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Artists' experiment puts reality to the test

Four women spend three days secluded in a campus gallery and end up not in a ruthless confrontation over their creative efforts but in a quiet collaboration.

September 22, 2003|Duane Noriyuki | Times Staff Writer

The popularity of reality TV was unfathomable to Mandi Mauldin Felici, a graduate art student at Cal State Long Beach. She didn't understand what it was about conspiracy, greed, hot tubs and maggots that so enthralled viewers, so she decided to do an experiment.

What would happen, she wondered, if artists holed up in a gallery for three days and were forced to work on a collaboration? Would they turn ruthless like television characters? Would there be bickering and back-stabbing? Would there be romance? Would there be art?

"Collaborate: A Reality Show" began Friday morning in a small gallery on the Long Beach campus. Participating artists were allowed to leave only for bathroom breaks until Sunday evening's reception.

The exhibition, including raw video shot during the experiment, will continue through Thursday.

Felici wanted 10 artists, found eight, but four bailed out at the last minute. That, more than champagne or maggots, said Felici, tasted of reality. The artists, all art majors, brought sleeping bags and food, no music and, absolutely, no television. For the collaboration, they were allowed to use only whatever materials they brought with them.

Daal Praderas was the first to arrive. "This could be a situation where I totally have a lot of fun or really, really hate it," she said, "but either way it will be an exploration."

Praderas, 44, worked 20 years as a journalist before enrolling in art school. In describing details of her life, her tone was matter-of-fact.

She used to work at a car rental place. She used to work at a gas station. She lasted one day as a waitress. She worked for newspapers and a radio station.

She had a nervous breakdown. She had a miscarriage. She found a man she loved. She found art. Things are better now. That is her reality.

Felici, 30, arrived next. Among her supplies were a box of Barbie dolls, fabric and a quilt made from clothes she wore during an 18-month trip to southern France in 1994.

She has been married a month, and the process of beginning her own family has prompted thoughts about the role of family in her life.

She sees how she lives within a network of friends and family members. Life is a collaboration, she said, so why shouldn't art be the same?

Kristin Day Larmer, 20, the group's youngest member, arrived with a cooler, a stash of Cap'n Crunch, her father's sleeping bag, a potter's wheel and 150 pounds of clay. Her goal is to someday open a gallery for young artists and to show her own work, which tends to be more sculptural than functional. Her favorite artist is the late George Ohr, known as the Mad Potter of Biloxi.

Larmer described herself as creative and shy.

"My main concern is that we have talent and a lot of stuff, but can we take that stuff and make something, you know, and can we do it without fighting? Whether it's good or bad, the experience will be interesting. That's the most important thing."

The fourth artist, Niza Juarez, 23, had called earlier to say she was recovering from a cold and had a doctor's appointment that would delay her arrival until 1 p.m. The others started work without her. Since there would be four of them, they decided, each would take a corner, begin work individually, then move toward the center of the gallery, where, somehow, they would integrate their work.

By 1 p.m., there was still no word from Juarez. The others wondered if she had gotten sick or if she had decided not to participate. Finally, at 3:30, she pulled up in a black 1974 Lincoln with expired Texas plates.

A senior, Juarez, 23, plans to study makeup artistry for television and film after she graduates. While the others brought saws and sanders, hammers and nails, metal and wire, tree branches and drills, fabrics and clay, Juarez brought magazines, a book about the history of punk, a curling iron and a blow dryer.

These things, she said, say something about who she is, but there is much more to her story. Her father is a truck driver, her mother a housekeeper. Her older sister, the first member of the family to graduate from college, is a recruiter for UC Berkeley.

When Juarez's sister was deciding on a college, her father drove her in his truck to the three schools she was considering: UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and Berkeley. Juarez too has spent time in the passenger's seat next to her father.

When she was a child having trouble learning to read and write, her parents bought her a camera and binoculars. She would go with her father and take pictures, then, later, write stories about the photographs and all the things she had seen through binoculars.

She said she is motivated to work hard because her family has sacrificed a great deal for her education.

It wasn't easy to tell her father that because she was involved in the art project, she wouldn't be home to celebrate his birthday. He told her it was OK; school comes first. They will celebrate later.

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