—Jon Carver for THE Magazine
A circular platform filling the room slowly revolves. A vertical wall divides the revolving platform in
half. Sometimes you see half the platform and one side of the revolving wall, but you can’t see the other half. Sometimes you see both halves at the same time. Sometimes you can only see the half you couldn’t see before. When the wall swings right in front in you, you see both halves equally, and
you see yourself reflected in its mirrored edge. LATINO/A Visual Imaginary is on superfine display at Central Avenue’s 516 ARTS. Witness Pepón Osorio’s spellbinding installation, and most precisely how it draws the world of the exhibition, and the exhibition of the world, into itself. Drowned in a Glass of Water is an outstanding manifestation of readymade realism. On one side of the wall is an interior domestic space densely packed with the excessive, sentimental, material squalor of the age. A woman whose skin is made entirely of Band-Aids towers atop a swollen half egg–shaped dress of endless crocheting. A male child’s helmeted head is permanently stuck to a television that is broadcasting nothing. The teen daughter lounges deep in the couch, feet propped on an overturned coffee table, cheek-to-cheek with her cell phone. The apocalypse (lower case a) that is always upon us now. On the other side of the wall a hospital gurney sits on a manicured lawn, just in front of a rectangular reflecting pool, beside a tree. Here all is hushed, visually quieter, and slightly surreal; the tree trunk has a screen set inside it suggesting thoughts of aging, memory, dreams, and death. It is hard to explain the power of these two juxtaposed worlds as they steadily revolve, or the depths of the associations they trigger in their slow spin. Osorio is here as just one excellent, internationally known participant in a series of interrelated events coming up all spring into summer at 516, the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the UNM College of Fine Arts, the UNM Zimmerman Library, the Outpost Performance Space, and Tamarind Institute examining the interconnections between the visual and verbal, between text and image in the contemporary Latino/a imagination. La Botanica: The Curandera’s Room by Amalia Mesa-Bains is an equally successful installation piece. Part ofrenda, part altar, part laboratory, the peaceful scent of a sea of fresh-cut lavender effused the gallery on the night of the opening, covering the floor of the medicine woman’s space. On a stainless steel table and in a large upright cabinet are the healer’s herbs and extractions—her flasks and formulas, her books of knowledge open, suggesting all sorts of alchemical transformations. What a gift to the space of the exhibition—all that lavender! Powerfully transformative work is also presented by Kai Margarida-Ramírez de Arellano in her use of papel picado, the traditional cut-paper ephemera used for rituals and fiestas, to present sometimes brutal and always heartfelt imagery addressing the violence against women that haunts the tragedy in Juarez. Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz brings a great sense of humor and street smarts with her video series, Ask Chuleta, in which her alter ego addresses an imaginary audience of underprivileged kids about issues of contemporary art and art history. Her hip-hop, trash-talking Bronx persona, set against a white-cube backdrop as she explains Jackson Pollock and Frida Kahlo, employs a sharp razor wit to expose significant lines of cultural, ethnic, and class division, while exploring issues of stereotyping versus identity, and pointing out sometimes painful truths. Ask Chuleta’s sly humor is also present in Raimundi-Ortiz’s graphic novel/comic book drawings from her Wepa Woman superhero series. These are an accomplished, elegantly drawn, complex narrative take on the subject of Chicana identity. A variegated tapestry of tongues speaks in Viva Paredes’s mixed-media My Poncha Tongues piece. She definitely wins the blown-glass and curandera’s-herbs category hands down with these beautiful symbolic celebrations of the organ central to both taste and language. The Latin imagination runs deep and finds its sources in many rivers, across continents, nations, and centuries of peoples. This exhibition displays the remarkable breadth and profound depth of contemporary Latin aesthetic/cultural perspectives and a museum-quality approach to installation. And it smells great. At one point you see only half the room. Then you see both halves from one side. Then you see only the other half of the room, the other side of the revolving wall. Then you see both sides of the room at once again from the other side. The platform continues to revolve, mirroring the world, churning out reflections with each passing, as the details are unspun. You examine them as they move past like memory, again and again—the pictures never quite standing still.