Patricia Fernández, Box (a proposition for ten years)
Patricia Fernández’s Box (a proposition for ten years) is taller than it was when I first met it on a warm Sunday in late April. Back then, in the back room of Commonwealth & Council, the blood red and brown wooden box came up to my chest. I could easily peer down at its carved and dimpled surface, lift its swinging top to inspect its patinaed hinges, and kneel as I pulled enchanting, delicate objects from their shelved home with my bare hands. But now at LAM Gallery the Box comes up to my nose. Instead of looking down I lift myself up, balancing on the balls of my feet to peer over the top of the thing to see if anything has changed. It has. It grew. It’s growing. And it’ll keep growing until 2022.
At LAM Gallery, the Box’s innards are spread out, pinned, and presented on the white walls of a narrow room. Around the original wooden carrier, Patricia has hung a medley of objects, suspended in circulation as if a soft explosion has cast a constellation of lingering memories and fragmented mementos into orbit. The woodworking insignia of Patricia’s maternal grandfather marks the box as well as segments of wooden trim, some worn and painted white from the 2014 exhibition of the Box at CW&C, are installed in a wandering succession across the surrounding walls. In this way, the exhibition history of the Box becomes embedded in the work as it is re-displayed over time. As the sculpture ages, objects accumulate within its elongating chronicle. The persistence of tradition into the present runs throughout Patricia’s work, and with the Box, the artist takes a step towards documenting the ever shifting now.
These personal artifacts take a variety of forms including: paintings, tracings, torn maps, postcards, diaphanous doilies, strands of blue string tied in a bow, yellowing envelopes with ripped seals, and handwritten letters on iridescent memo paper—folded, unfolded, and folded again. Pinned perfectly against the west wall, annual letters from Patricia to Young Chung of CW&C, hang together, one in front of another, A paper stitched with three vertical lines is among the new additions to the Box. Three subtle creases form an equilateral triangle on the upper half of the sheet, marking the third anniversary of Young’s acceptance of Patricia’s proposition—that these two people would enter into a ten-year relationship in which Young accepts all of the objects Patricia adds to the Box from 2012 to 2022.
Flipping the pinned pages takes me back in time; back three years to the first letter where Patricia wrote in thick, penciled lettering:
PLEASE ACCEPT OWNERSHIP OF THESE PIECES
AND THOSE TO COME UNTIL 2022-
THE PIECES ARE TO BE KEPT IN THE
BOX, AND IF EXHIBITED THE CONTENTS
SHALL BE PRESENTED WITH THE BOX.
BY ACCEPTING YOU ALLOW ME TO
CONTINUE ADDING TO THE BOX FOR
THE DURATION OF TEN YEARS
PLEASE TOUCH ONLY WITHOUT GLOVES
AND ALSO YOU MAY ADD TO THE BOX
IF YOU WISH TO RESPOND IN THIS
Displayed every year, the Box grows as the artist’s oeuvre grows. Over the last three years, Patricia has traveled across the Pyrenees Mountains on five separate routes, re-performing La Retirada, a mass exodus of Spanish Republicans from Spain to France. Among the objects in the box is a chipped stone, painted red, a marker from the Walter Benjamin trail, a path that stretches across the Pyrenees. Much of the Box recalls these journeys, in the form of Patricia’s writings to Young while working on Points of Departure: Five Walks, an exhibition at CW&C of artifacts and documents and stories gathered on and around these five passages. In one letter, Patricia writes, “In 2013 I was out of the United States for 146 days. It seemed fitting to somehow report this back to you for year two of the box. I suppose this could explain some things.” The lives of the two works intertwine. Like Five Walks, much of Patricia’s work eventually becomes lodged in the Box. While in residency at Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (LACA), the artist created a book of risographs documenting each object in, Points of Departure: Five Walks, to accompany the exhibition. In turn, images of sketches and an envelope printed on the same risograph now live, folded and flattened, in the Box. Recently, Patricia outfitted an alcove in CW&C with hand-painted tiles, replicas of tiles found at the now-defunct Canfranc International Railway Station; the artist originally created these for her 2014 exhibition at LA><ART entitled, Paseo de los Melancólicos. De-installed from LA><ART and repurposed for CW&C, the tiles now form a permanent home for Box (a proposition for ten years).
The second time I visited LAM Gallery, a woman lamented, out loud, what she saw as younger visitors’ inability to recognize the great canonical characters and art historical authorities that stand in their presence. I wondered, silently, if she remembered that she had told me this once before. In exploring Patricia’s work, I have been compulsively contemplating antecedents in history and my present engagement with the past, inhabiting a descendant’s mind in daily life. In a letter printed in her book, Rue de Latran, Patricia asks, “Do we inherit our parent’s dreams?” Can there be more to our affinity for the past than inert awe? Can we be active players in our inherited narratives? Maybe the answers to these questions come from imprinting an exodus into one’s living, breathing, and persisting body by walking five historical journeys in three years; or maybe they come from finding and fabricating, archiving and displaying the remnants and documents of our ancestral sagas; or maybe they come from cultivating and cataloging one’s living relationships and struggles into a time-based sculpture—a beautiful box presented in the present, consolidated for the future.
I am a child of multiple, minor diasporas—a child of pilgrims who spoke, and speak, more of their ways than their journeys, and out of that, I often find myself reaching for inherited histories, indeterminate, tangentially experienced, and on the brink of being forgotten. A week ago, I found myself photographing a document with text I could have easily found online, simply because it belonged to a loved one that had recently passed. I wanted to make sure that I remembered it by capturing and copying its wrinkles, folds, and shining laminate, before tucking it back into a folder between a family picture and a bill. Placing it back in its box.
Box (a proposition for ten years) for Commonwealth & Council by Patricia Fernández, will be on view at LAM Gallery through June 20, 2015.
Photos: Emi Kuriyama