his year, the Holland Project’s Curator Series features three artist-curator duos whose curations broach prescient conversations about sustainability and consumption, nostalgia and Latinx identity, and the ever-pixelating line between the digital and the real. We spoke to the curators about their dynamic exhibitions, which are showing now and later at the Holland Project Gallery (and, in one case, at the Nuwu Art Gallery and Cultural Center in Las Vegas).
M Jiang + ***X Lee stare down capitalism
Something Unfinished About Us: Traces of a Particulate Configuration was assembled for a world where maxims like “dust to dust” don’t hold up as well as they used to. Now based in Reno, multi-media surrealist M Jiang and antidisciplinary artist ***X Lee met while living in New York City. Something Unfinished is a curatorial experiment in sculptural collage that allows the physicality of capitalist excess to interrogate our untenable systems of value and consumption.
The show unites over 400 individual objects that the duo term “fragments”. These include discarded debris, works of unfinished or unused art donated by friends, items already in their possession, and even a scrap of railroad slag—a layered hunk of metal shed from train wheels and tracks that have accumulated into another solid object under the continuous pressure of the locomotive.
After painstakingly cataloging each fragment by photograph and numbered spreadsheet, they assembled the individual parts into aggregates that measure a few feet wide— named “slags” for the railroad object—through various randomized or arbitrary grouping processes. In turn, the curators assembled these slags into one large collage they refer to as the “configuration.”
“We see all of the remains, we see everything that’s fallen off the tracks and left there,” said Lee. “There’s so much being generated, always, every second, every day, every week. A lot of it just gets kind of hidden away. It’s easy to live with blinders on and ignore it, but it will all be here for a very long time.” By reincorporating this debris into our lives through the museum space, the show recontextualizes “junk” as art, calling into question the hierarchy of value by which we discard or exalt all kinds of objects.
The tedious bureaucratic organization to which the curators subjected each fragment helped to level that hierarchy of value. “It was liberating to make as few decisions as possible and work with what we can encounter,” said Jiang. “Capitalism has made it so that whatever you need, in that instant you can get. We didn’t choose the materials we are working with, but they are so rich.” The extensive archival process, they say, simultaneously flattened the works into cold data points up close and expanded them into constellations of elevated meaning when seen from a wider view.
As Something Unfinished unfolds, so too will the large-scale configuration at its center. The mass of slags will shift twice from their initial entanglement. On June 10, video and audio elements will be incorporated as momentary expansions of the immersive collage.
Cesar Piedra + Geovany Uranda explore ‘convoluted identities’
When Las Vegas muralist Geovany Uranda met interdisciplinary Reno artist Cesar Piedra at a show they were both featured in, they got to talking. In particular, they got to talking about Hijos de Su-, the 2020 exhibition for which Piedra, along with Häsler Gómez, appropriated the University of Nevada, Reno’s Sheppard Contemporary Gallery without permission to display the work of local Latinx artists. For the second installment of Holland’s Curator Series, Piedra and Uranda will come together to collaborate on Hija/e/o/x(s) de Su-, a sequel to Piedra’s first guerilla-style show.
The artists explain that the phrase “hijos de su-” translates to “sons of your …” , or something akin to “son of a bitch.” It can carry both positive and negative connotations when used by authority figures in Latinx communities, accompanying both a disbelieving “pat on the back” as well as “a well-deserved scolding.”
Of choosing the title Hijos de Su- for the original exhibition, Piedra said “That’s what we were being by appropriating the space—we were being ‘sons of…’.” For their new show, the curators have not only permission but invitation to stage Hija/e/o/x(s) de Su-. “With the first one they were appropriating space, and with this one, we’re creating space,” said Uranda.
Beyond expanding the original show’s gendered language in order to honor a larger umbrella of gender identities, Hija/e/o/x(s) de Su-’s new title is “kind of purposely unpronounceable,” said Uranda. “It’s confusing, and I feel like it captures a sense of that exploration of convoluted identities we’re talking about.”
Hija/e/o/x(s) de Su- asks two primary questions of its artists: what are your experiences with authority figures and the phrase “hijos de su-” ? And, how was that experience nostalgic?
“My experience with that phrase, personally, is kind of playful, just being a smartass but also being a little bit rebellious,” said Uranda, recalling hiding under piles of laundry to avoid accompanying his family to church. But the nostalgia the curators associate with “hijos de su-” deals not only in childhood memory but also in a nostalgia for that which has not been experienced first-hand.
Speaking of challenges in personal identity, the artists explain a nostalgia felt for the traditions, history, and iconography of Mesoamerican or 1970s Chicano cultures of past generations, considering “‘what could have been?” for an ancestry subjected to the violent machinations of colonization.
Like Hijos de Su- before it, Hija/e/o/x(s) de Su- is fueled by a strong desire in the Nevadan Latinx community to have more of their work shown and seen. Uranda and Piedra’s own work will join that of 14 artists from their respective cities in a show that explores the diverse backgrounds and artistic practices of a community that, while comprising a large part of the state’s populace and an indelible part of its history and culture, is not generally elevated to an equitable level in more prominent art spaces.
“We wanted to bridge the gap between the Latinx communities in Las Vegas and Reno,” Piedra said, speaking of the rich potential in fostering this kind of collaborative conversation state-wide. “We want to show that we are here. We are working together, and we can come together as a community to grow better together.”
John L’Etoile + Sandy Peña consider the physical + the digital
Las Vegas-grown, Reno-dwelling Sandy Peña and Reno-based John L’Etoile are mining their shared artistic interest in time-based mediums and professional experience in media to bring Flash Frame out of the ether and into gallery reality. “We’re both interested in filmmaking, but I’m more animation, digital art, AR, and VR, while John is more videography and photography,” said Peña. “We just want it to be the love child of everything we love.”
As they work to incorporate mediums that resist stasis into the gallery space, the pair asks an initial question that only begets more questions: is the digital real? “And what does ‘real’ mean? How are physical and digital spaces similar? How are they different?” asks Peña.
“When you’re on your phone, or on a website, there’s a melding between digital and real spaces. The content you’re absorbing and interpreting changes how you view the world. You are in that space,” said L’Etoile. “We always conclude that the digital and the physical are inseparable—we literally spend our time on these platforms. That’s real. It’s part of our reality,” said Peña.
The curators plan to fill the gallery with semi-physical manifestations of digital artworks. Video and animation will be projected through the space alongside works of photography and 3D graphic design while video game stations will be available for visitors to play. They even hope to install a maze inspired by glitchy video game architecture in which hidden DJs and bands will bring live music to the exhibition.
In addition to local artists, Peña and L’Etoile have invited artists from across North and South America to participate in the exhibition. In contrast to curating a show of traditional artworks, they explain, the digital works they are showing can be accessed instantly and nearly effortlessly. Meanwhile, free 3D design software like Blender and free digital galleries like Replicant are making this move toward the digital possible for more artists.
“I always go back to a quote by Francis Ford Coppola: ‘Filmmaking is a chance to live many lifetimes,’”said Peña. And really, that’s true for all types of art. For our exhibit specifically, we just want people to be totally immersed in the realities digital art allows for.
Something Unfinished About Us: Traces of a Particulate Configuration, curated by M Jiang + ***X Lee, is on view at the Holland Project in Reno through June 17.
Hija/e/o/x(s) de Su-, curated by Deovny Uranda and Cesar Piedra, be shown at the Holland Project in Reno from July 11-Aug. 25, and at Nuwu Art Gallery and Community Center in Las Vegas from Sept. 8-Dec. 7.
Flash Frame, curated by John L’Etoile + Sandy Peña, will be on display at the Holland Project Gallery from Oct. 17 through Dec. 1.
All photos courtesy of the curators.