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Walk to the wide open window at Selenas Mountain Gallery

Installation of Walk to the wide open window. April 22 - June 10, 2023. Image courtesy of Selenas Mountain.

Tamara Santibañez: Walk to the wide open window

Selenas Mounain

Through June 10, 2023

By CLARE GEMIMA, May 2023

Walk to the wide open window, Tamara Santibañez’s solo show at Selenas Mountain Gallery, delves into the convergence of  multiple areas of the artist’s construction, compelling audiences to reassess preconceived notions about surfaces and spaces. Through various and  intricate material manipulations, the artist also challenges viewer’s assumptions regarding durability, strength, and permanence. In our conversation at the gallery, Santibañez talked to me about their time as a resident at the esteemed Fountainhead in Florida, and later elaborated on the recurrent motif of lilies across their work. Inspired from Diego Rivera's symbolic usage of the same lillies as an evocative call to revolution, Santibañez transforms their own floral forms into potent metaphors for access, seeking to comment, and  extrapolate the effects it has on certain communities desiring entry, attempting refuge, or seeking boundary. 

Clare Gemima: Tamara, so many congratulations to you on Walk to the wide open window! The show reveals how many tools and mediums you’ve mastered the use of in your studio, which range across ceramics, painting, leather tooling, jewellery making, and installation. What juncture points throughout your on-going studio practice does this particular solo-show aim to more acutely address?

Tamara Santibañez: The works in this show are a result of continuing to develop materials I’ve visited and worked with over the last few years, some early versions of which I showed in my last solo with Selenas Mountain. I’m still painting and working in ceramic, and am revisiting leather tooling, but I’ve begun to play with how the materials are read a bit differently, complicating our initial impression of them. Some of the sculptures, for example, appear to be bronze, but upon closer inspection are glazed porcelain— something that appears durable, but is in fact quite fragile. My hope is that my material play can invite the viewer to notice some of the assumptions they make about objects and spaces around us. How do we take for granted the permanence or strength of a material, and how might we treat it differently knowing it requires greater care?

Clare Gemima: You were a Fountainhead resident in Florida earlier in the year, and now operate out of your Brooklyn based studio. I'm wondering how you divided your time between these inter-state environments while preparing for this show? 

Tamara Santibañez: I left my studio in Brooklyn for the whole month of February to be in residence at Fountainhead, which meant both leaving behind some works in various stages of finished and unfinished, and strategically planning what materials I could travel with most easily. In some ways, it was helpful to set aside the paintings and revisit them with fresh eyes when I was back. I also had to focus on production in a single-minded way, staying on schedule with the leather tooling I had to complete while away. The residency set up quite a few studio visits for us during our time there, so there was also a lot of talking about what I was making and having viewers’ impressions reflected back to me, which helped me refine my concepts going into the show.

I know just the window that brick should go through, 2023. Oil on wooden panel, terra cotta tile, latex paint. 24.25 x 22 x 4.25 in. Image courtesy of Selenas Mountain.  

Clare Gemima: Diego Riviera’s calla lilies have been voluptuously painted in I know just the window that brick should go through, which sits on a terracotta mantle piece. There are also other nods to these famous flowers seen as hooks holding each end of your charm and key ring sculptures, like in Strange Stars, and I feel like gulp I feel like that with you, (all works 2023). They also enlarge and transform into a gold stanchion post rope, linked as large chains in Sacred places and profane places, 2023, which seems rebellious in its installation facing the gallery’s far right wall. What do these lilies symbolise to you in regards to some of the larger, overarching inquiries taking place in your work? 

Tamara Santibañez: Calla lilies and, in this show, stargazer lilies are recurring flowers that I’ve been rendering for some time. Some years ago I came across writings on Rivera’s symbolic intent. The writer described the inclusion of these flowers as “a call to revolution.” As someone who grew up with those images, I had never quite heard that interpretation— though he’s clearly using them as a vehicle to describe class and labor oppression. I became fascinated by the idea of an unheard call to revolution, a too-quiet, or even a whispered invitation. I was transforming the calla lilies, and mimicking directional symbols and more animated shapes, as if they were slithering across the floor, or eating their own tails. From there they began taking the shape of keys as a way for me to think about access, and the cost of being granted it. In this show, the lily sculptures on the walls act as hooks for wallet chains, gesturing towards two individual wearers now tethered together.

Thinking about the immortality of the crab, 2023. Oil on canvas, anti-bird spikes, mortar. 24 x 25.5 in. Image courtesy of Selenas Mountain.  

Clare Gemima: Would you care to elaborate on the ideas behind your rose leather tooled grid piece, Upon all the apparatus, 2023?  

Tamara Santibañez: The leather rug came into being as a response to Mario Savio’s speech in which he describes the “odious” machinations of oppression, and the breaking point at which you have to “throw your body upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!” Each tooled leather piece is the size and shape of a standard postcard, referencing the brief fad of mailing them nationally  until they began to jam postal sorting machines. I was compelled by the idea of this fragile thing — skin — disrupting national government mechanisms. The repeating rose image is one that I’ve executed again and again in my work as a tattoo artist, and I find it inspiring that rather than become trite or ineffective, the image can be infinitely regenerated and reactivated by each new wearer. Another beautiful thing is that it turned out, unconsciously and by nature of my close community, that everyone who worked on the assemblage of the piece is trans. Realising this shifted the meaning of it for me personally, given the current nationwide attacks on trans rights. The piece is very much about bodies under and within systems of oppression.

Strange Stars, 2023. Glazed porcelain, locks, chain, hardware, New York City keychains. 23.5 x 24.5 x 1.5 in. Image courtesy of Selenas Mountain.  

Clare Gemima: What are your studio plans now that all of this work has been made, where will it be shown, or travel to next?  

Tamara Santibañez: A few works are going to other shows, and others I’m excited to continue developing in the studio. Many of them feel like early starting points that I want to expand on, already thinking of the next iteration as soon as they were done, particularly with the leather pieces. 

Walk to the wide open window will run at Selenas Mounain to June 10, 2023

For more information about the gallery and Tamara Santibañez’s show, visit: https://selenasmountain.com/Tamara-Santibanez-Walk-to-the-wide-open-window WM

Clare Gemima

Clare Gemima contributes art criticism to The Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary HUM, and other international art journals with a particular focus on immigrant painters and sculptors who have moved their practice to New York. She is currently a visual artist mentee in the New York Foundation of Art’s 2023 Immigrant mentorship program.

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