Bella Cheng, UT22 Senior – UT News
On a chilly day in 2020, visitors flocked to the Carmen Argote exhibit at the Visual Arts Center on the University of Texas campus at Austin. A stranger handed visitors a pair of Bluetooth headphones through which they heard Bella Cheng’s voice telling them to imagine falling into a vat of black mud. Invisible and from a distance, Cheng guided visitors through his latest work of performance art, an interactive and meditative audio tour through the installations.
“It’s one of the few times I’ve had the opportunity to show a performative and interactive work to a public audience,” she says. “Performance art can really help you move away from perfectionism because it can be so abstract and amorphous. It’s a flexible medium to work with because it’s so loosely defined.”
Cheng is a multidisciplinary artist and one of our Class of 2022 Outstanding Graduates. She has exhibited her work and performances at over a dozen venues, including the Visual Arts Center and Austin Co-Lab Projects, and at of East Austin Studio Tours.
She sculpts, paints, draws, films, performs, makes paper, etc. A Kay Pearson Harrison Endowed Presidential Scholar, Cheng will graduate this year with a fine arts degree in studio art and a minor in art history. Suitable for a skilled artist in many disciplines, Cheng already has a ton of experience in the art world and plenty of insightful philosophies about her craft.
During her sophomore year, Cheng began an internship for Landmarks, the university’s public art program, where she learned key insights into her industry.
“I learned that art that you can only expect to see in New York or Los Angeles isn’t limited to those places,” she says. “There is art everywhere. He even lurks all around the UT campus.
Cheng speaks in a very thoughtful and humble manner – a quality that has undoubtedly helped her excel as a teacher with learners of all ages. Through her work as a curriculum and education intern at the prestigious UMLAUF Sculpture Garden, Cheng currently leads tours and translates exhibits to better connect with children’s sensory learning styles.
During her time as an undergraduate teaching assistant for Yuliya Lanina’s Drawing for Designers course, Cheng guided students through drawing exercises, provided feedback on their work, and even sometimes acted out. as a figure model.
“Not all of the students had previous art experience, which meant some didn’t know how to draw a moving figure,” she says. “So at the start of every class, I would get up and do a bunch of poses,” she laughs.
These two experiences have helped her develop her love for art education, which she hopes to explore in her post-grad career alongside her work in arts administration.
“Teaching and learning are very reciprocal,” she says. “As an instructor, you can always learn as much from your students as you can from yourself.”
Cheng credits his teachers for imparting wisdom and providing opportunities to explore his creativity in unique and exciting ways. Cheng’s audio tour of the Carmen Argote exhibit was part of a larger artistic intervention alongside her intermediate performance course taught by the highly esteemed Katy McCarthy. And Cheng’s teacher and mentor, Dan Sutherland, gave him the opportunity to learn the importance of play and experimentation in art.
“Thinking of art as a game is a way to do it without pressure,” she says. “I want my work to be done with care and love. And that translates best when I’ve created in a fun way and feel like a kid exploring something for the first time.
As an Austin resident, Cheng chose to attend UT in part to stay close to his family. Much of his work focuses on themes of the home and the accumulation of objects that people build throughout their lives. Fittingly, Cheng also finds herself exploited in Austin’s larger arts community. Through her work with UT alumnus Emmy Laursen, Cheng helps write the 7up Austin Art newsletter, which provides recipients with a weekly list of Austin art happenings.
With years of experience under his belt creating skillful pieces and learning about communication and the technical aspects of the art, Cheng advises incoming Longhorns to beware of perfectionism.
“College is actually a really exciting ground to experiment and try things out,” she says.
In one of her first sculpting classes, Cheng came up with the idea of creating an ambitious giant pink sculpture named Sasha. Somewhere along the way, she couldn’t perform the vision as she had originally planned.
“I had to show it anyway,” she says. “And then I realized, ‘Oh, the world doesn’t stop if this idea I had doesn’t totally work out. “”
“I think it’s good to try to be open to being bad at first,” she says. “In academia, sometimes the stakes are high, but they really aren’t, you know? Your peers are generous. Your teachers want you to grow and try new things. So it’s time to put all the weird ideas you have in your head into practice, try them out and see what happens.