After almost two years of sifting and going through my dad's stuff, we are beginning to make some headway in the behemoth of STUFF that he left behind. For those not in the know, my dad Jairo Castaño was a true Renaissance man, an avid lover of photography, music, film, and the printing world. He left behind lots and lots of stuff, some not so great, but other real gems. When going through his office/studio I came upon his record collection which had some classics from Colombia, one of which is the Sonorama Colombiano an 10 LP box set of recordings of traditional Colombian music interpreted by various musical groups. The first record is the most outstanding, with recordings of classics like Navidad Negra and Prende La Vela, which are Colombian standards of the cumbia tradition. I had the chance to share some of his records and CDs with Reyes of Art & Grooves on Radio Sombra, community radio. Listen and enjoy!
As an eye-catching theme for an exhibition, cannibalism surely ranks right up there.
At East Los Angeles College's Vincent Price Art Museum, cannibalism is the motif driving the third MexiCali Biennial, a show that packs the work of 26 artists and collectives from the U.S. and Mexico into relatively small quarters.
Given the venue, which is named for an erudite actor who was both Yale-trained in art history and popular for ghoulish turns in horror movies, the cannibalism theme also exudes a wry, site-specific cheekiness.
None of the show's binational artists is involved in actually eating anyone's liver with (or without) some fava beans and a nice Chianti. But as a metaphor for approaching art today, an image of consuming the body of one's own kind is what artists Ed Gomez and Luis G. Hernandez and art historian Amy Pederson, who acted as guest curators, have in mind.
Sometimes the trope is blunt. For "Paletas de Sangre," Dino Dinco and Rafa Esparza have filled a jauntily decorated and apparently gruesome street-vending cart with frozen ice-pops said to be made from blood. In reality that's unlikely, but point taken: The blood-pops suggest the rather common knowledge that survival economics on Main Street, not just cutthroat corporatism on Wall Street, are dog-eat-dog.
Usually the metaphor is more oblique, and thus considerably more resonant. Ana Baranda has disassembled and then reconstructed four shirts commercially made for private security officers. Like a garment worker economically thriving because of the threat of crime, she stitched the pieces together to form one long, eight-armed, multi-necked, cascading blouse.
Titled "Échale Ganas," Spanish slang for "Go for it," the succession of shirts creates a visual likeness of one body swallowing another. A privatized descendant of Chris Burden's oversize 1993 "L.A.P.D. Uniforms," made in the wake of the previous year's L.A. riots, Baranda's shirt is big enough for a mutant giant. That the necessarily monstrous wearer of such a garment would be a privately enlisted rent-a-cop, rather than a civil servant, is a sobering conclusion impossible to avoid.
Occasionally the relationship between the work and the show's theme is difficult to decipher. Carolyn Castaño, who is better known for poignantly lurid paintings related to the Latin American drug wars, shows an impressive video that had its debut at Walter Maciel Gallery last year.
"The Female Report" is Castaño's satirical, wonderfully dizzying TV news broadcast whose professionally astute anchorwoman, provocatively attired in a ruffled pink blouse, slides seamlessly between English and Spanish to chronicle snippets of stories by, about and for women in the Americas — North, Central and South. (For the bilingually impaired, her fractured fairy-tale news is closed-captioned.)
Subjects range from serious politics to trivial entertainment, murderous mayhem to lighthearted madness, booming mass media to chaotic social media, all delivered with the same degree of clipped, televisual banality familiar from local and network news.
The speed and circularity with which one subject or language in "The Female Report" merges into another could, I suppose, be likened to events swallowing one another whole through today's filtered media environment. "We have accomplished a lot," intones the reporter in reference to recent developments in women's rights, the depth of her exposed cleavage at the anchor desk suggesting certain limitations to the progress.
But the garbage-in, garbage-out quality of what typically passes for journalism on television is wholly transformed by the artist's skillfully scripted and edited composition. She blows the authoritative source material to smithereens. A viewer, disabused of casual acceptance of televised reality, is left to pick up the pieces.
Christopher Reynolds does something similar in his deft mixed-media painting, "Appetite Apparatus #1 (Baker-Miller Pink, Suppressant)," albeit in a wholly different way. Reynolds takes dead aim at the institutionalization of what was once avant-garde art.
The abstract painting offers up a framed panel of flat, bright-pink color. This particular hue was scientifically developed more than 30 years ago as a biomedical means for calming agitated patients.
That would be you and me, rushing off to see the latest biennial.
A narrow shelf across the bottom holds a small hourglass filled with matching Baker-Miller pink sand, plus a pair of pink-tinted sunglasses — equipment to facilitate a viewer's surrender to the ostensible healing powers of aesthetic contemplation. That the overall hue also screams Pepto-Bismol (burp!) while the glasses are suspiciously rose-colored together puts institutionalized art on the supermarket shelf as a panacea for social nausea.
Equally skeptical of convention is "Border Theory," an elegant, formalist stain painting by Tony de los Reyes. He injects sociopolitical savvy into the supposedly autonomous region of abstract painting.
A rainbow of poured colors from the top and the bottom soaks into the raw linen, merging on a diagonal across the center like a classic Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler. There, a thin white line traces the contacts between the colors — a line that the artist says has been manipulated to trace an unspecified portion of the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
The radiant color eloquently flows and bleeds. It refuses to respect the bright-line division between the painting's north and south zones, national borders finally being as abstract and mutable as any Color Field painting.
And what of cannibalism? Connections between it and Castaño's video, Reynolds' mixed-media work and De los Reyes' painting are stretched pretty thin. Instead, throughout the show it most often seems to be a subset of standard appropriation — the redeployment into new contexts of objects, images or doctrines that already exist. Those shifts in circumstance alter (or are altered by) whatever has been borrowed.
With some hits and not a few misses, the show is rather woolly — less focused than a commendable, exploratory effort at finding a thread within the diversity of art being produced today. A stark exception is "Tomad y Comed" by Marycarmen Arroyo Macias. In blood scrawled like desperate Spanish graffiti across two adjoining walls, she writes the pointed words of the Christian Eucharist.
Translation: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you."
Ancient Romans slurred Christians as cannibals because of their ritual, while invading Spanish conquistadors did something similar to Aztecs and others in the New World. The term even derives from the belief that the Caribs of the West Indies ate human flesh.
Charges of rampant cannibalism are not uncommon as a way to dehumanize an enemy. Macias' bloody text, written into an enveloping corner of the room, casts an experience of the world in general, and the world of art in particular, as a more appropriate body to be consumed.
I received the call to be interviewed for KCET's ARTBOUND about some of my ten top artistic influences. I couldn't really pinpoint who were exactly my artistic influences, since there have been so many through-out the years. Would it be seeing Van Gogh at the Musee Orsay in Paris? Rubens at the Louvre, or reading about Anais Nin and the Surrealists at an early age? Those were the teenage years, later on I can definitely say that experiencing MOCA's groundbreaking Helter Skelter was transformative, as well as some of the early alternative art spaces, which later on transformed themselves into established art venues, such as FoodHouse. The work of Lari Pittman, Chris Ofili, Kara Walker, Philip Taaffe, Frida Kahlo, Sue Williams, Ambrose Beardsley, Florine Stettheimer, Claude Cahun, amongst so many more! For the interview, I was in a really retrospective mood, I was remembering not so much my visual art influences, but those other genres that created that artistic "aha" moment. Really it was style, aka fashion and music that led me to art-making. I was a square catholic school girl and experiencing the wild rebellion of the Eighties music scene and the creative interpretations of fashion on kids everywhere that allowed me a peek into another world, that world of makers that I wanted to be a part of.
A few of us from Casa Tres Patios visited the other folks at Campos de Gutierrez for a charla or informal crit session. Campos de Gutierrez is another artist residency program here in Medellin. Housed in a beautiful hundred year old finca house, Campos is located up the mountain just fifteen minutes from downtown Medellin. It feels like you are hundreds of miles from the hubbub of the city. Andres, who runs the residency and can be said to be a resident artist as well, has organized weekly crit sessions with other artists in Medellin. It has been incredible to share my work with others here, as well as to learn about the work that is being done by artists coming to Medellin, as well artists working here.
During this critica or crit session we viewed the work of Belfast artist Helen Turbidy. Helen has been doing a kind of baroque interruptions in art centers around town. We talked about set design, narrative, and crime scenes. Helen is really enjoying the vast array of fabrics and plastics available here. Medellin is the industrial and textile capital of Colombia, which makes for a veritable artist's playground. You can see us ( Featured are New Zealand artists Ana Terry and Don Hunter, Andres Monzon and Helen Turbidy) in deep conversation with laptops and Jesus in the background. You had to be there! Also, we viewed Andres Monzon's paintings of Latin divas. Andres was classically trained in the Renaissance method of grisaille and glazing used to achieve that deep three dimensional look that you get in a Caravaggio painting. That "real" look in a painting is really valued here in Colombia, amongst the older generation, but He is of course taking it beyond that to address more contemporary concerns. His paintings of divas are amazing! They seem to be caught between a moment of ecstasy and agony.
After our charla, we took the bus up to the town of Santa Elena for a Colombian almuerzo (lunch) and a piping hot canelazo. Canelazo is a drink made out of pure sugar cane mixed with cinnamon and passion fruit. Usually had in colder climates, a canelazo is meant to warm up your bones, and if in the mood I believe you can add a shot of whiskey or rum. Why not?! Y Por que no?
It's been the first week of my residency at Casa Tres Patios in Medellin, Colombia and already it's looking like it will be an exciting and life altering experience. Casa Tres Patios is a contemporary arts center and residency program which hosts artists from Colombia and abroad to do projects in Medellin. Their mission is to link artists with the greater community of Medellin in collaborative social projects that engage the community. Casa Tres Patios have matched me with a non-profit called Mujeres Que Crean . During my time here, I plan to create a series of drawings and a video with women who have been affected by the armed conflict in Colombia. In the first part of the project, the women will look at and make drawings of flowers and birds found in Colombia. Colombia is a rich country in resources; being one of top five in the world in ecological diversity, everywhere you look in the city, you see beautiful and rare flora and fauna, never mind when you actually get out to where the real nature is. In Colombia, nature is simultaneously the site of many conflicting ideas; the sublime, a biblical paradise or environmental eden, while also being the locus of much devastation, the unknown and horror; where people are disappeared, never to be seen again.
Like women and children, the flora and fauna are the most vulnerable victims of war. In the second phase of the project, we will be looking at representations of women throughout art history. I'm interested in how archetypal images of womanhood as virgins, warriors, mothers, and working women can be used as metaphors for some of the experiences these women have had. The women who work with Mujeres Que Crean are either direct victims of the armed-conflict, many have lost a husband, son, or brother and some cases all of their family members through the war that is wielded in the countryside by the guerrilla groups and para-military; while others are younger women who have not experienced war directly, but have grown up in the towns or barrios and "shanty towns" that have sprung up (over many years and now are quite established) and experience day to day violence of growing up in a ghetto. Mujeres Que Crean works with these women to help them process what has happened to them and by empowering them to break the cycle of violence by becoming agents of peace in their communities.
Already, I feel very humbled by this experience, feeling that it is bringing together all the issues and work I've been doing, as a teacher working with at-risk youth and communities and my visual work surrounding issues of women and my love of nature and the way these two can be intertwined. Btw, I saw the most amazing bird called Solitude, I will try to post a picture of him later.