Memories of Stories Told: A Studio Visit with Eugenia Barbuc

by Alexis Alicette Bolter

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There was a moment during my studio visit with Eugenia Barbuc where I thought we might be related.  That is the kind of spell Eugenia casts on her viewers, a familial intimacy that is intoxicating and perplexing.  Her worlds of abstract places are at once foreign and familiar, framed by absurd actions that are sincere attempts at inherently flawed tasks.  And in this tangled web of imagery and looped narrative, you walk away from this undeniably California work and think… yeah, I know what you mean.

I became a superfan of Eugenia when I saw her video then suddenly she is at a critique night held through the Women’s Center of Creative Work in Los Angeles.  At critique night, you go around in a circle and awkwardly introduce yourself and your medium. When you get to Eugenia she’ll say with a charming smile that she does painting, sculpture, video, and installation.  And guess what, she honestly does all of those things.

My article for The Coastal Post gave me a wonderful opportunity to find out more about Eugenia’s process.  Being that this was my first interview, I went into our studio visit with a series of questions and themes I had observed from my previous exposure to her work.  “I find your work to be pretty funny, do you use humor as a tool and to what end?”  “Your videos contains found footage in the form of home movies shot on film, how does this inform your work and what does that medium mean to you?”  Little did I know these questions were silly, canned, and, well, not nearly as interesting as what came up during our discussion.  

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When I enter Eugenia’s studio I found a stack of drawings, paintings hung on the wall, a table covered with maquettes, and Eugenia’s computer ready to screen her newest work volver after volver after volver.  When I asked about her process it was amazing to see how each object and image is an exploration on the way to this final video.  How a conversation led to a drawing that led to a sculpture that led to a drawing that led to a performance that led to a sculpture that led to a video.  Each individual work and the work’s successes and failures inform the next piece.  This type of creative chase results in such a wonderfully eclectic body of work.  Eugenia likes to talk about in between spaces, this unknowable space that isn’t quite foreign and that isn’t quite familiar.  Essentially her studio space exists in a similar dimension.

After watching volver, the creative chase continued as we discussed the exploration of memory in Eugenia’s work.  When Eugenia talks about the abstract places in her video she is referencing the space that exists around her memory of a memory.  The films, objects, and landscapes in this series are connected to a documentary Eugenia did for Para Los Ninos.  For the documentary, she interviewed women from South and Central America about their journey to the States.  Their narratives were strikingly similar to her parents’ narratives and how her parents’ came to America.  As Eugenia describes, “From my standpoint, I was interested in how I access the memories of these places they tell me.  The stories exist as places in my own head but they are not the same places as the places of their memories.  I like that abstraction of place.”    

The abstract places in Eugenia’s video are brought to life by the accompanying soundtrack. The music is haunting and homey and an all-around perfect fit for the mood.  The source of the music came up when we discussed the theme of failure in this body of work.  Eugenia taught herself to play these songs on the guitar and finds the music’s failed performance as an important imperfection.  Failure is such an integral part of Eugenia’s practice and is closely accompanied by the humor associated with that failure.  The failure of the objects is related to what Eugenia describes as the failure of the body.  “I want these objects to exist in the same way I, as a body, exist.  In this constant state of failure.  Not striving for perfection but existing with the frayed edges and the imperfections and embodying an intersectional idea of a thing.”  Not only does this resonate with the music but also, very memorable, with the fleshy carabiner that Eugenia clumsily tried to finagle in front of the canned mountain backdrops.  

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All of these failed and repetitive actions are brought to life by a cowboy.  Eugenia plays the cowboy character in two different iterations.  Eugenia dressed as the cowboy in the classic white t-shirt, jeans, and cowboy hat illuminates a striking comparison of the lone ranger and the artist in the studio.  The struggle of an artist to create in a capitalistic economy leads to an isolated life focused on hard work and constant production.  This structure is also rooted in a patriarchal lineage where the male cowboy is heroic and the male artist is genius as they both reign over their kingdom.  Eugenia describes her attempts to subvert that narrative through her performance of this failed masculinity.   The queerness that Eugenia inhabits in here role as cowboy shines through in the form of a yellow sports bra.  The other cowboy character in this work is the draped landscape topped with a cowboy hat (à la Casper the friendly ghost).  This figure, while accompanied by mystique and dramatic effect, is essentially a body hidden by a western landscape backdrop.  When I first asked about the western subject matter, Eugenia discussed memories of her childhood and growing up in a home decorated by western imagery including paintings of vast western landscapes.  “My parents are not from here so when they decorated their home they decorated with cowboy stuff.  I remember thinking ‘why are they so interested in these western landscapes?’ and it’s because it’s considered the American dream.”  In this work, Eugenia covers herself in the “American dream landscape” as an attempt to embody this memory of her parents’ desires.  The absurdity of such an action and the attempts to blend in with her surroundings creates both a humorous and poignant moment in this video.  

Before I left Eugenia’s studio I asked to grab a few photos and I couldn’t help but request an image with the fleshy carabiner.  I’ve seen this prop in previous iterations and this most recent sculpture, in its silicon material and flesh tone, is by far my favorite.  The inherently flawed object that replicates a tool intended for security and strength becomes limp and impotent in its new form.  As Eugenia very aptly points out, it looks like a dildo.  Eugenia’s repeated attempts to make the object function as intended (both in the video and in our photo exchange) have a charming effect.  Each time the carabiner locks into place and is then released I hear an inaudible “ta-da!” ringing through my head.

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The world of Eugenia Barbuc is familiar for a reason, the way she engages with memory allows the viewer to enter the work and feel like they’re in a familiar abstract place.  Her studio feels the same.  Everything you see looks like something you’ve seen before but not exactly.  It’s the quirky in between.  I left her studio giddy and energized despite the late hour and long day.  If there was a fake sunset background I would have triumphantly walked into the sunset that night.

Warm chairs

Leah Thomason Bromberg visits Lucia Dill's Berkeley studio

Lucia Dill, Beyond what I knew, 18 by 24 in, 2015. Image via www.luciadill.com.

Lucia Dill, Beyond what I knew, 18 by 24 in, 2015. Image via www.luciadill.com.

Folding chairs don’t exactly sound inspiring or really deserving of any sort of dialogue. Nevertheless, they are everywhere and most specifically at every large gathering -- the miscellany of the chairs in church basements, the “fancier” white, plastic version at weddings, office meetings, gatherings in people’s homes when there aren’t enough regular chairs, endless critiques on cement floors within art school’s repeated painted white walls. I can hear the ding of two hitting each other as I try to carry as many chairs as possible in some small, personal celebration of my own bravada while my mom supervises the clean up in a church basement where men are supposed to move the heavy things. Yes. I know these chairs well.

A single folding chair leans against the wall of Lucia Dill’s Berkeley studio. Is this one of her models? She confesses that she doesn’t need the chair anymore to make her paintings. Lucia Dill has been making this work since her final year in California College of the Arts’ BFA program. I met her and her chairs when our work was paired together in an exhibition, and it was like finding a painting-sister.

Lucia Dill in her studio at Makers Workspace in Berkeley, CA

Lucia Dill in her studio at Makers Workspace in Berkeley, CA

These are the uncomfortable seats for gatherings like in her paintings that she considers family portraits. There’s a necessity to them, like the necessity of relationships in our lives. Lucia is a self-proclaimed introvert, and I imagine that experiencing so much presence in these chairs feels slightly less overwhelming. Initially the work seems to indicate an absence; but I find them to be more of a continuation of that presence. Someone was here, now they are gone; the chair remains. Then the presence can remain even beyond the chair as a painting. I’ve found the process of painting to be akin to spending time with a person--it’s spending time in a space that may be gone. It makes a singular moment continue.

The chairs have a certain quiet to them. It’s a relief to someone like me who’s an introvert -- that it’s a presence without the requirements of actual interaction. It’s a reminder that someone is there.

Lucia also includes tags with her paintings and has created several artists books. The repetition of the chairs, the long lines, and continuation in the books seems to point toward language. These pieces bridge painting with books: books hang on the walls as paintings, painting and printmaking find its way into books. One project, On the Line, is a series of long, power lines which operate almost as music staffs. The black and white images relate the power lines closely to the text Lucia wrote. In these books, the hand relates so closely to language: as writing, as art making, as holding a book.

On The Line, one of Lucia's book projects

On The Line, one of Lucia's book projects

The forms construct a sort of code. I’m left wondering what happened in the space. The chairs moved to create vestiges of interactions, and Lucia’s repetitive use of imagery highlights all their subtleties.

The code also finds itself in her palette. Lucia chooses the colors based on her own personal associations--soft navy, Cal colors for her grandmother, cool teal patterns that echo the plants she sees during the day. There’s a strong connection between her work and the everyday. Bits of papers end up in her work. Lucia tries to live sustainably, and sometimes even mixes colors on her panels within her painting. Some of her work then makes its way onto bags and coffee cup holders.

Lucia doesn't need a chair "model" anymore.

Lucia doesn't need a chair "model" anymore.

Right now she is working through her body of work for an exhibition featuring daily created work for fifty days. The repetition of the chairs makes them almost characters. Lucia likes to think of their positions as body language. As part of her practice, an intense investigation like this can make you feel like you’re trapped but also provide a sandbox for experimentation. Her previously established language allows for new experimentation. Their dark forms walk across her paintings almost like letters. Lucia has been sewing and collaging to add a new area to her work, fusing the soft, lyrical line of embroidery thread with the hard edges of cold metal chairs.

These functional chairs, endlessly repositioned in circles and rows and aisles, absorb our warmth, and then slowly cool the longer our absence. Lucia’s facture and her consistent return to these chairs similarly linger.

See more of Lucia Dill's work at www.luciadill.com or via her Instagram.

Studio Visit with Brion Nuda Rosch

Micah Wood visits with Brion Nuda Rosch 

I first met Brion while I was working at Canyon Market in San Francisco. He was shopping for whatever, a delicious deli sandwich perhaps. I sensed an aura immediately. Brion's work resonates with me as one of pure intentions unbound by cultural ties and acknowledging the helping hand that Picasso has given us, but uniquely his own. Our conversation started from the Embarcadero station and ended at the Glen Park station, so to speak. Is Miley Cyrus an artist genius? Does Gumby hold all the answers we are looking for? Can Britney Spears save our souls with her painting?

(MW): I haven't seen your work in person which is unfortunate.

(BNR): I haven’t shown in San Francisco in the last five years, that makes sense. LA and New York, yes. Here, no.

(MW): Maybe we can start off along those lines. Is there a reason for that?

(BNR): Galleries closing. I was showing at Eli Ridgway. He (and Kent) really built my career. I started working with them in 2009. When he closed the gallery in 2013 all my attention shifted towards my gallery in New York and my gallery in LA.

(MW): What is the gallery in New York you were working with?

(BNR): DCKT, which closed last year. They had locations in Chelsea and then later in LES for well over a decade. I’m working with Halsey Mckay in East Hampton. I had a solo show with them over the summer. That was the first time I had shown just paintings, seven in total. I hadn't shown paintings in quite some time. I've always been painting on objects, but never really identified with being a painter. The first paintings I did were outside; I didn’t have a studio, so I painted on walls and did murals when given the opportunity. 

When I first started making art, I insisted “I'm going to be a painter.” I did it all wrong, and I painted with recycled house paint on crappy materials and everything fell apart. Looking around the studio, the objects in the studio began to inspire sculpture and more painting [on objects]. For quite some time the work I exhibited consisted primarily of collages and altered objects, no paintings. About two years ago I began working with pigments and rabbit skin glue. Then mixing paint with different materials, calcium carbonate, to mull hues down, and make everything matte, and I rubbed it into the canvas. When it is rubbed into the the raw canvas it saturates in different ways, a rewarding result. I’m now working with acrylics, pigments, mud, on canvas and / or fired ceramics.

(MW): You mentioned mural work, earlier, is that something that informs your practice?

(BNR): I had a desire [when I was younger] - an ambition, to be up on walls and having work in public space held much of my attention. I was interested in the landscape of the neighborhood and marks that could be made, small or large. Sometime I would just scribble or doodle nonsense or place blank cut pieces of adhesive vinyl over surfaces. The scope and scale allowed for mistakes and I explored a lot when working in this manner.

(MW): That was somewhat of a beginning for you in painting?

(BNR): I was making paintings, and I mean, they were all awful. I was making bad paintings, it was important to start there, with mistakes. I was working on large canvases and rolls of paper, and I would just paint, take a picture, and then keep painting over them. I was just pushing paint around, I mean, I never went to school. So I was just figuring it out. Then going out, having a wall, having 20 by 30 feet - for some reason when I went bigger it made more sense. I feel like I had more successes there. At the time the imagery was naïve. Now its much more calculated, and thought out, after twenty years of doodling. Drawings are easy to understand, and when working on canvas I hope to make the work just as direct and simple. Accessibility is something that is important, while also knowing the work can also be crude, ridiculous and unrecognizable, so maybe I’m way off.

(MW): There is an article on “caricature” that talks about the ways Robert Smithson and Mike Kelley use caricature in their work, and it goes into accessibility, but also having more intellectually charged work as well, catered toward less accessible things.

(BNR): I think it's important to do, or else, it's not that interesting. You do not need an academic background to enjoy the work, however any history the viewer carries will inform or provide the punchline to the joke. 

(MW): When did you get to the Bay Area?

(BNR): I moved here in 1999. It doesn't seem like it has been that long. I came here in my early twenties, and now I have a family, a house in Glen Park, and a job.

(MW): Where are you from originally?

(BNR): Before the Bay Area, I was living in Arizona, I was there for few years. As a kid [before high school] I lived in Chicago and Denver, and then high school in Hamden, I lived off State Street near New Haven. Every couple of years we moved. 

(MW): You said you haven't gone to school for art, which I gathered from a press release of a group show you were recently a part of in Seattle, which included other artists that didn't take a traditional art school route. 

(BNR): It was a survey of self taught artists, a substantial point of reference with some historical context. Honored to take part in it. Some of my heroes were in that show. Self taught vibe. 

(MW): That self taught, how to say, style…

(BNR): It's something I don't identify with, I've been around a fair amount of academic structure, and talk, and language. When I started college, I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I dropped out and the opportunity to go to school passed. 

(MW): Let's talk about the work, you mentioned the word "parameters", there’s a really great lack of parameters that I seem to see in the work here in the studio. 

(BNR): There is actually nothing but rules around us. There’s a balance of total chaos. I can work on these canvases all day long, and never finish them. If I just stop myself, and say, okay, make a figure, two arms, breasts, leg. Now I can get my head around that, and I can go in, and get into that a little bit more. Or make a face with three marks, eyes, nose, mouth. Another painting [here], I'm just isolating forms, and portraiture, simply in a practical and formal way. 

(MW): With the sculpture, things seem to open up, you're not like, saying, I have to use this material.

(BNR): Yeah, I think at that point it’s just about the object or manipulating an object.

(MW): What kinds of materials do you use in your sculpture?

(BNR): These are all ceramics [points to the table] or a combination of ceramic and wood, some just wood. I'm making objects with a bit more control, because I'm actually making them. Before now, I was working with found objects. There was a point where I was visiting various schools to get access to dumpsters at the end of semester, and began using found plaster molds or unfinished sculpture, then I would manipulate them in some way. 

"The Possible" exhibit at BAMFA gave me access to clay and a kiln. There, I could simply explore the material. After I had the ceramics fired, I began rubbing pigments into the fired clay. It was important to duplicate my process of painting on raw canvas. With ceramics, I simply wanted to create surfaces to paint on to. 

 (MW): How much value do you put into a picture of a sculpture over the "objecthood" of the sculpture? Are they two different pieces of work? Are they in the same body of work?

(BNR): Do you mean the collages?

(MW): Yeah

(BNR): The collages are sculpture. Using the image on the book page as armature for building a sculpture – a sculpture I do not have the space or materials to build in my studio. These here [sitting on the desk] - I consider them objects, book pages torn from the binding. Framed, they have an end point, they’re done. Otherwise they are catalogue pages on a table. 

I remove enough of the found image to make the source unclear. Some are very direct, like a Picasso on a Picasso. There is an image over an image. A Picasso over a Picasso, titled 'Infinite Picasso', a clock, hands turning. The framed collage mounted with motor to wall, spinning.

 (MW): Yeah, there does seem to be an element of some kind of humor in the work, could you talk more about that?

(BNR): Yes, there is art humor involved, or the first line to a joke - “so and so walked into a bar,” but there is no punch line. 

(MW): In your work, there seems to be an undeniable relationship with collage, assemblage, found imagery and with color. Do you think you have a color palette that you identify with?

(BNR): Yes, natural pigments, red oxide, burnt sienna, etc… it is limited, I put green into a painting, but then I thought, it was too soon. My palette is another limitation I set for myself. I’ve never had navy blue in my work, or primary yellow, and the two together is pure anxiety, to respond I feel I should make a body of work with noting but the colors. 

When color exists, it can pop out in very small moments, I’ve installed paintings [brown, and white] in a gallery covered floor to ceiling with mustard yellow, or I have painted a hallway bright teal, as a refreshing cleanse for the viewer when coming and going from the exhibition. 

The work first exists in this environment, in the studio, with paint all over the walls, floors, and this water pipe above us, then there’s the gallery desk, the exit sign, the break in the wall, that beam, somewhat inconsistent gallery to gallery, but the same kind of pattern, those are the thoughts that I have while considering how to install work. 

(MW): To paraphrase Martin Kippenberger, "everything must be considered in the exhibition; the posters, the floor, the ceiling, etc.."

(BNR): Walking into an exhibition space, I say to myself, okay, what am I contending with here. All those little small elements, every moment should be considered.

(MW): Outside of art, what are a few good things you've found recently?

(BNR): For me, having a family and being an artist grounded my perception of being an artist and ego. With family you're dealing with something real, that has consequences, and your artwork doesn't have any consequences. Maybe a few horrible paintings. Parenting is amazing and messy all at once. There's nothing about art that can come close to any type of work that you're going to do with your family. I mean, that's it, it makes you work harder, it puts things in perspective. I hope my son recalls "Yeah, my dad had this space where he made these weird things in and there was music, and we would dance and make a mess and sometimes I would hang from his shoulders upside down and paint upside down on a big canvas". 

(MW): Is that what happens?

(BNR): Yes. That is what happens. I have a canvas rolled up, that we have been working on, and I feel like I want to take it out again when he's a little older so we can finish it together. Once you have a child there is no rush, so if him and I work a few things over the next ten years they can only get better.

(MW): Are there are specific people you are looking on at?

(BNR): I've always had my hands in other things, in addition to my practice, if it wasn't a pre-Tumblr blog, or doing exhibits in my house, or doing exhibits elsewhere, there's always been relationships with other artists. I'm seeing a lot of exciting painting, and you can observe all of that in such a direct and immediate way, which I don't know how healthy that is, and I think that there are some things that have been occurring in recent years that might not be that productive in terms of content, but content is so accessible, and I use that as a litmus test sometimes, and I let that play out. And I fuck with it a bit, and manipulate it, if I’m on social media I might as well manipulate it. Blatant exaggerations. I’m a blogspot dropout now on the Instagram…

(MW): It's appropriation, but it is appropriating your own imagery. 

(BNR): Yeah, which is also found imagery, so it goes, in an infinite loop.

(MW): Last question is about Miley Cyrus. On Instagram you had a post where you said you hugged Miley Cyrus, but that never happened, and her lawyers contacted you saying that you can't say that..

(BNR): Yeah, that never happened. I'm not sure exactly how the post went, I delete a lot of them, but it was something along those lines. I saw something that was so ridiculous; I manipulated a version of it, and then probably deleted it. It's funny, I'm giving a talk at CCA where I'm going to begin with: 

“So, that’s how I started making art. I had a bunch of fucking junk and shit, and so instead of letting it be junk and shit, I turned it into something that made me happy. I just sit around and smoke weed anyway, so I might as well sit around, smoke weed, and do something. And this is me doing something. I love it. I mean, I’m up until seven in the morning doing this stuff all the time. They say money can’t buy happiness and it’s totally true. Money can buy you a bunch of shit to glue to a bunch of other shit that will make you happy, but besides that, there’s no more happiness.”

On another note…

I found a Gumby episode. The premise is basically Prickle opens an art crating business, but quickly angers his customers by painting faces on their vases. Things look grim until the local art critic turns up and declares Prickle’s creations a work of genius. Gumby, Prickle turns artist - if there's a cartoon that could be my artist statement that would be it. 

We Embody What We Make: The Age of Resistance

An Interview with Grace Rosario Perkins

by José Luis Íñiguez

14 December 2015

Jose- I’m on my way. 7:44 PM (via text)

Grace- Perfect -- just made some hot ginger tea for us. 7:45 PM (via text)

Jose- I’m here at your door. 7:51 PM (via text)

Doors opened and I was encircled by Grace. As we made way to her living space, we caught up for a moment. We shared with each other what was happening in our lives and like always; we both recognized how busy we had been. That brief minute of sharing myself with her helped me ground myself in that moment. Her empathetic way of existing has always helped me balance myself. Grace has inspired me to protract what bring joy to my life and has been a great motivator in the acts of resistance.

(Ginger tea was served and we submerged ourselves in a beautiful and inspiring dialogue)

Jose- We can start by you sharing a little about where you come from and how that has informed your artistic practice from the beginning to what you are doing now. I know that you are in constant conversation with your culture and where you come from. I would like to know a little more about those influences.

Grace- When I started making art, I was in a very particular head space. When I was sixteen, I was kicked out of high school and was asked to leave the house. So, I was sent to my dad’s house in a small little town called Coolidge.  It was a bizarre farm town on the edge of the O’odham reservation of five thousand people, where I lived on and off for the next 4 to 5 years of my life. I think that was one of the first places that I went deep. I started drawing a lot and it became a very inward way of recording my day to day. I began taking in the things around me, because I was around really desolate farmland, desertscapes and a weird rural town. My drawings substantiated my existence in a way. So, I think that was one of the first things that really started bringing me to make work about where I was from, the physical space I inhabited, and my culture.

Jose- In the past, we’ve talked about journaling in your youth, and I am curious if drawings were ever embedded in your process of documenting your thoughts? Or was it something completely different?

Grace- It’s interesting because, I don’t journal to that extent today. I used to be very meticulous. I would utilize photos and would draw and that is kinda where the faces started happening. I was sent to this GED program when I was younger that was next door to a comic book shop. When I would get dropped off by my mom, I would go next door and I would buy comic books. I would look at them and read them in my GED class. And so, I started drawing these cartoony things. It was like I was trying to learn how to draw through comics. I’ve never even really studied drawing, but I read lots of comics. The drawings eventually started becoming very systemic. I still start every drawing with the same four lines and then, I just build out. They change through time on how detailed they become.

Jose- You know now that you explain this, it makes complete sense that your drawings carry the comic book aesthetic. The imagery that your drawings carry with the repetition of the eyes, mouth, and their tense faces capsulate what comics provide to build an experience for their viewers. The language that is used in your drawing also serves as captions giving it that comic book illustration structure.

Before I moved to the Bay, I recall having an experience with one of your drawings. I was introduced to your work by a transplant of Bakersfield. It might have been a punk show flyer from my recollection. I bring it up because as I was commuting from San Francisco to Oakland, I began thinking about the drawings and how they morphed into actual objects. You have made a set of masks that you’ve painted what you’ve been drawing for a while and so my question is what do you think these objects are informing? what is their function? 

Grace- Yeah, I use language as an anchor and a way to guide someone. I don’t think of it as being aggressive. In particular, using the native language of my family, I view that as a path of resistance. I think it is really important for me to use what is perceived as lost languages in a way where people are confronted with the discomfort of not being able to read it. That is one thing that I really like working with. My grandma is the last native Diné speaker, so it is hard to work with definitive sources. I work with a dictionary and various online resources because that is all that is available. The way I think about it is that information has been broken down so much in the language and it’s an act of empowerment to work with it, to take the scraps found in these dictionaries and use it. I’ve had people call some of these works “intense,” but that to me is also a way a person may distance themselves from the experience of indigenous peoples… so I try to use these words that are really commonplace like “drink” or “able” and contextualize them in sentences that are often really resonant to the experience of survival. In the Navajo dictionary I use, the example sentence for the word “drink” was “the drunk drinks a lot.” I read it and had to use it… it’s really a fragment that shows the impact of these struggles, these things we unpack through the breakdown of our culture.


Jose- I constantly think and reflect on the Thin Leather project you worked in collaboration with your father. It struck like a moving experience that brought multiple emotions to rise up the surface. I am interested in hearing you talk about the dialogues that happened through this collaboration. Since you touch on language and communication, what was it like having a conversation through the medium of painting?

Grace- A little back story about my dad, he was an activist when I was growing up. So, I grew up in this very particular way. My father was a professor at a university (the University of Illinois) that had an extremely racist mascot. It still exists unsanctioned where people to this day dress up like an Indian and dance around in buckskin and a headdress. After time, that experience and the system really pushed on my dad. We have talks about it and a lot of our conversations now are about… when you start to make work about identity it gets to the point where it’s going to hurt and then you are like, “Oh god, this is hard.” But, I think with that you have to decide whether you are going to go in or not. He stopped making such radically charged work but that history is still there. Now, his paintings are super meditative.

I went home for Christmas one year and he had a giant stack of paintings. I had never been invited to make art with him and he finally said, “Oh yeah, let's paint together.” It was interesting because it was healing, and it illuminated the dynamics of our relationship. I painted something and he painted over it. I pitched doing a show of these paintings over the phone and he said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.”  To me it was probably more big than it was to him, but it was really important. I think during the whole process, when we were doing the painting back and forth, I tried to make it about language and about sifting through familial dynamics. I wanted to do this with my dad and sift through this thing, uncover history, and we can work back with these images or symbols. We kinda got there, but what was most interesting were the frustrating aspects where there was erasure happening.  I would paint something in Pima or O’odham; he would paint over it. My father is someone that doesn’t like text in his work, and I’m all about text, but I think he phrased it like, “our language is erased and that is why I am doing that.” It made sense when he said it. It was very sad and harsh, but I think that’s was why I wanted to do this work together… to even push those conversations between us.

When we first started to paint, we did these two giant pieces together. Those were the first we did and he kinda told me about his family. My great great grandfather was named Crouse Perkins and he was trilingual; he spoke O’odham, Spanish, and English. He was very religious; he would prophesize and walk around preaching to people door to door. He got his name because his shoes were worn thin, so he had thin soles, “thin leather…” There was something there… an urgency in language and perseverance .That was what the collaboration was about to me. It was about the same cycle. We may not be going door to door, but we are still trying to use language to prove our existence, prove our resilience in a way. Here we are, family, doing that together. I think we did eighteen maybe twenty pieces and I only showed twelve or so and they were all done through this process of adding and subtracting elements without really communicating about it, only sending parcels in the mail and having a short phone call here and there. They’ve become some of my favorite paintings because they genuinely reflect the depth of our relationship.

Jose- You recently had a beautiful window installation called The Sun Is Hot at Shadow Office in Downtown, Oakland, and I was mesmerized by the use of color, form, and texture.  How was the process like creating that installation in that specific space? Was this in conversation with the idea of home?

Grace- The desert to me is super formative. It’s really isolating, and it's heavy, and I think living there for so long you feel it as soon as you go outside.  You just feel the energy. Now that I live in a more urban place, it’s obviously very different because it’s so concentrated in a different way, and I find myself less connected to nature than I was there. So, I revisit it a lot as a place of grounding. Even if I can’t be there it helps just to think about it as an influence; even if it’s a color palette or something that I experience there.  The show, The Sun Is Hot, I guess it was kinda like a… way of talking about surrendering to the desert, using it as perspective, and putting things into place. An elder said “The sun is hot” to me in conversation earlier this year when we were talking about checks and balances. I recorded the whole conversation, but that phrase just burned into my brain.

It is weird because I just realized something about my work in the last year, that I reuse a lot of my stuff. This installation had a lot of that. I make prints of my masks, I make these structures, I repaint over them or rebuild them over time. It’s like I’m changing the meaning and flipping it. It’s also almost a cultural thing, the idea of using something, exhausting it, not just discarding something because I’ve used it… I really believe it working with what I have, like I made the masks as objects and then eventually they were performative and then one thing that I realized in the last few months is that instead of being live and performative, I realized “Oh god, I want to start documenting them and use them as vessels to portray something,” so I haven’t done that yet, but that is my next plan. They’re supposed to be vessels and they are emotive.

Jose- But they have been used. They have been used in certain projects right? I’ve seen images where Black Salt Collective members use them in the desert.

Grace- Oh yeah!

Jose- This is a perfect segue to talk about the collective you are part of and the intention for its existence.  Black Salt Collective is an empowering group of women of color that has motivated me and I’m sure other to continue to resist and demand the importance of marginalized voices in the art world.

Grace- Yeah, we started in 2012, Adee (Roberson) moved into my house. We would talk about art and what does it mean to be making. Also be so frustrated and alienated in it, because of who we are. Sylvia (Fanciulla Gentile) was also living there and she also joined our discussions. One night, we went outside and shot photographs, made a logo, and wrote a quick bio, which is still what we use today. It came together. Basically, we embody what we make and what we make embodies us. We had our first show the following spring and over these past three years, we have grown a lot. The more I look at what we’re doing, it is evident about how the work co-exists, and converses from these four separate sources-- the convergence of our identities and how they can work together to create a more vibrant existence and future.

We’ve traveled together, performed, done site specific collaboration through the desert and on my family land. We all really care about one another and that’s maybe where the power is really grounded.

In our last collaboration, we had a performance on the corner of 16th and Mission where we played the drums for about thirteen minutes. There were projections with these pointed questions behind us invoking people to reflect on land and the spatial politics that affect us all as women of color and how that reverberates through our individual and collective experiences. We asked “How did your people come here? Whose land are you on? What did you leave behind?” I think that is something we are trying to push through. We are also trying to break labels a bit. We’ve talked about how do we get shows where we say, we just make stuff in this intentioned space, but also leave less room to be so didactic. I think that is a problem with white institutions. They are so quick to label anything… So with this show we are curating, Visions into Infinite Archives, is where we want to have a little more room to expand on this work and bring more people into the fold.

Jose- How did Visions into Infinite Archives come about for Black Salt Collective and what are the intentions for the residency at SOMArts?

Grace- We were invited to apply. Through that process, from the first day we talked about it, I was like “Oh, we are going to have this installation where it’s going to be overwhelming.” I kept on using the word overwhelming. I imagined it being so many objects, so many voices, so many stories. We wanted to be very intentional about who we invited. In the show; we have elders, emerging artists, we got everyone there. With the title, Visions Into Infinite Archives, it’s more about abandoning the linear framework that is used to categorize the work from artists of color. Timelines give room for this really anthropological way of breaking down the work and compartmentalizing it. We have been doing this stuff forever and we are still doing it and people are still going to do it. That was the whole idea, presenting these people in conversation —something that felt inclusive, big, and also pulling so many artists we know on various levels... artists we admire, artists who are friends, artists who are mentors, but all work from this departure point of identity, people who want to be heard. I believe things need to be more visible, more open, and more honest; that is what is, what I feel is the strength of this massive show. We have 30 artists and performers total, all people of color who in the art world are often told they’re marginalized voices, but instead of giving them this space that is very literal, very bogged down, we just want it to be presented as an archive, a working breathing space, a map of this work, and the many dimensions it takes. It really is an intersection of so many people I am inspired by.

Opening reception featuring performances from Chochenyo activist and poet Vince Medina, Hermano Milagroso and jeepneys + SOME TIMES in direct dialogue with the exhibition and its themes, Thursday, January 14, 6–9pm (Free)

Film screening of short films and Bontoc Eulogy by Marlon E. Fuentes on Saturday, January 30, 12-4pm (Free)

Closing reception featuring  live sets by special guest musician Ryan Dennison (Deadrezkids, Fort Wingate, NM), as well as Tropic Green (Adee Roberson), plus an all-vinyl DJ set by Bay Area favorite Brown Amy (Hard French, Natural High) Thursday, February 4, 6–9pm (Free)