Exploring the Chicago Latino ArTchive

Chicago Latino ArTchive: A Century of Chicago Latino Art https://iuplr.org/chicago-artchive/artchive/index/chicagolatinoartchive.html Organized by the Inter-University Program for Latino Research (IUPLR) headquartered at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Reviewed January 27, 2020.

Growing up in Chicago, I may have taken for granted the easy access I had to history, art, and culture. The city is rich in heritage and there are various organizations that help preserve a specific cultural group’s identity and impact upon the city. The National Museum of Mexican Art, for example, is a cornerstone of the Pilsen neighborhood. In my own backyard, I had the privilege of having access to an institution that helps celebrate Chicago’s Latinx community. The amount of work Latinxs have created is impressive. The museum is a well curated body of work, but it isn’t representative of all the work Chicagoans have contributed to the city’s culture. The Chicago Latino ArTchive, a repository for Chicago based Latinx works of art, was created by the Inter-University Program for Latino Research (IUPLR) to provide people with easy access to works of art, specific artists, or different time periods of Chicago Latinx art. Those who haven’t had the privilege of visiting the Nation Museum of Mexican Art, or those who want to explore Chicago Latinx art more fully, can explore the digital repository to find great works of art, which explores a more encompassing body of work that the NMMA can’t house. The repository features the work of prominent artists who were either born in Chicago or settled there. One can explore an artist’s portfolio, a specific time in the city’s history, and other exploratory options. The repository is a great start to begin research, but is limited to providing basic information without further contextualization.

The Chicago Latino ArTchive provides a home page explaining the scope of the project. First uploaded in the fall of 2016, the ArTchive celebrates all the contributions Latinxs have had in Chicago over the last century. The repository provides artist portfolios, the artist’s statement (if they provided one), biographical information, and links to artists’ personal sites. After reading the brief introductory paragraph, a list of sponsors and/or stakeholders is provided. The National Museum of Mexican Art, as well as the local Telemundo affiliate, are sponsors. After reading all that the home page provides, one can enter the ArTchive.

After entering the ArTchive, a list of the artists included in the repository is provided. The Artists’ information is provided via four different columns: Name, Gender, Country of Origin, and Decades in Chicago. Each column can be manipulated to group artists in different categories. For example, if someone wanted to explore the works of Latina artists, the Gender column will separate the artists by gender. Similarly, if someone wanted to research current artists, the Decades in Chicago column would provide easy access to artists working since 2000. By clicking on the individual artist’s name, one can enter that specific artist’s portfolio, see some samples of their work, read their statement, bio information, and visit their personal website(s), if they provided it.

Though the repository is a great introduction to artist’s work, it also has several limitations. For example, there are artists who lack bio information, an artist statement, and/or links to other sites where one can explore their work further. It seems like a lot of artists who contributed, provided as much information as they wanted. This is understandable, however, the artists who contributed very little to their biographical information, statements, or information on how to access their work, are doing themselves a disservice. Consistency would also benefit the site. The labelling on the images varies between artists and works of art. I’m speculating that the artists also labelled their own artwork. Some of them provided their name, the title of the piece, and the year it was complete or exhibited. I would like for all of the pieces to have all of this information, but some may only include the artist’s name, the title, or nothing at all. This again does the artist a disservice. It may hinder someone from exploring different works of art further, or seek out the information in a different repository.

Aside from providing the artist portfolios and being able to search via gender, time period, and country of origin, the repository can help audiences search specific types of art. As I was navigating through the repository, I wish there was a way to find similar artists. For example, if there are mural artists, I would like to be able to categorize them together. I would like to see the evolution of murals over time in Chicago and where they are located. Similarly, categorizing public sculptures together would also be beneficial. By being able to locate where public art is located throughout the city, audiences may take the incentive to visit the works of art. By creating more metadata, the repository can be more accessible to audiences and help them discover art they otherwise wouldn’t have sought out.

The Chicago Latino ArTchive is a very useful tool. Being so far away from home, it was great to explore the repository and find works of art that I’ve been familiar with throughout my whole life. It was also rewarding finding new art or artists I’ve never heard of before. Despite finding some great information in the repository, I also found myself using other sites to gain more information about specific pieces of work. I would appreciate it if the ArTchive provided that for me instead. I hope to see this repository growing and thriving as future Latinx artists continue to contribute to Chicago’s culture.

Fluxus: A Recipe for Art

Traditionally, the common person explores art through experimentation and schooling– one may take an art class in high school, or draw in the margins of their notebooks during a less than engaging lecture. What if, instead, you could read a recipe for art, and create art based on what was written? If you did, this would be called Fluxus.

The Fluxus movement took place from the last dregs of the 50’s to the late 70’s, primarily in New York City, and was facilitated by artists that believed fine art belonged to everyone. Museums and art dealers had made art a subject for the elites, only those with “good taste” and “finer sensibilities”. What resulted was an art movement for the masses, the viewer being encouraged to participate in the enactment of the art. A Fluxus artwork commonly had an “event score” which dictated what the individual or group should do in order to create a specific piece (though chance and spontaneity were also encouraged). There was no single method for creating Fluxus art, and its goal was to make art accessible to anyone, experienced and created by any common person.

Mieko Shiomi. Event for the Midday (In the Sunlight). 1963. Event Score.

The fun came to an end with the death of the Fluxus movement leader, George Maciunas. His “Fluxfuneral” was marked by several Fluxus performances, and a “Fluxfeast and Wake”, in which all food was purple, black, and white– very fitting. Fluxus was intended to be avant-garde, subversive, and even silly at times. It’s abrupt end begs the question– What would Fluxus look like in today’s world?

There is still art created using a type of event score– art created by Artificial Intelligence. One particular work, “Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy” made the news as a work of art created by AI and signed with the algorithm used to produce the final image, the technology for which has been around since 2015. This particular work was created by a machine imitating thousands of portraits over several centuries. The event score is the algorithm, but is this art? Is the algorithm the artist, or are the programmers the artists? And just as importantly, does the AI creation of art grow the chasm between fine art and the common person, or does it make art more accessible to everyone?

Personally, the traditional style of Fluxus speaks more to me– the idea of anyone at all picking up a recipe for art and making it. Whether it be pouring water into a Tuba as its being played, or arranging for a public viewing of a “No Smoking” sign (both of which have event scores), Fluxus encourages us to interact with the people around us, and do outlandishly silly things for the sake of the performance. That, I can appreciate. To learn more about Fluxus in a lovely video format, check out the Art Assignment’s video on the topic, and I challenge you to perform one Fluxus artwork from this Fluxus Performance Workbook. Let me know in the comments which artwork you chose!

What Are These Things, and Why?

If I were to ask you what your favorite piece of art is, who your your favorite artist may be, what would you say? Maybe Van Gogh or Da Vinci? Andy Warhol? Or how about if I asked you what type of art fascinated you the most? Would you say something like cubism, pointilism, or some form of abstraction? (Feel free to answer in the comments, by the way)

The form of art that perplexes me the most is that of ancient sculpture, more specifically humanoid figures carved from the Paleolithic Period to the Bronze Age. When I look at their vague or deformed bodies, carved out of marble, bones, and stones, I’m dumbstruck as to what these figures were created to do, and historians are no better off.

Venus Figures

From the Paleolithic Period or ‘Old Stone Age’, there are hundreds of ‘Venus Figures’ thought to be representative of fertility or good fortune– at least that’s historians’ best guess. The proportions of these figures are quite overblown, the stomach and breasts being far larger than the tiny feet or hands. The Venus of Willendorf is one of the best known of these figures, pictured

The Venus of Willendorf
25,000 BCE
left. The name of the figures is often disputed, as they may not be representative of love or fertility at all, as we have no way to know. Calling it a ‘Venus’ in that case, wouldn’t be fitting.

Perhaps these figures were charms, as some lacked a head, instead having a loop. Perhaps they could then be worn around one’s neck or waist. An example of this sort of design is the Venus of Hohle Fels, pictured right. This work is the oldest of the Venus figures, at 35,000 years old, the second known sculpture of representative man-made art.

“Venus of Hohle Fels” Credit: H. Jensen

But… why? What inspired ancient humans to create this type of art? Did they know that it was art? The agricultural revolution had yet to happen, meaning we still existed as hunter-getherers, roaming the plains. Life was by no means easy or sedentary, yet some old someone thought it was an important use of time and resources to produce this type of work. It’s easy to love those tenacious early humans. They had zest.

Female Cycladic Figures

Okay, so fast forward 25,000 years to the Mediterranean Sea. The Cycladic Islands, or Cyclades are over 200 small islands near both Greece and Turkey, evidenced to have interacted with Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations. Among the early figures carved of women, The Cycladic Figures are unique in that their simplicity acts as a sign of maturity, rather than being the result of primitive technology. Most of these figures are carved of marble, using obsidian as the paring tool. Like the venus figures, there are hundreds of these gals.

The viewer is able to locate simple legs, arms, breasts, and a nose. Other details such as jewelry or facial features would have been added after carving, through the use of paints. The feet are always pointed, making it impossible for the figures to stand on their own. The San Antonio Museum of Modern Art has one in their possesion, if you’d like to examine one in person.

“Female Figure” from the SAMA 2700-2200 BCE

Despite their abundance and singular origin, these figures are a mystery as well, found in tombs, shrines, and homes. The justifications for these figures are often chalked up to the same reasonings as the Venus figures– fertility, protection, etc.

Interesting to note about the Cycladic Figures, there was once a craze for Cycladic Art that led to grave robbings and figures being ill-gotten. It is unsurprising that the SAMA would have one of these figures in its collection, but it makes one curious as to how this figure was acquired, though it was donated by a private individual. That may well remain just as much of a mystery.

So… do you love these figures yet? Are they strange to you? Are they super-boring stuffy old art? It’s interesting to ponder when we decided as a species to create things in our image, or abstracted, in an imaginary image. What is the origin of art? What do you think?

Westside Historians in The Making

Photo by Gateway Photography

Please click here to learn more about Norbert “Geremy” Landin

This evening the students from the St. Mary’s University were welcomed to one of the sites of the Esperanza Center in San Antonio Texas. The Director, Ms. Graciela Sanchez, quickly grasped the attention of all 10 students present.

“The people of Esperanza dream of a world where everyone has civil rights and economic justice, where the environment is cared for, where cultures are honored and communities are safe.”

-Graciela Sanchez; Director of Esperanza Peace and Justice Center

This part of their mission and vision is truly shown in the work that is done in and around the Rinconcito Center. In the past, I know that several of the students in this program (including myself) have been to museums and art exhibits. During a recent museum course there was talk about the different places that have been visited but I don’t quite think that this experience matches any of the ones that were mentioned in the past.

When entering the Rinconcito Center there is a drastic difference in what we are used to seeing in homes and apartments and visitors can quickly delve into the history from the time of the “Casa De Cuentos and Casita.” The center has owned the building and property at 816 Colorado St. since 2001 and since then, great work in preserving the housing and developments that surround the area has been done in hopes of saving that history that as Sanchez said, “is gone once they’re gone.”

Photo taken by Gateway Photography
As the students travel through the areas at the center, different pieces catch the eyes of future public historians and Director of Public History at St. Mary’s (Dr. Lindsey Wieck)

The students continued their walk down the street with a main focus on the structures and projects following the path towards The Guadalupe Center for cultural arts. “Fotohistorias del Westside” mark the path along the South side of the street lining the fence of J.T. Brackenridge Elementary School (a school named after Confederate veteran and bank president, JT Brackenridge, who was born in Warwick County, Indiana and passed in 1906). This school is one of San Antonio ISD’s 90 campuses.

Virgen de Guadalupe vela located next to the Guadalupe Center for Cultural Arts

The tour ended at the Plaza Guadalupe over at 1327 Guadalupe St. but the conversation did not. Conversations on the way back to the starting point of the tour led to ideas of projects with different shops, councilmen, and locals about oral history and community activism.

Sanchez is passionate about the work that she does and was excited to show us the public history aspects involved in her work. Having visited places on the westside and knowing the stigmas and negative energy that is posed towards the people and areas surrounding made it easier to want to learn and absorb as much information as possible. The connection that we have made as a course and cohort is tremendous and will continue to be a great source of energy and program development for public history at St. Mary’s and in San Antonio in general.