Wednesday morning at the University of California, Los Angeles, a murder-suicide sparked panic with rumors that there was a mass shooting with up to four gunmen and as many as seven injured. Meanwhile, 49 seniors at UCLA's four-year Design Media Arts Program were putting together their final group show before graduation, which was supposed to open the following day. But instead of installing their individual projects inside the school's Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center as planned, many of them found themselves under lockdown, along with the rest of the campus, until early that afternoon. They had a decision to make: postpone their show's opening, or soldier on? After some divided discussion, the students decided to open the next evening as scheduled, many of them returning to work the same day in order to resume installing their projects, with some even staying throughout the night.
The young artists and designers had been working on their exhibition since April, calling it The S.A.D. Show. The acronym stands for "Staring in the Age of Distraction," which was inspired by an article in Elephant by Richard Blandford, about the implications of appreciating art in the short-attention-span era of web 2.0+ and beyond.
While the theme predated the shooting by months, it quickly seemed a little too ironic that the show's branding features an all-too-familiar sad face, which some on the curatorial team worried might be in bad taste. But by forging ahead, the artists nevertheless managed to uncover new layers of meaning that weren't necessarily there before.
The students had only been installing the show for about a week, and in that short time, the shooting wasn't their only major diversion. Just one day before on Tuesday, UCLA's Bruin Republicans decided to host a lecture inside the arts building called “Feminism is Cancer,” which sparked a protest. That, plus the shooting, uncovered another unforeseen irony: the entire concept for the The S.A.D. Show is about the implications of coming-of-age and making art in the face of distraction. And that's exactly what the students decided to do.
Southern California has had its fair share of mass shootings over the past three years, including ones outside Santa Monica College, at Los Angeles International Airport, and near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in Isla Vista. There have been at least three in the LA area so far this year.
While some may argue the students' reaction to continue with business as usual was just another sign of our society's growing numbness to gun violence, in this case, it was the opposite. The students were reacting exactly in line with their show's theme, following through with their projects despite so-called “distractions.” As for the sad face, curatorial team member, senior Caroline Park said it just made the students more aware of the importance of embracing a range of emotions, not only as artists, but as people.
"We don't want to look back on our senior year, on our last week, backing away from this out of fear of what other people might think, or just being fearful of violence in general," Park said. "And we don't have to be so scared of sadness. All those emotions have to come into play just to balance us out as humans."
The S.A.D. Show is on view through June 11 at the Broad Arts Center at UCLA.