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Symbiosis Founder & Editor-in-Chief Gina DeCagna

Freshman Gina DeCagna is the mastermind behind Penn’s newest publication, a magazine that publishes collaborations between literary and visual artists. Symbiosis‘ inaugural issue hit newstands in the Kelly Writers House, Houston Hall, and Fisher Fine Arts Library this morning. Over 60 contributors have participated in Symbiosis since its founding last semester, and the organization welcomes anyone with a creative mind.

Name: Gina DeCagna
Year: 2016
School: College of Arts & Sciences
Major: Prospective English – Creative Writing Emphasis & Visual Studies or Fine Arts

Why are you interested in the intersection of art and writing?
It’s fascinating when you’re studying the history of human culture and you see how one idea inspired another or how one person impacted another, leading to a bigger movement in the contemporary philosophy. The visual and literary arts especially have this type of relationship, in which what is communicated through prose or poetry can also be translated visually, and vice versa. It’s very intriguing to notice how a similar idea can be conveyed through different communicative media and see where one may take the other.

What inspired you to come up with Symbiosis?
I’ve always been a visual artist, and in kindergarten, I started having fun by making my own written and illustrated books! I developed a passion for both art and writing, and books served as a means to combine art, writing, and design in a physical product. At Penn, I was interested in bringing my loves together through the real people who embody these different sectors of creative expression: the writers on campus and the artists. Essentially, I hoped to unite the dwellers of the Kelly Writers House and Addams Fine Arts Hall through a physical book or publication.

How did Symbiosis go from being just an idea to an actual magazine and website?
I pitched my idea of Symbiosis at the first Kelly Writers House Hub Planning Committee meeting of the past fall semester. I received a lot of support, and soon, I started hosting bimonthly meetings of artists and writers on campus at the Kelly Writers House. We discussed the intersection of art and writing, conceptualizing how we could make it into a concrete publication, while also sharing our own writings and artworks with each other. Additionally, we worked to match artists and writers up for collaborations. Then, continuing the project into the spring semester, we formed a staff of fellow student editors, managers, designers, and photographers for the publication. It has been a lot of work, but the dedication of all the participants has made it a great success! Anyone can now read our publication at upennsymbiosis.com.

What makes Symbiosis different from other publications on campus?
We’re not the typical literary and art magazine! While most publications select art that may our may not be correlated to the writing, our visual and written content directly interrelate as a result of the collaborative process. The art and writing are given equal emphasis, and that truly reflects the symbiotic relationship. Sometimes the writing inspires the art, or the art inspires the writing—or sometimes the two fuse together, inextricably intertwined.

We’re also not just a publication—we’re a welcoming organization of all types of creative people, encouraging participants to try to connect with others through collaboration. We’re all about meeting new people, learning about their work and interests, and discovering whom you can potentially connect with. We’ve had undergraduate students, graduate students, and alumni alike participate. You never know who can change how you see the world, and we want people to make those connections.

What are your plans for Symbiosis in the future?
We hope to continue Symbiosis into the future, culminating each academic year’s collaborations with an annual publication documenting the best ones. We hope to expand the project and publication as well, getting more people involved and continually exploring the meaning of the intersection of art and writing. I would also love to see more “risky” collaborations—maybe not the photographer with the poet, but the installation-based sculptor with the playwright. There’s no limit to where people can take their projects!

How can people get involved with Symbiosis?
Shoot us an email at upenn.symbiosis@gmail.com! We have a Project Manager whose specific role is to randomly pair up any interested artists and writers! If the collaboration does not work out, you can ask to be randomly paired again as many times as you would like until you have a successful collaboration. You can then submit your collaboration to our publication.

Former editor-in-chief of Her Campus UPenn
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