On View Gallery

Immigration: Borders, Boundaries, Beginnings

Sara Friedlander and Jane Gregorius

The art work of Sara Friedlander and Jane Gregorius addresses the current and historic issues of migration and displacement.  What does it mean to belong, and who controls who stays?

Each artist brings their wise and thoughtful hand to their art.  Read what they have to say.

Birds of im/Migration by Sara Friedlander

I have created these visual narratives to honor the courageous women, who left their homeland and their families, often under great duress and traveled to America to start a new life. Most of them spoke no English; and holding steadfast to their hopes for a brighter future, faced daunting challenges in order to establish themselves in this new world.

I began with photographs of my maternal grandmother, born Masha Bornstein, who in 1908 at the age of 15 left her family behind in Petrikov, Belarus (background image) and traveled alone in steerage to Boston. She soon made her way to Providence, Rhode Island to begin anew. She was an accomplished seamstress who designed and made all the clothes in the photographs you see of her. Warmth and integrity emanate from her face. I’m told that she worked in and then ran a small sewing shop. And after marrying, she and my grandfather sent for her mother and three siblings to join them. She died before I was two and by creating this piece, I feel more connected to her life and my own history.

At this critical time, immigration is seen as a national and global threat throughout the world. These portraits can help us remember and reflect deeply on the reality that most Americans, most of us, are relatively recent descendants of or immigrants ourselves.

 

 

Artist statement by Jane Gregorius

Even the noun “immigration” has started to fill me with sadness. It used to stand for adventure, for courage, for the will to survive, the right to a choice. With politicians trying to capitalize on xenophobia, the word has become a two-part description as in “illegal-immigrant,” and it is often said that “that person is illegal.” Really, an illegal person?

I can’t imagine the poverty and squalor, the fear, the political terrors, the life of the persecuted that force populations to escape from the mother country. One of my pieces visually describes the wall and the border patrol who keep an eye on it, another describes the home that was left behind and another the homeless and anonymous wanderer without roots and home land.

At Your Door : The Art of Myra Eastman

“This is my story,” says Myra Eastman in her studio overlooking a garden of flowering trees in a neighborhood where a small California beach town sifts out into quiet-seeming streets of old farmhouses. Her back is to the garden; she’s facing a formidable collection of artworks representing years of prodigious output in which the color and shape of her world is indeed often brilliantly-hued, but the content mostly horrifying.

Read More of the essay by Maureen Davidson

Raised in an affluent Los Angeles suburb in circumstances that seemed protected from any hint of conflict or want, Eastman spent decades unraveling that comfortable bourgeois tapestry over an art life of vigorous enquiry, delving deep into issues she “can’t stop thinking about.” Such issues have driven the slender, gracious, bespectacled former schoolteacher to create with almost obsessive speed and relentlessness a museum’s worth of works so breathlessly immediate they can be cartoonish or chaotic, dripping with gesture, spilling over with ironically cheerful color that fails to overshadow the grist of human inhumanity that is consistently the content.

In works ignited by the successive wars in the Middle East, Eastman transubstantiated war photojournalism into her own stream of consciousness. Working quickly, as if unwilling to dwell on singular incidents, she created score after score of paintings mostly in black gouache on paper, reframing headline news, tightly composing the humans within the action. In such work as “Soldier and Woman” the image is dynamically bisected by a progression of steps that forms a barrier as well as a frame for the soldier’s torso as he reclines with machine gun above a woman with bowed head, below. In “Baghdad Funeral” a procession praying for peace forms a jagged horizon between coffin and mosque. “Woman Behind Wire” stares defiantly from behind a pattern of barbs which almost tear at the surface. The lines carry an urgency and intensity that a more belabored work would not.

The violent acts of human upon human moved from photojournalism into the artist’s life when her sister was gruesomely murdered in 2012 (?). Eastman moved from stultifying sadness into the studio when the trial of her sister’s accused murderer began. “And So the Trial Begins” became the first of 25 small paintings that imagined with cartoonish simplicity the horror of the murder and the events that led to it. The nightmarish invasion, fear, betrayal, brutality of the act are simplified in flat bright, graphic colors, perhaps better to convey or to understand the incomprehensible.

Like the war series, moments are frozen in terrifying tableau. On jewel-colored backdrops, figures often float in relation only to each other as if “real” life is suspended: there is no architecture that can hold a murder. “Ice Pick” crystallizes the horror like a retablo of a Christian martyr—the victim resigned, while “Wall Safe” lays the victim flat as a shadow: the simplified space leads the eyes to a figure escaping through a closing door.

Another opened as Eastman wondered on canvas about the roots of this murder, in which the victim’s daughter was involved. She turned to those posh hills of her childhood Los Angeles in the Mulholland Drive series. Using pop colors and graphic sensibilities of the Sixties, she teases out the possessiveness of possessions, the pose of privilege and its consequence of alienation while a city grid dominates the disconnected humans within.

“Everyday I am bombarded with an overload of human misery and unspeakable horror that pierce my heart with sadness. I can only make sense of it all if I tear off a tiny piece and create works of art that speak to our common humanity and dignity,” Eastman comments.

—Maureen Davidson

 

Text © Maureen Davidson, all rights reserved.
Artwork © Myra Eastman, all rights reserved.

Topologies of Knowing: The Libraries and Laboratories of Amalia Mesa-Bains

The artist Amalia Mesa-Bains has long explored the relationships among women, colonialism, the Catholic Church, and indigenous cultures of Mexico. Some of her interests stem from the experience of growing up in the United States during the 1970s and 80s as a Mexican-American. Her aesthetic vocabulary was influenced by the Chicano civil rights movement in its efforts to celebrate and revive folk and fine art traditions from Mexico such as mural painting, printmaking, and the building of home altars for Dia de Los Muertos and other ritual or religious occasions.

Read More of the essay by Jennifer A. González

In its rich combination of images and objects that are placed in evocative juxtapositions, Mesa-Bains’ work offers a feminist reinterpretation of the Catholic home altar and capilla (yard shrine) traditions, and the parallel but distinct display practices of museums and cabinets of curiosity.

Installation art is notoriously difficult to document because it is meant to be experienced in the space of the gallery; viewers are expected to walk through it, to feel the full scale of the exhibition and also to linger on specific elements of the display following their own interests and curiosity. Seeing this kind of installation art through photographs and slides, whether online or off-line, rarely gives a sense of the three-dimensionality of the artwork, or the pleasure of discovery when looking at a particular detail. Instead we must rely on images made by others to do this work for us. I therefore invite you to imagine yourself in a quiet gallery space discovering these objects the way one would find rare treasures in an antiquarian museum or in the cluttered, personal space of a private home. For these are really the reference points for the artist, who is interested not only in reviving the private altar tradition of Mexican Catholicism, but also intrigued by spaces that are designed to contain and display knowledge, such as the library, the laboratory, and the museum—a place where the muses dwell.

There is an intriguing confluence of histories in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries linking the Spanish discovery and conquest of the Americas, the emergence of new systems for organizing knowledge, and early museums that took the form of cabinets of curiosity or private collections of rare and beautiful objects. Scientific laboratories for experimentation, and specimen displays of flora and fauna in adjacent rooms and gardens were frequently part of aristocratic private homes—displaying to visitors the intellectual prowess and access to global wealth of the duke or prince who owned them. Indeed, the so-called “age of discovery” revealed to Europeans that its previous concepts of many things (animal, vegetable, mineral) would have to change. New kinds of humans—the American “Indians”—also seemed to trouble the minds and souls of those who encountered and eventually killed them. Their destruction and enslavement made it possible to steal the gold figurines, exquisite feather work, stone sculptures and exotic plants that eventually adorned the private collections and gardens of European aristocrats and, some centuries later, public museums and botanical conservatories.

Mesa-Bains’ Curiositas: The Cabinet (1990), which appeared in the exhibition (Re) (Un) (Dis) Covering America, restages the interior of an imagined sixteenth-century collectors’ study, adorned with a Persian carpet, display cabinet and gilt armchair. [Fig.?] But this is not a facsimile; it is merely a reference point for other domestic interiors of collectors across the centuries. Ghostly pencil drawings hanging from the walls depict American Indian chiefs who have long since disappeared. The cabinet contains a motley array of symbolic objects from pre-Columbian figurines to iron bear traps and commercial boxes of corn with the imprint of indigenous bodies. Dry earth and gold-colored stones are scattered in front of the cabinet to serve as the ground for a miniature tableau: three tiny ships (symbolizing the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria that were part of the first Spanish exploration of the Americas) and a handful of figurines representing indigenous populations (all painted gold) are staged in their moment of contact. The armchair is ripped and torn like a wounded body, and possibly stands in for the indigenous bodies subsequently destroyed by the Spanish conquerors in their hunger for wealth. Both metaphorical and metonymical, the objects and artifacts stand as witnesses to this complex, tragic, and unequal interweaving of cultures.

Women’s contributions have frequently been excluded from historical accounts of science and the arts. Much of Mesa-Bains’ work has gone into recuperating women’s histories in order to invite us see feminine space and female daily activity as a site of power, healing and revitalization. Sor Juana’s Library, [Fig. ?] from the Venus Envy Chapter II (1992) installation, stages the artist’s imaginary vision of the private rooms of this illustrious seventeenth-century writer, scholar and Catholic nun Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, who lived in New Spain (today Mexico). Well known for her exceptional library and erudition, Sor Juana became notorious in her own lifetime for being ahead of many of her male contemporaries in the sciences and letters. She even made a famous plea to the male-dominated church for the better education of women—but was rebuffed. Her private collection of books and scientific equipment was confiscated by the Church, and she was forced into silence. The artwork is both an homage to Sor Juana and a revisionist restaging of learning environments for women. Williams College, who hosted the exhibition, had recently been the site of female student protests requesting the hiring of a Latina faculty member. The artist included images and articles from the student protest on her “reading table,” along with histories of Sor Juana, and texts by both indigenous and Spanish writers, thus inviting audience members to consider the links between past and present efforts by women and ethnic minorities to find access to institutions of learning and power. With the reading table, the installation also became a quiet sanctuary where anyone was welcome to sit on the stools provided to examine the contemporary literature and historical materials; if the art installation was a pedagogical space, it was also a contemplative space that changed the duration and the terms of the audience’s relation to art.

In line with her general interest in the possibilities of art to address the injuries of history and to achieve a kind of healing effect for herself after a serious accident, the artist installed the Curandera’s Botanica (2008) for the exhibition NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith in New York at the PS1 gallery and Geography of Memory at the Fresno Art Museum. A “curandera” is a traditional healer or shaman in indigenous communities of the Americas; a “botánica” is typically a retail store where one can find religious candles, folk remedies, varieties of herbs and natural medicines and other alternative healing talismans. Just as her earlier installations staged the intersection of Western European interests and systems of knowledge with those of indigenous cultures, the Curandera’s Botanica displays artifacts from two techniques of healing; the shimmering glass beakers and test tubes of medical chemistry laid out on a shining stainless steel surgical table, and below, the plants and grasses, feathers, religious icons, silver milagros glued to the table legs, shells and eggs, bones and incense that are all tools for alternative strategies to heal both body and spirit. On the ground lies another field of cut grass and evergreen branches, gravel and straw. Against one wall another cabinet, this time a tall metal pharmaceutical cabinet, holds a collection of personal mementos and objects appearing in previous installations: pre-conquest figures, family photographs, glass jars of earth, bottles of perfume and personal mementos. Atop the cabinet stands a statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe. An over-sized Catholic rosary and what looks like a giant stethoscope, both painted silver, are draped over the top and down the side. Taken as a whole, the cabinet appears as a material topography of an individual life shaped by these two discourses of healing the body. It is a portrait—an autotopography—of the artist. It offers us a vision of conflicting cultural and medical systems that are here presented as a syncretic synthesis that gains power from the sum of its parts.

The power of Mesa-Bains’ installation work is to be found in the material details and their rhetorical juxtaposition in a carefully choreographed topology. Staged as libraries and laboratories they occupy a liminal place that invites us to think about the ways these two sites of knowledge production and dissemination are always culturally, historically and politically inflected. The viewer who takes the time to read the available texts and to look closely and carefully at the available artifacts will be rewarded with an astute critical vision of the long history of cultures—indigenous and European—who have been in conflict and collaboration for over five hundred years. From a distinctly Chicana perspective, Mesa-Bains’s installations offer temporary sanctuaries for considering this complex past, for mourning those who have been lost through violence and injustice, and celebrating those who survive.

—Jennifer A. González


Jennifer A. González teaches in the History of Art and Visual Culture department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, New York. http://havc.ucsc.edu/faculty/jennifer-gonzalez

Text © Jennifer A. González, all rights reserved.
Artwork © Amalia Mesa-Bains, all rights reserved

 

DOC/UNDOC: A Project of Moving Parts Press

Doc/Undoc at the Sesnon Gallery + Guillermo Gómez-Peña in Performance

“DOC/UNDOC” functions as the short name of a larger art project called Documentado/Undocumented Ars Shamánica Performática. The brainchild of book artist and publisher Felicia Rice, DOC/UNDOC includes work of performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña, art historian Jennifer González, sound artist Zachary Watkins, video artist Gustavo Vazquez, and of course Rice herself, functioning as a printmaker, book artist, and publisher. Under Rice’s direction, they collectively produced what González characterizes as a “Gesamtkunstwerk” in her informative and insightful critical essay, itself a component of the project. And DOC/UNDOC encompasses performance, video, literature, printmaking, drawing, painting, sculpture, sound, and video—a “total work of art” indeed, if a far cry from Richard Wagner. The project was shown last fall in the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery at UC Santa Cruz, accompanied by a new and distinct one-night performance by Gómez-Peña in the black box theater at the Digital Arts Research Center on campus. In this commentary I’ll touch on both the installation of DOC/UNDOC in the Sesnon Gallery and on Gómez-Peña’s sprawling, intensely affecting solo performance as well. But before I get started, full disclosure: the Institute of the Arts and Sciences co-sponsored DOC/UNDOC, and I am working with the Sesnon Gallery on two projects at present, so I am not an uninterested or objective bystander. I am, as well, a long-time fan of Gómez-Peña’s work, a colleague of González, Rice, and Vasquez, and happily so. Readers may do with this what they wish.

Read More of the essay by John Weber

First, the exhibition. DOC/UNDOC presents itself as a seven-year effort in which, as Rice notes, “an unlikely group of collaborators re/imagine the future of bookmaking.” Visitors to the Sesnon Gallery encountered the accordion-format book itself, unfolded and upright, displayed snaking over long, curving tables. An earlier book by Rice was also on view, also shown open and upright. On a nearby pedestal stood DOC/UNDOC’s “deluxe edition” in a custom aluminum case. It takes the form of an elaborate audio-visual treasure box housing a “shamanic” performance kit complete with sound effects, kitschy-campy objets d’art, a vanity mirror, and a fake fur frame. On the gallery wall, videos from the book’s accompanying DVD played in a loop.

The two voices at the center of the exhibition and indeed the project are those of Rice and Gómez-Peña. His words, body, and performative presence suffuses DOC/UNDOC. Rice’s images and work as project director foregrounds him. In the book she offers a layered visual track under and alongside his words, leveraging his psycho-personal-political-poetic voice into a series of high pitch, often-nightmarish images. Demented clowns, tigers, cartoon figures, skeletons, and the Grim Reaper populate this world, and inflect his voice on the page. Vasquez’s videos are to the point, offering short bursts of “GGP,” as he sometimes calls himself, in action. Although less suited to the gallery setting, the critical essay by Jennifer González offers an excellent introduction to the deluxe edition of the book-box and the ways it riffs on books arts and art boxes from Marcel Duchamp to Fluxus. I recommend it highly.

Showing artists’ books in a gallery always poses a challenge. The experiential mode of the gallery differs from that of a book, even an illustrated book. Galleries are for looking while standing, often conversing with friends or family, in a public zone. In contrast, books tend to be private matters. Sitting down to read a book takes you out of social space and into an intimate, internal zone. In the case of DOC/UNDOC, both the book and the personal performance kit of the deluxe edition seem aimed partially at solitary acts of reading, looking, contemplation, and imaginative play. Gallery visitors encountering a book always confront the question, “How much of this must I read to get it? Am I willing to put in the time…?”

That said, in the Sesnon Gallery the ragged intensity of Rice’s imagery and the short bursts of Gómez-Peña’s performance texts offered a visual-verbal experience that worked for me. And while the default “please do not touch” atmosphere of an art gallery seemingly contradicts the subversive, “please play with me” attitude of the deluxe edition of the book, this is precisely the point. DOC/UNDOC centers obliquely but inescapably on the divisively public issues of immigration, hybrid identities, and border crossing. It does so through the medium of graphic art, performance art, performance scripts by Gómez-Peña, video, and critical commentary. The public dimension at the heart of the project is therefore clear. DOC/UNDOC confronts issues we can’t avoid, can’t refuse to consider, not here, not now. The recent refugee crises in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central America, and the emergence of the Trump campaign’s ugly attacks on immigrants in the Western Hemisphere only underline the themes that DOC/UNDOC explores.

The tenor of the current political moment and what it feels like to an engaged, idiosyncratically activist artist like Gómez-Peña were on brilliant display in “Imaginary Activism: The Role of the Artist Beyond the Art World,” a solo performance at UC Santa Cruz on Nov. 6 at the DARC black box theater. Performing two days after widespread Republican victories in the mid-term elections, he termed the evening a “living archive” of past work, “up until last night.” He moved widely between topics and themes common to his work over the past two decades and more. Yet rather than feeling like a best hits anthology, “Imaginary Activism” was a bravura, brutally honest summing up of where, at 59 years old, Gómez-Peña found himself on that day, in front of that audience. I saw the piece that evening, and I have watched it again on video in preparation for this commentary.

Gómez-Peña took the stage wearing a get up that combined male, female, native American, punk, and hipster garb, describing himself as a “vernacular philosopher in deviant shamanic drag,” “a spoken word DJ,” a “linguistic tightrope walker and a mariachi with a big mouth.” There is no way to convey on paper or in words-on-screen the sprawling brilliance and intensely personal-political nature of the episodic performance that followed. It was hilarious, sarcastic, biting, painfully honest, and deeply sobering. Over the course of 80 minutes, he mused on the nature of performance art, language, his own complex performance persona and career. But above all, Gómez-Peña ruminated on contemporary politics as seen from his distinct, dissident position as a long-time Mexican resident of the USA, an internationally acclaimed, MacArthur Fellowship award-winning performance artist and poet, a man of color and political activist. As he commented at one point, “Yes I am obsessed with political speeches. Some performance artists are frustrated rockers. Others are bad, or rather enigmatic activists. And I am both.”

His piece was a utopian lament for a dystopian era, a plea for art, poetry, and literature in a time and country that have, in his telling, little use for either, really, except as existential window dressing and political alibi. It was also a plea for justice—an accusation and a set of demands delivered in full recognition of the impossibility of collecting on his claims, proclaimed with complete moral authority and the confidence of one who has nothing to lose, and knows it full well. At one point, he imagined himself the “first Mexican President of the U.S.,” and proceeded to fantasize about everything he would do, including establishing “nude universities” and “deporting neocons and paleocons… Feels great to imagine! What else do we have at this point in time?”

After asking why American politicians are constantly invoking god, he offered a shouted litany of “God Blesses” to countries, peoples, and places that rarely if ever grace the lips of a presidential or senatorial candidate. This included enemies such as North Korea and Iran, hemisphere neighbors such as Ecuador and Canada (“for protocol reasons”), the Iroquois and other indigenous North American peoples, and more.

At another point, Gómez-Peña observed, “I don’t believe in government. I don’t believe it is possible to correct the problem from within the system. The system is the problem.” And, “the very same politicians who forced us into globalization and free trade across borders don’t want us to be bilingual…and I wonder if you can be a monolingual member of a multilingual community?” He proceeded to read an open letter to the Governor of Arizona and right wing media figures such as Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, proposing to delete all Spanish words from the English and American lexicon, including all proper names for cities, states, and places, along with “Santa Cruz” and “California.”

In passage after passage, Gómez-Peña retained the anger of youth, leavened now with a tinge of desperation fed both by age and wisdom. Between the jokes, you could hear bruised hopes still surviving after years of creative effervescence and improvisatory self-reinvention in the face of insurmountable odds. He offered a high wire act, determined to embrace both his own and the world’s contradictions without a net below, attempting to cross a chasm of rage and disappointment a million miles deep. You could accuse Gómez-Peña of sentimentality if his humor didn’t have such a sharp edge. And he takes aim repeatedly at himself, his calling as a performance artist, and the contradictions it entails.

“The crucial question here is where does one find the spiritual energy to continue, when you don’t believe in mainstream politics and institutionalized religion gives you the creeps? What to do when you are too old to belong to a subculture and participate in the global rave, and too strange to get a chic job in academia? Where do we locate our dissent when dissent is a corporate product, an HBO special, a perfume…or when kids can simply wear a T-shirt that says ‘Art is Resistance’ and think the job is done… I mean what to do when all the master discourses and epic narratives of hope are bankrupt.

Gómez-Peña’s sense of himself as both an outsider and insider was a topic he returned to often, at one point observing that, “if you comply too much, you lose your voice, your sharp edges, your culo, you become someone you dislike, and one day when you least expect it, they send you back to the margins to wait and wait and wait for a second chance that rarely comes.” I wondered at this point what students and younger audience members would make of this insight from a veteran of the art world “culture wars” of the late 1980s and 1990s, looking back on a remarkable career in a time of aesthetic, political, and economic tumult. But it is the part that came next which was the most telling: “…or should you succeed in preserving your ethics, uncompromised, you will eventually be rendered so marginal that no one would know that it was your choice in the first place to remain inconsequential.”

Re-experiencing this gut-wrenching passage again on video while working on this commentary, I was sobered by Gómez-Peña’s willingness to expose internal contradictions bred by his life as a political artist for nearly three decades. Tapping that deep legacy, he conjured a poetry of despair struggling with hope throughout the evening. “In my world,” he said, “political candidates are not politicians, they are artists and literati, visionaries, not functionaries!”

“The country I would like to live in only exists in Planet Poetry and Planet Performance… Where imagination is the only law. Art is part of everyday life, and everyone practices what they believe. Imagination is my Nation. That’s where I wish to live and die.”

The evening concluded with a focus on the here and now, with Gómez-Peña first proposing the possibility of small utopia of himself and his audience in a single place, if only for that moment. Directly addressing, “you, my audience,” he said,

“My hope is not connected to god, country, or economy…. It is always located on the other side of the border, or mirror…or in animals I have never seen. In this very moment, my hope is located in your arms. I want to hug you…but there is a formidable border that separates me from your body, and it’s called, the proscenium…. And despite a century of attempts by the avant garde to destroy it, it remains intact, even in performance art.”

Then asking if it is possible to love “as if the Patriot Act didn’t exist, as if there were no iPads or iPhones,” he softly replied, “I think we can.”

Despite this offer of a happy ending, however temporary and provisional, Gómez-Peña returned, before closing, to reiterate the underlying theme of the evening: the need to accept and embrace contradiction and hybrid identities in an age of border crossing and cultural upheaval. As he put it, “My community is not confined by ideological, national, or ethnic boundaries. Mine is a community of difference, and therefore it is fragmented, ever-changing, and temporary, and that’s how I like it.”

Anyone growing up in an advanced capitalist country is raised on an unending diet of stories in the mass media, organized religion, and education that proclaim the ideal of a unified human consciousness. This notion of the individual assumes that however complex our identity may be, it aspires to escape internal conflicts, to achieve an internal, psychic balance, to be one entity, one “centered” being. On every level, Guillermo Gómez-Peña rejects this possibility today. His performance at UC Santa Cruz was an eloquent, harrowing argument for his position and its political, artistic, and psychological inescapability for anyone who is awake and aware in the world that we now live in.

—John Weber

John Weber is Founding Director of the Institute of Arts and Sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz.

Artist Statement: Collaboration and Metamorphosis

DOC/UNDOC is the sequel to CODEX ESPANGLIENSIS, which I published in 1998. The CODEX was a collaboration between Guillermo Gómez-Peña, writer/activist, Enrique Chagoya, artist/printmaker, and myself, bookmaker/printer. Nine years later, while discussing who would be the visual artist for DOC/UNDOC with our collaborator Gustavo Vazquez, Guillermo turned to me and asked, “Do you draw?”

Read More of the essay by Felicia Rice

At three, I ran to my mother because my big sister had made me cry, and my mother said, “Draw it, draw what happened.” When your mother is a children’s art teacher, and she sees art as the way to process any and all experience, you draw, and you write, and there’s resistance when you don’t. So I responded, “Yes, I draw,” even though I had rarely incorporated my drawings into my bookwork. Guillermo said, “You draw,” in the imperative. It was imperative that I did.

Collaboration is an active acknowledgement of the other, a call and response. What results from the mix has unique merit. In this seven-year collaboration I experienced a profound metamorphosis. I slowly emerged from behind my elegant typography and careful craft, explored and privileged my markmaking, and pulled it into my prints. As we added collaborators to the group—Jennifer González, art historian/critic and Zachary Watkins, sound artist—over dinners, in meetings, and through correspondence, another element developed: the aluminum traveling case for apprentice shamans. Only five hearts and minds could have conceived of this invitation to a self-reflective and transformative experience.

My parents were art students in New York City in the early ’40s, and were influenced by the Mexican artists working in this country, and by the marriage of art and politics. Their friends were friends of Frida Kahlo’s, and had apprenticed to Diego Rivera. Peripatetic after the war, my parents set out in an old station wagon from Vermont with their two tiny daughters to work with the muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros in San Miguel de Allende. It’s family lore that the two girls nearly died, that my father raced to Mexico City and procured a new, exotic medicine that saved their lives and allowed the family to retreat to the western United States.

Early exposure to the Mexican artists and their American apprentices eventually led me to collaborate with Latino writers and artists of my own generation. Early exposure to the work of Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada led me to the work of Artemio Rodríguez, a contemporary printmaker whose work is inspired by that of Posada, and to John Jota Leaños, and to their collaborative “El Muertorider,” an image of which appears in the book. Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s performance script, “Tired of Walking North,” is paired here with the ‘art car’ tilted up and planted in the soil of the desert like those of Ant Farm’s Cadillac Ranch, an installation in Texas dating from 1974. This page spread speaks to the treacherous walk through the desert toward opportunity beckoning in the north. Would this be the car you’d hope to find, or the illusion that would inspire one more step (as the text suggests) toward marvelous possibilities or deep disappointment?

The books I make are informed by both digital and analog processes. In making them I pass back and forth between the digital and the tangible, between setting type letter by letter on the screen, and setting type letter by letter from a 19th-century type case. I print my negatives from a computer to a laser printer, burn photopolymer relief plates, and print images from these surfaces on a 50-year-old letterpress. I build a textured surface of dust from the US-Mexico border, varnish it, run inky rollers over that landscape and print straight from the earth to the paper. I make a hundred sketches, choose thirty, scan and manipulate them on screen, make plates, cut them up and collage together images of twisted bodies, a tiger drooling a melange of fonts, a wild man tearing his hair, skeletons or calaveras in loving embrace.

What color ink will I pick this morning? What relationships exist between the images? What visual dynamic? And how can this print be consistent with, yet different from the last? I start with white ink, add some transparency for viscosity, then red, blue, for a lavender. How will this reveal what is below, and how will it suggest what color or image comes next? Is this spread sincere and caring, or leering and challenging? I’m trying to create a love/hate relationship out of the layers of color and the images and the text, one that hurts a bit, but can make you laugh while it bites your neck. I apply color to the press, place the printing plates in position and pull the first proof. This is a performative moment for me, a critical audience of one. Satisfied, I step off into the press run, exercising the principles of my craft: checking the impression, finding the best inking and maintaining it, making sure the plates don’t move any more than I’m willing to accept, keeping the sheet clean. A rhythm takes hold and I continue, exhausted and anxious and elated.

My work has moved from the traditional structured page of marching letterforms carefully avoiding one another, to a crazy, intimate dance performed by friends who know one another very well. As McLuhan pointed out a half-century ago, we’re living in a visual world, a multi-lingual world where we communicate more and more with signs and symbols. We rely upon the rules and conventions of wordcraft and typographic nuance, but not all the time. The rules are both stultifying and lovely; stifling but truly elegant. Text is a layer that drives my work, informs the visual experience, and has a place on every page I print.

I came to an understanding of beauty through craft. I recognize it when the work measures up to and transcends its own standard of excellence, when the final piece is fully resolved—perfect.

—Felicia Rice

 

Performance Video:  Guillermo Gómez-Peña & Gustavo Vazquez


Sound Art Zachary Watkins


Critical Commentary: Jennifer González
Documentado/Undocumented: Transgress, Transcend, Transform

What does it mean to be documented or undocumented? How do these terms work across borders and boundaries such as those that exist between nations and language? What are the forms of policing and regulation that maintain such categories out of fear, cultural difference or economic domination? What parts of our lives are documented and what parts remain undocumented?

Read More of the essay by Jennifer González

These are the questions that underlie the decidedly shrewd, collaborative and experimental artwork-in-a-box by Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Gustavo Vasquez, Felicia Rice and Zachary Watkins. In a contemporary gesture toward the Wagnerian “total work of art” or gesamtkunstwerk the project combines the fine art of the printed book with sound, video, and a playful kit of objects to explore and to heal what might be seen as the cultural, social and historical rifts that exist between the United States and Mexico. The idea is to invite viewers into an intimate space of engagement that addresses all the senses: tactile, olfactory, aural and visual. Although it is a contemporary work of art, the aluminum case has an antique feel with hand-wrought hinges and knobs. Opening it, we are exposed to the treasures within, unfolding a triptych to reveal ourselves reflected in mirrors. As we move through the various sound elements and explore the objects housed in individual niches, we are drawn in by curiosity. Even the sense of taste (including bad taste) is leveraged in a playful way; but the broader social concerns are deadly serious. How can we see this artwork as part of a longer tradition of conceptual art, religious reliquaries, indigenous medicine practices, and camp theatricality? How do these diverse histories invite a peculiar cohesion in the final product?

As a work of contemporary art, it is possible to read Documentado/Undocumented as situated squarely within a long tradition of experimental, conceptual portable-art practice. For example, Marcel Duchamp’s Boite-en-Valise [Box in a Suitcase] (1948) contained miniature versions of the artist’s most famous works of art, materializing the idea of a private museum-in-box and serving as a monument to the importance of its maker. The Boite-en-Valise unfolds into a triptych-like display that includes replicas of paintings glued to poster boards and miniature sculptures in carefully constructed niches, inviting an interpretive oscillating between the case of a traveling salesman and a religious altar.

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Inspired by such projects, Fluxus artists in Europe and the United States of the 1960s built elaborate “flux boxes” or “fluxkits” that contained found and fabricated objects as well as “event scores” that invited participants to perform specific actions with the objects, or with each other. Fluxkits leveraged the colorful aesthetic of commercially marketed board games that were popular at the time, and included participation by sound artists like John Cage whose compositional scores included all manner of materials and unconventional actions on the part of performers and audience alike.

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Documentado/Undocumented echoes this history of conceptual and experimental art but equally invites us to consider older histories of colonialism, religion and indigenous practices. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a period of contact, contagion and domination in the Americas, as Spain’s dual Catholic and economic missions were played out on the bodies of the local inhabitants. It was a time in which cabinets of curiosity were created in Europe to house the strange and marvelous objects of the new world, and when taxonomies of plants, animals and humans were created, so that every specimen could find its proper place in the hierarchies of “natural” law.

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Institutionally powerful, the church was nevertheless in competition with this emerging discourse of science, on the one hand, and more ancient systems of belief on the other. The material world was thus a battle ground of contested meanings in which gold and silver reliquaries containing the skin and bones of Christian saints vied for importance along side indigenous amulets and traditional ritual practices. For believers of both persuasions, the objects were not merely inherited signs of the past but sources of power in the present. To touch them was to participate in a communication with a divine source of existence, their proximity guaranteeing an opportunity to be enveloped by an aura through which the believer might be protected from the forces of evil, both internal and external. The decorative metal box can thus be read as a reliquary case through which divine power works via contact and religious belief, or as the medicine case of a nomadic shaman through which healing takes place via the sympathetic magic of contagion, and transformation.

Ultimately, we are invited to take up the role of supplicant or nomadic shaman ourselves, to transform ourselves into new subjects using the costumes and objects offered to us. Religious altars generally invite reflection on interior life. A vanity mirror invites reflection on our exterior, embodied self.
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Emphasizing this duality, the project traces the ongoing tension of navigating a world of politics and appearance, racism and immigration, self and other, psychic states and physical states. In this way, the triptych echoes the vanity table of a private boudoir or theatrical dressing room, enclosing the subject in a visual space of ideal or surreal projected images. [Image of the book here?] Here, the small round vanity mirrors echo the rear-view mirrors on a car, surrounded in fur with neon green fringe. Lipstick, wrestlers masks, love talismans, amulets, rattles, false teeth, breath mints, paper money, eyeliner, and vials containing grains of corn invite us to participate in private acts of self-adornment, ritual offerings and genuflection. A loose-leaf title page reads as a kind of event score stating in the imperative: “open, explore, empty, choose, reimagine, collaborate, scan, show, decipher, create.” Such instructions are qualified by a subtext that instructs: “open your mind,” “touch everything,” “empty your heart,” “embrace difference.” Permission is granted for experimentation, engagement and enactment. Unlike most works of art that cannot be touched, this one yearns to be caressed, pressed, unpacked, and disassembled for the sake of initiating personal and cultural transgressions and transcendence.

If the talismans that surround the book are not merely toys, but rather tools for transcendence, then the printed book, by master printmaker Felicia Rice, can be seen as the scripture. With a deliberately camp aesthetic, and a sensuous appeal, the ruby vinyl cover and the soft, faux ocelot pelt covering the pages of the printed book suggests a tactility of “bad taste” that is nevertheless sumptuous and inviting. Layers of rich color, creative typography, and textured images break traditional boundaries of book page design, bleeding off the edge. In a quietly radical gesture for the world of book arts and printmaking, the floating images break the rules of marginal precision and free the pages from traditional frames. Each page of the book is a visual interpretation of the writings of Gomez-Peña using hand-drawn images of found objects, some taken directly from the personal collection of the performance artist. Rice’s sketches are enlarged, etched, and printed in multiple colors, endowing the pages with a rough-hewn quality that belies their careful refinement. A visual pantheon of Bengal tigers and low-rider cars, madonnas and shrunken heads, punctuate the text on the page and imply the complex mysteries and tensions that emerge after centuries of intermixing cultures, religions, desires and fears.

Aural and video elements are equally important in the gesamptkunstwerk effect of Documetado/Undocumented. A complex soundscape is triggered when the aluminum lid lifts, echoing the uncanny animism of a music box that suddenly comes to life. If we are attentive, we find discreetly distributed doorbell buttons that can be pushed to trigger even more elaborate recordings by sound artist Zachary Watkins that evoke the streets of Oaxaca Mexico, the internal sense of breath, the romantic tunes of a troubadour, the heartbeats of love or fear, the tremulous vibrations of bird song, the raucous rhythms of a fiesta or a lullaby. Joining these are the voices of Gomez-Peña and videographer Gustavo Vasquez offering instructions for how to interface with the artwork, adding bits of conversation, performance texts, elements of poetry. Watkins also brings in mechanical and artificial sounds to mix, blend and extend into many different tracks that seem endless. Because we initiate the music ourselves, a symphony of self-selection emerges; each track can be repeated or combined to create a new sound score each time the box is opened. The complete track can also be found on a compact disk included inside the book cover.

Filmmaker and videographer Gusavo Vasquez also collaborated with Gomez-Peña on a series of short videos that develop a repertoire of performances exploring what might be thought of as a genealogy of Mexican and Chicano subjectivity, as they interface with the history of film, video and performance art. These vignettes sometimes take the form of an homage to important performance artists of the last fifty years such as Melquiades Herrera, Roy Varra and Marina Abromovic for example, offering a tongue-in-cheek revision in a Mex-Chicano idiom. Some of the videos emphasize the camera “eye” in relation to the body of the performer who stretches out a hand to stroke it; or the camera becomes a tool for “shooting” and the performer’s response erupts in a threatening duet-duel of looking and talking back to the lens, shot-reverse-shot. Short clips of classic Mexican film and television, as well as alarmist and racist representations of ancient Aztecs, are interspersed with autobiographical, intimate, revelations about the difficulty of explaining “performance art.” Visually central is the flesh of Gomez-Peña’s verile, tattooed, and aging body that becomes the surface for self-manipulated plays with “high-tech” devices, or the surface projection of cultural and gender stereotypes and their unraveling.

Performing is a way of dreaming when we are awake, imagining ourselves crossing a variety of cultural borders that are not always clearly delineated but that have both psychological and political impacts. Gomez-Peña’s description of his performance practice as a form of cultural healing invites us to read the work in this way. He explores the condition of cross-cultural identifications and cross-border migrations. At a moment in history when human migration has never been greater, when transnational existence is becoming commonplace, and when economic, social and political systems cannot adequately support their populations, Gomez Pena’s ruminations on the status of so-called “illegal aliens” are particularly urgent and timely. His text explores not merely the broader social framework of US-Mexico relations and their impact on immigrant populations, it also explores the psychological effect of repeated encounters with racism, cultural misunderstanding, and stereotype that require a shifting identity that must be performed and re-performed for both others and oneself. His personal confessions and fears reveal a subject who must navigate a web of social identifications that are both political and intimate writing,

“Pero, if only I had had the guts to join the Zapatistas for good,
the guts to fight the border patrol with my bare hands,
the guts to tell my family I am truly sorry for all the pain
my sudden departure caused them 25 years ago,
when I was young & handsome
& still had no audience whatsoever.
But I was a coward.
I ended up making a life-long performance piece
to justify my original departure, el pecado original.

He also invites us to consider the risks and real conditions of performance in a racist country like the United States. Humor belies the critical engagement with the visual and political conditions of stereotyping. Prodding his audience to think about how second-class status in the United States influences so much of the Mexican-American or Chicano experience, he also reveals that even performance art is a dangerous space from which to speak.

You know, locos, some racist called us at the hotel last night.
Said he was going to “smash our greasy heads in” and hung up.
Sounded as if he was serious
and I have a reason to believe he is here tonight.
(I scream)
House lights, please!!
(House lights come up. I look around the audience)
Can you please stand up and identify yourself?
Are you willing to discuss it?
Or are you ready to smash my greasy head in after the show?
(Long pause)
Hey, you’re watching me and I’m watching you.
There’s no theatrical border between us.
It’s called performance art.
Don’t you wish to exchange places before you attack me?
Come on, wouldn’t you love to be here,
right here on this stage, burning Vato,
standing at the epicenter of the Great American earthquake?”
(Pause)
No one responds. There is tension in the air. I continue to ad lib:
“Come on, the audience is waiting for you to make up your mind.
It’s exciting & dangerous down here.
Don’t you wish to be Mexican for a few minutes?
(Pause)
Because…I don’t.
At the moment I hate it. It’s a huge burden.

Imagine the history of the Aztec empire jam-packed in my DNA,
10,000-year-old genes from three continents
swimming in my boiling blood,
500 years of colonial history in my aching throat.
Qué hueva! I’d rather be…French,
or something kinkier like…like…
a Mormon hair-stylist from Southern Utah,
a butcher from Vladivostok who believes in alien abduction,
a white supremacist from Montana
who dreams of becoming a Mexican performance artist…”
At this point in my harangue,

Miguel Algarin walks up to me and says:
“GP, you’ve made your point. Let’s move on!”

“Sorry, loco,” I answer,
“I was confronting my deepest fears the only way I know.”
(I scream for a blackout a few times and it does not come)
Blackout please!
OK, Mexican blackout!
(I cover my eyes with my hands)

Documentado/Undocumented is an effort to see what is repressed, to unearth what is buried, to reach into the interior, psychic state of radical unbelonging in order to grasp the intricate, violent workings of the world that have resulted in this uneven, unequal, and unjust conjuncture. “Is there still time for dreaming, for reinventing ourselves…Is there enough time to stop the war, another war…Is there enough time to return to a homeland, a stolen homeland…?”

—Jennifer A. González

 

Meet the Collaborators

Meet the Collaborators

friceFelicia Rice is a book artist, typographer, letterpress printer, publisher, and educator. She has collaborated with visual artists, performing artists and writers under the Moving Parts Press imprint since 1977. Work from the Press has been included in exhibitions from AIGA Annual Book Shows in New York and Frankfurt to the Victoria & Albert Museum. Her books are held in numerous collections including Stanford University, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Bodleian Library, Oxford. She has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship, and grants from the NEA, CAC and the French Ministry of Culture. http://movingpartspress.com

jag2Jennifer A. González teaches in the History of Art and Visual Culture department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, New York. She has written for numerous periodicals including Aztlán, Frieze, Bomb, Camera Obscura, and Art Journal. Her essays about cyborg bodies and racial embodiment in digital art can be found in anthologies like The Cyborg Handbook (1995) and Race in Cyberspace (2000). Her book Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art (MIT Press, 2008) was a finalist for the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award. http://havc.ucsc.edu/faculty/jennifer-gonzalez

ggp2Guillermo Gómez-Peña is a performance artist, writer, activist, radical pedagogue and director of the performance troupe La Pocha Nostra. Born in Mexico City, he moved to the US in 1978. His performance work and 10 books have contributed to the debates on cultural diversity, border culture and US-Mexico relations. His art work has been presented at over eight hundred venues across the US, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Russia, South Africa and Australia. A MacArthur Fellow, Bessie and American Book Award winner, he is a regular contributor for newspapers and magazines in the US, Mexico, and Europe and a contributing editor to The Drama Review (NYU-MIT).  http://interculturalpoltergeist.tumblr.com/

gustavo2Gustavo Vazquez, originally from Tijuana and currently residing in San Francisco, is an independent filmmaker and teaches in the Film and Digital Media department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Vazquez has directed over thirty productions, including documentaries, video installations, and experimental narratives. His work has shown at film festivals and art exhibitions including the Luton UK, Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia, Mexico, L’immagine Leggera, Palermo, Italy, Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival Broadcast on National PBS. He is a co-author of Documentary Filmmaking: A Contemporary Field Guide, 2nd edition published by Oxford University Press in October 2013. http://film.ucsc.edu/faculty/gustavo_vazquez

zachary201Zachary James Watkins is a sound artist who has earned degrees in composition from The Cornish School and Mills College. Zachary has received numerous grants and commissions and presented works in festivals across the United States, Mexico and Germany. His 2006 composition Suite for String Quartet was awarded the Paul Merritt Henry Prize for Composition and has been performed as part of the 2nd Annual New Music Marathon in Seattle, WA the Labs 25th Anniversary Celebration and the Labor Sonor Series at Kule in Berlin. Zachary has enjoyed artist residencies at both the Espy Foundation and Djerassi. http://zacharyjameswatkins.com/

 

Installations

Felix Kulpa Gallery – October 3–31, 2014

About the exhibition by Robbie Schoen, Gallery Director

Felicia and I have worked together before. It’s important to me that the people that I show are happy with the exhibition. Felicia is a little more engaged with the exhibition process; most artists don’t have a preconceived idea of what they want, Felicia does. I am a humble facilitator. The two of us work well together. When we’re done, we’re both satisfied with the exhibit and most likely we’ve taken the work to a very high level.

Read More of the essay by Robbie Schoen

Going in we found most of what we needed here in the gallery, although some planning went on in advance. I created the cardboard supports for the book. They held the book on tables gleaned from the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. The distinguishing feature of this exhibit of DOC/UNDOC was that the book was laying flat and the viewer leaned over it to see it. This allowed people to fully absorb the work and suss out every detail of the complex images. The mantels in the room formed still life alters, holding page spreads from the book, combined with significant objects and fresh flowers. The timing was perfect to build a Dia de los Muertos altar in one corner with photos of deceased loved ones, gurus, and mentors past.

The idea was to show the book in two locations at once, both at the Sesnon Gallery at UCSC and downtown in this central location, to bring the work to both town and gown. Audiences here at the Felix Kulpa Gallery responded with real feeling to the presentation, especially the altars. It was a non-stop extravaganza. Not only was the book on display on the table and in the altars, but the video was running alongside the interactive electronic case. You can’t get this kind of experience from a kindle. DOC/UNDOC was in the house!

I was obsessed with the video. I have a personal connection with Guillermo from the past and seeing him on screen makes me giggle. I met Guillermo when I was 20, thirty-seven years ago, and haven’t seen him since. He was just as charismatic and silly then as he is now. The whole presentation was a lot of fun, it had the carnival sideshow flavor so much a part of Guillermo’s work.

—Robbie Schoen, Felix Kulpa Art Gallery Director


Sesnon Art Gallery, UC Santa Cruz- October 3–December 6, 2014

Curating Performance Archaeology
Freefalling toward a borderless future

Collaborative projects are often complicated with multiple moving parts. The Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at the University of California, Santa Cruz, presented this complex exhibition, DOC/UNDOC Documentado/ Undocumented Ars Shamánica Performática in the fall of 2014. The collaborative exhibition, which investigated the heated topics of identity, borders, and transformation, took place during a crisis in which more than 52,000 children, from Central America and Mexico were taken into custody at the U.S. border.

Read More of the essay by Shelby Graham

Entering the gallery visitors confronted the gaze of a tattooed woman painted on velvet asking in vinyl text nearby, “Have you ever experienced an identity meltdown?” This project excavated the artifacts of San Francisco artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s provocative performance scripts, as if displaying findings from an archeological site. A dozen Gómez-Peña’s “fictional taxonomies” were displayed in vitrines– examples of what he calls “border art”: a Mariachi Ken doll, a sex worker Barbie doll, a bowing Mexican toothpick holder, a one-legged Mexican wrestler, to name a few. The velvet tattooed woman was borrowed from Gómez-Peña’s collection of over 20 commissioned velvet paintings.  These objects added to the multiple temporalities of a performance event much like findings from an archaeological site. By displaying work inspired by performance and collaboration, new modalities of documentation emerge that are in favor of a work in progress or evoke fragmentary interpretation.

The focal point of this exhibition was the collaborative artists’ book created by Felicia Rice, who founded the print studio Moving Parts Press in 1977 and has been involved in collaborative projects ever since. The exhibition literally unfolded with a 30­foot handmade accordion-style book winding the length of a snaking S-curved table. This limited edition book combines Guillermo Gómez-­Peña’s performance scripts analyzing identity with Rice’s own colorful, expressive relief prints and typography, many depicting objects from Gómez-­Peña’s collection of border art. Projected on the far corner was Pena’s performance video by Gustavo Vazquez underscoring the collaboration. In large vinyl text next to the video, Jennifer González described why, historically, we are fascinated with cabinets of curiosities reflecting our cultures. The deluxe edition of this book is housed in a hi-tech aluminum case containing a video by Gustavo Vazquez, an altar and a cabinet of curiosities. Blinking lights in the case invited the audience to push buttons that trigger an interactive soundscape by Zachary Watkins.

This performative artists’ book explores the sensitive topic of documentation of identity in America from multiple perspectives. As Jennifer Gonzalez says in her text, “In a contemporary gesture toward the Wagnerian ‘total work of art’ or gesamtkunstwerk the project combines the fine art of the printed book with sound, video, and a playful kit of objects to explore and to heal what might be seen as the cultural, social, and historical rifts that exist between the United States and Mexico.”

Gallery viewers were delighted to ponder the questions posed as quotations on the wall pulled from Gómez-­Peña’s performance scripts and meander along the snake-like book, push the playful buttons on the interactive box, examine all the performance archaeology presented on shelves and then settle into watching the disturbing video that asked even harder questions.

One of the students visiting the gallery said: “This display held an internal dialogue for me that portrayed a battle of letting go to what/where a person came from, “Remember me? I used to be. . .Mexican inside this body.”

400 Porter College students saw the exhibition and were offered bookmaking and mixed media workshops to make books of their own. Each of the five collaborating artists presented their contribution in evening events. Rice performed a monologue describing the personal transformation that grew out of the seven-year collaboration. Gustavo Vazquez showed a sequence of experimental videos and Zachary Watkins created a live soundscape at the reception. Guillermo Gómez-Peña was in residency for three days at UCSC giving a lecture, a performance, and offered an activism workshop. One participant reflected after the workshop, “I remembered to be comfortable in my own body, confident, and not to be afraid when making art that would comment on socio- political situations.”

—Shelby Graham, Porter Sesnon Gallery Director


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Collecting as Critique

duron family collection

A word about the collection from Armando Durón

The Durón Family Collection consists of over five hundred works of visual art by Chicana(o) artists who reside in the greater Los Angeles area. These works have been acquired over the course of the last thirty-plus years. They include paintings, screenprints, drawings, ceramics, photography, sculpture, video, glass and countless multi-media variations. From the figurative and political, to the conceptual and abstract, Chicana(o) artists have been producing great works that highlights the Chicano experience. As Chicana(o) viewers who have shared much of that experience, we have gathered these works under one roof.

Read More of the introduction by Armando Durón

In order to better understand these works and the context in which they were produced we have also collected thousands of invitations and flyers of Latino exhibitions, books, catalogues and brochures, Chicana(o) art posters, artists’ biographies and resumes, letters and notes, and innumerable ephemera. We have attempted as best we can to document and catalogue all of these items so that they can be available not only for our own amateur research efforts but more importantly to scholars and students of Chicana(o) art now and in the future. Too often in the past our Chicana(o) history has been written for us. That is why we have become convinced that it is necessary to have a Chicana(o) perspective about what this art is and what it means, instead of leaving it to others to form that judgment for us.
The process of collecting is necessarily a subjective one. The collector hunts for an unknown object he desires and fulfills that desire when he possesses the heretofore unknown object he sought. Each collector has his or her own process. My process involves looking at art works in community, university and private galleries, museums, private homes, artists’ studios, restaurants, parking lots, warehouses, and garages and in the trunks of cars—wherever I can see Chicano art. Only by constantly looking at works do I believe I can properly assess what is best among what is being produced and whether a work meets its intentions. I also attend shows of other forms of art so that I can compare what is being produced in our community with what is being produced outside it. I read not only the Chicana(o) art books I acquire, but books on general art, art history and art theory, as well as art magazines. I believe this undertaking allows me to make critical assessments, freer from nostalgia and sentimentality, and is necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the collection. Other family members participate in the process when they can, but this is primarily my function. Mary’s support and participation has been just as important to the development of the collection.

The five artists who are included in this exhibition were chosen among dozens of others because they represent some of the deepest and most fundamental aspects of the collection. We have known four of these artists for over twenty years. The earliest work and the latest are by Linda Vallejo. But each of these artists has distinguished themselves with their individual vision and their ability to tell their story—our story. We thank them—Gronk, Barbara Carrasco, Linda Vallejo, Salomón Huerta and Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia—for their art and for their friendship.
We also thank Betsy Andersen and Vicki Winters of the Museo Eduardo Carrillo for this opportunity to share our world in this new medium—the virtual museum. We thank Dr. Karen Mary Davalos for her insightful essay. And most of all we thank you the viewers for allowing us to enter your virtual cortex.
—Armando Durón

Collecting as Critique: Essay by KarenMary Davalos

In popular perception and scholarly analysis, collectors are viewed as narcissistic, an unfortunate misperception that dismisses the important social, historical, and critical work they perform, particularly by those collectors who acquire art largely ignored by mainstream museums, galleries, critics, and historians. Chicana and Chicano art collectors, such as Mary and Armando Durón, are the unheralded preservers of cultural heritage, healers of historical amnesia, and critics of American art discourse.(1)

Read More of the essay by KarenMary Davalos

The Duróns have amassed an impressive collection of Los Angeles Chicana and Chicano art, and this selection presents their notable interventions against American art history, particularly criticism and curatorial practice that excludes as well as includes Chicana and Chicano arts. The first intervention is simple—the Durón Family Collection challenges and exposes the ideologies that support exclusionary practices in mainstream art history. The untenable notions of identity, culture, politics, and universal art (the code word that veils Eurocentrism) have resulted in a variety of gaps in American art museums. The Durón Family Collection fills one such gap. The second intervention is more complicated. Since the Chicano Movement, artists, activists, and scholars of the community have focused on the art of politics and the politics of art, consistently neglecting the multiple styles, approaches to art practice, as well as the various ways that art engages the political realm. Our community-based arts organizations, the legacy of the Chicano Movement, are the producers of important art criticism about Chicana and Chicano art, however, circling nearly every exhibition designed for and by Chicana and Chicano artists is a question about criteria: How is this work an example of Chicana or Chicano art, as if everyone had come to an agreement on the topic. The Durón Family Collection indicates that the Chicana and Chicano art production is richer and more complex than has been imagined. This exhibition challenges the premise of the question and implies that multiple lenses are needed to understand Chicana and Chicano art.

Because the Durón Family Collection exposes and challenges concepts within American art history and Chicana/o art history, I focus on two themes, aesthetics and emplacement, which allow for a rethinking of these two subfields of art history. These two themes in the exhibition function as important interventions. Aesthetics has been a driving topic of Western discourse from philosophy to anthropology. Yet, because it is narrowly defined, particularly to suit European and Euro-American notions of beauty or the sublime, Chicana and Chicano art is rarely examined for its aesthetic qualities. Equally responsible for this omission is the broad rejection since the 1960s of art-for-art’s sake or the modernist approach to art. Chicana/o art history has focused on the socio-political context and meaning of the work, leaving aside a discussion of line, color, composition, and style. However, Chicana and Chicano art has always been invested in aesthetics, both Euro-American notions and culturally-informed ones, such as rasquachismo, the improvised popular pleasure that originates in working-class survivance, or indigenous aesthetics—to name two of many. As a topic of discussion, aesthetics allow us to place Chicana and Chicano art within global trends.

The second theme, emplacement, a form of belonging obtained through attachment to a specific place and spatial claims to sovereignty, could be recognized as more organic to Chicana/o art discourse and practice. Portraiture and landscape are two forms of emplacement that have special meaning for people not typically rendered in the national narrative of belonging. Emplacement is more than territorial identity, however, as it is implies self-determination and the ways that home-places reflect and inform the self-care needed under conditions of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other subordinations that limit human experience. This theme expands our understanding of Chicana and Chicano art because it draws attention to struggle and resistance; it connects Chicana/o art practice to global liberation movements.

Rather than create discrete groups to represent each theme, I propose that several works fall into both thematic areas. I have idiosyncratically chosen particular works to illuminate the themes. Moreover, none of the works here are parochial, and each parallels trends in American, Latin American and regional histories of art.

Aesthetic Pleasure

Culturally constructed and generated from a socio-historical position, aesthetics are always provincial. Yet the local notions of beauty can resonate across cultural groups, especially since culture is open and porous. For example, the West is not the only region to find beauty in the line of a pencil or stroke of a brush that flawlessly reproduces reality. The combination of exquisite technical mastery and compositional authority is awe-inspiring; it is a form of magnificence when an artist superbly renders his or her world. Another form of the sublime is achieved when reality or awareness of reality is heightened, intensified, or enhanced.

Like most art historians trained to appreciate Renaissance and baroque, paintings, I find beauty in the folding and draping of cloth. Linda Vallejo’s early work, Madonna con Columnas de la Humanidad (1975), visually echoes the paintings of El Greco and Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, which she studied in Madrid as a teenager.(2) The Madonna’s gown adorns her body like a jewel. The shadow and light moving across the fabric conveys spiritual knowledge, maternal love, and authority—and in this movement and depth lies beauty. Typically, Vallejo’s explorations of beauty focus on the landscape and the inner divine, as seen in Los Cielos (1996). Yet, this early drawing brings to our attention Vallejo’s interest in the blending of cultures, as she literally surrounds the Madonna with humanity’s structural supports, which are embedded with primordial script. Also superbly made is Barbara Carrasco’s line drawing Frida Kahlo y Yo (1985), which depicts two beautiful women with delicately rendered hair. It’s the hair that provokes aesthetic pleasure—interlacing strands, brushed and braided, gently embrace Kahlo and Carrasco. Indeed, Carrasco is known for her ability to produce realistic locks of hair. Exquisitely rendered hair is also found in Salomón Huerta’s Cabeza (1996) in which flesh raises and lowers the short-cropped hair on the back of a man’s head. Flopping skin likely produced by extra fat is not typically considered beautiful in Western art history, but the wrinkled cabeza, with its undulating skin and hair remind me of the draping cloth found in Renaissance and baroque paintings. Here western and rasquache aesthetics blend, and the use of chiaroscuro to depict a buzz-cut on the back of a beefy male’s head is simply beautiful. Chicano culture does not include royal subjects who sit for portraits that commemorate their power and authority, but Huerta has captured the aesthetic of lo cotidiano.

Continuing this attention to the ordinary, Huerta depicts the painful moment in which a stray bullet reaches the right shoulder of a Mexican-heritage child. Unfortunately, gang warfare, while reduced, continues to plague low-income communities of color. Drive By (1992) combines the movement of hair and the folding of fabric to generate a powerful aesthetic response in juxtaposition to the narrative. Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia also focuses on contrast to evoke sensual pleasure. In Papel Tejido #29 (2011), Hurtado Segovia replaces the conventional media of fabric with repurposed prints that are woven to create a two-sided massive construction reminiscent of traditional textiles of the Américas. When the eye determines that the wall hanging is not tapestry but repurposed prints, the work simulates a sensual pleasure because of Segovia’s ingenuity and exquisite eye-hand coordination.

Visitors familiar with Gronk’s oeuvre might wonder how I will discuss his work as an example of aesthetic pleasure. Certainly, the artist has achieved technical competence in composition, line, and color, and the photograph, Hamlet (1977) is clearly a bewitching portrait of a headless young man walking alone in an alley. If the title of the work is a metaphor for fatherless Chicano youth who lack masculine direction, then the photo heightens understanding of a lamentable social experience. However, Gronk’s body of work is similar to Jaspar Johns, Jackson Pollack, and other American abstract artists as well as Dada-ists and conceptual artists who are less invested in questions of universal aesthetics. Gronk’s work, even the glass construction, Brainfreeze (2004), circulates outside of pre-1945 notions of beauty. As with most of Gronk’s creations, Transient (2006), Little Broadway (2005), and Three Finger Exercise (2012) reinforce local and rasquache aesthetics sensibilities. Gronk plays with street calligraphy, better known by the weighted word “graffiti,” as the style through which to depict human figures, nature, and space. His attention to crowded compositions, multiple perspectives, organic forms, and two-dimensional or naïve-line drawings requires other sensibilities—at least one that finds pleasure in the pace, rhythm, or cadence of his hand. It is the sonic resonance of the work that produces aesthetic pleasure—but one that is purposefully expanding notions of art and the sublime.

Emplacement

Centuries of art history have witnessed the imperialists’ portrait or the colonizers’ vision of uninhabited landscapes, two common modes of claiming space in order to reify power. Chicana and Chicano artists expose these visual gestures of authority, control, possession, and so-called divine right by creating images of the colonized and dispossessed or the places they inhabit. In short, while emplacement is an old visual practice, it has new meaning when enacted by those displaced by the structures of power and the historic traumas of colonialism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Here Chicana and Chicano arts visualize emplacement in two ways, by registering the power of place and by conceptualizing social location.

Linda Vallejo’s Sacred Oak (2002) and Los Cielos are powerful and utopic images of landscapes made meaningful by Indigenous values and relations. Sacred Oak depicts the life-force within the tree and its value within Native and Xicano communities.(3) These images bear witnesses to Indigenous presence in the landscape. Rather than uninhabited spaces that lack cultural history and meaning—the tradition of American landscape painting, Vallejo paints Indigenous places and their grace and dignity associated with those locations and the living beings and life-giving energies dwelling there. The paintings are lessons, instructing viewers to reorient their relationship to the land by rejecting notions of ownership and possession.

Both Gronk and Salomon Huerta have made significant examinations of the subaltern, further enacting emplacement. Disrupting the conventions of Western portraiture, several images are anonymous or archetypical characters, such as Transient (2006) by Gronk and Sin Dios (1993) by Huerta. Individual portraits come to symbolically represent collective experiences of the impoverished, forgotten, and erased. These previously invisible people dwell in the United States, and it is their home. Huerta has been consumed by irreverent portraiture for decades, drawing figures without attention to facial features. Also depicting the historic trauma of racism is Barbara Carrasco’s Self Portrait (1984), a serigraph that narrates the social brutality experienced by Mexican-heritage artists in Los Angeles whose work is whitewashed from the community’s walls or American art history’s pages. Like Huerta, Carrasco does not shy from the grotesque. Another self-portrait directly engages the most haunting topic—death—by placing her self-portrait inside a coffin or by depicting a couple in skeletal form as in Love Fires (2003). These portraits rupture Western traditions of figuration, but they also intend to locate the lives and experiences of people deprived of their land, heritage, and life-ways.

Linda Vallejo extends the challenge against Western portraiture and its symbolic emplacement by recoloring the very images that have come to represent the West, its authority and its ability to displace non-white people. For the series, Make ‘Em All Mexican, she produces Salome (2013) from a repurposed Hollywood still of the 1953 movie starring Rita Hayworth as the dancing, temptress who requests the head of John the Baptist. Vallejo repaints the seductress as Mexican by making her skin, hair, and eyes brown, reformulating the symbol of beauty and feminine power. This snarky reorganization of the gender and racial hierarchy that has unwritten the presence of Mexican women is a provocative visual strategy against representation, authenticity, and belonging. With Salome, Vallejo takes the series a step further by making a Spanish-descent actress into a Mexican, exposing Hispanic roots that were hidden throughout Hayworth’s career. Vallejo places the actress into the non-white category in which she was born. Yet, because this series is based on the simple maneuver of painting things brown, Vallejo also exposes the myth of biology. Racial identity is a social construction, and although meaningful, can be manipulated by anyone.

Hurtado Segovia is also working with repurposed images to achieve new senses of belonging and identity. Linking to a specific place and time, his two works “By Deborah Caldwood” (IV) (2008) and “By Deborah Caldwood” (XXXIV) (2009) unravel the Western fascination with the original and the author-genius as he appropriates his wife’s childhood drawings into the realm of fine art. These works and Plegarias (2006), a photograph of a work of art housed in an orphanage, further challenge ownership, and in doing so, resist the rhetoric of colonialism and its emphasis on possession of people and land to establish authority as well as universal aesthetics. Similar to Vallejo’s emplacement of the under-recognized, Segovia locates a previously underrepresented or misrepresented group of people into the national narrative of belonging.

This visualization of emplacement indicates that Chicana and Chicano art is expansive and complex, and thus, suggestive of a broader analysis. For example, some images locate the subject in two places, as does Carassco’s use of pop colors and día de los muertos icons. The matte color-scene originates in US graphic arts and imagery of skeletons migrates from Mexico. Emplacement is not about national identity but a grander sense of community and belonging. As such, it can support a coalition across subaltern communities, the working-poor, people of color, indigenous groups, women, and LGBTQ residents.

In this way, the private collection amassed by Mary and Armando Durón is itself an act of emplacement as they take a stand about the place of Chicanos in the nation and the world of art. It is a collection that documents how artists individually and collectively are more expressive, more creative, more complex than previous art criticism has envisioned. The diversity of styles alone is enough to call into question the dualistic method in Chicana and Chicano art history—political vs. commercial, traditional vs. popular, or collective vs. individualism, while the sheer artistry of the work calls into question the validity of mainstream arts institutions that do not collect, exhibit, and preserve Chicana and Chicano art.

1. KarenMary Davalos, “A Poetics of Love and Rescue in the Collection of Chicana/o Art,” Latino Studies 5, no. 1 (2007): 76-103.


2. Linda Vallejo, interview by Karen Mary Davalos, August 20 and 25, 2007, CSRC Oral Histories Series, no. 2 (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, 2013).


3.  Using the indigenist spelling for “Chicano,” I reference the aboriginal sensibilities of some artists and activists. This political and linguistic maneuver refuses the immigrant representation of Mexicans living in the United States and insists on a longer historical memory of place that pre-dates US and Mexican nations.


KarenMary Davalos is a professor and chair of the Department of Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Text © KarenMary Davalos, all rights reserved.
Artwork © the artists, all rights reserved

 

GALLERY

Linda Vallejo: Inoperable Vision

Gronk: Our Own Picasso

Barbara Carrasco: Chicana Self-Portraiture

 Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia: A Tapestry of Thoughts

Salomón Huerta: Visual Sociology

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The Enchanting World of a Chicano Trickster: The Whimsy in José Lozano’s Pictures

In Junot Diaz’s novel, This is How you Lose Her (2012), he tells of the Dominican experience in the U.S. and in particular Dominican love and life in New Jersey. The narratives portrayed are of everyday folks that simultaneously occupy two cultures and how they shape and negotiate their reality as they seek to redefine their identities. What is refreshing and distinct in his work is that his subjects are complex individuals full of gravitas, whose very real depiction collapses the fine line between good and evil.

Read More of the essay by Dianna Marisol Santillano

Visually, and on the other side of the coast, one can locate a similar type of authentic yet nuanced and multidimensional representation in the rich imagery produced by Chicano artist José Lozano. Born in Los Angeles, but having spent his childhood in the borderlands of Juarez, Mexico before returning to southern California where he attended art school and now resides, Lozano’s art bursts from these demographical and cardinal seams; unleashing an art that is at once whimsical, with its strong element of humor, but which is also endowed with an ever engaging tension and paradox that engrosses the viewer completely.

In his pictures, Lozano keenly captures and portrays a physical and psychic space of working-class folks, or gente, complete with culturally laden signifiers, portrayed in various social situations. Lozano’s worldbuilding is comprised of both fictional and nonfictional elements, settings and people, where random propositions are delivered on the picture-plane, unhinging the genre of straight up representational portraiture by endowing the non-fictional world with the sublime or obscure, resulting in visual magic.

Cropped snapshots of nightlife, with folks hanging out, couples hooking up, while others wrestle with existential dilemmas, are all rendered in a style that conflates popular illustration, absurdist Expressionism, and Mexican Modernist’s populism with Fauvist aesthetic sensibilities. Henri Matisse comes to mind with his love for color and flat surfaces and spontaneous flair as does George Grosz’s seething caricature drawings of city life.

This spontaneity in Lozano’s work is not by accident, as “he wants instant results, and therefore does not paint in oils”[1] —instead his media ranges from serigraphs, acrylic, gouache, multimedia, among others. In the spirit of ‘automatic-drawing’ or automatism as developed by the Surrealists, Lozano’s works are “painted drawings”, created rapidly and mined from his deeply imaginative mind. He avoids drawing from life, resulting in an incredibly personal style that consists of random juxtapositions infused with a Surrealistic dimension.

A quixotic social scene is portrayed in Angels Lit by Sin. Most of the subjects are sitting down and arrestingly looking back at the viewer. The naked women dancing upon table tops also stop as a floating angel hovers in the background . The ambiguity of the scene marks much of Lozano’s work but it is precisely why it captivates. Who are the angels that are lit by sin— is it the dancing women?

Likewise, in the intriguing gouache on paper work entitled Los Globos Lounge, the subjects are again set in a social situation with globos or balloons drifting away in the background. What is noteworthy in this series are the brick walls in the background serving as a sort of boundary or border. What are these walls demarcating? What lies beyond that wall? On the one side are sexy women and men smoking cigarettes, and on the other, a different type of promise —a different type of carnivalesque adventure; perhaps an innocent or pristine landscape, paradise? This demarcation is addressed in El Mictlan, in which the men and women are on one side of the wall and two vibrant angels on the other. The Spanish title of this work roughly translates into English as the underworld. In comic strip fashion, two of the figures have text balloons and are in a conversation. Lozano explains, “the lad is leaving to the other side, (and) the older man tells him “Why do you leave kid, over there they take your soul, here just your head”. [2]

In Lozano’s art, public spaces and events are made to feel intimate, and despite the incongruous nature of his work, the personal is there; for even though these works could be seen as portraiture, the fact is that these characters are figments of Lozano’s imagination. They are informed by personal observations of his community and family throughout his lifetime. Lozano certainly knows his subjects and approaches them with deep connection, as he chronicles his community and its popular culture in his multifaceted art practice.

In an unexpected shift from images drawn from his community are Two Geishas/Sushi (Image 6) and Utamaro Lounge (Image 7), where Lozano’s pantheon are placed in front of a massive backdrop of two geishas in an iconic Japanese landscape. The superimposition and juxtaposition of these two distinct styles and the unexpected combination of aesthetics, bridges representations of the ‘other’ — creating a pictorial chasm that is anything but jejune. The geisha scenes in Utamaro Lounge (Image 7) are smooth and rendered in classic Japanese woodblock print style, while along the bottom his subjects are rendered in a caricature style with those quick rapid fire strokes and oddly cropped poses, and yet they all similarly capture the gaze of the viewer.

Certainly Lozano’s trickster mentality (he calls himself, “el travieso” ) and his mischievous play with imagery topples our notion of ‘relatedness’ by placing together non-sequitur visual propositions in settings like lounge bars in the city of Angels.

Furthermore, like in Junot Diaz’s narratives, Lozano’s subjects depart from the all too pervasive trope in art and literature of the all-suffering immigrant. Expressed with a lyrical texture and complex layering of forlorn diasporic love and life, in both instances their subjects are based on what they know best and through their art convey their respective communities: bi-national, hard working people who are infused with sensuality, desire, contradiction and dimensionality.

José Lozano’s long artistic career consists of a varied artistic practice that also includes: artist books; paper dolls of famous people like Frida Kahlo and others of men and women sporting lucha libre masks (Images 1, 2, 3, 4, 5); and a recent public work commission for the L.A. Metro Expo Line (Image 16). This public work commission is of eight art panels of Lotería cards, the popular Mexican game of chance that uses iconically decorated playing cards, but reinterpreted through Lozano’s signature style and individualized for this project.

Lozano’s art has lasting enigmatic resonance, resulting in an aesthetic that is pure Lozano. We look forward to what this maestro of visual mischief, reconfiguration and humor thinks of next.

—Dianna Marisol Santillano

[1] From art talk at Fremont Gallery in South Pasadena, CA on March 1, 2014

[2] Lozano quote, Sept. 10, 2014


Dianna Marisol Santillano is an adjunct professor at California State University, Los Angeles View Professor Santillano’s CV»
José Lozano’s website: http://www.joselozano.net/

Text © Dianna Marisol Santillano, all rights reserved.
Artwork © José Lozano, all rights reserved
Interview with José Lozano courtesy of Atelier Visit

Interview by Abel Alejandre with José Lozano

Desire and Inquiry: The Art of Claire Thorson

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An Appreciation by Tom Maderos

There are contradictions, questions, and overlapping truths in Claire Thorson’s art—in other words, it’s visionary as well as optical. Light advances on shadow, then turns away from it; space is made from its own obstructions. In a painting like Tumble, color may thicken into surface and mass, four joined lines of a similar blue might be a box or a back, but they are always also the features of a map. It’s a map of the painter’s path of construction and the possible path of reconstruction by the viewer.

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Between representation and abstraction, the only barrier to insight is our so-called misunderstanding; but in front of one of these drawings or paintings, we understand physically. Instead of an ambiguity of form there’s an ambidexterity of landscape and figure. Here, the viewer stands at the crossroads of desire & inquiry.  If we see in fragments, the interlocking brushstrokes might be several distinct figures; seen as a whole, a bay and coastline are in a single human contour. There’s the generative yellow-green of late Spring, where color becomes the shape of a figure, one that doesn’t merge with the suggestion of natural space but instead is
interpenetrated by it.

A painter may go into her studio with a purpose, but the engagement of brush on canvas, or chalk on paper can record a break in the chain of intention. In art, especially in drawing, a distinction is often made between what we observe and what we invent, but both invention and close observation can be forms of reverie.  Like any good quantum mechanic, a painter moves the pieces around and notes the shift in heart-rate.

The practical and spiritual value in questioning perception is clearly present in these images. We most often feel that we are moving through the world, but at other times it seems as if the world is moving through us. When these two perceptions are placed side by side, as they often are in Claire Thorson’s work, the resultant sense of “reality” is fluid and multi-dimensional—3, 4, 5-D or more.

The individual images, seen here in series, generate their own history, and the relationship of drawing to painting strengthens. These are public marks of a private activity. Conventions for the illusion of depth and the color-indicators for skin or sky are adopted from the artist’s experience. In a drawing, black charcoal lines question the distinction between an arm and the movement of an arm, yet these same conventions are subtly modified in painting. The lushness of a drawn line and the lushness of a painted section can be roughly equivalent but never the same. Compare the drawing Transparency Of Time with the painting Arrival and see what I mean.

Art history as well as personal history threads its way through these images, but the game of “Spot The Influence” that bedevils most criticism is ultimately just a distraction.  Artists have always tried to extend as well as honor inherited traditions. Claire Thorson’s work moves in that direction.  What we see in her drawings and paintings feels lyrical and true.

—Tom Maderos

 

Text © Tom Maderos, all rights reserved.
(Tom Maderos is a painter & writer who lives in Santa Cruz, California. You can see his work at “Paint & Words” http://tompaints.blogspot.com/ )
Artwork © Claire Thorson, all rights reserved. http://clairethorson.com

Video: Claire Thorson, Search for the Return

This time-lapse movie by Nada Miljkovic captures the drawing process of visual artist and educator Claire Thorson’s exhibition.

Nada Miljkovic is the owner of Artist on Art, a Santa Cruz company helping people tell their stories. She produces videos and is the radio host of KZSC’s Artists on Art (Wednesdays at noon). For contact information and to see more of her work, go to ArtistOnArt.com.
Claire Thorson Image Gallery: click to enlarge
All Artwork  © Claire Thorson protected under U.S. and International Law. Other than for exhibition related uses, no part of this material can be altered, reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without prior written permission of the copyright owner and artist, Claire Thorson. This includes all rights now in existence or which may hereafter come into existence, including but not limited to authorship, documentation, lectures, or any other creation or presentation by Claire Thorson in any artistic medium, print, audio, electronic, video, CD ROM, photographic, digital, film, and any future medium.

Lorraine García-Nakata: Navigating by Hand

Accompanied by an essay by Professor Ella Diaz, Cornell University© LorraineGarcía-Nakata all rights reservedThe Alchemist29” x 30” Pastel On Paper, 2005

“Navigating By Hand” is an exhibition of the collected works of Chicana artist Lorraine García-Nakata.  Spanning four decades of artistic practice and creation, her pieces reveal the complexities of identity, the intimacy of memory, and the art of bearing witness to one’s life. Born in 1950 in Yuba City, California, García-Nakata was surrounded by a large immediate family of siblings. Her 2008 series of childhood portraits are seven-feet-tall, charcoal drawings on paper and one charcoal and pastel drawing on paper. These are epic works and their scale conveys the imprint that childhood has made on Lorraine’s adult perspective of the world. “1950’s Self-Portrait” shows a very young Lorraine in glasses and tomboy-apparel, running to catch a baseball with her mitt. The image not only captures the athleticism of childhood, but also highlights the possibilities of girlhood—before the world swoops in to enforce the gender norms of the late-twentieth-century. In the 1970’s, García-Nakata joined the Chicano/a arts collective, the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF), and her tomboy childhood helped her navigate gendered divisions of creative labor within this pioneering organization.

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The activity and playfulness of childhood is also present in “1960’s Self Portrait”; but viewers encounter a more feminine Lorraine, which aestheticizes the piece’s temporality, or visually provides viewers with the experience of watching time pass in Lorraine’s life. Most captivatingly in this series is the charcoal and pastel drawing on paper, “Friends, No Matter What,” which shows Lorraine and her African American friend playing a game of hide and seek. The girls’ stand back-to-back and are blindfolded. With their hands touching, the intimacy of their bodies reveals the deep trust and love between them, which resonates in the work’s title, but also powerfully invokes the historical context of the autobiographical scene. After all, it’s the early 1960s, and the realities of racism, as well as the sociopolitical changes that take place in this era, are the backdrop of Lorraine’s memory. Thus, the stakes are much higher for this pair of friends than a game of hide and seek. Lorraine’s message in this piece is clear: childhood is serious, and who we are during these formative years impacts the adults we become.

Taken together, the 2008 series of childhood portraits are a “testimonial narrative” (Beverly 1989) that García-Nakata has fashioned into a pictorial record of her life. In her adaptation, she merges the conventions of the literary genre of testimonio and autobiography. Put more plainly, while the 2008 series of childhood portraits may seem beautiful and simple, they are also incredibly powerful because they testify to one life that is emblematic of each of our lives as we are born, as we play, and as we grow up. García-Nakata adds, “For a woman, particularly a woman of color, it’s a political act to commit a lifetime to the creative process” (2013). I add that it is also a political act to monumentalize memories of everyday life.

This notion is further evident in the quiet reflection that García-Nakata offers viewers in her recollection of beauty, youth, anticipation, and hope. In “What, No Quinceñera?” (2008), Lorraine shares a private moment from her adolescence. The charcoal drawing on paper is a self-portrait of Lorraine at sixteen dressing for a high school formal. As the edges of Lorraine’s dress radiate off the paper, they disappear into the background, allowing viewers to linger in the dreamlike atmosphere. Like hearing a favorite old song, or encountering a familiar smell, the piece brings readers into the autobiographical arc of the artist’s life while reminding them of their own memories and feelings from these important years.

“What, No Quinceñera?” also raises the “complex intersections of ethnicity, nationality, race, class, gender, sexuality, age, and other markers of diverse identities and communities” (Latina Feminist Group 2001, 4). High school dances are an important rite of passage for American teenagers; but the American adolescence is not a universal experience. The piece’s title alludes to Lorraine’s awareness of another cultural tradition as she prepares for the dominant culture’s version of celebrating the transition from childhood to adulthood. Both pristine and dreamy, “What, No Quinceñera?” is part of Lorraine’s visual testimonio, or her pictorial “genealogy of empowerment”—to borrow an important phrase from the Latina Feminist Group in their groundbreaking anthology, Telling to Live (2001). Like other testimoniadoras who offer their lived experiences to listeners and readers “for intellectual and social justice,” Lorraine’s artwork visualizes the “homemade theories” that “help us make sense of everything that we are and all that we find and love” (Latina Feminist Group 2001, 26). In her series of works on childhood and adolescence, it is not only an aesthetic choice that Lorraine signs each piece with her handprint—prominent on some works and more ethereal on others. García-Nakata asserts that the handprint as her signature symbolizes her “personal commitment to the work” (2013). I add that it also conveys to viewers that these are the experiences that Lorraine swears by, that she promises are true, and that she offers with an open heart.

This unique signature seems to be a recent tradition for the artist; but the desire to make contact with others through her visual art is a continuous quest for García-Nakata, as is evident in  “Blind Not Blind” (1980) and “Our Connection I” (1981) of her “Window Series” that she initiated in 1979. These drawings on paper “explored the idea of the window as a representation of ourselves and the idea that all matter is comprised of molecules in motion” (García-Nakata 2013). Addressing the concept of coming into being, or formation, viewers see hands reaching out from paper and attempting to make a connection. The works both locate and isolate the tactile experience of touch.

The desire for a physical connection in works from the “Window Series” also shows up in Lorraine’s 1980s sequence of mono-prints that explore the development of her individual identity in relation to her family, community, and society. As Rigoberta Menchú (1984) states in her trailblazing testimonio that “My personal experience is the reality of a whole people,” (1984, 1), Lorraine’s mono-prints impart the reality of her identity, which is comprised of family and ancestry, as well as ethnicity and culture. Viewers learn that Lorraine’s story is really a story of descent and her responsibility to that heritage. In “Family Line” (1989), three Lorraine’s stand at three different places in the image, composing a line. The three figures are connected to each other through antique black lace, which is “much like the lace my abuela wore on her head” (García-Nakata 2013). A culturally significant fabric for Lorraine, the lace symbolizes the colonial aspects of her identity that are passed down through the generations, along with the indigenous ancestry and cultural-ways that comprise her. In “Family Line,” the first Lorraine holds the lace from which family portraits are hung. The second Lorraine holds the other end. But the third Lorraine faces away holding a bundle of lace in her hands. Her posture suggests that she awaits the next generation to come and take up the other end.

Lingering on this theme of future generations, Lorraine’s artwork also suggests visions of ancestry that are bound to colonial encounters that have made and continue to make all of our lives possible in the Latino/a diaspora. In her tradition of large scale work, Lorraine created the diptych, “Facio Nova Omnia II: Colonia” and “Facio Nova Omnia II: Indigena” in 2004. The titles are Latin for “I make new all things,” and these pastel drawings deal with the ethno-gendered politics of colonization, locating the origins of Lorraine’s Chicana ethnicity in Indigenous and Spanish women’s bodies. The figures are spectacularly beautiful and I believe this is an important point to make because they invite viewers to perceive beauty in the formation of Chicana-Latina identity, a process that historically was a violent and ugly part of conquest. Strikingly, the figures give their backs to viewers but, while the Colonia is completely turned away from our view, the Indigena gazes over her shoulder, hinting at a point of eye contact and connection. García-Nakata writes, “As Chicanos/Latinos, we embraced the indigenous aspects of our being in the 60s/70’s, then circled back around to later acknowledge colonial aspects of our history/identity. In this case however, our indigenous knowledge, ‘precious knowledge,’ leads the way, sets the standard for how we proceed into our future-as we acknowledge all aspects of ourselves” (2013). In this grand diptych, García-Nakata is concerned with the spaces and times of Chicana-Latina identity, as she frames the emergence of her ancestry between pre-Colombian and colonial female bodies.

Locating the individual story within the “reality of a whole people” (Menchú 1984, 1) Lorraine denies the viewer’s gaze into the eyes of a certain woman that she repeatedly creates. Having addressed childhood, adolescent rites of passage, familial lines of descent, and the socio-historical diaspora, Lorraine’s artwork also engages the spiritual realm and her faith and hope in it—despite the unexplained and unknown factors of the afterlife. “Since my youth,” she explains, “a woman persona … has been in a recurring dream. She provided grounding and comfort. Powerful and ancient, she studies the metaphysical, natural world, and interdependence of all things” (2013). Lorraine reproduces this woman from her dreams in pieces like “The Alchemist” (2005). A pastel drawing on paper, there is something incredibly literary about this portrait of a young woman reading a book, sitting at a desk, surrounded by a shelf of books, writing paper, and pencils. Reminiscent of the Colonia from “Facio Nova Omnia II,” the figure also evokes Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the self-taught scholar and poet of colonial Mexico that Alicia Gaspar de Alba reinterprets through her novel Sor Juana’s Second Dream (1999). In García-Nakata’s “The Alchemist,” viewers discover another chapter to this woman’s story, as she sits, with a long braid and perfectly fitted dress, deeply immersed in study. She also gives us her back, as if to say that her meditation, her far-off place of thought, is more important than our gaze, than our expectation of who she is and our desire to see her.

An introspective body of work on the components of identity that comprise one’s world and make it worth living, “Navigating By Hand” offers viewers the story of Lorraine García-Nakata. And if viewers look closely and deeply, they will also find pieces of their own life stories reflected back.

c/s

Ella Maria Diaz

Works Cited

Beverly, John. 1989. “The Margin at the Center: On Testimonio (Testimonial Narrative).” Modern Fiction Studies. 35:1 (1989): 11-28.
Menchú, Rigoberta. 1984.  I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Trans. Elisabeth
Burgos-Debray. Verso, NY and London, 2009. (2nd Ed).The Latina Feminist Group. 2001. Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios. Duke University Press.

Text © Ella Maria Diaz, all rights reserved.  All Artwork  ©2013 Lorraine García-Nakata, all rights reserved (see below)

For more of Lorraine García-Nakata’s work:
blog: lorrainegarcianakata.blogspot.com
visual art web site: http://lorrainegn.com/
music site: http://lgn1.bandcamp.com/track/we-the-people?permalink

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All Artwork  ©2013 Lorraine García-Nakata protected under U.S. and International Law. Other than for exhibition related uses, no part of this material can be altered, reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without prior written permission of the copyright owner and artist, Lorraine García-Nakata/Lorraine García. This includes all rights now in existence or which may hereafter come into existence, including but not limited to authorship, documentation, lectures, or any other creation or presentation by Lorraine García-Nakata/ Lorraine García in any artistic medium, print, audio, electronic, video, CD ROM, photographic, digital, film, and any future medium.

The Alchemy of Painting: Art by Howard Kaneg

Howard Kaneg-Alchemy of Painting

Stepping into Howard’s front room, surrounded by his many large acrylic paintings, I was immediately impacted by the vivid pure colors and the currents of movement inviting me to enter into magical spaces, to leave behind the day and enter rhythms of weather, water, and foliage, to move into currents, orbs, and spirals of energy. The large canvases transported me into their music and mystery, singing with clear translucent hues.

To experience Howard’s art is to feel the multidimensional levels of our daily existence, our waking, dreaming, and contemplative life. His paintings locate us in nature, sea, and mountains, engaging the power of the elements along with language, sacred words gracing the canvases.

Howard’s paintings take us on a journey of discovery. They awaken our associations through his skillful mix of perspectives, shapes, and line. The juxtaposition of imaginative form and patterns, portals and veils, engage us with our own perceptions and wonder. The more we look, the more we see, dimensions shift. What wasn’t form becomes form and recognizable. We are pulled in, our senses and memories activated. The elegant and whimsical merge. Invisible energetic fields become visible, a shaman’s journey to connect with the spirit of life.

Howard says of his work, “The forms outside become the structure of the painting but not it’s essence…Art is about exploration. The further away from what you know, that’s when you create art….The aim is to connect with currents occurring outside in what you see. Once you connect, you come into endless possibilities and that’s what you are looking for.”

Howard’s artistic influences read like poetry, tracking what held mystery, meaning, and interest artistically. Aboriginal art, Japanese Tattoo art, woodprints by Hiroshi, Buddhist paintings, Diego Rivera’s art, the painting /drawing of William T. Wiley, Dr. Bob, Native American primitive artist, Big Daddy Roth and the Surf Hot Rod Culture, Rick Griffin, the original artist for Surfer magazine, the mysticism of different cultures, Chinese hieroglyphics, ancient Greek writing, the Kabbalah, Balinese symbolism of Hindu Animism. “The process is Self exploration, finding the Self and losing the self.” Through his studies of the Taoist Marshall Art, Shen Ming Kung Fu, or Bright Wisdom Spirit, Howard works at refining his character which serves the maturing of his work. “You can’t do the work of the artist if you are in your own way. The aim is to allow one’s greater nature to come through. That is where all potential is.”

—Susan Heinz

Susan is a teacher, painter, and astrologer who lives in Soquel, CA: www.susanheinz.com

Howard Kaneg is a painter who lives in Santa Cruz, CA: Facebook  |  howardkaneg@sbcglobal.net

All Artwork © Howard Kaneg, all rights reserved. Text © Susan Heinz, all rights reserved
Photography by David Reese
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