By ANDY GALLARDO, NOV. 2016
C.J. Chueca was born in Lima, Peru and raised in both Perú and Mexico. She studied photography at the Instituto Antonio Gaudí and Fine Arts at Universidad Católica in Lima. She moved to NYC in 2003 and is now based out of Brooklyn.
Chueca’s latest solo show, “Illuminations of Angie: Someone There Is That Doesn't Love A Wall,” at Y Gallery, included installations of tiled walls she built using plywood, plaster, and tiles, as well as ceramic objects. Each wall is a numbered “body” (e.g. Body 6 (NY)), and most of the objects are portraits. Eleanor Heartney wrote in her essay that Chueca “teeters between aesthetic beauty and abject narrative,” and that her walls, “full of human and historical associations,” bring to mind Lisa Lou’s grid based works and Martin Wong’s Lower East Side paintings.
White Hot Magazine met with Chueca to discuss her latest works.
Andy Gallardo: Why did you name the walls “bodies”?
C.J. Chueca: They are metaphors for people. We are all walls, and our existence makes the existence of others more difficult, or easier. We are alone and constantly trying to access things. Walls have history, layers and experiences, and those experiences humanize them.
AG: You have said that the work also represents homeless people and psychiatric patients you saw growing up. Why did you choose to focus on this?
C.J.C: I was in a serious car accident as a teenager, and when I recovered I wanted to find out about people who could not recover, to find out more about how far we can go in terms of surviving without having to be normal. I grew up with different people that at some point lost their minds. There are people who decide to detach from society so that they don't have to listen to how wrong they are. It is not an easy for them to deal with continual crises in poor conditions, living in unsafe places and being extremely vulnerable.
We are all broken in a way, but these people are openly broken and their fractures are visible. There are people in Peru who cut themselves so that the police will not touch them, to send a message. I am mesmerized by people who put that out there, and there are people who feel that way and keep it inside.
AG: The show at Y Gallery was called “Illuminations of Angie,” and, in Eleanor Heartney’s article about your work, you included a short post script: “Angie, I have been looking for you and looking for you / station by station / hoping to tell you / that this exhibition is for you.” Who is Angie?
C.J.C: I met Angie on a platform bench at the 6th Avenue L subway station. There was a black garbage bag next to me. It started moving, and under it was this beautiful woman. She came out from under it, smiling at me. We started to talk, and I missed the next few trains because I wanted to be with her. She had been a professor in London and had a breakdown there, was hospitalized. She chose to escape to New York and in a way she chose to be homeless. I met her several times and was fortunate enough to hear some of her stories and wisdom. One of the things she said to me was that after so much hard work to achieve a decent academic status, nowadays her only concern was to be warm.
A lot of people who are in survival mode, people on the streets, they have the time to think—unlike people who have someone pay for their time to think.
AG: In your photographs from earlier in your career, you also worked with walls. Could you talk about this work?
C.J.C: I started when I was 18, I used to go into abandoned houses in Lima and take pictures of their walls. Those photographs were taken with long exposures, in the black of night. I let the light come in slowly. At the time, from 1996-2000, I wanted to concentrate on color as a creator of space and the possibility of the concrete of the wall looking gaseous, like a landscape, or making perspective doubtful, or simply making beautiful something that had been forgotten. There is no filter in these images, all the tones are a result of the combination of lights coming from the street with the color of the walls themselves.
AG: Why have you chosen to work with walls?
C.J.C: When I was growing up, I was constantly building walls in my house, making rooms within rooms; walls on the kitchen table. I didn’t have the same house growing up, so walls were temporary. I was longing for a “home" and felt I was missing the stability I saw in some of my friends’ lives. My parents were liberal, and they gave me the idea that it was good to abolish walls meant to keep things in. So I grew up with a huge question mark about what walls were for.
These days, I like to build the walls from scratch and then break them. There is confrontation and violence in my process, in the physical act of breaking. That is important for me to pass through, physically too.
AG: In addition to the walls/bodies, you also included objects.
C.J.C: The objects are ceramic, and I made them by hand based on assemblages I do of everyday objects I find on the street or in my studio. I like to make absurd things like toilet paper rolls that look like heads, or groups of water bottle and beer caps and cigarettes butts—things that would be garbage in their "initial" medium (plastic trash bags, little pieces of cardboard, etc.). Their "condition" changes when they are made in a material as traditional as ceramic. That switch in formality interests me, like adding humor to something very heavy. WM
Andy Gallardo is a playwright and translator of French and Spanish literature. Her plays have been performed in New York City and Vermont, and she is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in Literary Translation and Creative Writing at Queens College.
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