On View Gallery

Carlos Jackson: Reckoning With Hxstory

Reckoning with Hxstory, is an online-exhibition curated by Museo Eduardo Carrillo featuring Carlos F. Jackson’s drawings and silkscreen prints. The works in the series present a narrative that underlines hxstories of structural inequalities in the U.S. This online exhibition takes its title from the first sentence of Chicanx Studies founding manifesto, El Plan de Santa Barbara, which states, “For all people, as with individuals, the time comes when they must reckon with their history.”i

Read More of the essay by Gilda Posada

Hence, to reckon with hxstory, or to “take inventory,” as Gloria Anzaldúa calls it, is the first step towards conocimiento/ consciousness.ii She states that one must first take inventory to fully understand the weight one carries on their back, ultimately so to stop blaming victims for the problems generated by years of racism, colonialism, and oppression. These “weights” can be seen through the accounts that the viewer encounters when engaging with Jackson’s prints. The next step that Anzaldúa poses following the “taking of inventory” is a “winnowing out of the lies”, which is necessary to see what is true, so that injustice is not reproduced in actions that seek to generate social justice. Thus, in this journey, this exhibition replaces the i/e in history/herstory with an x to embrace decolonial teachings, as well as to create a space with the “x” for those whose truths and narratives have been left out because of hegemonic, patriarchal and heteronormative oppression.

Carlos Jackson’s Reckoning with Hxstory pulls from a variety of influences in his life as a cultural worker. Jackson’s extensive background in Chicanx art can be seen in the content of the work, particularly in creating visuals where consciousness and subjectivity is produced. As a printmaker, the influence of Cuban poster artists and graphic designers can be seen in layout choices and color selections. For example, the influence of René Mederos’ screen-print series “vallas”, on the history of the Cuban revolution commemorating the 20th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada, can be seen in Jackson’s use of visual narrative formation and choice in 3’x 4’ prints. Though his prints are bigger than René Mederos’ prints, they still carry the function of being utilized for public educational use to anyone with or without literacy. Jackson’s usage of large blocks of color to define shapes and people is similar to that of Mederos, but traces of his training in painting can be seen in the strokes used in the shading and definition of figures in his prints. The choice of interconnecting moments through iconic images of liberation movements in the last six decades is part of the larger work that Jackson engages in as a scholar in the Chicanx Studies department of UC Davis, and as Director and founder of Taller Arte del Nuevo Amanecer (TANA), a Chicanx community art center.

Jackson’s large-scaled prints demand the viewer confront hxstories of fascism, racism and colonialism that Blacks, Chicanxs and other minority groups have endured in U.S. That is to say, the experiences depicted here are a result the settler-colonial project brought into the Americas, where people were seen as less then by their white counterparts due to skin color, hair texture, religion and ancestral backgrounds. This haunting truth comes to life in his screen-print RELENTLESS/Little Rock 9, where he replicates the fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford attempting to enter Little Rock Central High School on September 4, 1957 following the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decisions for integration.iii A furious white mob of roughly 400 gathered around the school that day along with the Arkansas National Guard to refuse these students entry. Jackson’s print brings to life the racism thrown at Eckford by white women, it is as if the viewer could hear the echoes of white supremacy ringing in their ears years later. Of course, to the viewer paying attention to the current events happening in the U.S., they will find that the echoes of white supremacy have not died out; the viewer will find a parallel between RELENTLESS/Little Rock 9 and the recent pro-white/alt-right attacks happening throughout the country, most noticeably in Charlottesville, Virginia. This is why it is of importance for the viewer to recognize as Anzaldúa states that “Awareness of your situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society,” because “nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.” iv This point is crucial, especially in a time where news is manipulated into alt-facts that deceive the viewer.

For those that feel overwhelmed and exhausted because they have been aware of the current conditions happening across the U.S., Jackson’s work then offers a reminder of courage, resistance and ruthless and unapologetic motivation to keep going. The image of Eckford walking by the white mob can serve as a motivation in the ability to keep seeking change in America until it becomes the America which embodies a true democracy and gives opportunity to all despite documentation, race, gender and/or body ability. The transparent red gradient with the word “Relentless” which appears over RELENTLESS/Little Rock 9, signals to the viewer that against all odds, people of color have resisted through being relentless and unyielding to white supremacy. In this print, Eckford is no longer seen as a victim of white supremacy, instead she is someone who relentlessly imagined an alternative future for herself and future generations. Eckford then becomes someone creating a new image of America in her head and paving that path towards self-determination and democracy.

The reiterations of resistance and the carving out America continue throughout Jackson’s work, for instance, Historical Materialism: Carpooling and Breaking the Fast, 1969, give us insights to moments of power and agency. These two prints showcase hxstories of Boycotts where Black and Chicanx communities organized as a means to be seen as human beings because America has not always looked at their experiences as such. This concept can be traced back to the first-contact of settler Europeans in the Americas, extending into the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the implementation of nation-state borders, which created genocide and institutional racist structures. Institutional racist structures, where migrants, people of color, the working class, and those labeled as the marginal of society were (and continue to be) seen as products in the agricultural chain, the supply industry, the labor force, etc.v Arrival 2, XICANX/Citizenship: Arrival, and Bracero Living or the Concentration Camp recap the life that Mexican workers who participated in the bracero program underwent from 1942-1947 in primarily agricultural labor contracts.vi Upon arrival, braceros were taken to processing centers where they were stripped and searched and then sprayed with DDT by Department of Agriculture. These long hxstories of exploitation and atrocious working and living conditions were met with opposition and ultimately strikes. Often overlooked, but shown in Jackson’s Breaking the Fast, 1969, is the Filipino community, who took the first role in leading the strike against growers in the summer of 1965, demanding that their wages be increased from $1.10 an hour as well as demanding better living conditions.vii In Carlos Jackson’s screen-print we see Cesar Chavez preparing to breaks his 25-day fast in Delano, California. The fatigued Cesar Chavez sits with Senator Robert F. Kennedy, his wife Helen Chavez and mother Juana Chavez. Often cut out of the frame, but shown here behind Chavez and flying the U.F.W. flags are Irwin DeShetler, Andy Imutan, Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, all major organizers who joined forces with Mexican field laborers in the fight against exploitation and abuse. An understanding of this hxstory allows the viewer to gain a new perspective on unity. Jackson’s images remind many of painful struggles, but many forget that it was not done alone; these communities made each other stronger. Filipinos farmworkers introduced “Isang Bagsak” to the U.F.W. a phrase that means “one down, one fall.” A visual retelling of these narratives allows for the viewer to gain a further understanding that alone change is hard, and if one falls, everyone falls, but that together change can be achived.

Jackson’s inventory in moments in hxstory are a testament that one is never alone in the struggle; his work demonstrates that the foundations towards liberation have been set and that we have nothing to lose but our chains. Before Boycott was used as a tool towards liberation in the West coast it was used by Black America in the south, as seen through Historical Materialism: Carpooling. In this print, the viewer is given an insight into the mid 50s where three womxn and a man are entering a cab while an empty bus appears across from them. This moment which we see is alluding to the bus strikes between December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956, where Black people were engaging in the struggle to end segregated seating in Montgomery, Alabama. Once again, these fundamental images remind us that defiance can serve as a tool against the tyrannizing forces today and remind us that everyone in America today is of value regardless of federally recognized citizenship. The bus boycotts are lived testaments that showed America that the Black experience was composed of people with families, with histories, with culture, with aspirations and with dreams that deserve to be respected and lived. Jackson proposes that “in order to know who we are, we first need awareness, which comes through education, and the only education that can produce this knowledge as a liberatory form is governed by praxis; action and reflection.”viii The creation of Black Lives Matter builds upon this vision, and reminds us that a reformation of America is needed. To reckon with hxstory, the viewer must educate themselves and hold America accountable for slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and the mass incarceration of Black individuals. The viewer must then sit with these hxstories and connect them to the genocide of Black bodies in the hands of police departments and grand juries convening across the U.S.

Remaining in the hxstory of resistance, Jackson’s work continues to reckons with instances of state violence in relation to protestors. Workings of the State Apparatus: Walter Gadsden being attacked, Birmingham Alabama, May 4, 1964, references The Birmingham Campaign, which was composed of a series of lunch counter sit-ins, marches on City Hall and boycotts on downtown merchants to protest segregation laws in the city.ix In Jackson’s print we witness a case of a reoccurring practices, where peaceful demonstrators were met with violent attacks, high-pressure fire hoses, as well as police dogs. This moment is considered to be “one of the major turning points in the Civil Rights Movement and the ‘beginning of the end’ of a centuries-long struggle for freedom.” x Likewise, The workings of the State Apparatus: August 29, 1970, tells the hxstory of protestors in East Los Angeles. On August 29, 1970, the National Chicano Moratorium Committee organized its first public demonstration to protest the war in Viet Nam in East Los Angeles, where 30,000 attended the demonstration in a display of solidarity. The march culminated with speeches and festivities at Laguna Park and despite peaceful rally, the Los Angeles Police Department opened fire on activists, families and children, using “non-lethal projectiles” and tear gas. Police officials alleged that a liquor store had been broken into and that the robbers fled into the crowd. As families scattered, innocent community members were beaten and arrested, during the ensuring riot, police shot a tear gas projectile into the Silver Dollar Bar, where a group of people had sought refuge from the violence. Ruben Salazar, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, was hit in the head by the tear gas canister and killed. By the end of the day police had killed three people and injured more than sixty other individuals. Ruben Salazar’s image and events at the Silver Dollar Bar had become emblematic of the moratorium’s tragic end.xi Workings of the State Apparatus: Walter Gadsden being attacked, Birmingham Alabama, May 4, 1964 and The workings of the State Apparatus: August 29, 1970, visually elaborate the lengths to which the American government and law enforcement agencies were willing to go to crush peaceful dissent and protest. In these prints, Jackson is asking the viewer for communal remembrance; a note to never forget or underestimate the extent to which institutions, local or federal, will go to in order to keep their power and privileges in place.

The measures which the American government has taken to keep its dominance can always be taken one step further, as can be seen in The workings of the State Apparatus: Martin and The workings of the State Apparatus: Ernesto Guevara, Age 39. Although, the viewer will want to move past these works because of content, the viewer must reckon with the distaste and impulse to turn away. While these works bring sorrow, they also highlight the radical power that an idea of different worlds being possible holds. American empire played a role in attempting to extinguish the flames of hope and change across the world through the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Jackson inserts these images to continue communal remembrance, but also to signal that ideas of a different world will be seen as a threat, and that those in power will use all their resources to extinguish any change that does not uphold their power. But Jackson is also presenting us with these moments in movements to remind us as Fred Hampton said, “You can kill a revolutionary but you can never kill the revolution.” Thus, reflection of these images can serve as a collective consciousness on the way to seeing that there are multiple ways of being and doing the work, so long as it keeps the revolution in process.

Carlos Jackson’s work will carry the open wounds of injustice, sometimes imposed on by institutions and other times by community members that were utilizing the master’s tools to oppress their own community. Each print will ask the viewer to bear witness to the hurt and exclusion, but each print also carries a redemptive quality if the viewer is willing to “winnow out the lies.” This is the nature of Carlos Jackson’s work; it is an invitation to those who want to embark on the journey towards decolonization. Now is the time for the viewer to readjust their own views and seek the truths, there is no direct answer as to how to do this and no direct end because each individual governs a different path. Jackson’s work has done its part in creating new symbols, new forms of hxstories, new perspectives or/and ways of seeing ourselves in the world. Just as the children in Drawing for Xicanx Park, April 1970 that plant the seeds for a new space that will hold their hxstories, truths, and visions of the world they wish to see, we too must begin to carve out the space we envision for Nuestra Américasin fronteras, sin miedo y resistiendo.

C/S

—Gilda Posada

i El Plan de Santa Barbara. 1969

ii Anzaldúa, Gloria E. Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza. (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2007) 105

iv Anzaldúa, Gloria E. ibid. 109.

v See print by Carlos Jackson’s Victoria, Texas, May 13, 2013.

vii Imutan, Andy . What happened when Mexicans and Filipinos joined together. From: 40th anniversary of Delano Grape Srrike two-day reunion in Delano, September 2005<http://ufw.org/research/history/mexicans-filipinos-joined-together/>

viii Email exchange with Carlos Jackson on 9/13/2016.

ix The Birmingham Campaign. Public Broadcasting Service. 1995-2017. < http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/explore/civil-rights-movement-birmingham-campaign/#.Waj5R5OGNsM>

x The Birmingham Campaign. ibid

xi Jackson, Carlos F. Protest Arte: Chicana and Chicano Art. (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2009) 127

 

   

The Chicanx Poster Workshop: A Space Where Subjectivity Is Produced

I frame my printmaking and writing practice as that of a cultural worker…
…Chicanx posters demonstrate that Chicanx identity is fluid, in development, and open for creation, a finding that contests the widespread notion that Chicanx identity is a fixed category that is manifested in predictable ways.  

—Carlos Francisco Jackson

Read the entire article from AZTLÁN: A JOURNAL OF CHICANO STUDIES in PDF format

 

Carlos Francisco Jackson is an associate professor and chair in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of California, Davis. He received a BS in community and regional development and an MFA in painting from UC Davis, and he was awarded the Robert Arneson Award for excellence in the MFA program. He has been a fellow at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in central Maine and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Between 2004 and 2015 he served as founding director of Taller Arte del Nuevo Amanecer. Jackson has shown his art at exhibitions throughout the United States. He is the author of Chicana and Chicano Art: ProtestArte (University of Arizons Press, 2009), and his work appears in the exhibition catalogs Mi América/My America: Carlos Jackson (University of Illinois, 2011) and Estampas de la Raza: Contemporary Mexican American Prints from the Romo Collection (University of Texas Press, 2012).

carlosfjackson.com
http://www.artpractical.com/feature/abolish-borders-as-revolutionary-futurity/
https://boomcalifornia.com/2014/04/16/serigrafia/

Text © Gilda Posada, all rights reserved
Artwork and Text © Carlos Francisco Jackson, all rights reserved

ARRT: Artists Respond & Resist Together

This exhibit, Artists Respond and Resist Together, was synchronistic in its evolution. Before there was an election in 2016 there was the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, which had been serving the community for 40 years and there were a myriad of local artists, whose work focussed on the political landscape and if not specifically, who wanted to support that kind of work, because they believe in art as a social agent for change.

When the election results were confirmed, these 80 artists were in search of each other and formed a group called ARRT and at that same time RCNV was, as always, responding to the issues of the times and was right in the middle of remodeling their building to include an extensive art exhibition space. So, an inaugural ARRT exhibition was proposed, to bring these two forces together.

The Resource Center for Nonviolence, founded in 1976, is a peace and justice organization promoting the practice of nonviolent social change. Their primary mission is to support the growth of nonviolent activists.

The mission of ARRT states, “We are an affiliation of artists joined together by our shared belief in the power of art to effect social change and protect democratic values. Our creative skills support progressive social actions in our local community and beyond.”

For this juried show the theme was: Dynamic artistic responses to the current political climate. Submissions could address resistance, immigration, civil rights, climate change, injustice, etc. and the artists were encouraged to submit work that was in the spirit of both organizations.

Curators:
Sara Friedlander
Anita Heckman
Dee Hooker 

The Painting as World: Frank Galuszka’s self-refracting paintings through the edges of Borges and Velasquez

Las Meninas

He paints quickly, as if to make sure he captures the thought, the insight while it is still fresh. The very elision of the brushwork shivers with movement, if not urgency, at least a swiftness of purpose. And confidence.

On a winter afternoon the light pools down around the floor of the huge, empty room where the figures appear to be assembled. A thickening of texture, sfumato, permeates the upper reaches of the room. The chandeliers are no longer lit, only a few windows allow some illumination to pierce the cavernous interior.

Read More of the essay by Christina Waters

The child’s pale halo of hair arrests our gaze. For this one frozen moment it has captured what light there is in the room.

But something else is going on as well. Velasquez has caught the decline, the darkening fortunes of this house of Hapsburg. The king and queen are now seen, glimpsed actually, as indistinct, hazy reflections in a small mirror at the back of the room. They are in fact reflections of reflections, since the entire painting itself is an image captured in a huge mirror – the mirror that must presumably stand in front of the figures we see, as they see themselves.

Yet it is our gaze that is required to complete this picture. What Velasquez is painting is us looking at the figures reflected in the mirror. We see him painting – his hand is blurred with movement, the paint fresh and puddled on his palette. He looks up to check that we are paying attention.

This painting captures us, our gaze, the viewer – and once we begin to enter the space of the painting, it closes behind us. We are within it. Inside. Our gaze completes it. Velasquez has not only painted himself-painting-this-painting. He has painted our complicity with the act. He has painted us reflecting upon, and reflected within, the moment that he is making the painting. The process either never ends — in which case the moment of the painting is eternal— or it is one which has become a world, a perpetual Now. It is an aesthetic act of self-referentiality in which the artist painting has become simultaneously the object painted, as well as witness to the witnesses of both act and outcome.

La Vista Totale: a partial view

Just as in the uncanny event of Velasquez’ Las Meninas, the 20-year oeuvre of painter Frank Galuszka invites us to sample a point of view in which our viewing is already anticipated by the image. Each painting of his on-going self-referential series, La Vista Totale: a partial view,  is dialectically linked —by a subliminally embedded iconography—to every other. Much as two mirrors, placed just so, provide a dizzying sequence of curved reflections that seem to continue on into infinity — or into a world that is suggested and yet not fully visible — inhabitants of Galuszka’s LVT network (over 45 paintings so far) refract and reflect each other, yet from possible (or impossible) fictional futures (and pasts).

His interlocking network/narrative invites the viewer to complete a thought, or event just out of view. It is our presence that ignites the organism. Ours is the partial view that conspires with the totality of images. He, like Valesquez, has captured us and uses our embodied gaze to animate his cosmos-in-progress.

As with Borges’ The Garden of Forking Paths, Galuszka’s expanding series of inter-mirrored images begins not with an origin myth, but with a mystery. We are dropped into a saga that is already well underway. We are entranced even as we are perplexed.  Somewhere (we suspect) there is a missing explanation about which (we eventually realize) we are co-creators. What Galuszka’s richly-wrought enigmas intend is up to us, to our own desires and inquiry. And in asking about la vista totale, we are ensnared in its multiplicity of perspectives. It reveals to us as much about ourselves as it does the painter’s mercurial skill.

—Christina Waters

 
Text © Christina Waters, all rights reserved
Artwork © Frank Galuszka, all rights reserved

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.

Read More

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.