Baskets are our companion objects. They are among the earliest helper objects we made. Traditionally, we have made these objects by hand. They are extensions of our fingers, hands, arms, legs, and backs. They expand the capacities of the body to
In some contexts they beautify, forge social relations, facilitate healing, enact exchange.
Materially, they connect us to land and place and it’s cycles of transformation.
They labor for our survival and nurture our flourishment.
Baskets are working objects.
Baskets are places of gathering.
They embrace what they hold.
They keep things safe.
They help us carry
and carry on.
I work between craft, sculpture, and performance. These modes of making serve as entry points into the intimate complexities of touch and time. Plastic is the primary material for this inquiry.
Growing up as a first generation Salvadoran American in 1980s Los Angeles, my first aesthetic experiences involved the play of neon and pastel colors against an expansive horizon of fragmented urban gridlock. They involved the speaking of mother tongue and local slang. They involved arrangements of pink and tangerine colored houses, in proximity to freeway mazes dotted with rows of towering palm trees, and paleteros sharing sidewalks with evangelical prophets. They involved swap meets, the sensorial experience of the Catholic mass, and the popular melodrama of telenovelas.
How do we touch and hold time? What do we grasp when we reach for our personal past? How are the scenes, objects, and atmospheres of our lived experience transformed and condensed by the passage of time?
My father worked in an ink factory, mixing vats of color for 8 hours a day. Every day. Growing up, I understood color as work; color put food on the table and kept us housed. On one of his days off, my father made a kite out of a plastic bag. We took it up to Griffith Park and watched it dance to the blowing of the Santa Ana winds. Ink stains filled the cracks in his hands.
In my current work, plastic serves as a material metaphor for time. Plastic is the materiality of time: the thousands of years of fossilization that formed petroleum, its deep exhumation and extraction of it from the bottom of the sea, and the slow decomposition that will out live me and you. It’s a strange material. It’s slow and fast. Plastic is a matter of time.
During summer vacation, while kids went to summer camp and made bright lanyards and friendship bracelets, I helped my mother clean the colorful pretty things and vessels made of glass and porcelain that belonged to the rich ladies in the hills. I remember the strange milkiness and sheen of cheap functional and decorative thermoplastics that populated our apartment. I remember the plastic pitcher my mother used to make Tang. How it stained over the years.
In the last essay in Mythologies (1957), Roland Barthes marvels at the wonder of plastics. He wrote that plastic was a trace of transformation. Plastic, in its infinite forms also operates in my work in relation to the pliability of memory. It’s flexibility. It’s repurposing. Recycling. It’s elusiveness and loss. It’s many transformations over a lifetime. Memories, like plastic commodities, can perform as surrogates for lost objects. They are like knock offs of the real thing. Physical reminders. Place holders. Approximate containers for the thing itself. I’m trying to bring remembered objects together. To touch them. To hold them for a time. To re/place them.
In the third grade we went on a field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits. Outside the museum there were large pools of shiny black tar. We learned that through the magic of science that sticky mirrory stuff turned into toys!
The haptic choreographies employed in my work – knotting, wrapping, and coiling – bring the temporality of the body, the duration of making, the labor of re/membering, and the accumulative pleasures and anxieties of repetition into intimate proximity.
Alone while the grownups worked, I would slip into my mother’s heels, discover the treasures of my tia’s purse, twirl in my abuelita’s skirts. Next door, I swapped toys with my best friend: her dolls for my trucks. Away from the regulatory gaze of adults. We kept each other’s secrets.
In the second grade, the boy that kissed me and held my hand behind the classrooms, was also the boy that beat me up after school in front of the other boys. We crafted the pattern for making and unmaking our relation.
Knotting, wrapping, and coiling are simple processes that evoke unsimple relations. They are choreographies of the hand that shape and contain space; bend and hold time. Knotting is a means to forming attachments - between substances, objects, ideas, others, other others... Wrapping maps the rhythm and interval between arrival and departure. Loss. Desire. The promise of return, satisfaction, relief. The frustrations of desire. Wrapping involves the repetition of re/turning. Coiling encircles circling; its growth pattern is cyclical; it contains containing. It Holds holding. I’m also interested in the naughty potential of knotting and in drawing out the queer content in the language of coiled basketry: the continuous negotiation and fleshy re/arrangements between “passive core” and “active element”; the giving and receiving of sensation; their absolute interdependence in order to form a form.
The casita in Santiago Texacuango where our great grandparents lived since the first peasant uprisings in the 1930s was a site of textile production. Four floor looms were operated by our great grandfather and his brothers. Our great grandmother ran the business - selling, trading, and delivering cotton yardage on foot throughout the area. Today, in markets in and around San Salvador catering to nostalgic US based Salvadorans and eco tourists, artesanias made with synthetic materials in bright and festive colors are sold. The joyful colors almost distract the eye from the material traces of a devastating civil war. Today the national currency is the US dollar.
Like feminist and fiber artists since the 1960s, I’m interested in reevaluating the value of craft. I look to the baskets of Mabel McKay, Mary Jackson, Ed Rossbach and John McQueen; Arturo Sandoval’s plating with plastics in the 1970s; Diane Itter’s half hitch knots, and Claire Zeisler's coils. I also make in proximity to queer articulations of craft in the US and artesanias of the Americas.
My hands are guided by the possibility that value and significance can be imbued on seemingly worthless materials by socially devalued and overlooked bodies in an effort to insist on the mattering of their presence and persistence in the world.
Brown hands with limp wrists touched these materials and made this work. It took time.