Letting Go Through Art
Erica Mendoza, a third-year MFA student in sculpture, received an award for her series #WasteHerTime2013to2017 at the 2017 SECAC (formerly the Southeast College Art Conference), hosted by the Columbus College of Art and Design.
In creating this series, Mendoza was influenced by #WasteHerTime2016, a trending hashtag that amassed tens of thousands of tweets and Instagram posts. She describes the posts as “funny, kind of relatable, with really sad or dark undertones.” The idea for her series sparked when she was cleaning and came across a scarf from a person she had liked, but who had stopped contacting her. It occurred to her that she still had articles of clothing from other unsuccessful relationships, which felt a little absurd to her.
“I dug through drawers and boxes for these clothes, embroidered them out of spite, and hung them on my wall for critique the next morning,” she says. “What started as an automatic response became a portrait; a group shot of ex-boyfriends, a self-portrait for having chosen them, a portrait of pseudo trophies, and a snapshot of my inability to let go. The work is a little sad and a little tongue in cheek, kind of like that hashtag.”
Mendoza, who recently served as a Hot Metal Artist-in-Residence at the Franconia Sculpture Park in Minnesota, works with a variety of materials. All of her work, however, comes from a deeply personal or autobiographical place.
“It’s emotionally draining, especially working with monotonous processes like embroidering where I’m on autopilot, so it’s just me and my thoughts,” Mendoza says.
Receiving an award at SECAC was unexpected by Mendoza, though much welcomed.
“Sometimes it feels like I’m shouting in the dark; making work and hoping other people are impacted by it,” she says. “Relating to an audience has been a hurdle during my time graduate school. Sometimes I wonder, ‘Am I a millennial girl making millennial work for a millennial audience?’”
Lately, however, Mendoza has been able to step back from her work as a whole and pull out the thread that connects it all.
Mendoza’s thesis exhibition, the culminating event for MFA students in the studio art program, opens March 19, 2018, in the Ewing Gallery. Her work will be displayed alongside that of her studio mate, Cassidy Frye. This past year, Frye was also recognized for her excellent work in sculpture with two awards: the International Sculpture Center Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award and the Mid-South Sculpture Alliance Scholarship for Outstanding Achievement.
Mendoza applied to several graduate schools, but what drew her to UT was the support from faculty and the connection to other graduate students.
“When I Skype interviewed with Jason Brown and John Powers, something clicked. I thought, I would definitely love to work with them AND they laughed at my jokes,” she says, adding that both sculpture professors have been exceptionally supportive in nominating her for scholarships and fellowships. She was also attracted by the opportunity to work on interdisciplinary projects.
Mendoza is looking forward to seeing how the work she creates in the last few months of her MFA will inform what she makes when she is no longer a student. She hopes to continue teaching at the university level and to inspire others to create well-made works that continue the dialogue within the field of contemporary sculpture.