“Over the Top: Chandelierium” Art Exhibit Features Recycled Material

by | May 9, 2024 | Featured, Research and Innovation

The “Over the Top: Chandelierium” exhibit in the Jo Farb Hernandez Gallery features work by students in Spatial Arts Professor Shannon Wright’s Art 173 class that repurposed material from a former hotel. Photo courtesy of Shannon Wright.

When San José State invested in the opportunity to transform the south tower of the San José Hilton Signia hotel complex into the Spartan Village on the Paseo (SVP), the university’s latest student housing community, SJSU inherited a unique collection of fixtures, ranging from lamps to sconces and even a large chandelier. One chandelier was a dome studded with glass beads, while others featured leaf-shaped gold glass or octagonal shapes that hide lamps. 

Where other universities may opt to simply recycle the materials, SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson suggested to Traci Ferdolage, senior associate vice president of Facilities, Development and Operations (FD&O) that the Art Department may have a better use for the hotel chandeliers. Ferdolage invited SJSU Professor of Spatial Art Shannon Wright, who teaches a course on installation art, to visit SVP to assess the materials. 

When she overheard someone describe the chandeliers as too “over the top,” something clicked into place for Wright. She photographed the chandeliers to share with her students and challenged them to create “over the top” work. 

Given the interest, FD&O worked with the SVP developer and contractor to salvage the chandeliers and light fixtures and then transported them to campus. For the remainder of the semester, Wright’s students reused elements of the chandelier and sconces — including, in one case, eight feet of glass beads — to construct original works of mixed media, sculpture and ceramics. To showcase the products of this unique collaboration, they dedicated three days to installing or suspending their works in the Jo Farb Hernandez Gallery on the first floor of the SJSU Art Building. The show, entitled “Chandelierium,” is open to the public through Monday, May 13.

“This project showcases and highlights the connectivity between the newness of Spartan Village on the Paseo and the legacy of our main campus,” says Teniente-Matson, “and puts the ingenuity of our faculty and students on full display. Their artistic expressions have allowed for repurposed fixtures to live on as the facility transitions to a residence hall with Spartan energy and innovation.”

Recycling strength and beauty

“The material inspired what was to come,” says Cosette Johnson Blanchard, ’26 BFA Spatial Art, who constructed three separate pieces that use the gold feathered glass from one chandelier and hang suspended from the ceiling. One piece, a ceramic breastplate that she designed to hold the glass like wings, hangs between a longer spear and a shield composed of glass and wood. “I’ve been working on a series of pieces called ‘Warrior Women,’ and when I saw pictures of the material, I thought it would lend itself well to this concept,” she explains.

Gesturing to the breastplate, which though made of clay has a golden, metallic shine, she adds that “as women, we are stronger than we appear. We may wear jewelry and all the decor, but we have the strength of metal inside. We may look fragile, but we’re actually very strong.”

Mixed media artist Mario Montes Poza, ’24 BFA Spatial Arts, created “The Guest House,” a sculpture that incorporates the ornate, flowery arms of a brass chandelier, as well as glass beads. Atop each of the candelabra’s arms sits a character Montes Poza molded with vibrant expressions and adorned with embroidery, jewelry and other found objects from his late mother’s home in Mexico City. The piece, inspired by a Rumi poem of the same name, sits atop a stool. 

“I wanted to play with the idea that elements of this are from the university,” he says, pointing to the stool, “and other parts are from the hotel. It’s a marriage between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.”  Montes Poza explains that many of the smaller details — coins that litter the ground beneath the stool and embellished doodads and knickknacks draped around the characters’ necks — are meant to reflect the various personalities that passed through the hotel throughout the years, as juxtaposed against his mother’s more meaningful objects.

The exhibit also represents a unique partnership between Facilities Development and Operations and the College of Humanities and the Arts. 

“One of the components of the Spartan Village on the Paseo project was to find ways to repurpose equipment, fixtures or other building features that would be demolished during conversion of the project site from a hotel to student housing,” says Ferdolage. “Partnering with the College of Humanities and the Arts on these efforts has been wonderful in that we were able to align with our campus core values around sustainability while also supporting our students and faculty in their academic pursuits. The art pieces developed are just amazing and will allow for the ‘story’ of Spartan Village of the Paseo to be told for years to come.”

Senior Construction Manager Amanda Castruita and her young daughter attended the exhibit opening and were impressed by all the ways SJSU artists transformed the materials.

Amanda Castruita's daughter admires “Unrestrained normal notions noted then knighted,

Amanda Castruita’s daughter admires “Unrestrained normal notions noted then knighted,” a piece by Sheila Perez. Image courtesy of Amanda Castruita.

“As the SJSU construction manager, I’ve seen the Signia by Hilton hotel transform from conceptual drawings into what will be the new Spartan Village on the Paseo,” says Castruita. “There is a sense of pride that travels throughout the construction site whenever I explain to the team who will be occupying the building. Now to see the hotel’s chandeliers being transformed into beautiful pieces of art really ties the past to the future of the building. I loved working with Shannon on delivering the light fixtures to her department and to hear about the vision she had. The artwork is powerful, innovative and expressive. My daughter especially loved the one shown with her in the picture!”

Castruita’s daughter was captivated by “Unrestrained normal notions noted then knighted,” a piece by Sheila Perez, ’24 Art, that featured a large lamp frame wallpapered with dozens of her journal entries, many of them written during the pandemic. The entire piece is lit up from inside and filled with tiny ceramics.

“The purpose of this piece is to give power to my words,” says Perez. “It made sense to add the light because it shows that my words can sustain themselves.”

A number of other unique pieces fill the Jo Farb Hernandez Gallery, many of them incorporating material from the former hotel. In addition to Perez, Montes Poza and Johnson Blanchard, participating artists include Celeste Dowlan, Edward Eng, Aaliyah Gomez, Jeevan Kracht, Catherine Thy Le, Coco Liang and Ying Wang.

Shannon Wright's Art 173 class. Image courtesy of Shannon Wright.

SJSU artists participating in the “Over the Top: Chandelierium” exhibit (from left to right): Jeevan Kracht; Catherine Thy Le; Coco Liang; Celeste Dowlan; Mario Montes Poza; Ying Wang; Aaliyah Gomez; Sheila Perez; Cosette Johnson Blanchard; and (seated) Edward Eng. Photo courtesy of Shannon Wright.

In addition to taking inspiration from the SVP materials, Wright instructed her students to reflect on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story that includes a detailed description of visual art.

“We talked about the power of objects. Gilman’s wallpaper, hypothetically an inanimate object, becomes very sentient,” Wright adds. “If an artist can create something that evokes such a visceral reaction in its viewer, they have achieved quite a feat.”

Learn more about galleries in the SJSU Art Department.