Hecho en Los Angeles: Slanguage, Vincent Ramos, Nery Gabriel Lemus, Analia Saban, Camilo Ontiveros
I have to admit that I was thrilled to see that several of my favorite Latino artists were chosen to participate in Made in LA. According to the 2010 census, Latinos make up 44.4% of Los Angeles’ population. So I would only expect that they get some attention and recognition in a biennial about art made here. Fortunately artists like Slanguage are making sure to educate and foster new talent in areas of LA where many Latinos live but are not traditionally recognized by the art world. ¡Que viva Wilmington!
If you haven’t heard the news yet, Slanguage is one of the five finalists up for the Mohn award. If they win the prize, they will receive $100,000 to continue doing the great work they do. !No hay excusas, vota ya!
This socially engaged collective includes Mario Ybarra Jr., Karla Diaz and a long list of collaborators. Their interactive installation at LAXART This Is a Takeover, A Ten-Year Survey of Slanguage documents 10 years of projects by artists such as Christopher Reynolds, Mario “Dred” Lopez, Mario Ybarra Jr., Rick “Taker” Saenz, Christopher Rivera, Betty Marin, Gabriel “GOB” Martinez, Angelica Muro, Eric Marques, Emilio Venegas Jr., Steve De La Torre, Antonio De Jesus Lopez…The Slanguage crew es impresionante! Their “takeover” of LAXART is like the Indians of All Tribes takeover of Alcatraz Island in 1969. But unfortunately Slanguage won’t be there for 19 months and most likely will not be forcibly thrown out by the US government (but I won’t speak too soon…). Not only have they taken over the building inside and out (with their incredible mural on the building’s façade) but also the street! Just look up at the public billboard near LAXART while walking on La Cienega and you will see Diaz’ hands throwing her Wilmas sign, complete with hot pink nail polish. ¡Orale!
At their studio in Wilmington, Slanguage has established a pedagogical platform where art is taught, learned, created and community is formed. For Made in LA Slanguage has also designed a room for workshops, programs and activities for kids, families and artists. One program that sounded necessary in LA’s art scene is Artist Anonymous Group Meeting described as a discussion forum for artists “structured around distinct themes, creating practitioners to discuss some of the most pressing personal and professional issues facing contemporary artists today. These discussion forums will serve as safe spaces for candid conversations and are open to artists only.” Make sure to RSVP ([email protected]) before the next one on July 25th. And on July 20th is World’s Worst Words: An evening of spoken word, music and performance.
Let me also remind you that Karla Diaz has curated an exhibition You Are Breathing In It! Alternative Art Practices at The Riverside Art Museum (RAM), opening on July 14th. I’m looking forward to this one. ¡Slanguage está en todos lados! It truly is a take over!
Another artist that I was excited to see included in the biennial is Vincent Ramos. The first time I walked into Vincent Ramos’ installation for Made in LA at Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, I felt as though I was walking into his brain: loud, crazy and chaotic; everywhere I looked there was more and more… I didn’t know where to start or finish. But then I realized that this is probably what Ramos wants the viewer to feel. This uncertainty of how to access the objects within the installation is just another aspect in this multi-layered work. Fortunately Ramos walked me through and pointed out many interesting ideas, revealing layer after layer. Listening to him, I felt he was reading me excerpts from his family’s secret diary. Through his research and collection of ephemera, family photographs, hand painted California-made ceramics from his aunt and grandmother, local archives, books, letters, poems, artifacts, historical records, figurines, dinnerware, I was beginning to make connections and glue Ramos’ personal history and artistic narrative together. I grew up on the Eastside of Los Angeles so I never knew about Mexican-Americans living on the Westside, such as Venice Beach and Culver City. Ramos’ installation reveals all that was happening over on that side of town, as he definitely took the title “made in LA” literally. The narrative that he explores and recreates were all made right here, in the 50s; but he transgresses those notions of optimism and the all-American idea that we know so well from the media. Ramos’50s is messy, dirty, grimy…and most of all, honest.
There is also a little room that looks like a closet, which is part of the installation. Ramos called it his subconscious. There are drawings scattered around, placed on the walls randomly. Nothing is linear and everything is surreal. There is a notion of the dream pulling you deep within. And when you wake up, you are not completely sure what it was that you experienced. Ramos explained that to create this room he along with five others did a performance during the installation process. Everyone was blindfolded, including Ramos, who took on the rolls of both DJ and documentarian. They all had the job of pinning up Ramos’ drawings while representing a specific cultural archetype from the postwar period: Vampira, a boxer, a beatnik, a teenage couple and the lazy Mexican stereotype. If you are interested in Ramos’ installation, don’t miss out on actress Christie Herring performing as late night horror host Vampira. She will be giving a quasi-lecture within the installation entitled, Here the Poets Chop their Fingers Served Under Glass on August 18th.
While at LAMAG, make sure to see Nery Gabriel Lemus’ graphic mural Until the Day Breaks and Shadows Flee #2 (2012), which is just next to Ramos’ space. (Notes on Looking readers might remember a post I wrote about Lemus after visiting his studio. If you don’t remember, check out this link.) When I lived in Mexico City several years ago, I noticed that many Mexicans would be reading little comic books while on the metro or bus. I was curious about these pocket-sized cuentitos so I started to read them myself. ¡Wow que librito! These little graphic novels are similar to the telenovelas watched on Latino TV stations, full of drama, beautiful women, todas chichonas y nalgonas. The stories are intense, the men are guapos y machos. Many end with a twisted moral; the bad guy always loses at the end, but in an over-the-top way that makes you almost feel sorry for him or her. Nery takes these images and enlarges them and erases all the dialogue. Just the characters with empty speech bubbles are left. The narrative is before our eyes, allowing the viewer to interpret the meaning in anyway. Some of the sepia-toned images are violent and others look romantic. Lemus’ mural, along with his Alfombra Doméstica (Domestic Rug), a Guatemalan carpet made of dyed sawdust, deal with issues of domestic abuse and machismo. But they also include the idea of awareness, transition and the process of healing. If you didn’t make it to the opening, then you missed the Alfombra, which was stepped on and eventually destroyed, just as they do in Guatemala. But here are some pictures of what it looked like.
Over at the Hammer Museum, I was impressed with the work by Argentina-born Analia Saban for Made in LA. Her work, something between a sculpture and a painting, begs to be touched. The thick paint creates textures on canvas and other domestic materials such as a bed sheet, a newspaper, a washcloth. The flat surface of a traditional painting becomes a three-dimensional object. The works are minimal and beautiful.
Also at the Hammer is work by Mexican artist Camilo Ontiveros. He took on a very challenging task when he decided to bring Mexican soil to the US as part of his installation for the biennial. The idea sounds simple, but when you start to really think about what it entails to transfer foreign soil into another nation, specifically the US, everything becomes complicated due to transnational laws. But this simple act of crossing something, even when defined as art or culture, is difficult. The metaphors are intense and real.
In the gallery space, there is an empty and lonely wooden pedestal. The Mexican soil never made it to its show. The lighting is dramatic, which enhances its absence. There is a printed booklet documenting the process as well as a video. So now we know, not only is it difficult for people to cross over, but also for dirt.
Ontiveros is also currently in the group show Play With Me at the Museum of Latin American Art. Stay tuned for my next post about this exhibition on some really cool interactive pieces.
Ok, now vayan y voten!