Emanuel Aguilar, a recent graduate from Columbia College, has managed to help found an online magazine, transform his Wicker Park apartment into an alternative exhibition space, hold down three jobs with three different galleries, create a public commission that is currently on display at the Thompson Center for the Respiratory Health Association, and independently curate a group show that probed how we individually and collectively define what it means to be “happy.” For Emanuel Aguilar, it is being productive and taking part in a dialogue that explores, promotes, and appreciates. For Aguilar, the answer to all of this is simple, just be relevant.
Aguilar is an artist, but he will be the first to tell you that he is equally a businessman, networker, and promoter; that in this shared world, the artist must possess a myriad of skills beyond sheer artistic ability. They must know how to talk about their work, promote their work, and to an extent, understand their work’s impact and contribution. According to the artist, to be relevant is to produce relevant work that demands serious attention.
Viewing Aguilar’s work for the first time at Jared Hatch studio in the summer of 2008, I was skeptical about its serious nature, no matter what he said. I was quizzically looking at framed slices of actual American cheese situated side-by-side with screen printed images of a young, laughing child on them. The image was a result of Google searching “young, happy, American boy.” Taking into consideration the grotesque fact that after being exhibited for months these curiously orange slices of cheese still looked “fresh,” I wondered what it all meant, was it a joke?
Emanuel Aguilar. Untitled (Happy American Child). Image courtesy of the artist.
After reading about the work, talking to Aguilar, and taking the time to earnestly think about it, I learned that Aguilar uses humor as an outlet for criticality. The use of American cheese for instance, so ubiquitous and generic, inevitably lends itself to questions regarding value, culture, and even our childhood. His work reveals itself in layers. It immediately comes off as happy, playful, slightly ridiculous, but beyond that it speaks of deeper issues. And he manages to do this with cheese.
Inspired by artists such as Felix Gonzales-Torres and Eva Hesse, Aguilar’s style is minimal and repetitious, searching for the differences in what appears to be the same and monotonous. His work explores issues surrounding identity politics, which he questions by dissecting. Looking at the idiosyncrasies within uniformity, he examines in his artwork the hybridization of his personal Latin American roots with his Chicago upbringing.
Cheese-sculpting and Google exploring are just a few examples of the work Aguilar takes part in. He recently joined the Happy Collaborationist team (installation shown at left), a Chicago based magazine dedicated to the work of young and emerging artists, and turned his apartment into their headquarters and exhibition space, the only space in the city solely dedicated to installation, performance and new media work. Aguilar is also a founding member of the Jettison Quarterly team, an online magazine offers intelligent, serious, and current reading material to the twenty-somethings of today.
Among all the work the artist takes part in there is a constant zeal of moving forward, and the desire to be taken seriously. According to Aguilar, to be idle is to fall behind, thus relinquishing the capabilities and possibilities of being an active participant in a world that is inexorably changing. To him, adaptation is key to both real world and art world survival, and being able to adapt means being able to multi-task, being interdisciplinary, and ultimately, being savvy.
*Aguilar is currently working on a project involving glitter. The glitter he utilizes has been taken from the context of different celebratory events such as bat mitzvahs and Quinceañeras, thus looking at what it means for him to be both Mexican American and Jewish.
For more information on Emanuel Aguilar visit: http://emanaguilar.blogspot.com/
For more information on Jettison Quarterly visit: www.jettisonquarterly.com
For more information on Happy Collaborationists visit: http://happycollaborationists.blogspot.com/