Into the deep
For printmaker and installation artist Patricia Villalobos Echeverria change is a beautiful thing.
A recipient of a Creative Heights Initiative grant from the Heinz Endowments, the associate professor of printmaking at Indiana University of Pennsylvania has spent the last year creating prints and video installations, on and off, at Artist Image Resource on the North Side.
Now, her yearlong residency has culminated in the exhibition, "Aflujo-Afflux," which opened last weekend at the North Side institution known for experimental printmaking.
The exhibition's title comes from one of the major works in the show, a double video projection that features Villalobos Echeverria and a friend swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.
Except for the fact that the videos are projected onto large Styrofoam orbs that look like landmines, the notion of two people swimming separately but combined in one piece seems rather simple. Except when one realizes that Villalobos Echeverria and her friend are both South Americans living in North America, and both have different stories to tell.
Villalobos Echeverria was born in 1965 to Salvadorian parents in Memphis, Tenn. But in 1966, six months after she was born, the family moved to Managua, Nicaragua. Over the next 13 years she endured the same struggles that many Nicaraguans have -- the 1972 earthquake in Managua followed by a long period of wars that continued until 1990. Luckily for Villalobos Echeverria, she and her family moved back to the United States in 1979. But it was the experience growing up as a Nicaraguan that forever shaped and continues to shape her art, particularly the experience of being a transcultural individual.
That's why for Villalobos Echeverria the human body held a certain fascination. For many years now, her concept-based work has involved issues of transcultural identity and focused on using gender and the body as the site for investigation of those issues.
The work in this exhibition is primarily installation-based and incorporates print in many forms, as well as video and audio in the form of three large-scale video installations such as "Aflujo-Afflux." And all of them feature bodies, either hers or her friend's, swimming in water.
Villalobos Echeverria says she has always been fascinated with water.
"It's a transitory space," Villalobos Echeverria says. "Water can wash over you and clean you, but at the same time it can also bury you. I like that duality about it, that it can be a source of birth and death. It can also be a place of shedding and at the same time contamination. And I think that bodies that are transculture are also sources of shedding and contamination. So, I guess for me they are somewhat metaphorically similar, that the water itself is metaphorically similar to these transculture bodies that I'm working with."
Not surprisingly, her work concerns identity and transculturalism in an era of increasing globalization. In her "Polo Series," which features four large serigraph prints combined with acrylic polymer on birch panel, she has chosen to portray her friend, Leopoldo, an openly gay Nicaraguan man, swimming in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Nicaragua.
It is particularly poignant, says the artist, because her friend, an engineer who lived in Miami for many years, recently moved back to Nicaragua. It was a move that Villalobos Echeverria viewed as particularly heroic.
"I was intrigued by the way in which he decided to go back to Nicaragua and live," Villalobos Echeverria says. "To return to the place where he had been living and live there as an out gay man, it is really unusual. It's not super unusual, but it's a hard way of life."
In Leopoldo, Villalobos Echeverria found a perfect metaphor, choosing to betray his body as a split image, either figuratively or literally as in the case of another, smaller print titled "Bodies with doubled margins, second study."
Here in this evocative print that combines lithography with photopolymer intaglio techniques, Leopoldo's body is seen floating on water as if literally split in half from the head down.
"It's playing with the idea that people might have double images or double margins, or may have a double sense of self," Villalobos Echeverria says.
"The idea is that there is a distanced way in terms of how we deal with culture, especially in terms of a transcultural way of existence. I mean for those who live between two cultures, like in my case, or say living between the culture of being gay versus being straight."
Again, even the water Leopoldo is swimming in holds meaning for Villalobos Echeverria.
"Because it is at the ocean it represents this idea of sites that aren't necessarily static. And the idea of what is a nation, what is a country. Where are its limits• I'm intrigued by that," she says. "I don't see that as being evident in the work, but those are things that I'm thinking about when I am making it." Additional Information:
DetailsWhat: New works by Patricia Villalobos Echeverria
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Sept. 30
Where: Artist Image Resource, 518 Foreland St., North Side
Details: 412-321-8664 or www.artistsimageresource.org
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