Purveyor of melancholy cartoon moments, amorphous shape and line, melting abstract symbolism and form fluidly, Arturo Herrera creates new meanings from global popular culture and the discarded memories available at thrift stores. With gorgeous abstract dialogue, he cuts into our subconscious, seeking dark realities in the seemingly innocent imagery of childhood. Yet this is globally corporate sentiment which he makes us aware of; in homage to past Modernist movements, he hopes to awaken our senses from the dreamy haze they reside. References to Pollack appear as dripping webs of networked possibilities in immigration halls, allowing art to be the key to success in the cutthroat Americas. Simple gestural brush strokes, epic in scale on institutional walls, have the purity both the Ab Exs and cartoonists long for. With clear precision and acute awareness, Herrera depicts the line between the Surrealistâ€™s dream and the failure in Dada. Partaking, we become the tight rope walker and must balance accordingly between his worlds and Artâ€™s past. For his upcoming exhibition at Corbett vs. Dempsey in Chicago this December, he reveals new work within the intimacy of the printed book; showcasing several altered found books in a sensibility all his own; muted yet powerful, melancholic yet strong, abstract yet concrete, visceral, tangible. In this, he enlivens us to the subjugation our senses experience in the digital age.
I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Arturo this Fall during his visit to Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Bloomfield Hills, MI.
Arturo HerreraÂ Books, 2012. Set No. 2 of six individual sets. Detail of
Graphiker der Gegenwart â€“ Lesser Ury Lothar Brieger, silkscreen and mixed media on paper. 7.9 x 5.9 x 0.3 inches. CourtesyÂ of the artist.
Tom Friel: You donâ€™t seem to deny the narratives of your source material, but instead keep an emotional or subconscious link to the meaning of the original imagery while altering the visual elements through college and abstraction. Does a process like this ultimately aim to create new stories or truths? Could your invented meanings become equal with the original, and if so, do they become a part of the narrative from the source imagery?
Arturo Herrera: Using everyday printed materials which are instantly recognizable leads the viewer directly into the image and at once a connection is established. Crashing our invented, private meanings onto a newly constructed image only adds to the impact of the original source. This undoing of linearity is attractive to me.
TF: Just to compare some of the works you were doing a few years ago, like â€œGet it Right (Pink)â€ , â€œUntitled (From the Top)â€ , to more recent works like â€œRichardâ€ and â€œGiuseppeâ€, both 2012: the latter are visually dense works overloading the eye with a multitude of colors and shapes, while the earlier pieces I mention are almost minimalist in nature. Throughout, there is lyricism in the compositions, that everything was always meant to be there from the start. Is the complexity of these later works an evolution from the previous, or are you responding to another type of collage so prevalent today — the bombardment of information via the internet and media, where things are literally linked by tiny one word threads as their commonality? Or perhaps is it a similar symptom of 21st century living; a constant acceleration through technology and the inflated availability of choice. (Since collage so often directly deals with the idea of choice…)
AH: The recent works ‘Richard,’ ‘Giuseppe,’ and ‘ Johannesâ€˜ are three mixed media editions I made for Pace Prints in 2012. That same year I had the solo shows called Series at Corbett vs Dempsey in Chicago and at Thomas Dane in London. My intention with that body of work was not to overwhelm the audience with information but a way of exposing a personal lexicon. To put it all out there if you wish. The goal was to make something polluted and non hierarchical. It dealt more with wanting to see what a disintegration of my own sources could look like. I guess it is an organic process that every artist goes through.
TF:Â An overload via critical mass. They are quite nice, and I guess I was curious also because of how successful these, and other highly intricate works are that you have recently completed. Maybe its the control you have over the collage process that allows for so much to happen in one work and it not be too much, but Â just perfect.
It seems there are a lot of formal discussions you wish to engage with the work, like engaging the medium or the visual qualities of abstraction. While collaging is a piecing together of disparate images and meanings to create new meanings, we approach abstraction as a collage our brains compose. In other words, we often try to create concrete images out of the abstractions, like Rorschach tests. Having experienced abstraction in art for so long, we tend to allow abstraction to remain as these pure visual and undefinable moments.Â Elements of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Pop can be found in your work. So often, we try to define artists by their relationship to art of the past. While many people may respond to art in this manner, it can dominate the conversations around the work. Is this something that is interesting to you, or do you find the comparisons to derail broader meanings of the work?
Arturo HerreraÂ Ariadne auf NaxosÂ 2012,Â collage and mixed media on paper,Â three elements, 25 1/4 x 19 1/2 inches each. Courtesy of the artist.
AH: Even though I am interested in all those movements especially modernist painting, surrealist collage, abstract expressionism, and pop art not very many people have discussed that aspect of the work in depth. The earlier texts hovered around childrenâ€™s fairy tale and the psychoanalytical subconscious. At the moment the discussions deal more specifically with abstract painting and its references and the continued impact of collage in today’s contemporary art practice.
TF: Many of your older works utilize cartoon imagery in them, or reference cartoons through a similar line quality; fluid curvilinear lines which undulate and ooze, they drip and tumble around the page in an abstract free fall of white gloved hands morphing into a propellor or a bulbous nose. These increasingly abstract works strongly reference one of the more common and beloved cartoons cliches: the cloud surrounding a cartoon brawl, with arms and noses peeking out in what is an otherwise hard to visually explain mess of action, passion and ecstasy. Locating your composition in one still image instead of many animated cells, the undefined moments of action wage without clear understanding of whose limb is whose. So, almost lifted directly out of the very cartoons is a scene which your work often explores, the familiar returning to the unfamiliar. This is a very important element of your work, the sense of subverting established cultural entities, like Disney cartoons. It also lends itself to the uncanny, which I donâ€™t think youâ€™ve ever talked about concerning your work.
AH: Collage combines dislocated fragments that usually generate irreverent images full of irrationality. No uprooted source that has been cut, juxtaposed and glued into a new visual entity remains the same. Some of my works play with violence, sexuality and absurdity. It is important having these as borders of psychological interaction. It brings an unexpected, latent meaning to an established/familiar cultural icon and that contributes to the resonance of the work.
TF: You have described your initial involvement with collage as a means to create art without much money, space or many materials. At this point though, you have defined a practice within it, and so it seems you have come to embrace collage wholly! In addition, you have done many wall paintings and felt pieces; the felt works being increasingly sculptural. Are there other mediums now that your circumstances are different you would like to invest your time in more, or does the immediacy and directness of collage make it the perfect medium for you?
AH: I started working with paper when I first moved to NY in the late 80â€™s. It was the ideal medium because it was easily available and inexpensive. It was incredibly fast to make collages and it allowed the small working area to be relatively clean and free of toxic fumes. I was fortunate later on that I had the chance to work with painted MDF, raw steel and photography. Right now I am painting with oils on canvas and on linen. It is amazing how different and slow the process is. I have been changing gears lately and the challenge is invigorating.
Arturo HerreraÂ StampatoreÂ 2012,Â collage and mixed media on paper,Â 14 x 17 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
TF: Books have a visceral connection to us that many other objects do not. They are both precious and pulp repositories of ideas and culture, high and low. Their rich history inÂ human development and civilization contribute to a realness and visceral quality. Its such that, abandoned books can carry the sense that their ideas and information contained within are obsolete or out of fashion, even if that isnâ€™t truly the case. With the decline of printed books, your sense of the obsolete is pointed. Its almost as to keep these objects alive in the present, we need to alter them in ways that we can feel or sense beyond the LED or LCD screen. There is such a different relationship to using a Kindle or laptop to read a book, that having that physical presence altered, makes us aware of the distance we have created and slowly removed ourselves from. Though the Kindle tries to recreate the experience of a physical book, it loses the character and intimacy. Can you give a preview of your upcoming exhibition this December at Corbett vs. Dempsey?
AH: The new show at Corbett vs Dempsey consists of found books that have been silkscreened painted, stained and /or painted. There are sixty books in the series grouped in six boxes of ten books each. By obliterating their content, I destroy their original function while transforming them into something entirely different. These discarded paperbacks and hardcovers become new again as constructed artworks. They continually refer back to their origins while proposing multiples readings on history and art, the obsolete and the fetish, the precious and the abject.
â€œArturo Herrera: Booksâ€ on view at Corbett vs. Dempsey Dec. 13 – Jan. 25, 2014
1120 N. Ashland Ave., 3rd Floor, Chicago, Illinois 60622
I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Arturo this Fall during his visit to Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Bloomfield Hills, MI.Â Â Thanks to Arturo Herrera for his time in the many stages of this interview. His kindness and warmth are much appreciated. Also thanks to Julia Hendrickson and Corbett vs. Dempsey, Sarah Turner and Trisha Holt of Cranbrook Academy of Art for their help; without them, this interview would not have been possible.
Guest Post by Autumn HaysÂ
Let us start off by acknowledging that there is a distinct difference between Queer and Transgender subjects. Itâ€™s important not to lump these two together. Though related and often overlapping, these are not interchangeable terms. Queer being a reclaimed pejorative for gay, and transgender being a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender. (see more.) With that in mind what I would like to look into a reoccurring concern in the discussions that take place around both queer and transgender performance art.
Artist Micha CÃ¡rdenas. (photo- Fran Pollitt)
In the last month I have seen multiple panels touching on the subject of new Queer and or Transgender works. There was a definitive connection between all panels:Â and attempt to shake up current the definitions, and what some define as new codified zones of safety. When I say zones of safety, I am referring a kind of identity politics that sits safely in a form of expression that is confortable enough for new standards of acceptance. Artworks that sit in this comfort zone fail to realize the full potentiality of the subjects and often begging to forum itâ€™s own predictable clichÃ©. The challenging of the formulation of a tamed queerness or transgender performance is an often-highlighted theme appearing in new works. The formulation of a safely circumscribed zone undermines the attempt to reconsider the subject due to an inadequate scope.
Queer and or transgender arts panels often attempt to define the new wave of artists making work in these areas. Today many artists are attempting to define a new direction that departs from the identity work that came out the 80s and 90s. Often these earlier works are ascribed the quality of crying out for recognition. Much of the work being produced today is looking for finer definitions, as opposed to this preliminary awareness.
“Queer Chicago” ‘ Artist Keijuan R Thomas. Defibrillator on 19 October 2013. (photo- Isabelle McGuire)
We could go on to talk about the subject of the word Queer as discussed during the roundtable â€œNew Queer Aestheticsâ€ in late October. Queer New York International Arts Festival (QNYI) Â had come to Chicago to exhibit a Queer Fest as an extension of the one in New York at Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery . The Chicago show featured artists Suka Off,Â Bruno Isakovic, Gabreiela Mureb,Â and Keijaun Thomas. Queer fest distinctly pulls itself away from other Queer festivals which they feel are accepted ideas of the term Queer. As one of the festivals curators, Zvonimir DobroviÄ‡, explained, the festival seeks to redefine and challenge preconceived notions of the term Queer. Not all work is made by the LGBT community and instead is defined loosely by a sort of norm-challenging ascetic. After struggling through various definitions, redefinitions, embracing, rejections, fears of washing out the word of meaning completely, and other post-modern linguistic dilemmas an audience member mentions queerness in regards to race, specifically the colored queer. Why is this important? Because the conversations began to progress from the semanticlogical, what is Queer, to what are current Queer issues are concerned about, who are we dealing with the queer female of color in art today.
“Transgender/Arts- A Roundtable on the Future of Transgender Cultural Production” at the The School of the Art Institute of Chicago on 6 November 2013. (photo- Noah Davies / SAIC)
This November I attended a panel at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Transgender / Arts : A roundtable on the future of transgender cultural production, which Â included panelists Trish Salah, Jules Rosskam, Julian Carter, David Getsy, and Micha CÃ¡rdenas. During the panel many valid points were made about Transgender art. Micha CÃ¡rdenas presented important question to the panel, â€œWhere are the trans women of color in art?â€ Many of the panelist themselves who specialize in Transgender arts could in fact not think of a single artist. The panel began to discus a kind of film festival, performance and art transgender normative narrative. A washed down version, where you began to see something constrained, not quite all the way there. Sitting in a place somewhere in academia where it is comfortable and safe.
“Autonets” Artist Micha CÃ¡rdenas. (photo- Fran Pollitt)
How does performance readjust and challenge Queer and Trans identity without losing site of the community in general? There is something that happens to us when we are about to fully realize the other; we find a way to compromise, to only go so far. Many Queer or Trans artist today are attempting to push at the boundaries of a newly accepted normative narrative and point at the things we are forgetting, those who still donâ€™t have a voice. The Art world, the world, is still white male dominated. In a way the lull of sleep we put ourselves in this supposedly post-feminism, post-racism, post- sexism, post-gender issues world that we keep referring to as better than it was before is more dangerous. Because hiding under that comfort is the fact we havenâ€™t changed all that much, we should be forging new grounds and making sure it doesnâ€™t fall asleep.
If I was asked where the new queer or trans aesthetic is headed today, I would say somewhere within the struggle of continuous disturbance, in the understanding that things arenâ€™t there yet and we have to keep shaking it up, shaking ourselves up, so we donâ€™t become our own worse enemies, the perpetuators of a normative Queer of Trans identity. As performance art specifically keeps pushing on with another panel at the Hemispheric Institute for Performing Arts, this week discussing “Race & the Colonial Impulse: Queer Performance Practices”, I look forward t a continued discussion that bridges gaps in the dialogue between racial queer and transgenderÂ issues in the arts.
Autumn Hays is an Artist, Curator, Teacher and Writer. She graduated the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an MFA in Performance where she received the John Quincy Adams Fellowship. She received her BA in Visual Arts at UCSD. Hays was the recipient of numerous scholarships, grants and awards including two major Jack Kent Cooke association scholarships.Currently she isÂ assistantÂ curator at DefibrillatorÂ and Directing Coordinator of the Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival. www.autumnhays.com
This week: The Amanda Browder show rolls in to town! Amanda talks to Michael Velliquette and Oliver Warden
Michael Velliquette has a show up atÂ DCKT Contemporary!
MICHAEL VELLIQUETTE (b. 1971) is a mixed media artist known for his densely detailed and dimensionally complex paper sculptures, installations, and drawings.He has recently had solo shows at DCKT Contemporary, New York, NY; Disjecta, Portland, OR; Morgan Lehman Gallery, New York, NY; and Rhodes College, Memphis, TN. His museum exhibitions include Slash: Paper Under the Knife at theÂ Museum of Art and Design, New York; Art on Paper at the Weatherspoon Art Museum; and Psychedelic at the San Antonio Museum of Art. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Wisconsin Art; the Racine Art Museum; the Progressive Corporation; Western Bridge, Seattle; The John Michael Kohler Art Center; The Linda Pace Foundation; The State of Wisconsin; Boston Childrenâ€™s Hospital and the San AntonioÂ Museum of Art.Â A catalog chronicling his work from the past 10 years titled “Michael Velliquette: Lairs of the Unconscious” was released in 2011 through Devibooks Publishers.
Michael Velliquette is a Faculty Associate in theÂ Art DepartmentÂ at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and organizes the independently run project spaceÂ Lovey Town.
Then a conversation with Oliver Warden about his project Globall!
What is GLOBALL?
GLOBALL is a new take on a social network created as a work of art by artist Oliver Warden.
“Basically, I want to pass seven wooden balls, one for each letter in GLOBALL, hand to hand, person to person, around the world.
On each of these wooden balls will be the instructions of what to do with it in multiple languages (three different ones for each ball) and in pictograms. When you receive a GLOBALL:
1. Take a picture of yourself with it and send the picture, your first name, your location and the time to our website www.wheresgloball.com.
2. Once on the website you can fill out a profile. There you can share your experience, connect with other GLOBALLers and follow your ball on its journey.
3. Youâ€™ll then be asked to pass the GLOBALL to a VERY GOOD FRIEND and explain the instructions.
Hopefully as each ball travels, everyone will think about words such as ‘share’ and ‘friend’ and ‘follow’. With a little luck, each GLOBALL will go on a voyage of friendship and connectivity around the world.”
The Life Instinct: unification, the eternal return, the perpetuation and MAINTENANCE of the species, survival systems and operations, equilibrium.
â€“ Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969!
Last May, when I wrote MAINTENANCE #1, I quoted the interview Bartholomew Ryan did with Mierle Laderman Ukeles, forÂ Art In America in 2009. Maintenance, she told him, “is trying to listen to the hum of living. A feeling of being alive, breath to breath.” That’s still my lodestar for this column.
I write fiction most of the time, at Bookslut I write a reading diary on different themes, and here I write about specific solo publications – the reading I do, and bump into doing, here in Chicago. I write about “the people [the writers, the editors, the publishers] who are taking care and keeping the wheels of society moving.” I try to pay attention. Here where Our Scene is so rad and vibrant but also so segregated by neighborhood, schools, tone, etc., this is something we can always fail better at.
from THE CANTILEVER RAINBOW by Ruth Krauss (Pantheon, 1964), a terrific book I read this month but did not write about below. (This copy is available to the public on the J. shelves in the Poetry Foundation Library.)