research through critical exchange

Dan Ho: The Art of Exhibition

Dan Ho (UCLA Museum) Graduate student

About the Project: An unconventional art exhibition curated by graduate student Dan Ho at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. This exhibition challenged conventional curatorial practices, by using an innovative approach to contemporary art curating. It adapted Marcel Duchamp’s “readymade” concept of artist’s creative acts and applied it to curatorial practices. This exhibition will provide the viewer a new way of looking, perceiving, and experiencing the aesthetic and socio-cultural context of art.  Museum architecture and conventions of display, installation, and signage are ostensibly devoted to welcoming the viewer and elevating the presence and power of works of art. Increasingly, however, these other aspects are competing with the artworks themselves. Reflecting on this phenomenon, The Art of Exhibition focuses on the presentation of things that are not the “artworks” — such as banners, signage, pedestals, and text of exhibitions — but which significantly shape visitors’ museum experiences. In doing so, the exhibition offers insights into how art museums and their exhibitions function as a system of meaning and raises questions about the way we perceive and experience art and public culture.

About the Artist:

As she grew up, she was always “collecting images,” filling notebook after notebook with drawings of her environment. She studied art in elementary school: “I was very good at it, which caught the attention of the teachers.” In high school, she was a photographer and designer for school events and publications.

But, all the while, she “was crazy about ballet and busy with performances.” It wasn’t until her feet were injured that art emerged as the chosen path for her future career. Hungering for knowledge and a college education, she took some classes at a local university, discovering a love of art, art history, and philosophy.

And so, when Dan had saved enough money to pursue her education, she came to the United Stated to study art, while most of her friends came to UCLA for business, computer science, and engineering. After undergraduate studies at UCLA, and graduate studies in Art Education at Long Beach State, she has returned to UCLA for the MFA program.

“Never having any intention to be an artist growing up,” she says, Dan is nevertheless well on her way to becoming one: a first-year graduate student in the Art Department, specializing in ceramics.

The resources of a major research university have been crucial to her experience. For one thing, Dan has broad interests outside the boundaries of art as a discipline-from communications to philosophy and new technology. She often attends lectures in different department to gain exposure to other fields, which has “broadened my horizons,” Dan says. “Art should be developed through interactions with our everyday lives and culture. An artist should pay close attention to society.”

As Dan observes American society, she tries to “use ceramics to document the social phenomena through art.” In her research on media reports on school violence, for example, Dan documented the violent events and imprinted them on a long roll of paper. At the end of a 50-foot long never-ending scroll of text stands a box full of bright colorful clay toy guns. “The children don’t play with toy guns any more. They bring real guns to school.” she said.

A project now under way features books sculptured out of clay. When it is finished, about two-dozen books-each at a different stage of being read-will be installed in a pond, with water circulating constantly. Images or text will be projected on the surface of the water, suggesting the constant circulation and interchange of knowledge and information

Access to this knowledge and information is the advantage Dan sees in attending a research university rather than an arts-only school. “If I need to, I can talk to people in architecture, computer science, physics, and engineering to find out how to make things work. People from different fields contribute to my working process.”

Dan has also been working at the Center for Digital Arts, part of the School of Arts and Architecture, using high-powered computers and sophisticated software. She is learning to use three-dimensional computing to digitize her models of landscapes and architectural spaces. “Right now, it’s still very experimental,” she says.

Dan is well versed in the tradition of ceramic arts, extending back thousands of years. In her own Chinese culture, she is most intrigued by the celebrated army of earthenware soldiers, chariots, and horses created for the mausoleum of Qin Shihuang more than 2,000 years ago. But she is more concerned with “learning how to use this wonderful tradition combined with new information and technology in ways that reflect changes in society and the cultural phenomenon of our time,” Dan says. “I am looking to see how we can push this medium into a new era.” She knows that “there are different ways of working with clay besides traditional ways of making utilitarian objects. It can be developed conceptually into another kind of work which is both ideologically and aesthetically interesting.”

Dan is proud to be attending a noted art school and working with an excellent faculty. With their encouragement and support, she bravely experiments and explores with her work. However, she also knows that a good school isn’t enough to ensure success. “If you are not doing good work, it doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are working with . . . . your work is the evidence.”

Published in Winter 2000, Graduate Quarterly

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