Things of Nature Unknown
The works that I will be presenting are grouped under the title ‘Things of Nature Unknown’. I will begin by showing you some traditional artists and follow this with some contemporary artists that have influenced me that also work with the fragmented human form. Then I will show you the development of my work chronologically starting with some of the work that I created in the USA and finish by discussing my most current work and future projects.
I am sure most of you are quite familiar with various Pre-Hispanic cultures. I grew up in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez Chihuahua [Mexico] and I would like to begin by showing some of the images of sculptures that influenced my earliest memories of the use of the human form. Most of these sculptures were man-made images, which represented gods. The first is of Tlaloc, the Rain God in Aztec Cultures, and I was always very interested in the way that they used the human figure on functional works. This particular work has an image of Tlaloc on this pot – which could have been a water jug. So having this sculptural figured placed upon an everyday object enticed me to think how Aztec lived with sculpture and the importance it had in everyday life. I was also drawn to a sculptural style showing a figure as an abstract form, as well as the manner in which they used the faces, grimacing, direct, very dynamic, not hiding the human emotion behind the piece itself.
Now to move onto more contemporary work that had an impact on me. I am not going to show you too much of Pre-Hispanic work because I’m sure that most of you have some previous experience with it. So this is the work of Michael Lucero, an artist based in New York. I selected this particular slide because of his incorporation of Pre-Hispanic works with his more contemporary painterly style. I am interested in his juxtaposition between historical references in art and today’s more contemporary practice in ceramics. Another artist is Sergei Isupov, originally from Estonia but now based in the USA, who creates work that is figurative in both form and subject matter. He creates surreal sculptures that are snapshots of dreamlike states – combining the human and animal form to create a new breed of existence.
Artists outside ceramics that have had an influence on my body of work are numerous, including Robert Gober who is well known for using the human form in fragmented sections in the gallery space; much of his work deals with personal experiences in life and HIV. Also more obviously De Kooning and Francis Bacon. I was introduced to Francis Bacon’s works later on in my career when I was invited to a retrospective of his work in Minneapolis. My first reaction to his work was extreme excitement, an intense feeling and relationship with the pain on the surface of the canvas. I was instantly drawn by his extremely dynamic and sort of almost frightening application of the paint onto the canvas. That was something that I had not experienced in representational painting before that.
This is the first image of my work (fig.1) – I will begin talking briefly about the process of my work. I find that ideas for sculpture always begin with some sort of small sketch or litho or a quick sketch. This is one of my artist’s books that show you a quick range of my drawings. In the images you can see a combining of the human and animal form, a breaking down of the entire human body, creating a hybrid of animal and man. This book was entitled Osico de Animal focusing on how we use our mouth and its ability to wound others, not in the physical action of biting, but in the action of using words in a harmful manner.
The drawing of Osico De Animal that you just saw translates to this sculpture (fig.2). This was the first work for the project Peeling off the Skin of Childhood. The Jerome Foundation and the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, MN funded this body of work.
Peeling off the Skin of Childhood was an exhibition of individual sculptures and installation that explored the awkward transition from childhood into adulthood, focusing on the phrases used by parents to discipline their children by implying a sense of fear: ‘se te van a salier los ojos/your eyes are going to fall out’ and ‘te voy a lavar la boca con javon/wash your mouth out with soap.’ I was able to take off an entire year to produce this body of work.
Tragate los Dientes / Swallow your Teeth (fig.3) – these are three-life size pieces that were created with interlocking arms and legs. They’re mounted on the wall with hanging units so they are able to sway and move as you walk past them. Adjacent to these was a line of glass cast teeth that the visitors to the gallery could pick up and place inside of the sculpture’s mouth and the tooth would either fall back to the ground or stay inside the sculpture.
This is Yesterday’s Animals (fig.4). This piece deals more with memories and experiences that we have had and translating them into works that reflect that moments original intensity.
This is Caras/Faces, a work which addresses the various personalities that we have as humans – how we show a particular ‘face’ to someone but then later on show a different ‘face’ to someone else. It explores the different types of people that we are and those that we keep hidden. I decided to portray this idea by creating the head in movable components so the viewer could rotate the sculpture’s face and alter its appearance.
This is Untitled (fig.5), where I was trying to experiment on how far I could push the material by creating really thin appendages and also see how far I could distort the human form while retaining some figurative qualities. With this work I decided to explore more clay’s ability to move and make sound, so similar to Caras, I created this work with interlocking legs and hands, so when you passed it they would move as well as make a sound as the legs crashed into each other. This work was also the first time where I was able to combine custom-made glass faces for the works.
Following this I created Milk-ed, a series of figurative heads attached to udders where the bodies should be, accompanied by the faint sounds of suckling portraying the sensation of constantly being milked and exploited (fig.6). Milk-ed speaks of people who constantly exploit others by draining their energy, stealing their inspiration and changing other peoples lives to get what they want. This particular installation was an entire gallery space where you had 15 heads mounted on the wall and 30 small press moulded sculptures lined up in the windows of the gallery.
These small sculptures symbolized the aftermath of being Milk-ed, portraying the sensation of being drained of yourself, no longer an individual, simply a generic copy of your previous self that disappears into the urban environment. At this period, I began to travel a lot for exhibitions, talks and residencies – this led me to a residency at the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts. The Bray was established by Archie Bray and its first two artists in residence were Peter Voulkos and Rudy Autio. The Bray has excellent exhibitions and offers great opportunity to many ceramic artists.
During my artist in residence at the Bray, I had the chance to reconsider my work in a fresh light and challenge myself into creating what I feel is some of my most intriguing and innovative work to date. At the same time with so much traveling taking place – I began to question more the idea and notions of home. I began to ask the Helena community ‘What does home mean to you?’ I received back very different responses in example: I got the coca-cola machine next to the laundry mart, my Mothers cooking or the smell of water lilies. For me it was doilies that my grandma used to knit, and our house was filled with doilies to me so now they represent comfort, safety and security.
At the Bray I had the opportunity to create an installation for the permanent Sculpture Garden entitled Soy Yo/It’s Me (fig.7). This work consisted of 500 porcelain black and white doilies mounted on the ceiling of an outdoor structure. The work also uses symbolic elements, so that the black doilies represent my age, some of my family and friends and lost loved ones. This work dealt with various memories of home, the idea of an ideal domesticity and the recollections of the home as a child.
Being at the Bray I was able to move from the traditional notion of clay work and simply use the medium as a tool to express the concept. With the addition of digital mediums, this opened the door to new and exciting projects and ideas.
Completing the residency at the Archie Bray Foundation and receiving a fellowship to travel through Europe to explore contemporary ceramics, offered me an opportunity to further expand my knowledge of the medium and the concepts behind my own work. Being invited to London, I was able to create a body of work that incorporated new mediums such as custom-made decals and focus on my skills in digital arts.
During that visit, my work was featured at the St. Ives International Ceramica Festival, with a solo exhibition at the Burton Art Gallery that showcased numerous ceramics objects and 40-foot ceramic installation with sound entitled Dice que te quiere/They say that they love you. (fig.8 and fig.9)
After my Fellowship, I started a Master of Fine Arts at the California College of Arts an Crafts where I continued to experiment with digital arts and ceramic installations.
This work is White Heat: 17 of May (fig.10). There are two ways in which I work with site-specific and object based installation works. In site-specific work I have the resources and time to be able to create a unique and distinct work for a specific space.
This work cannot be reproduced in a different location since it was created uniquely for its original space. And object based installations offer a place where I have created a number of different elements or objects that I can go into a space and alter it to create a sculptural install work. In this form of work, I can always take these objects to a different space and re-create a work.
The entire concept behind the 17 of May was the notion of unity within human relationships and how that translated into everyday architecture. The forms created to symbolize this unity were created from two voluptuous undulating lines that extended far until they connected together at a sharp point. These shapes were then transformed into numerous different mediums that hold similar qualities to the concept of unity. From this rose the creating of custom-made light forms which reflect the sensibility of luminance and energy. These forms were then placed on the ceiling of the space, and echoed on the floor with hand made subtle porcelain objects. The rest of the space was filled with subtle soundtrack of delicate textures and sounds that created an intense dialogue between objects and space.
On the adjacent wall, I started to encase porcelain objects into latex, which symbolized the notion of skin and bone. (fig.11) Using latex as a metaphor for skin allowed me to still work with the idea of the human form but in a more abstract manner. Working with latex and silicone is still a large part of my current work.
My most recent work Otra Vez Series deals with the fusion between materials as well as my sculptural production and my drawing and painting work.
This is Sin Sentido/Without Feeling (fig.12) and here I’ve started to play with the proportions a little bit more because I was trying to keep the overall sculpture small, so it’s that idea of elongating the head or the skull which comes from looking back at Ancient Civilizations and their traditions, such as elongating the skulls to differentiate social status.
This is called Es Un Animal (fig.13), an animal translates that internal struggle, trying to remained civilized and functioning at the same time, knowing that there’s always this other person who’s lurking within you and just trying to keep that relationship, that struggle between the two, balanced. The following works deal with same concept. This is Lingua which translates to Tongue. This is Perdio la Pata/Lost his Foot (fig.14).
With this series I was able to create a relationship between the object and the surface itself, offering a greater depth to the work, presenting a secondary dimension in which to immerse the viewer, beyond the physical item. In re-interpreting the human figure in this way, I’ve been able to create forms that de-mystify the body and create a physical continuity between the inner intangible and outer tangible aspects of the human form, erasing features, subtracting limbs, expanding the scale, moving beyond the familiar.
This is the Hack-er Series and these works show the new direction of my work. (fig.15 and fig.16)
I just received a residency in the States so I’ll be going back from January through March to the Northern Clay Center where I’ll be able to create a new body of work that I’ll be calling the Displaced Series and the Phantom Series.
The Displaced Series derives from what I refer to as ‘our every day animals or our monstrous selves’, the hidden inner beings that we repress in order to become part of civilized society, creatures that we encounter each and every day in art, TV, literature, our memories, even as we walk through the streets or most disturbingly in the mirror. This work is influenced by everyday life as well as by growing up in a society that uses the hybridization of humans throughout its history.
And the Phantom is a series of works that explore the raw animal in the city, where once we would have foraged for food and a position in the pack, today you fight for your social position and comforts. I am developing ideas around the idea of invisibility and the dissolving of the individual in the urban environment. Clay will envelop negative shapes of the figure, suggesting the ghostly traces of what was once a person.
With these works I hope to push the boundaries of contemporary ceramics and figurative work and also further my personal ideas and interest in exploring the fragmentation of human form, ceramic installation and sculpture.
|Things of Nature Unknown Issue 8|