In Conversation: Sara Cardona embraces the traditional and the digital in Trinity University exhibit

A few months ago we had the opportunity to meet Sara Cardona at the opening for exhibition This is Only a Test on view at Trinity University’s Michael and Noemi Neidorff Gallery, in collaboration with Blue Star Contemporary.

As the exhibition comes to a close, we asked Cardona, and Neidorff Gallery Manager, Mark Anthony Martinez, a few questions about the body of work featured in This is Only a Test.

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Sara Cardona. Courtesy of the artist.

UNFILTERED: What is your creative process like? How do your ideas develop into physical works of art?

SARA CARDONA: I like collage because it takes your mind “offline” a bit– I don’t have to think of an entire image from the beginning, but rather I let things suggest themselves to me. I do think about relationships between pieces and bigger picture ideas to unify a body of work– but when it comes to working in my studio, its somewhat like film editing– you are looking at all this “footage” and then composing. I don’t have an order to how I work– some days I am in a frame of mind to really work like a composer, moving things around, photographing them, doing a lot of looking and then pasting. But other days, I am in a state of mind or energy just to cut and go through magazines or print patterns off the internet and I feel more like a researcher– combing through visual artifact– amassing and cutting colors, images, patterns into piles that I work from later.

UF:The textiles in This is Only a Test mimic the Mexican serape, a blanket-like shawl, usually brightly colored and worn by men. Can you expand on what inspired you to utilize this traditional textile?

SC: I think the serape is a fascinating textile– both for its actual history and then for its appropriation into pop culture, consumer culture and stereotype. It is a textile that is intricately tied to travel and migration. It is what men in rural parts of Northern Mexico, Saltillo specifically, wore to stay warm during travel across the high desert and mountains. It was associated by the Europeanized, urban Mexican elite with “indian-ness” which was a stereotype code for poverty and crudeness or “uncivilized.”

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Installation view, from left to right: Sara Cardona, Apantallado/Do Not Adjust Your ScreenTerremoto Ocular/Tectonic Shift, and Teledetección/Remote Sensing.

It is a garment worn by men– to keep them warm while traveling, to sleep in and it is essentially the male counterpart to a rebozo. Sometime in the 40s and 50s –these very negative stereotype images of a sleeping Indian with a big peasant sombrero, head down next to a cactus became a coded stereotype for Mexico and Mexicans in general in the U.S. too. It represented Mexico as as a place that was not industrialized, poor, lazy, etc. By the same token, they became tourist commodity to be bought and sold to Americans who wanted a souvenir of “old Mexico” — so in that way, they also represent travel– this time as a market object that traveled back to the US. In the 60s and 70s, hippies, surfers and working class men used them as covers for their bench seats in station wagons and trucks. My dad always kept a few thunderbird blankets in his pick up in case we got cold in the truck bed where my sister and I would ride when we were little. So in all these ways, I think that blanket moved from being a true, handmade object of personal utility and transport, to a souvenir commodity, and an object associated in my mind with moving and migration, to almost a pop-cultural icon. It moved into being kitsch- -something nostalgic and drained of its original history. But, I like to play with all those ideas. Once, I even read a beautiful proposition that the image of the Indian wrapped in a blanket was misunderstood — he was not really sleeping, but on a shamanic peyote trip. I like that– it’s like cosmic travel!

UF: Does your interest in textiles have any influence on creating collages, another medium which involves various materials and is heavily associated with the more traditional idea of a hand-crafted product?

SC: Yes, paper and fabric are distant cousins! My attraction to collage is the process of cutting and pasting discreet images to create a collective experience– there is a bit of that sensibility in textiles. I like the hand–made in all its forms. I respond to it in a very fundamental way.

UF: Another theme of the exhibition seems to be technology, through the use of static and broadcast tests. You’ve merged ideas of technological advancement and traditional textiles. Why is that? What is the relationship?

SC: At some point in making work for the show, I began to see a strange connection between the deconstructed bands of color and the folds in images of blankets almost like glitches. It reminded me of this fundamental idea of movement or migration back and forth, but in terms of language and media.  I thought, “wow- there is a correlation here. “– Ideas migrate too- but through media and lots of it is mis-information that distorts culture through a back and forth. That is why I think of this curious connection between the hand-made blanket and the virtual space of satellite feeds- one is an object that I associate with bodies moving across space– the other I associate with ideas and language moving across space. There is an important element to the show that some viewers who take time with it might pick up on, and that is that the titles all have some wordplay involved– they each have a title in english and spanish– and make use of idiomatic expressions that are hints at the break down of ideas. For example, one of the pieces is called Apantallado/Do Not Adjust Your Screen. Apantallado means to be shocked or in disbelief. But is also a play on the word “pantalla” which is a screen. It refers to disbelief/fake news/misinformation/and questioning what is real or not. Is it a true emergency? Is it a drill? We live in a very unstable world. Forgive the pun, but the collective fabric of U.S. society is unravelling, while at the same time I sense a larger, Latinx community is coalescing across the global South that might transcend this binary of national borders someday.

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This is Only a Test. Installation View.

UF: Outside of creating art, what are some projects and passions that you like to pursue?

SC: I like theater a lot. Maybe some of my newer work is leaning toward a large-scale theatricality– I work for a theater company in Dallas and I love the energy of live performances! I’m also interested in bridging the gap between US and Mexican artists. I think there is a lot of commonality and even influence– but outside the big art fairs, its harder for artists without big galleries to have that direct connection to one another.

Martinez is fascinated by the subject matter, but perhaps most importantly, by how her use of materials, or lack thereof, emphasizes the subject matter.

Mark Anthony Martinez: What’s interesting about the collage works is that there is an economy of use to her materials and not just subject matter. When you look at these collages they’re not very worked…when you think of collage you think of something heavily overworked and these are more subtle. She’s discussing when materials fail. When she’s not doing large format prints she’s just printing at home on normal cardstock paper. What we’re looking at is a portion where the ink stopped flowing…so there’s this pink element here. It’s kind of scratchy where the ink starts running out. And she just keeps those failures in the work and they become this other layer. This other conversation without having to use more paper or more collage on top of that.

Cardona’s exhibition is unexpectedly timely, with a caravan of migrants making their way through Mexico, much to President Trump’s chagrin.

 

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This is Only a Test. Installation View.

MAM: She’s talking about this movement throughout the entirety of the show. Back and forth between north and south, over the border. Movement of textiles, movement of these ideas. But there’s also the economy that moves over the border. The idea that commerce can transport back and forth but people don’t. That’s what is interesting an eerie about this work. We have these textiles that represent a body,  a specific kind of body, and the body is absent in the show too. So I think that’s really fascinating.

Trinity University has been host to several amazing artists over the past few years, occasionally, though not as often as we’d like, including people of color. For a predominantly white university (a whopping 56.1% white according the their website), we hope that Sara Cardona’s exhibition This is Only a Test, helps open the eyes of the students, faculty, and staff. Not only in regards to one POC’s perspective, but to the importance of supporting and showcasing such points of view.

This exhibition is in theme with Blue Star Contemporary’s current programing, Monarchs: Brown and Native Contemporary Artists in the Path of the Butterfly,  which explores the path of the monarch butterfly, both metaphorically and physically. The exhibition is being held at two locations: Blue Star Contemporary and Southwest School of Art.

Let’s do more of this. Let’s be better at this.

This is Only a Test is on view until this Saturday, November 9th at the Michael and Noemi Neidorff Gallery. Gallery hours are 1pm-5pm and by appointment. Martinez can be contacted at (210) 999-8871. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

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