Paloma Vianey is an MFA candidate in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. She shares her experience creating new work for “Maximum Occupancy,” the MFA group show that was installed at the Johnson (October 13–23, 2020).

One of the most fulfilling components of the Cornell MFA program is having the freedom to conceptualize a solo show every semester, so I was saddened when I heard one of the plans from the university’s re-activation strategy was to transform the galleries in the art building into socially distanced classrooms. Of course, that re-activation plan included my re-entry into my studio, but without a future exhibition to plan for, I felt disoriented. In my head I was creating incohesive and unfinished artworks.

When I had accepted the idea that I was walking into an exhibition-less semester, the Dean of Architecture, Art, and Planning announced the generosity of the Johnson Museum by letting us use some of their galleries for student shows. Then I realized that my exhibition had to be mounted with two weeks’ notice. With no artworks I was pleased with, I had to conceptualize an entire solo show in galleries larger than I was used to. Although I was mentally lost, I had to double my work hours and attempt to materialize a worthy show.

As an artist from the US–Mexico border (from Ciudad Juárez), I focus my artistic practices on border art and immigration. I rely on my experience of crossing the border on a daily basis to express my conflicting sentiments toward the Mexican-American border. I knew this show had to analyze the complicated Mexico-America relationship affecting the lives of millions. I also knew I needed to pursue my goal of taking stereotypical Mexican objects and adapt them into paintings.

This show, Intercepciones, was divided in two galleries. One of them displayed USA vs Mexico, an interactive installation that consisted of two piñata paintings, one embodying the United States and the other one Mexico. By referencing the local color of the American and Mexican flags, each piñata embodied a different national identity. These two piñatas were in competition with each other, and the viewer had the power to adjust the position of the piñatas. This interactive ability allowed visitors to study this hectic, senseless, and unfair relationship.

The other gallery showcased a collection of interrupted imaginary and ambiguous landscape paintings. Through these landscapes, I aimed for these to be intercepted by stereotypical Mexican traditions (i.e. the rebozo and the serape). Ik’, the largest piece of the show, portrayed a massive generic landscape that was wrapped by an orange rebozo (a traditional garment worn by women to wrap their bodies). This rebozo was made out of canvas and has the continuation of the landscape, hinted on the wrapping. The symbol ‘ik (the Mayan hieroglyph for wind) is prominently repetitioned in this rebozo. Collectively, all paintings have a landscape that are brusquely interrupted, with the purpose of marking the pertinent influence of Mexican culture in society.

The promptness of this show is somehow an accurate representation of the state of 2020. As art galleries and museums are resuming their exhibitions, artists around the world are rushed into a phase of intense art making driven by adrenaline. Having this show was initially stressful, but I am genuinely grateful to the Johnson Museum and its staff for being so attentive and flexible to art students’ needs.

Student installations for Fall 2020 are open on weekdays with limited capacity to Cornell faculty, staff, and students only. Please call ahead if you want to visit.