Artist Spotlight: Mika Caldera

Mika Caldera is an art student at the University of Connecticut who’s piece “Empathy” has previously been featured on the Long River Review Blog. I’m here to go a bit more in depth about the artist, her artwork, and her future projects. I sat down with Mika at the art building to discuss her work with the plan of not having a plan. I figured spontaneity, asking questions from the heart and blurting out whatever nonsense comes to mind first, would reflect a new light on her work.

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(Mika Caldera’s “Empathy”)

I walked into her studio at the art building to find her diligently working on a new project. I had spent a while studying her project “Empathy”, examining the words and images and trying to put myself in her mind. Mika is sitting there, cutting up thick paper into 4×4 squares. Each square has the words “I am” written on them in various fonts. Blurting out the first thing that comes to my head, I ask: “Why words?” Mika shrugs her shoulders, not looking up or pausing in her work, and admits: “I have no clue.” She goes on to explain that she likes the way that words can communicate and define feelings. As a writer, this obsession with words makes sense to me.

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(Mika at work)

I go on to ask her a question that I, as a wordsmith, cannot quite wrap my head around: “Why did you choose these images to accompany these words? They’re all very current event-type images.”

Mika says, “I was trying to make sure I got pictures from every aspect of life, different cultures, societies, and social classes. I wanted to cover as much of a worldly audience as possible.” What Mika is trying to say with her “Empathy” piece is that emotions are global, universal. They do not belong solely to the poor or the rich, the white or the black, the first world or the third world. Emotions, words, and language belong to everybody. She is fascinated by the way words can be used to explain these intense feelings of anguish, empathy, terror, and so on.

I mention: “That’s very poetic of you.” When I say that, she seems surprised and replied: “No one has ever described that about my work before.” Modest, poetic, and intelligent, Mika’s work is something that she does because she needs to communicate something. She doesn’t do it for fame, or glory, and I can tell that much by the way she responds to my compliment. She creates art because she has something to say and she wants to make sure everybody hears it.

Mika goes on to say that: “I’m fascinated by the way [writers] are able to take words and create something.”

I laugh a little and respond with: “Well, words are just words until you make something out of it.”

Mika becomes very excited here and says: “Oh that’s actually beautiful, I like that. Can you write that down on my table of nonsense?” I look down and on the desk there is what appears to be brown packaging paper but it is covered with various drawings and quotes and other little tidbits.

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(A sample of Mika’s Desk)

Fascinated, I ask her about the drawings on her desk. She goes: “People come in and sit down as lot so I put down this paper and let them scribble on it. Then I collect it. I have three of them already.” I asked her what she planned on doing with it and was met with a shrug and “I don’t know yet” as an answer.

As we chat about classes and other casual topics, I can’t help but watch her as she slides her blade across the graphing outline to cut pieces of paper into equal squares. She continuously pastes on the words “I am” onto these squares, almost as if doing it were second nature to her. Cut, paste, cut, paste, cut paste. Finally, I get up the nerve to ask her: “What are you working on right now?”

She goes on to explain to me that this project is one of her prospective Senior Project ideas. She claims that, at a loss for a senior art project, she is “purging ideas” from her mind in hopes something great will come out. “I’m going to make these cards and mass produce about 100 or 200 of them,” she explains, “I’m going to make these little boxes and put them in categories. One of them is going to be culture, one is going to be emotion, one is identity, and then I’m going to go to a public space and hopefully someone will fill them out for me.”

She goes on: “Not everyone is the same, so some people may be drawn to one font as opposed to another.”

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(Mika’s Current Project)

This prompts the question: “So what do you think about people?”

Mika replies: “I don’t get people. They’re the biggest mystery to me. I don’t get how there are people who are generous and kind and will bend over backwards to help you. Then there are people who kill, and destroy and commit genocide and I’m like ‘what in the world?! How is this possible!?’. Like, how can these people be the same species? They have the same organs, you know, the same everything, but how can they be so different?”

The conversation steers towards us both preferring animals to people, and we come to the conclusion that I would be a cat if I had to be an animal.

I ask her about future projects she has in mind and she holds up several little handwoven books.

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(Mika’s Future Project)

She tells me that these books are something she wants to pass around to a bunch of people and have them write in them whatever they want, similar to her table of nonsense but more mobile. Then she will collect the books and see that has been written inside. She doesn’t know what she plans on doing after they are collected but, knowing her, I’m sure it’s going to be beautiful.

We finish off with one last question: “What do you think about the future?”

Mika replies: “I guess I’m like, I guess I’m a pessimist. You can’t help but notice the bad things. But, you know, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We leave off ambiguously, with an uncertain future, but Mika’s work relies on people, both the good and the bad. I’m sure no matter what the future will bring, but I know Mika will be able to turn it into great art.


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