In ‘Pandemical,’ Fresno State goes digital to showcase painting, video, poetry, theater, music and more

UPDATE 10/2: Congrats to Fresno State’s Center for Creativity and the Arts for a robust virtual opening reception Thursday night for ‘Pandemical.’ No wine and cheese, but lots of artistic camaraderie! Congrats, also, to the award winners:



Third place: STEVEN CHURCH

Here’s what a Zoom opening reception looks like:


In these turbulent times, coronavirus has changed a lot of job descriptions. Art curators aren’t exempt.

Cindy Urrutia, director of Fresno State’s Center for Creativity and the Arts, has never had to put together a virtual art exhibit before. But given the choice between a virtual show and none at all, she knew what the answer would be: These pandemic-affected times need art now more than ever.

Pictured above: Shannon Bickford’s ‘Normalcy,’ one of the works in Fresno State’s ‘Pandemical.’ Photo: Fresno State

And if people can go online to attend church, hold city council meetings and visit grandma, why not use technology to experience a museum-quality exhibition?

Urrutia’s initiative resulted in “Pandemical,” a virtual offering opening Thursday, Oct. 1. The juried show might exist in the virtual world, but it still features that most hallowed of exhibit traditions: a real, honest-to-goodness opening reception — on Zoom. The exhibit showcases spoken word, poetry, theater, music, painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, video and animation.

I caught up with the very busy curator for an interview about the show.

Q: Curators spend a lot of time thinking about the physical layout of an exhibition. The juxtaposition of works to each other, the order of viewing and the lighting are all key details. What sorts of techniques can you use in a virtual exhibition to guide and impact the viewer?

A: Certainly, it has been a challenge reimagining the gallery space and layout which is very important to me. However, with that challenge has come inspiration and thinking of new ways to create an interactive (as much as possible with this being my first virtual exhibit) community building experience. This exhibit will not be a 3D model of our gallery. It is fully virtual.

As with a traditional exhibit, the layout, design, weight and variance of the virtual exhibit has been equally crucial. What does not translate as easily is lighting, ambiance and the physical tactile experience.

Nonetheless, significant time and consideration have been given to “Pandemical” from the time the call for artists was announced. It was intentional to have “categories” in this exhibit that are reflective of the 2020 Pandemic experience. The website will be easy to navigate, with works divided by the categories: Isolation and Community; Illness and Wellness; Innovation; and Social Advocacy. Within those categories the works are divided by Videos, Music, Creative Literary Expression and Visual Art. Each category builds on each other.

The ‘Pandemical’ home page.

The layout and look are not quite minimalist, but rather minimalist inspired in order to reflect the often-repetitive theme of the simmering quietude seen in many works. The louder pieces reinforce and create dialogue with quieter pieces. Yet, both are equally compelling and are crucial the strength of “Pandemical.”

Equally important, with “Pandemical” we have striven to resolve and balance concepts alongside presentation. As with everything in life, it is a learning process and we, at CCA and Fresno State hope you enjoy it and truly feel the sense of community we are creating.

Q: I’m intrigued by Shannon Bickford’s ‘Normalcy,’ a digital painting that shows the view from the artist’s backyard. Can you talk about it?

A: “Normalcy” conveys a quietude that comes in the moments where silence envelopes us – it can bring peace or discomfort. When I look at it, it is simultaneously eerie, peaceful, beautiful and captivating. It underlines the chaos that can simmer on the surface of a sleepy, quiet state that, in a way, has become a normal state of being during the pandemic.

Certainly, there are some works that are less literal. However, that is the beauty of artistic expression—it is an expression and does not need to be literal in order to be provocative, interesting and insightful. And for that reason, I am equally pleased with the literal and non-literal submissions.

‘Pandemical’ includes a number of videos. Here’s a screenshot from the website.

Q: In normal times, visual artists are much more likely to work on a solo basis than classical musicians, say, or actors. Has that benefited visual artists during the pandemic? Or has the crisis taken a different kind of toll?

A: I would say, yes there is a stronger tendency for visual artists to work on a solo basis. However, in the past decade there has been a significant rise in collectives. A perfect example was when CCA and Fresno State hosted Merritt Johnson and the Unnamed Collective that was featured on the Smithsonian Online Magazine. We will also be hosting “Postcommodity,” another collective, on a Zoom webinar on Oct. 22. Collective work is becoming more prominent, even if the tendency is for solo work.

With that said, I think that the pandemic has actually inspired creativity in ways that will not be readily evident. Many artists will showcase their works in physical settings once restrictions are lifted. Many artists are currently creating innovative works. When I read the major arts publications and speak with other curators, I am excited about what is currently being developed. Nonetheless, I think we are all experiencing different types and levels of ‘tolls’ as a result of this pandemic. And there will be artists that will thrive and others less so. Yet, I feel very optimistic about what we will see in the future. We just need to be a little more patient.

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Q: I don’t think I’ve ever been to a “virtual” opening reception for an art exhibition. Will there be a live component? Can you give us a sneak peek?

Yes, there will be a virtual opening reception on Oct. 1 at 6pm via Zoom. It is free and open to the public. (Here is the Zoom link.)

The artworks will be juried and winners will be announced during the reception. The jurors are Vivian Velasco Paz, Board President of Arte Americas and Michael Chukes, Visual Artist and Poet. In addition to announcing Best in Show, 2nd and 3rd places, we will also announce curator and staff favorites. The reception will include a few words by Fresno State’s Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Dr. Honora Chapman.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

The goal of this exhibit was to create a community building event that showcased the creative expression of Central California. It has been a joy and an honor to have had such a wide range of submissions that have truly made this about community and is a reflection of how even in difficult times, the human creative spirit can thrive.

Entries include work from Fresno State faculty, staff and students, as well as that of local artists and community members who created artistic expressions for the first time. The diverse backgrounds and mediums are truly exciting and beautiful to engage with. I hope that “Pandemical” speaks to you as it does to me.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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