Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Artist-in-Residence: Lisa Iglesias

Every semester, the Albion College Department of Art & Art History hosts one artist-in-residence. These artists become resources of information for our department students. Each artist also exhibits recent work inside the department's gallery space. During this Spring 2011 semester, artist-in-residence Lisa Iglesias has been living and working in Albion - her show, Inside You've Always Known, has been on display since February 26. Lisa Iglesias hails from Queens, New York and received her MFA from the University of Florida. Her website can be visited here.

Art was something Iglesias didn't initially consider as a career. "I had no conception of it. I had no examples of it, I didn't think of it as my life path," Iglesias explained. It wasn't until college that Iglesias discovered she was "happiest doing art" and eventually decided to pursue it fully after she graduated. Iglesias remembers being fascinated as an adolescent by portraits her great grandfather created - graphite drawings of family members based upon photos. At first, she "didn't see the point" of the drawings, believing they were artistically sufficient as mere photographs. However, she slowly realized their deeper meaning as "gestures of memorialization, gestures of love." She turned to Victorian hair jewelry as a source of inspiration; Victorian hair jewelry was created by weaving hair from (often times) deceased loved ones into intricate and beautiful designs for lockets, rings and wreaths. It was this fascination with hair jewelry that has led to Iglesias's tendency to utilize hair as a feature in her work - the meticulous nature of drawing hair strand by strand is something Iglesias calls "repetitive task making." This type of repetition is the kind of gesture by which Iglesias memorializes and investigates the world around her.

Inside You've Always Known, 2010. Graphite on paper.
Iglesias is very often asked how long it takes her to create a piece such as Inside You've Always Known (2010), considering how intricate and delicate each strand of the dog's hair is placed. However, this is a question Iglesias deflects, "I want the viewer to think about time. However, a work of art that takes one minute to fabricate is not necessarily any more or less valuable than one that takes a lifetime to create. Time does not design value," Iglesias has said. "I explore issues of futility, repetition, and time. The process is a material for meaning but doesn't constitute the worth." Iglesias based  Inside You've Always Known (2010) on an image she created by collaging various photographs of her dog together using computer software to cut, skew and recombine. In using her own pet simply as a model and not merely as a portraiture subject, Iglesias created an entirely new animal. "The proportions are not right. A lot of people don't know what kind of animal it is - is it a deer? A dog?" Iglesias recalled. "It isn't always clear."

Of course, it is this exact lack of clarity that Iglesias is comfortable with: "I am interested in unease, of things in chaos, in moments of suspension." Inside You've Always Known (2010) presents an animal "in a state of flux, of vulnerability" and thereby makes the image unsettling. The feelings of uneasiness and chaos conjured by Iglesias's drawings parallel the same feelings conjured on behalf of our current political climate - feelings of futility and tension in the face of an unknowable future. Iglesias further explains her work in this excerpt from her artist statement:
...the images I draw, culled from photo-based media, featured from family stories and nationalistic representations are replete with patience and repetition. In an effort to comprehend the contemporary movements we are witnessing and participating in as well as the history that has propelled these changes, I examine familiar motifs and manipulate various aspects in order to re-see, re-historicize and re-create.
Hero, 2011. Graphite on paper.

Horse IV, 2010. Graphite on paper.

A Story We Tell Ourselves About Ourselves, 2011. Graphite on paper.
Iglesias's depictions of horses and roosters share a similar bond - each image has been removed from its original context. A horse is no longer part of an American rodeo, stripped of its rider and saddle. A rooster is no longer a cockfight gladiator, stripped of a betting audience. Iglesias believes that these drawings are not only about "objectification and the normalization of violence" but also about "the image itself" - for it has now been distilled and removed from its origin. Each image, drawn from photographs or Internet stills, again explores how a specific image has the ability to distance its viewer from what is actually present. Iglesias has never personally been to a rodeo or to a cockfight (and indeed, does not necessarily have the desire to) - and is not interested in capturing the "essence" of such things. Instead, she is interested in "comprehending the incomprensible." It is about "questioning and memorialization."

Photography possesses the distinctive ability to distance subject and viewer quite easily - by translating photos into drawings Iglesias is investigating the limits of that dynamic. Iglesias describes this process as "cyclical" in nature, an idea especially apparent in her use of video. With Bell Tower (2011), Iglesias has taken a scenes featuring James Stewart from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and has "slowed down the moment" by turning the video footage into 348 graphite drawings and then turning it once again back into a video. "It is about taking familiar images and skewing them," she explains. "It is about taking an iconic movie and transforming it."

Film still from Bell Tower, 2011. 348 graphite on paper drawings.
Iglesias has purposely installed her translated images of James Stewart, dressed in a suit and tie yet reaching a point of crisis, next to other graphite drawings that echo his feelings of organized uncertainty. Drawings such as Focused Gathering (2011) and All of This and Nothing (2011) feature the backs of anonymous, suited men. It is this kind of anonymity that Iglesias believes make the figures "at once unknowable and relatable" because without a man's identity to recognize, each viewer is allowed to bring their own interpretation to the drawings. "Some people see these men as familiar or benign, yet others perceive them as ominous," Iglesias notes while discussing each drawing's great subjectivity. "These men can be seen as alienated victims - but they can also be seen as aggressors, perpetuators and creators of their own isolating environments." 

Focused Gathering, 2011. Graphite on paper.
These men, with their backs turned away from the viewer, relate to Iglesias's drawings of animals because she has yet again removed them from any knowable setting. They again convey feelings of objectification, futility and unease. Yet, there is comfort that can also be found in what is unknown - for therein lies potential. For Iglesias, "the choice to become an artist is in itself a political action" and she believes in "art's ability to radicalize." Iglesias sees art's potential as a vehicle for social engagement, which is why she often chooses to include works into her shows that the viewer can take away with them for free. Be it a poster, zine, flip book, postcard or other small easily accessible item, Iglesias wishes for her art to be interactive. "I like making things that someone can go home and live with, in doing so I can attempt to reconcile my desire for my art to be both physically accessible and socially engaging," she explains. "It is another way to activate the work."

Inside You've Always Known was an exhibition that showcased not only Lisa Iglesias's amazing talent and exceptional attention to detail, but her feelings toward cultural isolation and objectification. The meaning of her work is derived from notions of time, process and repetition. Albion College has treasured her stay with us, and will take her advice to future artists to heart: "I've heard that being an artist is like preparing for the Olympics. What kind of artist you will be depends on what kind of life you want to live. The best advice is to be constantly persistent and tenacious with your ideas."

Artist-in-Residence Lisa Iglesias, pictured here inside her exhibition Inside You've Always Known.

Lisa Iglesias also collaborates with her sister under the name Las Hermanas Iglesias - they are currently competing in The Power of Self powered by See.Me. It is a self portrait competition awarding over $50,000 in prizes. Take some time and visit their entry here, vote and give them five stars!

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