by Kara Q. Smith
Sitting in the waiting room at Planned Parenthood for a check up or squished between other bodies in blue chairs at the DMV while voraciously staring at my number, these are situations I have no problem dramatically recollecting in my head. One part physical memory of space: the dirty chairs, drab paint, lack of decoration, and horribly ironic magazines. And one part psychological place: being liminal, uncomfortable, scared I might have to empty my bank account for something I do not yet know about, and for some reason feeling incredibly empathetic to everyone in the room who seems to have more pressing issues than mine. Waiting unquestionably has an anxiety-inducing quality that seems to make every situation worse, especially ones where you may be told you have the wrong registration papers or, perhaps, you may have an STD.[i]
There are three main waiting rooms at the Consulate General of Mexico. The metal detector that guides each person in past the threshold of the outside world to the waiting room, has been completely covered in suave black feathers by San Francisco-based artist Ana Teresa Fernandez, a fashionable disguise for the ominous machine. Patrons visit the Consulate to take care of business such as renewing their visa or as their last stop out of the country after being deported from the United States. As they progress through the stages of waiting rooms, they are caught between actual and facilitated identities, American – Mexican – American – Mexican. They wait, perhaps to be told by someone behind the plastic divide that they may no longer identify as American. Earlier this week, The Tea Dancers / Ballet de la Compasión unexpectedly showed up to dance for those sitting in rows of chairs waiting, providing a break in the psychological continuum of their experience, a pleasant surprise. The Latin female artists in Numina Feminina, all from various countries, have thoughtfully intervened in the functional spaces of the consulate as well as the gallery upstairs, which many who visit may not know exists.
Among the work in the gallery is Regina Jose Galindo’s video Caparazón, 2010, where a naked woman, presumably the artist herself, lies in a fetal position underneath a plastic dome. Participants beat the dome furiously with wooden batons. The sound of beating creates a rhythmic lulling that almost tricks the viewer into avoiding the implication of this simple yet intense visual imagery. Paulina Velazquez Solis’s Disposal, 2009, depicts colorful images of items discarded on city streets on American currency. Playful and direct, the work brings up the notions of our societal material values. I immediately thought of adages, such as “making something out of nothing,” a way of reflecting on how value shifts when do not have any money, such as finding a pair of Converse in my size on the side of the street all of the sudden makes me feel rich. The term “rich” has so many meanings, not only in our culture, but in those not from America who are here now living and interpreting our culture. The experiences of these artists communicated through their work, straddles the in-between space of where they come from and where they are, knowing that, for many, the latter rests on the fate of their experience in those three waiting rooms.
—Kara Q. Smith, an independent curator and writer living in San Francisco.
[i] Clean, for the record.
Top Image: Marta Sanchez Vazquez (Colombia). Permanence (Installation view and detail), 2011; Mixed Midea, Paper, Glue, Metal; 10' x 4'. Courtesy the Artist and Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco. Photo: Frida Cano.