Sur: Biennial, Dates y Mariposas

With PST’s L.A. Xicano exhibits now open in several different institutions and Latinos taking over Aztlan, it’s actually quite hard to keep up with the amount of shows and events happening en cada esquina by a Latino/a artist.  All I can say about that is Viva la raza!

Slanguage: Emilio Venegas Jr., Karla Diaz, and Cynthia Herrera at Sur: Biennial

Outpost for Contemporary Art’s Sur: Biennial 2011 opened last week with simultaneous receptions at three different venues, definitely off the beaten art walk track.  Executive Director and curator Ronald Lopez chose to have this biennial in Whittier and Cerritos, as these are predominantly Latino communities on the east side of Los Angeles that traditionally have not seen major art exhibitions.  The Biennial showcases artists inspired by cultures south of the border.

The race was on as my goal was to visit all three locations in one evening.  At Cerritos College are the works of Elana Mann, Raul Baltazar, Gustavo Godoy, Karla Diaz, and Jane Castillo. Upon entering the gallery, Gustavo Godoy’s sculpture comes to life as it welcomes guests.  As a child, Gustavo visited many building construction projects with his father, an architect.  This definitely is apparent in his work as the materials used are those found on construction sites, such as wood and metal.  But what may be scraps for some becomes a beautiful, dynamic and organic structure that plays with form and space.  According to Gustavo, this specific piece is quite small compared to his usual installations, in which the viewer can have an experience on a different scale by walking through it.  His interactive pieces invite participation and are therefore shaped by the audience.  Gustavo explained that he strives to make work that could essentially be experienced and understood by both the larger public and the art world. You can also see a similar sculpture currently on the top of Honor Fraser Gallery in Culver City.

Gustavo Godoy’s sculpture at Sur: Biennial

As you walk into the dark room where two of Elana Mann’s videos are shown, you have to step on a floor of egg crate foam, making you feel both uncomfortable (“Should I take my shoes off?) and comfortable (“That feels nice after a long day at work!”), which is an appropriate “base” for these works.  In one video, an Egyptian man climbs a hilltop and sings a famous freedom protest song, “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” (Our Thoughts are Free), in Arabic.  His singing is part of a larger composition, which includes the background noise of LA, such as cars, planes and voices.  Simultaneously playing is another video of a woman in an open field practicing her bowling swing.  There are no bowling pins, no exact target, but the woman knows where she is aiming within her personal space.  The piece is meditative as she continuously back swings her heavy bowling ball and smoothly releases it into nothingness, just as the Egyptian man ascends and descends the hill (the video is on a loop) singing out his song, as it has been done since the 1500s.

In the back part of the gallery are Karla Diaz’ projected photographs of herself posing in the oil refineries of Wilmington dressed in full gear: gas mask, golden knee pads, black boots, and a dress for beauty and combat.   In vitrines are the props, golden painted cassettes, cds and lyrics.  She described her photos as a sketch for a hip hop opera.   Music plays in the background as the photos are displayed.  Is she a supermodel? A Superhero? A character in a narrative?  A local citizen of Wilmington (where her collective Slanguage have their studio)?  A protestor?  All of the above?  We will have to wait for Part II to see what Karla does next with all of this.

Karla Diaz at Sur: Biennial

Jumping on the 605 North, I headed to Rio Hondo College in the Whittier Hills.  Time was running out, but the party was still going on and I was able to see works by Luciana Abait, Martin Durazo (in collaboration with Vidal Herrera), Ichiro Irie, Marcus Kuiland-Nazario, and Vincent Ramos.  Ichirio Irie’s photographs “The Marker” make one chuckle when noticing the photos are of him, with his pants down, as he pees on several important art institutions in LA, Mexico and Japan including MOCA, Hammer, OCMA, MUAC, CECUT, Mori Art Museum, Redcat, etc.  Martin Durazo’s “Untitled, 2011” consists of coffin samples stacked up along the wall, courtesy of Vidal Herrera.  Not only is the subject matter of this piece intriguing but appropriate as Rio Hondo is in the same hills as the dead of Rose Hills.  I’m not sure if Durazo intended this, but it’s hard not to make that connection.

Ichiro Irie

Ichiro Irie

Martin Durazo (courtesy of Vidal Herrera)

I was unaware of Vidal Herrera’s own work until I went to the BlueBird Art House in quaint Uptown Whittier.  Not only does his work bring up interesting questions, but his whole life story sounds like a LA crime novel.  Herrera’s piece “Greetings from East LA” is a re-appropriated coffin turned into a couch.  A painting of East LA street life hangs above.  Herrera has two jobs, two lives, and two business cards.  His first card reads “1-800-Autopsy”.  Herrera’s day job includes private and forensic autopsies, toxicology analysis, and medical photography among other services.  His second business card reads “Coffin Couches- eternal comfort”.

Vidal Herrera’s “Coffin Couch” at Bluebird Art House

Parked in front of BlueBird Art House was Mobile Mural Lab (MML).  Cofounder Roberto del Hoyo took us inside the vehicle to see what literally goes on behind the scenes.   The interior is a multi-media space with information about the project.  He explained that since LA’s laws for murals are strict and mural production on private property is illegal (and currently being debated), he and David Russell (a fellow Otis classmate) decided to create a different kind of mural, which allows the community to interact and participate in a creative way.  As we walked out of the “laboratory” and onto the street, that’s exactly what was going on, children, teens, artists, parents all interacting in some way with the mural.

Mobile Mural Lab parked in front of Bluebird Art House

Mobile Mural Lab

Roberto Del Hoyo

There was already a panel discussion last Thursday at Rio Hondo, but if you missed it there will be more:

Panel Discussion II – You Are The Activist to be held at Cerritos College – Friday, October 28th at 11:00 am

Panelists Participants: Carlos M. Montes, Marjan Vayghan (Building Bridges), and Steve Arredondo

Panel Discussion III – Rethinking Identity in a Pluralistic World,Sponsored by Artillery magazine – Panel Participants (artists in SUR): Raul Baltazar, Jane Castillo, Elana Mann, Karla Diaz, Ichiro Irie – Moderated by Tulsa Kinney, Editor of Artillery

Special Performance – DRIFT by Marcus Kuiland-Nazario with Composer Aaron Drake and Photographer Martin Cox to be held at Rio Hondo College – Thursday, October 27th at 9:00 pm

Date Farmers “Bar”

I have to mention two very good shows that have recently closed by Mexicanos whose work I admire.  If you were on top of things or perhaps you were looking where to have a cold Mexican beer, then you probably saw The Date Farmers at Ace Gallery.  This art duo from Coachella consists of Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez.  Paintings, drawings, installations and videos filled up the many rooms of Ace, which was also their studio working space at some point.  Their work reveals a fascination with American and Mexican popular culture, Mesoamerican imagery, urban life, and street culture.  Disney cartoon characters and pop culture icons are reinterpreted and hang side by side with images of lucha libre, low riders, cholos, graffiti, political posters, and little town rotulo style sign paintings.  Meaning is purposely blurred as these images are juxtaposed and recontextualized.  Since it was the last day of this exhibition, the Pacifico was all done… la fiesta ya se acabo, hasta la proxima…

Date Farmers “Animales”

Date Farmers

Date Farmers “Theatre”

Walter Maciel Gallery just closed a beautiful exhibition by Margarita Cabrera from the “Arbol de la Vida” (Tree of Life) series. Cabrera’s work honors the lives and labor of undocumented Mexican immigrants.  She even has a company in which she hires Mexican immigrants, helps them with their visas, gives them fair wages and uses their stories and skills in her own art work.  In the series “Space in Between”, Cabrera used border patrol guard uniforms to create cactus plants.  Border crossing stories from her workers are embroidered on the plants, many sad and frustrating.  On the gallery walls were 500 copper butterflies, showcasing the coppersmithing traditions of the people of Michoacan.   Not only was the production of this work a performance in itself (where she had her volunteers work in an assembly line in a mock factory) but each Monarch butterfly was stamped with the U.S. penny on its backside, a clever commentary on migration and the presence and power of US currency.  You might remember Cabrera’s yellow vinyl  “Vocho” in Phantom Sightings at the LACMA.  Well, she had a similar piece at the gallery show, a small hand sewn vinyl Hummer.  Hummers were once used by Border Patrol, and she uses this image to question the Mexican factories that manufacture products for the US under harsh conditions.

Margarita Cabrera

Margarita Cabrera

Margarita Cabrera “Mexico Abre La Boca!”

Margarita Cabrera

Bueno, ya que hablamos del pasado, vamos a hablar del futuro.  If you remember Geoff’s post about Homeboy Industries (and if you don’t then go back and read it HERE!), then you might be interested in participating in tomorrow’s 2nd Annual Run for Homeboy at the Historic Los Angeles State Park. The 5K race starts at 8:30am.  Ya voy a parar de escribir…I’ve gotta go and stretch! Ay!



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