Melissa Calderón, Frances Gallardo, Fernando Pintado and Chemi Rosado-Seijo
Puerto Rican artist and curator of Landscape/Horizonte, Nora Maité Nieves, graciously welcomed me to Fresh Window, a small gallery space tucked into the basement floor of an industrial building in Bushwick, Brooklyn. With her guidance I was taken around the small group exhibition of Puerto Rican artists, Melissa Calderon, Frances Gallardo, Fernando Pintado and Chemi Rosado-Seijo. Here these artists explore complex views on landscape and horizon in a politically tense time. Many of the artists here straddle the line of American and Puerto Rican identities - living or having lived in both places, and so questions of territory, migration, immigration and defining identity through landscape and place are examined.
The opening work of the exhibition is the multi-dimensional Sur Norte America (hablando con Torres Garcia) which juts out of the wall to provide alternative viewing perspectives. The piece is one of two of Chemi Rosado-Seijo’s in the exhibition, the other titled El mapa del Sur del el mundo. His works ponder over the topography of our world and question the superiority of North America over that of South America, asking if it is simply because of geographical place or the lens in which we look from? He puts the focus on the South of the world instead. As a Puerto Rican artist, his works often interrelate to one another and he is someone who values community as greatly as he does art. These works are a continuation of his long term relationship with the community of El Cerro, a rural, working-class populace ingrained in the mountains of Naranjito, Puerto Rico. In 2002, Rosado-Seijo began his work with the people of El Cerro by working with them to re-paint the exteriors of their homes different shades of green. Nieves says “he wanted to bring the mountain back.” What was once a multitude of cement and urban tones, became a village of green once again embedded into the mountain scape it was born out of. Nieves explained that by 2010, Rosado-Seijo and the El Cerro community had to begin the process of re-painting the homes again, because Puerto Rican weather can be quite damaging to their exteriors. In doing so, they had to scratch and peel off layers of the previous paint. Rosado-Seijo saw in these fragments an idea and an opportunity to reuse materials, he began a series of works (seen in this exhibition) made from the paint fragments that resemble topographical maps.
Like Rosado-Seijo, Melissa Calderon is deeply embedded within the community she inspects through her art. Living in the Bronx and with a studio that overlooks the Bronx housing court, Calderon created The Bronx Housing Court Monster. A system she herself has gone through, she clearly critiques the institution and system in the work made of embroidery. What is meant as a system to help the people, she sees as a monster pushing the people out. Eminent Domain, a graphic of black thread on wood is “the city looking down onto the small neighborhood with a little bit of humor, but a dark humor,” Nieves told me. Both of Calderon’s works tackle systems of power and oppression with humor, something many Puerto Rican artists do. When I asked Nieves why so many Puerto Rican artists use humor she said, “I think it’s about feeling oppressed and always fighting and fighting to be heard that at some point you have to laugh about it, like what else can you do?” It seems that in the darkest of times, humor can bring levity and light to the darkness. It’s not unlike how late night comedians and SNL (Saturday Night Live) have been some of the harshest critiques of the current U.S. Administration.
Perhaps the most striking work in the show is Frances Gallardo’s Murmuration which barrels at the viewer at a speed much stronger than a murmur. Composed of hundreds of drawings of laser cut pieces of paper pinned onto the wall in the shape of a vortex or a hurricane. The tiny pieces of paper are drawings of mosquitos swirling in a violent onslaught of terror. Nieves discussed with me how Gallardo was thinking about how Puerto Rico had become a threat to the U.S. with the onslaught of the Zika Virus, which in turn made her think about migration and leaving a place for a better life. Gallardo’s own life has been a constant flux of living between two islands, San Juan and New York, and it’s apparent ideas of landscape and movement have become prominent in her work. The second installation in Landscape/Horizonte is the first one for Fernando Pintado, who creates collages and silk screens on canvas. For this show, Nieves, wanted to include Pintado’s work because it was an “interior landscape, about introspection inspired by personal experience.” The installation is a series of these canvases covered in spider webs, layered over one another, much like our subconsciousness is a series of hidden and convoluted layers.
Context and history greatly informed this show, and I was pleased to be viewing it alongside Nora Maité Nieves who gave framework to the visually rich works.