Sunday, May 16, 2010

New Contemporaries III at Project X in Solana Beach

This year I had the privilege of nominating an emerging artist for the 2010 San Diego Art Prize. I chose to nominate artist and MFA candidate at UCSD, Lesha Marie Rodriguez. A panel discussion was held on May 15th at the New Contemporaries exhibition at Project X gallery in Solana Beach, CA. The participants included nominator Kim MacConnel with artist Heather Gwen Martin, nominator Tom Driscoll with artist James Soe Nyun, nominator Tom Noel and/or Larry Baza with artist Robert Nelson, nominator Robin Clark with artist Stephen Tompkins, nominator Debra Poteet with artist Julio Orozco and me, nominator Katherine Sweetman with artist Lesha Maria Rodriguez.

In preparation for the event, artists and nominators were given the questions below. These are my text-based responses in support of my nomination of Lesha Marie Rodriguez. How do you define your role: as supporter/fan, advocate for the arts and artists, defender, promoter, friend, champion, commercial, etc.?

I identify as an Arts Advocate, and today I especially identify as a San Diego Arts Advocate. Like many of you, I may end up living in San Diego for the rest of my life. And therefore I have a vested interested in the health welfare and betterment of the San Diego arts community.

But you are probably also asking about my credentials. So they are:
-I have an MFA in Visual Arts from UCSD
-I ran an alternative art space, Lui Velazquez, in Tijuana and acted as a curator for a couple of years
-For the past five years I have taught at local the universities UCSD, SDSU, San Marcos State and Southwestern College. I have had the privilege of working with many young emerging visual artists, and I have also been around the faculty academic art world of those schools.
-I am a freelance Arts Writer. I have written for Artweek, San Diego City Beat. I write for the San Diego Visual Arts Network and San Diego Entertainer Magazine. Almost everything that I’ve ever published has been about artists in San Diego and Tijuana, so I am very invested in promoting the local arts scene.

I am also a participant in the arts scene. I am a practicing artist and a filmmaker.

Please describe the work of your nominated artist on the wall of Project X: Art? What specific ideas, themes or tendencies (movement, if at all) do you detect in the artist's work you chose or in general?

There are three very interesting themes in Lesha’s work that I would like to talk about:

1) Her search for beauty in chaos and disturbing imagery

2) Her ability to play and experiment with her work

3) Her need to put her work in historical, contemporary, and social context

In order to speak about the work on the wall of the Project X gallery I would like to back up and speak about the first body of Lesha's work of that I ever saw.

Selected pieces from Lesha’s Oaxaca Series, 2006

This work (some of which is pictured above) is the first body of Lesha’s work that I ever encountered. It is a series of photographs taken with a Holga camera in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2006, during what was at first a non-violent teacher’s protest that turned into something else entirely after the police, with government authority, opened fire on these peaceful demonstrators. A kind of amazing grassroots effort by locals and demonstrators ensued. They ended up taking over city (keeping the police and goverment troops out) for many months.

Lesha was in Oaxaca in anticipation of the famous and festive Day of the Dead celebrations that occur there annually. Now that the celebrations were interrupted and their meaning perhaps even changed. Lesha turned her camera on the city and its demonstrators. With her Holga camera, a small plastic camera (sold as a toy in the 1980s), she didn’t look like a journalist. The camera she used lent itself to a method of non-invasive documentary photography.

Leasha then turned these photographs that are very documentary in nature, into something very painterly and beautiful. And she did this through the use of strictly analogue techniques like in-camera double exposures and in-darkroom manipulations. She turned these images, of disturbing content, into very beautiful large prints.

The photograpm series which includes the piece on display at Project X. Is also a search for beauty, and the work's beauty can be found in the sometimes strange and disturbing imagery. I see this series, the photogram/lumen prints series, as a very personal exploration of self.

What qualities did you look for when choosing the artist you nominated? Why did you choose this artist over all other good emerging artists who exist here in San Diego given your knowledge, experience and professional background working and living here?

When Patricia Frisher of the San Diego Visual Arts Network ask me to nominate someone as an Emerging Visual Artist for the San Diego Art Prize, I was trying to arrange a show of Lesha’s Oaxaca series. So she and her work were on my mind, but also I was really excited about this work, and it was the work that I wanted to show the world-- more than anything else.

The qualities that one searches for in an artist, just like the qualities one searches for in art, are subjective. I think that can this be seen throughout this very diverse show (The New Contemporaries III at Project X).

I personally need to know that the artist has a WHY. WHY they made it. WHY they are doing what they’re doing. And I also think that an artist, if they want to be taken seriously, should be invested in the field they’re working in. They should be aware of the history of the medium as well as what their contemporaries and peers are up to.

Lesha is a an example of an artist who has a WHY. Her work is grounded in the history of the medium of photography. She has taught photography and is well versed in historical and contemporary photographers and photography techniques.

Within these two bodies of work, she has explored and played with two very different tools.

1) The Holga camera, popularized in the 1980s and taken up by artists who liked the camera's quirky aesthetics. The vignetting, the colors, the lens flares and other distortions are recognizable in this work. Yet she plays with these recognizable traits by using double exposures and darkroom manipulations.

2) The Photogram, popularized by Man Ray (the Rayogram) in the 1920s and 1930s. But used by a number of contemporary artists as their sole medium. Her work photograms instantly brought to mind the work of contemporary artist Martha Madigan. Both artists use traces of human bodies as well as materials found in nature.

Where do you see these artists in five years? Why do you think it is important for this artist to be noticed in our community?

In the only two years that I have known Lesha, she has been awarded some very extraordinary grants and opportunities.

She received TWO pretty major UCIRA Classroom Challenge grants that enabled her to design her own course and teach it as the instructor of record at UCSD while she was a graduate student. And she won this two times. She invented a course called Social Documentary and had her students engage in hands-on and out of the classroom research projects that took them to places like a tour of the Maquiladoras in Tijuana.

Last summer she volunteered in Oaxaca at a human rights organization and then also took a course on enthnohistory, in Oaxaca, through UCLA.

She was just awarded a FLOSS grant, an opportunity, with stipend, to go to Oaxaca again this summer and study one of the many indigenous languages there.

As an artist She’s also recently exhibited at the Oceanside Museum of Art and at a few exhibitions on the UCSD campus.

In five years, she will no doubt be doing something very interesting. If I were to speculate, I would imagine her in a research position at university.

Can you tell us a personal story about your relationship with the artist?

Well at the time of the nomination. I felt that was an important kind of boundary --not to just nominate a good friend, but Lesha and I have become friends during this process. We’ll get some margaritas and guacamole sometimes, but I don’t have any antidotes --none that I can share.

As a nominator, can you tell us one good thing about the SD Art Prize and one suggestion of how it could be improved?

Spotlighting artists in the community is very important, and if you look at the people who have been nominated and won The San Diego Art Prize in the past, they all seem to be doing well and working successful artists. There are a lot of great artists involved in this. And I really have nothing constructive to add.

I mean I wish that it was a larger event— l wish 10,000 people came to the opening and it had Union Tribune and TV coverage, but it’s pretty good. The opening was well attended.

We should all thank Patricia Frischer for all her hard work in organization of these exhibitions. And thank you to Chris for hosting the show and these subsequent events.

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