Getting Real and Source Materiel exhibits at CCA
“AS part of the show, I’m giving astrological readings,” said Edie Tsong, a Santa Fe- based artist whose work is included in Getting Real, opening Friday, Feb. 19, at t he Center for Contemporary Arts. The group show explores the various ways in which artists work with trauma and catharsis. For some artists, the concepts serve as impetus for the generation of a piece, cloaked in layers of symbolism and abstraction, and for others, trauma and catharsis are the subjects of the work itself.
Tsong, who i s originally f rom State College, Pennsylvania, moved to Santa Fe nine years agoo and turned to the wisdom of astrology when shee started experiencing unusual, negative events that shee couldn’t explain rationally. “I felt that I’d been buildingg my life in a way that’s very positive — why were thesee weird things happening to me? So I went to a profes-sional astrologer, and it totally changed my perspectivee on identity,” she said. “In the United States, you groww up with the sense that by force of will you can bee whatever you want, whoever you want. When I wass introduced to astrology, I gained a different sense off how people are designed as human beings.”
Tsong’s work has always been rooted in identity,, specifically t hat of growing up as a Taiwanese-American in the middle of mostly white Penn Statee football culture. She never felt i ncluded in t hee community and often found her voice stifled viaa microaggressions, the psycho- social term for thee daily and commonplace racist snubs experiencedd by people of color that can result in psychologicall trauma. After reinventing her life in Santa Fe, Tsong iss a yoga teacher, astrologer, and itinerant art instructor.. Her work is in social practice, a contemporary artt form that emphasizes interaction with the publicc over a one-on-one relationship between an object andd a viewer. The astrological readings she’ll give in the CCA gallery are an immersive experience. (Limited slots are available for a sliding fee; for information about reserving a space, visit www.ccasantafe.org/ visual- arts/ public-programs. You must know your precise time of birth.)
For Getting Real, Tsong is also reprising Love Letter to the World, a collaboration with Albuquerque artist Michael Lorenzo Lopez that they first held in 2015 at The Paseo, an interactive arts festival in Taos. Professional writers, sitting at typewriters, worked with the public to compose brief letters to people they wanted to communicate lovingly to in some way. At intervals, Tsong climbed to the top of a 12-foot ladder and read the missives through a bullhorn. “Sometimes it would be a letter to someone who had passed away. It could be to a son or daughter who had been estranged, written by a parent. It could be an apology. There was all level of human healing in this, and all the letters displayed the complexity of love relationships that people have.” The letters were typed on carbon paper so the sender could keep the original, and the copy became part of the installation. All 300 letters written in Taos will be on display ata CCA, and writers will be on hand to compose neww letters at the opening reception of Getting Real annd then on select Friday afternoons in February, Marchh, and April. (For a schedule and list of writers, as weell as the several public programs associated with thhe exhibition, visit the CCA website.)
“I could never say what I wanted to say when I was growing up, so now I’m on a ladder with a bulllhorn,” Tsong said. “It turns out what I have to say isi reflecting back to people the most important thinggs they carry in their hearts.”
Somewhat darker themes inf luence Claudia X.X Valdes’ contribution to t he show, Judgment, a 92-square-inch photograph printed on Japanese kozo paper. It’s from a new body of work the Albuquerque artist has been developing since 2014, which focuses on the stories of three women who have undergone trauma to specific body parts as a result of abuse or disease. Valdes described the fibrous kozo paper as thin and billowy but strong, with a skin-like quality, an ideal surface on which to display a close- up, abstracted image that she generated by photographing body casts she made of the women.
“I’m playing with the inverted psychological relationships that happen when you have a traumatic experience with the body. ... While one can have empathy for or bear witness to someone else’s trauma, it’s impossible to truly understand what someone else has gone through,” Valdes said. “This project bears witness, but touches on that impossibility.”
Valdes’ previous work includes public art about the cultural trauma of nuclear waste, which will be inherited by future generations for millions of years — people who may or may not be able to understand the instructions left for them on how not to disturb the waste sites. Judgment is more personal in nature, inspired by
dealing with her own traumatic past and her understanding of the mind-body connection.
Other artists represented in Getting Real are Emma Levitt, Lindsay Tunkl, Jennifer Moon, Laura Reese, Joshua Greene, and the Institute for New Feeling, an art collective comprising Nina Sarnelle, Agnes Bolt, and Scott Andrew, which explores the culture of self-help and spiritual commoditization with their sculptural video piece, Air Freshener. Levitt, from Seattle, brings her large-scale textile, In the Presence of Absence, knitted from the garments of her recently deceased partner. In the harder you pull, the harder it becomes; the things we say to the dead are not for them, Reese also explores coping with loss through artmaking. Greene, from the San Francisco Bay Area, has a social practice installation called Group Therapy + Needlepointing, which comes out of a therapy group that met weekly at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2010. Tunkl, also from the Bay Area, takes on therapy and self-help with a view toward death, anxiety, and the apocalypse. She has several works in the show, including a homemade Rorschach test called Origins and Endings. On Fridays in February, Tunkl offers “pre-apocalypse counseling sessions,” in which her car is used as a therapist’s couch. The sessions are not intended to have true psychotherapeutic value, but they present an opportunity to explore what it means to, as Tunkl has put it, “exist before extinction.”
Institute For New Feeling: Air Freshener, clay, oxytocin, plug-in dispenser; opposite page, top, love letter from
Love Letter to the World, The Paseo, Taos, 2015; bottom, Michael Lorenzo Lopez’s camper for Love Letter to
the World, The Paseo, Taos, 2015