During a recent visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum, Los Angeles artist Gabriel Ruiz stood in the frame of a fun house he’s creating for the latest “Outburst Project” exhibit.
It was an empty shell, but as he showed areas that would contain Plexiglas, sculptures, 3D objects, sound, video clips and more, the concept began to take shape. The immersive installation is an examination of the inner workings of the brain and its thought process.
“We live in a state where everything is so up in the air,” Ruiz said. You can wake up and stress about the day and think “How am I going to get to work?” We go to work, we have to do this or that, and it’s like we’re on autopilot a lot of the time.”
The exhibition opens on August 6 and is the second iteration of the museum’s artists-in-residence program. Among those featured are Los Angeles artists Ruiz, Maria Maea, Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya, and local artists Karla Ekatherine Canseco and Clara Nieblas.
Ruiz, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, often attended fun house carnivals. She’s had a fascination – and an anxiety – with them since childhood, because they’re tempting to get in and hard to get out of, and it’s that sense of unease that comes to life through her piece.
“You walk into these mirrors, there are sounds from the carnival outside, and you vaguely see your parents through the glass trying to say ‘Go this way!’ Ruiz said. “In it, you’ll walk around the space and be bombarded with sound, lighting and visuals. You’ll want to stay there longer when you’d normally try to get out.”
When asked what makes her prone to stress, Ruiz described the challenges of her childhood — especially with school performance and watching her parents look for work to make ends meet.
“Being a first generation child of immigrants, you have to overcome what your parents are doing because they sacrificed their whole lives to be here,” Ruiz said. “There’s so much going on. Having undocumented parents is like, ‘What’s going to happen to them?’ Then ‘Can I really make a living from art?’ It’s a lot of pressure and the list goes on.”
Working with the local environment
In the hallway, Maria Maea was building an arch of palm fronds with many stacked around the floor of another gallery space. She describes her work as figurative and uses ephemeral plant material as a medium, especially in museum or gallery spaces.
“We’re builders, we’re builders, and we do that in many different capacities, but not like this. To actually be in communication with the environment is great,” Maea said.
Maea has been an artist in Los Angeles at the Coaxial Arts Foundation and Showbox LA. She has also worked as a prop maker, weaver and production designer.
The environment was a challenge for Maea, who is used to working with leaves in Los Angeles where the sun doesn’t dry them as quickly. As she stood on a scissor lift pouring leaves into the arch, many dead leaves, seeds and other bits fell onto her on the floor.
“It was fun in the residency aspect to learn to work with this material in a different climate,” Maea said. “In Los Angeles, it’s plentiful and the weather is easy, but then it’s like, ‘What if I went to Florida?’ or these other parts and what the environment does to the hardware?”
An asset to Maea’s artwork is the local towns and landscapers cutting down palm trees, which made her appreciate those who do this work in the summer in the desert.
“Think about what they’re doing,” Maea said. “They’re actually going and cutting (palm trees) under harsh conditions and they’re still willing to do that work.”
Creating a “wordless monster”
In one in the workspace down in the basement, sculptor Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya was working in front of what he described as a “wordless monster” that hung a shelf with teeth sticking out in various places. Piles of scrap metal scavenged from cars and other items found in the desert were piled on a work table next to him. A fabric drying rack dipped in silicone on the opposite side.
Montoya’s works, which have been cited by Artnet as “a hallmark of queer assemblage,” have been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson, Arizona, and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
The sculpture he creates for “Outburst Projects” is a combination of “queerness creating bodies within his body” and his interest in the world of fashion. The fabrics, which are part of Montoya’s clothing, are coated with silicone and they look like white leather or vinyl as they form on the welded metal parts.
“This work is specifically thinking about putting words to a feeling. When you don’t have a word for how you like something,” Montoya said. “I was really into fashion when I was in high school. I was looking at early Balenciaga before what it is today, and I was really interested in Alexander McQueen. I didn’t know what they were doing, but I felt like I really liked the aesthetic.”
Fashion designer labels like Gucci, Versace, and Ralph Lauren have continued to influence culture throughout history, while some, like Pierre Cardin and Halston, have faded away. Montoya feels that the hustle and bustle of the fashion industry—and by extension its designers—could also be seen as a monster.
“(The designers’) aesthetic is copied or mass-produced,” Montoya said. “(The installation) is about fashion, but in a subversive way. You want to wear the clothes, but it’s almost like putting on someone else’s skin.”
“Having this range is important”
The first iteration of the “Outbursts Project” opened in April and featured artists Fulton Leroy Washington, aka Mr. Wash, and Devin Reynolds. Both artists were the first two artists selected for the program.
Executive Director and CEO Adam Lerner said the museum plans to present two more “Outburst Projects” exhibitions and continue the program in the future. It is important, he said, to present a mix of traditional and contemporary art because the local public should know what is happening in the art world now.
“Having that spectrum is important,” Lerner said. “These young artists (in the current iteration) represent what the next generation of artists is doing. It’s important to me that they show their work in a gallery next to Leon Polk Smith (exhibition), who died in the 90s and was leading form of modern art in 20th century abstraction”.
Artists also go through the museum’s permanent collection to select pieces to include in their installation. Montoya has found inspiration in Mesoamerican sculptures and Louise Bourgeois’ 1996 sculpture “Spider” and said it speaks to the “origin and heritage” of the Palm Springs Art Museum.
“Louise Bourgeois’ spiders and monsters align with my work and thinking in terms of the monstrous, or aligning history within its layers so that we understand our place in the structure of the museum,” Montoya said.
The opportunity to show her work in a museum setting is “exciting” for Ruiz, who has had solo exhibitions at the Vincent Price Museum of Art and the Tokyo Art Complex in Los Angeles.
“I feel like it’s a new challenge,” Ruiz said. “When I was approaching it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be huge.’ I’m so ready for it and to be able to have a space and a foundation that supports it as well.”
If you go
Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment for the Desert Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bblueskye.