This weekend, I went to an art show called “Fantasía Fantástica: Imaginative Spaces and Other-Worldly Collage” at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. This features the works of four artists, all of whom create using a variety of found or repurposed materials. Although all four artists are considered Latina/o, they work outside of the (to quote the brochure) “narrow definitions of what is considered Latina/o art.”
As Peter said last week: “Art is an ongoing conversation the future is having with the past,” and this show seemed built around that idea.
One of the reasons I wanted to see this show was because it involved collage and the use of unusual materials. Rachel Muldez, for example, uses materials from nature: oak galls, magnolia seed pods, bits of wood or stone, tiny dried vines. Nick Abdalla builds abstract sculptures from a variety of found objects, including wickerwork, placemats, animal horns, and scrap metal. Color was downplayed in the majority of his works, which invited the viewer to look more closely at the shapes.
Cynthia Cook’s and Carlos Quinto Kemm’s art fit more closely into what people usually mean when they say “collage” in that the works were flat (more or less) and were intended to be hung on a wall. That didn’t mean they were in the least “same old, same old.” Cynthia Cook uses found objects – or as she herself calls it “trash metal, trash glass” – as not only elements in the collages but in creating the frames. Carlos Quinto Kemm’s multi-layer collages are so densely populated with images that the three of us (I went to the show with Jim and our friend Michael Wester) spent a great deal of time exploring the details. “Did you see that tiny monkey in the corner?” “Is that a turtle or a griffin? “I really want to know the story behind that woman.”
Another reason I wanted to go to this show was the promised fantasy element. I’ve seen many SF/F art shows. These are always fun but, after a while, a degree of sameness does creep in – and not only due to the fact that certain artists mail their contributions to shows all around the country. There are always dragons (and I like dragons), vampires, fairies, as well as works inspired by visual media productions – both new favorites and older “classics.”
I wanted to see what Fantasy meant to people outside of the SF/F community. Certainly there were similarities such as mermaids and dragons, but there were differences too. Religious elements – and not only Christian – had a larger place. There was a sense of a dialogue between a historical culture and an evolving present. Mystical searching seemed to reverberate though many of the works, an impression confirmed by the artists’ statements accompanying the show.
Among the interesting elements was the time these artists were willing to give to permit a piece of art to evolve or to find the right place for a particular found object. Several of the artists mentioned how a certain item might stay in their studios for years until the time came to use it. Lately, maybe because November is NanoWriMo, I’ve seen a lot of emphasis on working hard and fast – as if that also means working at one’s best. This show was a good reminder that a work that takes weeks or months to write may be years or even decades in gestation.
I found a bonus in the statement that accompanied Nick Addalla’s work. He’s been involved in various forms of art for over forty years, and is recently retired after being a teacher at UNM for twenty. About his current work he says: “I am learning to PLAY again… Hours and hours of serious and totally involved play, getting lost in the MAKING. No ambitions. No goals. No need to justify. Just doing.”
That really spoke to me. After years of writing to deadline, wondering what the next job will be, I’ve been doing a lot of creative “play” that has been very satisfying. I’m feeling happier about my recent decision to permit myself a chance to explore my own creative ventures with less concern about where the story might “go.”
Seriously, these narrow definitions can really impede a writer’s creativity. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a plaintive Twitter post from a well-known YA writer who was commenting on her own work in process: “Is this even YA anymore?”
Should she need to worry about that? Shouldn’t she just be permitted to write the best book she possibly can? But the fact is that, in these days of “if you like this, you should read that” marketing, stories often aren’t permitted to be themselves, they’re trimmed and altered so they can be presented as a “portal story” or a “space opera” or a… Well, you get what I mean.
In the handful of days since we saw Fantasía Fantástica, I’m already seeing the world differently. A friend sent a beautiful card. I’m saving it with a future collage of my own in mind. I’m smiling as I think about the short story I started last week, a story inspired by my allowing myself a foray into visual art. It’s all good. In fact, it’s all great!