Fresno State’s Laureate Lab hosts ‘Sudden Experiments’

Hermelinda Hernandez found her love of poetry at Fresno City College when she decided to enroll in a poetry class.

She selected it as merely an elective for her coursework, but Hernandez said her professor motivated her to keep writing, and one of the first practices that intrigued her was journaling.

“I knew I wanted to do something with words. I just didn’t know if it was, you know, something creative in poetry or something creative in nonfiction. I wasn’t sure,” Hernandez said.

She first enrolled in Fresno City College as an English major, but when she transferred to Fresno State in 2019 and saw the option for a creative writing major, she switched her major the same day she heard about it.

For the past year and a half, she has been working and writing in Fresno State’s Laureate Lab Visual Wordlist Studio, pursuing an MFA in creative writing.

On Oct. 15, 2021, the lab announced a $5,000 grant from California Humanities for its project, “Sudden Experiments: A Series of Student-Led Public Workshops on Art/Poetry-Making,” which is a series of free creative art and poetry workshops held virtually.

One of its workshops, “String Stories,” was hosted by Hernandez. The Feb. 27 Zoom event encouraged participants to critically think and artistically express their feelings about topics on colonization and “the depletion of natural resources within marginalized communities,” she said.

Hernandez said she was honored to be one of the four people chosen to host a workshop. The first was hosted by Tony Vand in December 2021, followed by Hernandez’s. Gaoyong Yang-Vang and Chevas Clements will be hosting the next two events.

Hernandez and other Laureate Lab members, Antony Cody and Paul Sanchez, came together to organize her sudden experiment workshop, thinking about what activities to do. During the creation of “String Stories,” Hernandez said two questions that helped her figure out what it would be about: “Who are you?” and “Where are you from?”

As a result, her workshop is inspired by her background and personal experiences. Hernandez emigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, when she was 5 years old in 2000, and she saw a need for poetry and artistic expression in marginalized communities. She said it has helped her reinvent words, process events in her life de ella and create a “symbol of resistance” against oppressive forces.

“We need this kind of healing, and through these activities, I think we can also be more aware of our surroundings, more aware of who we are. Not only who we are in the present, but who our ancestors were in the past and who we want to be and what we want to embody for future generations to come,” Hernandez said.

She is also of Zapotec descent, an indigenous race of people in Oaxaca. Cody shared his enthusiasm for Hernandez’s work and seeing diversity within the poetry community.

“I’m excited because none of these are old, white cishets [cisgender and heterosexual] dudes of the past,” Cody said. “These are people of color. These are writers and artists of color that are being able to look and see and ask hard questions.”

“[Hernandez is] always someone who will always ask a question that I have never considered, and I think I learned as much from her as I hope people learn from me.”

Cody also noted that Hernandez wanted to learn everything when she came to the Laureate Lab, and said he admired her hunger to learn and the different styles of poetry she uses.

In her workshop, Hernandez had participants use paper, string, scissors and markers to create an art piece symbolizing the elements of fire, water, air and earth.

Participants at the “String Stories” virtual workshop showcase their final product utilizing resources either given to them from the Laureate Lab or resources at home. (Courtesy of Anthony Cody)

Participants were asked what these elements meant to them, which one they related the most to and the least to. Fresno State students at the event expressed their own meanings, some relating to fire as a symbol of passion and others seeing the earth as a metaphor for their stability.

Hernandez then showed two videos that also inspired the workshop, one being Yoko Ono’s installation “Cut Piece,” where audience members cut a piece of Ono’s clothing on stage, and another about poet Cecilia Vicuña’s work “Precario,” meaning fragile.

Vicuña used precarios, which were art pieces created by a variety of materials, to focus on Earth’s resources. In the workshop, Hernandez combined both concepts by cutting strings like Ono to symbolize the elements participants felt they lost or were taken away from them and create their own precario with the remaining strings.

Questions were also asked throughout the process to have participants think about why certain elements are important and why people need to protect them. Cody and Hernandez said they wanted to create a virtually safe environment where people can express their feelings on tough topics and also take a breather from life’s stresses.

“It’s been a really difficult time for everyone. Just because the Laureate Lab is a very interactive space but it’s also a very tiny space, so the pandemic has made it challenging for us in a way to be able to function,” Cody said. “What we’ve been doing is trying to do these sudden experiments in a way for folks to still understand and know what the Laureate Lab is doing.”

“One way that I would like to encourage people to do poetry… If you’re too embarrassed or whatever it is, just to be a kid again. Be a kid at heart and get whatever materials you can and draw around it and write your feelings,” Hernandez said.

Students at the event said they felt thankful and grateful for Hernandez’s workshop and in the end, showcased the artwork they created.

Yang-Vang will host the next “Sudden Experiment” on April 7 around 7 pm Information on the event hosted by Clements’ will be announced at a later date.

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