Photos courtesy of the artists.
In their first collaborative exhibition, Ashley Mireles and Jose Villalobos incorporate the use of iconic traditional and cultural objects with historically feminine and masculine ideologies to encapsulate a unique interpretive reconstruction. Initially inspired by how certain deaths have impacted them, the artists were attracted to the idea of death and rebirth. Everything has a lifespan, whether it is human life, cacti, material, or social norms, both artists cover it all in their work.
No strangers to social constructs, especially that of gender roles, culture, and family traditions, Mireles and Villalobos wanted to convert outdated norms into tangible reactions for the exhibition. This transformation became a metaphor for death in that they ended the original use of an object and recreated from that. Both artists approached these themes as a continuation of previous work and experiences.
Ashley Mireles and Jose Villalobos joined UNFILTERED SA to discuss their upcoming exhibition Lost, Found, and Reconstructed, their first collaborative exhibition at Clamplight Artist Studios & Gallery on view from October 12 to November 2, 2018.
UNFILTERED: Your upcoming exhibition is titled Lost, Found, and Reconstructed, can you tell us about the title and how it relates to the theme and the artwork you plan on showing there?
Jose Villalobos: So, initially, we talked a lot about death which is how the exhibition came to form itself. We talked about how there were certain deaths that impacted our lives in a certain way. From there, it started growing and evolving and we decided to study the life cycle of cacti. We also talked about these ideas of gender and the tradition of culture and family traditions. What we wanted to do was to deconstruct certain things and then recreate or reconstruct new things out of it. It’s a metaphor for death in a sense, so we are ending something and recreating from that. In the specific work, we destroyed some books that were very much about the role of the woman and also advice from a father to a son about sports. We are trying to dismantle what we should follow according to society and break it down to form a different way that it can impact somebody. Instead of someone reading a book, we are creating artwork that affects the viewer in a different way. It’s about trying to change the way certain things affect us.
UNFILTERED: For the work you’ve produced for the exhibition, is it a familiar medium for you both? Or is it something new?
Ashley Mireles: One morning, I woke up at 7 o’clock and texted him “paper.” I’ve made paper before and I‘ve done papermaking workshops. When we met at the Mexic Arte, he had installed paper pieces that he had made with some images on them. We finally realized that paper was a possibility.
JV: It was an evolution because we were talking about the very sculptural aspect of it, then making paper, and finally printing on handmade paper. We started making the paper and saw all the possibilities that were coming naturally instead of having to force the idea. So yeah even for myself, I am not using a lot of material that I normally use other than fabric.
UNFILTERED: And for this exhibition specifically, what is it, Ashley, that you feel about gender norms and death that you have contributed to this exhibition? What has been your experience when discussing death and gender and gender issues? Was there something specific you were thinking of based on your experiences with people?
AM: Well, yeah just being myself for many years and everyday interactions with people that I think for a really long time I struggled with once I started working in the office — I wasn’t used to that. I used to weld and do a lot of masculine labor and just trying to figure out how to work in an office environment has been difficult. So, when we were looking for books to take apart, that’s very much something I was into. I was like “I’m going to destroy this.” Also, I think there were parts when the materials that we chose overlapped and worked for us differently. Like, having books about how to raise your son to play sports and that dialogue you have with them over the years is also something that I want to have in all the feminine qualities, as well. Having it mixed in there is a positive for me. I think that we definitely switched from the death idea after a few months.
UNFILTERED: Do you feel like the political climate has influenced you in regards to this exhibition and major topics you’ve discussed? I know it seems as it is something you have worked in the past, so is it a continuation of your interests and passions?
JV: At the beginning, we weren’t thinking about the political climate. Our personal experiences are what inspired the exhibition back in January. I mean, I’ll be honest with you — most of my work is just me speaking personally. My work is autobiographical and that’s all my work is. Of course, it’s a response to machismo because that’s my experience. I am not speaking for anybody else. My work is not heavily based on research, besides certain things I do have to research. I’m just trying to tell my story and raise awareness of things that happen and how we can just be okay with ourselves.
UNFILTERED: Do you consider your work to be more along the lines of creative activism?
AM: I definitely consider that often, because what is most important to me is giving access to all communities to art. That doesn’t always work directly with my artwork, but it’s something I always consider for sure. We are going to have a papermaking workshop and that’s going to be pretty affordable. You’ll be able to use things you can find at home or that are not very costly rather than having to go to an art supply store to buy things over and over again. I think that for me also, artwork wise, it’s about being a visual reminder to other people. It doesn’t’ have to be harsh or aggressive, but it’s just a subtle reminder that if someone were to see it, they could relate to it in some way. They can identify with something that is relatable to them and then maybe makes sense of that. They wouldn’t have to understand the artworks, but I think seeing that little bit that they relate with is helpful for them. So that’s something I always consider.
JV: For me, I mean, it just depends. In my personal practice, I think it is very much like being an activist as far as against machismo and being queer and brown. Also, I do not consider myself a Chicano, and it’s funny cause a lot of people are like well you fit the description, but I don’t consider myself a Chicano. The Chicano movement was founded very much by machistas, that’s also another reason why I don’t like to associate myself with that term. But I do see it as a creative sense of activism on my part, for sure, I mean doing the performance [at Blue Star Contemporary], too, it was very loud and it can be very aggressive — but for the most part I like to be loud. It’s loud in the use of color and the use of material.
UNFILTERED: So, what is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced when trying to bring this exhibition together?
JV: Timing? On my part.
AM: I will agree with that, but I don’t think we’ve had many challenges.
JV: I mean I’ll be honest, Ashley has been awesome to work with. I would be like “Hey, Ashley you want to do this and that.” And she would come over and we would end up watching tv. She has been very easy to work with. I think that maybe the only challenge was formulating at the very beginning. We had the idea, but it could be anything. From the get-go we talked about wanting to do an installation. It was the execution part where we were like how are we going to put all of this together?
Can’t get enough of these artists? They have a busy schedule ahead of them. Aside from being a badass artist, Ashley Mireles is the Co-Director at La Printeria and works at Artpace as an Education Programs Coordinator. Jose Villalobos is the Co-Director at Clamp Light Studio and Gallery and will be participating in Luminaria and ArtBash next month. Click here and here to read more about the artists. Don’t forget to subscribe to “UNFILTERED Weekly” for your weekly dose of all the good shenanigans happening in San Antonio’s Contemporary Art Scene.