Close to the ground

Artist El­iza Naranjo Morse

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - Paul Wei­de­man

For­ward: El­iza Naranjo Morse

Agar­gan­tuan pa­rade of “in­sect peo­ple” and two mixed-me­dia works in­cor­po­rat­ing per­sonal ob­jects, gar­lic stalks, and har­vested items from a reser­va­tion land­fill pop­u­late El­iza Naranjo Morse’s new ex­hibit at the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Na­tive Arts. Some of the choices for the For­ward show were made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with cu­ra­tor Candice Hop­kins. Naranjo Morse (Santa Clara Pue­blo) has been work­ing for some time on el­e­ments of the three­part ex­hi­bi­tion, which em­braces no­tions of fam­ily, com­mu­nity, and cul­ture. “Per­haps we yearn to make our lives good and find bal­ance be­cause even when we feel com­pletely chal­lenged, there is the un­re­lent­ing proof in each of us that we are sur­vivors, that we are the re­sult of our an­ces­tors’ his­to­ries and that even­tu­ally we will be­come an­ces­tors,” she says in the state­ment for the show, which opens at the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Na­tive Arts on Fri­day, Jan. 22. “This col­lec­tion of work in­ter­prets facets of this thought.”

The artist stud­ied fig­ure draw­ing at New York’s Par­sons School of De­sign and fig­ure draw­ing and paint­ing at the In­sti­tute for Amer­i­can In­dian Arts, and then earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in art from Skid­more Col­lege. She is known for a wide va­ri­ety of works, in­clud­ing clay draw­ings, oil-on-can­vas paint­ings, sten­cil ab­strac­tions, sewn “paint­ings,” and glow-in-the-dark pic­tures. In 2008, she worked with her mother, Nora Naranjo Morse, and cousin Rose Simp­son — both also es­teemed artists — on a piece for SITE Santa Fe’s Sev­enth In­ter­na­tional Bi­en­nial, Lucky Num­ber Seven. They said at the time that their piece, Sto­ry­line, was about the im­por­tance of the land in their lives and their art. The snake­like piece was con­structed us­ing ny­lon panty­hose, quilt bat­ting, rice, and sticks, all cov­ered in clays of dif­fer­ent types from Santa Clara Pue­blo, the Co­chití area, Abiquiú, and the Pi­curís area. Be­sides what was in­stalled at SITE, the work had philo­soph­i­cally con­nected el­e­ments at the School for Ad­vanced Re­search, MoCNA, and St. Fran­cis Au­di­to­rium. “We wanted to cre­ate a con­cept that was sort of all-en­com­pass­ing,” El­iza Naranjo Morse said, “and in or­der to do that, it had to be very min­i­mal, so the con­cept was bro­ken down to a line and the idea of emer­gence and trav­el­ing.”

In 2010, in a pro­ject car­ried out in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Smithsonian In­sti­tu­tion, she worked for a month with chil­dren in Ver­acruz, Mex­ico, us­ing lo­cal or­ganic ma­te­ri­als to cre­ate large works of art. In late 2014, she and her mother par­tic­i­pated in the 5 x 5 Pro­ject in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Their per­for­mance piece, ti­tled Dig­ging, was staged to call at­ten­tion to the de­val­u­a­tion of phys­i­cal la­bor. “I did that with my mom and Alexis El­ton, an artist in New York. We did it in one lo­ca­tion and we spent 25 days there, dig­ging in dif­fer­ent cos­tumes that rep­re­sented dif­fer­ent types of work­ers. We wanted to ex­press the idea that when you sweat into land, you’re putting your bless­ing into it, your en­ergy into it.”

The first of the three parts of For­ward isa painted line of an­thro­po­mor­phized in­sects on the long wall of the Hall Gallery at MoCNA. The ti­tle

of this piece is And We Will Live Off the Fat of the Land. Pasatiempo re­cently spoke with Naranjo Morse at the mu­seum as she was be­gin­ning work — rough-sketch­ing the fig­ures’ po­si­tions with torn shreds of blue painter’s tape.

Pasatiempo: You’re go­ing to paint with clay?

El­iza Naranjo Morse: This will be clay and pen­cil and acrylic paint. At this point of my life I’m very aware of ma­te­ri­als be­cause it’s like the blood and the bones of any art piece, right? And once I started to re­al­ize that, ev­ery­thing else in my life comes down to this sort of try­ing to cre­ate a bal­ance be­tween an or­ganic ex­pe­ri­ence and the fact that we live in 2016. This will be a se­ries of in­sects in pairs.

Pasa: It looks like the one at the be­gin­ning of the line is big and round.

Naranjo Morse: It’s mod­eled af­ter a dung bee­tle. It’s the be­gin­ning, and it’s the only one that won’t have a part­ner. Hope­fully this piece is sort of in­ter­ac­tive in that when you en­ter, you be­come a part of it be­cause you are part­nered with this par­tic­u­lar in­sect. The rest of them will rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent aspects of the cur­rent hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, things like tech­nol­ogy, emo­tions, mem­o­ries, fab­ric, shov­els, dolls, and wires, and there are also re­flec­tions back to the earth with things like corn and balls of dirt. Pasa: Do you like in­sects, par­tic­u­larly?

Naranjo Morse: They’re part of our com­mu­nity. My part­ner and I are build­ing a house and be­gin­ning to farm, so I’m closer to the ground. And I’m see­ing that bee­tles are es­pe­cially close to the ground, and I’m see­ing their com­mu­nity work. For that rea­son it’s es­pe­cially ap­peal­ing to me as a man­i­fes­ta­tion of some­thing that I’m search­ing for, or that our hu­man com­mu­nity at large is search­ing for. Pasa: Will th­ese fig­ures be based on real in­sect types?

Naranjo Morse: More or less, but even­tu­ally I start do­ing some in­vent­ing.

Pasa: Ants are very de­lib­er­ate and re­lent­less, but bee­tles some­times look like they have no idea where they’re go­ing. They’ll just walk in one di­rec­tion for a while and then turn and walk in an­other di­rec­tion.

Naranjo Morse: I think they use their own sense of nav­i­ga­tion that doesn’t look or­di­nary to us. I think we all like it when an­i­mals act like us. Pasa: Tell us about the se­cond part of this ex­hibit.

Naranjo Morse: You come around this cor­ner, and I have both walls of this room [the Honor Gallery]. The piece is called Past Present Mov­ing For­ward. I’m paint­ing with mud, so hope­fully it looks like an adobe wall. And then I’ve got a se­ries of ar­tic­u­la­tions, small sculp­tures that will ref­er­ence a more ab­stract ver­sion of a sim­i­lar idea — maybe like em­body­ing dif­fer­ent en­er­gies of tech­nol­ogy and the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

Pasa: Have you sketched or sto­ry­boarded all of this, or are you go­ing to im­pro­vise when you’re in the space?

Naranjo Morse: I be­gan build­ing forms, and then they de­vel­oped part­ners, and then they de­vel­oped aspects of hu­man­ity. Now I know ex­actly what they will be be­cause I spent hours with them; they each mean some­thing. They’re al­most done, hang­ing in my stu­dio. A big thing for me was the ma­te­ri­als. I was us­ing plas­tic I got from the dump that I worked at for three months at Santa Clara Pue­blo.

Pasa: You col­lected ob­jects from the dump?

Naranjo Morse: I did. There will also be stalks from the gar­lic I grew and feath­ers from a turkey I raised and killed. And I’ve had a wad of trash in my stu­dios for 10 years, stuff from my aun­ties, stuff from feast day, cloth­ing that I’ve cut up, so it’s an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of ma­te­rial. Pasa: Are you go­ing to do text pan­els?

Naranjo Morse: I will do small text pan­els by hand, but my hope with this is that peo­ple will make their own in­ter­pre­ta­tions. The ma­te­ri­als are very spe­cial and the ones that aren’t are ob­vi­ously in con­trast, and so the en­ergy or the his­tory of the ma­te­ri­als will cre­ate feel­ing or a space. Pasa: And the third piece?

Naranjo Morse: The ti­tle is Made Passed Away, It’s OK. It’s a larger, more arty piece made out of trash I col­lected from the dump. It will be very colorful on the white wall.

Pasa: How do you make money? You have to sell your art, don’t you? And you can’t sell th­ese in­stal­la­tions.

Naranjo Morse: Oh, my re­la­tion­ship with money, I’m try­ing to work it out. I didn’t want to sell my work, be­cause then mak­ing it is af­fected by that. I’ve worked as a sub­sti­tute teacher, I worked at the dump, and I’ve worked as an art teacher. Art is a pro­fes­sion in my fam­ily, and I started mak­ing work to sell by the time I was eigh­teen. When I was twenty-six, I de­cided I wanted to make money so that I can make art, in­stead of the other way around. At first I found that very hard and con­fus­ing, and then very lib­er­at­ing. Cre­at­ing an in­come through art was in­ten­tion­ally not my fo­cus. But now I don’t want to nec­es­sar­ily live off $400 a month for the rest of my life. I’m lucky that I live on reser­va­tion land. I don’t have a cell phone. My ex­penses are not or­di­nary.

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