When Beauty is a Beast: Carolina Mayorga Invades the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The giant fly currently buzzing across the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop’s main gallery space certainly puts a new spin on that adage. Completed with oil pastels, artist Carolina Mayorga’s gargantuan (10 by 12 feet) insect takes a visitor by surprise not only with its sheer volume, but also its neon-pink wings, legs and compound eyes. Where we might shrink away in disgust, Mayorga sees allure; our repulsion is an entry point for the artist’s direct questioning of societal values concerning beauty and gender within popular culture.
When CHAW invited Mayorga to take over the space for its inaugural gallery residency, little did they know a figurative infestation would be the result. Mayorga has used the residency to create the third installment of Pink: The Art of Infatuation and Embellishment, an ongoing investigation that the artist states delves into, “the role that aesthetics and beauty play in popular culture.” While the majority of the gallery walls are covered with drawings depicting moments in the life-cycle of the common house fly, the larger-than-life drawing of the fly captures center stage. The resulting work—using the gallery’s wall as a canvas backdrop—will be painted over in thirty days’ time, matching the lifespan of the common house fly.
While this iteration, which Mayorga has titled Pink Cycle: The Life of a Fly, is fairly straightforward in design, there is much to unpack within the individual components. On the surface, literally, there is all that pink. The color pink is a focal point as much as the subject matter. It comes in a variety of visual textures thanks to the different mediums the artist uses, including colored pencil, ink, watercolor, and pastel. While the textures differ, the hue is consistent across platforms. Rather than candy-colored, this pink is loaded with down with magenta tones that suggest blood-enriched flesh. It is an aggressive–almost assaultive– color choice that certainly aligns with Mayorga’s desire to challenge both our definition of beauty and our biases towards assigning those ideals of beauty toward one gender in particular. Mayorga has an affinity for pink, noting how it can “magically turn [that which is unseemly] into something beautiful.”
Beautiful is certainly not an adjective we normally apply to the common housefly. Mayorga has more apt adjectives, such as “dirty”, “unclean” and “undesirable”, acknowledging that for the vast majority of us “they are an unwanted insect.” That disgust intrigues Mayorga, who seems to question how these negative affirmations developed in the first place. What are the societal “rules” that proscribe affinity and revulsion, and how are those rules delineated and enforced? In this context, the pink tones serve two overlapping purposes: to create the form of the insect and, more tellingly, to install a veneer of attractiveness upon the skeleton of that form.
In another artist’s hands, this heavy reliance on the color pink might cause the entire project to lapse into the slapstick or the cartoonish; Mayorga approaches her subject matter through the eyes of Dr. Salk rather than Dr. Seuss. This is readily apparent in her various untitled small-scale drawings that hang opposite the site-specific component. These works, completed in her studio, reference biological drawings in their depictions of wings, legs and other body parts. A second set of drawings, featuring anatomically complete depictions of flies, creates an arcing storyline that suggests the entire lifecycle of the species. This suite of drawings in particular hints at the biological mechanisms that drive the interaction between individual insects.
That interaction subtly delves into the political meat of Mayorga’s analysis of our social structures, as these small bugs are anthropomorphized stand-ins that mimic several facets of our human interactions. The artist notes that, “they [bugs] always have connections with humans,” and though this particular chapter of Pink may not be as overtly political as prior works featuring insects (her 2013 installationInfestation at the Artisphere used ants to directly comment on immigration), her continued focus on the insect realm seems to suggest that the foundational structures that support our concept of humanity and differentiate us from the animal kingdom are merely thin veneers. With this installation, Mayorga posits that the way we define beauty is situational rather than intrinsic, subject to both caprice and bias.
One aim of the CHAW residency program is to provide insight into the artist’s working process, and in this instance it moves Mayorga’s solitary drawing into a public experience. While this should not be considered a performance piece (as defined by the artist’s intent), it does share aspects of performance. Watching the artist work, I cannot help but notice how the spontaneity of her thought process is challenged by the precision of her mark-making; it appears that both facets of her artistic process seek to balance each other out. The installation is also both time-based and ephemeral, given the fact that the giant fly will “die” when the exhibition ends, never to be seen again. “I enjoy the pieces that don’t last,” Mayorga tells me, noting that she is “not that attached to the art itself,” but more so to the ideas that inform the final result. It seems counterintuitive to state that this exhibition is a subtler delineation of her political views than previous chapters of the Pink saga, given the way the shades of pink assault the eye. But in this case, that subtly is warranted—perhaps even necessary—in that it forces the viewer to consider their own biases towards beauty rather than accepting Mayorga’s viewpoint verbatim. Who knew the color of cotton candy had so much to teach us!
Pink: Life of a Fly runs through September 24th at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. A public reception to debut the site-specific work will take place on Saturday, September 10th from 5-7pm. For more information, visit their website here.
Editor’s note: The article has been updated to include an image of the Mayorga’s completed installation.
A (mis) Perceived Physique
Torpedo Factory’s latest exhibit explores body politics, equity and power By Danielle Kent
A (Mis)Perceived Physique: Bodyscapes by Three Women Artists showcases pieces by artists Allana Clarke, Lauren Kalman and Carolina Mayorga, and together, they tell a compelling story about the use of the female body throughout art history and today. The exhibit explores issues of power and dominance, politics, memory and equity through two stunning photography series and a striking video.
“It really is about the past, present and future of the female body in art,” says Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell, the curator of the exhibit.
Bryant-Greenwell was always interested in the representation of the female body in art and, more specifically, artists’ use of their own bodies in their artwork. She then decided to focus on the past, present and future of the female body in art after seeing the works of Clarke, Kalman and Mayorga, which are strongly influenced by that history.
“These artists are really talking about the story of art history,” she says. “They were really excited to explore the portrayal of the female body in art by female artists.”
In her grayscale photographs, Clarke, who is influenced by her experience as a black woman, portrays herself naked on the beach as she is slowly swallowed by the waves, depicting what she believes is a failed social and political system. Kalman’s video, influenced by body image, captures nude figures balancing on oversized objects to depict a struggle between power and dominance. Mayorga, influenced by the religion in her home country of Colombia, recreates the ideals of womanhood in her photographs.
While the exhibit is not directly influenced by feminism, Bryant-Greenwell says she hopes that it will make people “think about today and the use of the commodified body in work.” The artwork in A (Mis)Perceived Physique tells a narrative of the past and present, and what visitors take from it will affect the future.
“I do think that the visitor contributes the idea of the future in this exhibit. They see the past and present in front of them, and it makes them wonder,” Bryant-Greenwell says. “The future aspect of the exhibit is the question, ‘How far have we come and where are we going?’”
A (Mis)Perceived Physique: Bodyscapes by Three Women Artists opened Sept. 3 and runs until Oct. 16 at the Torpedo Factory.
The Looking Glass (Mesera)
During the opening, a woman dressed in a maid costume and wearing no shoes carried a tray as she passed by the visitors at the gallery. She had tape over her mouth.
The woman was artist Carolina Mayorga, 45, who was born in Colombia. She arrived in the United States in 1995 to do graduate studies in sculpture at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Her portrayal of a waitress was her artwork titled “Mesera,” symbolizing, she said, the struggles of those in the U.S. without legal permission. They are voiceless and don’t have rights, so “you get what you get,” she explained.
Through her art, Mayorga said, she wishes to be the voice for all people who come to the United States looking for “a better world.”
Some, admittedly, are heavy-handed, providing more proscriptive reads than open interpretations. A drawing and a collage by Lenny Campello blast the Castro dictatorship. Carolina Mayorga’s video performance as waitress—with tray taped to arm, and tape-covered mouth—gives us the seen-but-not-heard cliché of the migrant service worker.
Among the other works are sculpture and installation, with political content that includes F. Lennox Campello’s anti-Castro drawings and Carolina Mayorga’s video of a gagged waitress.
La Vie en Rose
In photographic tableaux she has exhibited previously, Carolina Mayorga posed as the Virgin, clad in robes worthy of a Renaissance canvas. Her current show, a few doors away from Honfleur at Vivid Solutions Gallery, tinkers with a different set of female (and male) archetypes.
“La Vie en Rose” combines the iconography of Marilyn Monroe, Edith Piaf and “The Wizard of Oz’s” Dorothy Gale, juxtaposed with war toys.
In videos projected on the space’s three solid walls, the Colombia-born D.C. artist sports a glitzy get-up and a conspicuously phony blond wig. She blows kisses and warbles about life in the pink, the song interrupted by the sound of gunfire. Pink also is the color of the running-soldier silhouettes seen in one video and of the toy tank and miniature GIs in the center of the room. They face a microphone that is attended only by a pair of ruby slippers.
The images pit innocence vs. experience, soft power vs. hard force. They’re evocative, but hardly unexpected. “La Vie en Rose” is the first part of a multimedia series titled “PINK: The Art of Infatuation and Embellishment.” Perhaps future installments will be more surprising.
Tapestry, 20/20 Productions DC
3 part interview
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle
Carolina Mayorga’s art is striking, captivating, poignant, thought provoking, and often humorous. As an artist, who provides visual commentary and critique on human issues that transcend geographic boundaries, her art is also essential.
Mayorga was born in Colombia and grew up during “a time of exacerbated violence”. No place was safe. No one was safe. Violence was constant and far-reaching. Her recollections of this time are not just facts and events but are sensorial memories which include feelings, perceptions, and behaviours. Mayorga’s earlier work often explored themes of war and displacement. Site-specific installations and video pieces called attention to the lives of victims, often children, impacted by crises. Through installations such as The Displaced , Orphans, and Snow Clock and video pieces such as LaVisita, Mayorga invited the visitor to experience the despair, loss, and hopelessness of these silenced victims. She captures the rapidity in which family life went from normal, happy, and loving to unforeseeable heart-breaking devastation.
Mayorga relocated to the United States 15 years ago to attend graduate school. At this time, the artist underwent a change in identity. No longer living in the country of her birth, she was now an immigrant in a foreign land. As an artist interested in social and political themes, Mayorga began examining issues of identity and otherness. To that end, she frequently uses her own image “as an interpretation of cultural, ethnic and gendered stereotypical identities”.
One of her most recent photographic series is Divine Revelations. This series of self-portraits is inspired by the depictions of the Madonna in Italian Renaissance art. In preparation for this work, Mayorga traveled to Spain and Italy in 2009 and 2010 where she visited museums, palaces, and churches to examine the Madonna. She states that the Madonna delGranduca and Madonna and Child by Raphael inspired some of her compositions.
In a recent performance piece, Maid in the USA, the artist provides a commentary on stereotypes and the roles that are “often attributed to immigrants of Hispanic origin.” In Maid in the USA, Mayorga, wearing a traditional Colombian Cumbia dress and holding a broom, cleans the performance site. She worked a seven hour shift as part of the performance. Her work sheds light on the very real and endemic stereotypes in U.S. mainstream media of women whose ancestral roots are in Latin America. While there has been much criticism of Hollywood’s continued portrayal of stereotypical roles, they persist. One famous, recently deceased, U.S. actress of Mexican descent estimated she had been cast as a maid over 150 times.
Whether a site-specific installation, performance, photographic, or video exhibition, visitors are expected to interact with the work. Mayorga’s art is intersubjective. The visitor becomes part of the work.
Mayorga is a keen observer of her surroundings. She draws inspiration from everyday life, her bicultural experience, and her upbringing. It is fitting that her artistic influences include Barbara Kruger, Marina Abramović, Edward Kienholz, William Kentridge, and Louise Bourgeois. While Mayorga does not consider her work as a form of activism, she states “I definitely have a message I want to convey. … I’m only presenting the issues. I pose questions and leave them open to interpretation.“
By Donna Banks, Nov 18, 2013
MAYORGA IS A KEEN OBSERVER OF HER SURROUNDINGS. SHE DRAWS INSPIRATION FROM EVERYDAY LIFE, HER BICULTURAL EXPERIENCE AND HER UPBRINGING.
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.
Carolina Mayorga’s art is striking, captivating, poignant, thought provoking and often humorous. As an artist who provides visual commentary and critiques on human issues that transcend geographic boundaries, her art is also essential.
Mayorga was born in Colombia and grew up during a time of exacerbated violence. No place was safe, no one was safe. Violence was constant and far-reaching. Her recollections of this time are not just facts and events but sensorial memories which include feelings, perceptions and behaviours. Mayorga’s earlier work often explores themes of war and displacement. Site-specific installations and video pieces called attention to the lives of victims, often children, impacted by crises. Through installations such as The Displaced, Orphans and Snow Clock and video pieces such as La Visita, Mayorga invited the visitor to experience the despair, loss and hopelessness of these silenced victims. She captures the rapidity in which family life went from normal, happy and loving to unforeseeable devastation.
Although born in Colombia, Mayorga relocated to the United States 15 years ago to attend graduate school. At this time, the artist underwent a change in identity. No longer living in the country of her birth she was now an immigrant in a foreign land. As an artist interested in social and political themes, it was logical for Mayorga to begin examining issues of identity and otherness. To that end, she frequently uses her own image ‘as an interpretation of cultural, ethnic and gendered stereotypical identities’.
One of her most recent photographic series is Divine Revelations. This series of self-portraits is inspired by the depictions of the Madonna in Italian Renaissance art. In preparation for this work, Mayorga traveled to Spain and Italy in 2009 and 2010 where she visited museums, palaces and churches to examine the Madonna. She states that the Madonna del Granduca and Madonna and Child by Raphael inspired some of her compositions.
In another recent work, a performance piece, Maid in the USA, the artist provides a commentary on stereotypes and the roles that are ‘often attributed to immigrants of Hispanic origin.’ In Maid in the USA, Mayorga, wearing a traditional Colombian Cumbia dress and holding a broom, cleans the performance site. The artist’s work sheds light on the very real and endemic stereotypes in U.S. mainstream media of women whose ancestral roots are in Latin America. While there has been much criticism of Hollywood’s continued portrayal of such stereotypical roles, it persists. One famous, recently deceased, U.S. actress of Mexican descent estimated she had been cast as a maid over 150 times.
Whether a site-specific installation, performance, photographic or video exhibition, visitors are expected to interact or participate with the work in some way. Mayorga’s art is a shared experience, one of inter-subjectivity wherein the visitor and the art actively engage. In so doing, the visitor becomes part of the art work.
Mayorga is a keen observer of her surroundings. She draws inspiration from everyday life, her bicultural experience and her upbringing. Her artistic influences include the works of Barbara Kruger, Marina Abramović, Edward Kienholz, William Kentridge and Louise Bourgeois. While Mayorga does not consider her work as a form of activism, she states ‘I definitely have a message I want to convey. I’m only presenting the issues. I pose questions and leave them open to interpretation.’
In “Divine Revelations,” Carolina Mayorga Toys With Catholics’ Obsession With Virginity
Posted by Ashley Larkin on Nov. 9, 2012
In her mixed-media show at Vivid Solutions’ temporary location, Mayorga is pictured as a virginal mother figure, sometimes with a rubber baby cradled in her arms. She says she found inspiration on a trip to Italy, where she saw Raphael’s famous portrait La donna velata. She later decided to reconstruct the figure in her own image—but with a couple of subversions. In Mayorga’s version, Madonna is a Latina woman, and she’s wearing nail polish.In her latest installation, “Divine Revelations: Passages From the Life of Our Lady,” D.C.-based artist Carolina Mayorga reinvents herself as a Virgin Mary-derived character—while abandoning the reverence that usually accompanies such a portrayal.
Mayorga says she hopes to dismantle the troubling virgin/whore dichotomy perpetuated in part by religious iconography. “I am questioning the role of women and how we are still perceived with all these stereotypes, characteristics that we should have, like being pure, being a mother,” she says.
Though, while “Divine Revelations” critiques Catholicism’s obsession with the virgin mother, Mayorga says she’s deeply interested in the tradition. “I still have this fascination for the characters, for the Biblical, more historical part of it,” she says, pointing to her own upbringing in a religious Colombian society. “Catholicism is more part of the culture instead of just being a religion. You don’t actually choose to live Catholic—you’re just born Catholic and you’re raised Catholic because that’s what we do.”
Mayorga has dealt with Latina identity in her work before. For the Corcoran’s “Take it to the Bridge” series this summer, Mayorga outfitted herself in a traditional Colombian dress and flitted about the gallery’s glass performance bridge, tidying up with a broom and a squeegee. Staged over Labor Day weekend, it was a provocative comment on so-called immigrant work in the United States.
Similar to her “Divine Revelations” installation, Mayorga utilized her own appearance to create a character—an artistic practice she says she has been developing for several years now. “I create all these characters based on myself, based on my background,” she says. “It’s bringing what I can to these characters.” But while her experiences as a female Latin immigrant (she is a naturalized U.S. citizen) have offered bountiful artistic windows, she says she feels less connected to South America now that she is living in the States.
“I’ve been in this country for maybe half of my life already, so I definitely don’t feel that I am from Colombia anymore,” she says. “But I’m not from here either, so it’s like this mix of two cultures—what I grew up with and my experience here.”
“Divine Revelations: Passages from the Life of Our Lady” is on view at Vivid Solutions’ temporary satellite gallery at 1922 Martin Luther King Ave. SE to Dec. 21. Free. Mayorga participates in an artist talk at the space on Dec. 1 at 2 p.m.
By Michael O’Sullivan Friday, November 2, 2012
On Friday, the Anacostia neighborhood plays host to two art openings you won’t want to miss. From 7 to 9 p.m., Honfleur Gallery unveils the latest solo exhibition by Michael B. Platt. Called “Steppin’ Out,” the show features digital prints of the human figure, influenced by a recent trip to Australia, that are reminiscent of the Washington artist’s life-size cutouts from the 1980s and 1990s.
Around the corner, from 6 to 8 p.m., the Gallery at Vivid Solutions — temporarily housed in a satellite space — will host an opening for “Divine Revelations: Passages From the Life of Our Lady.” Inspired by Roman Catholic iconography, Carolina Mayorga’s series of photographs re-imagines the artist as the Virgin Mary, in a commentary on gender and cultural identity.
The opening will include a performance by Mayorga at 6:15 p.m.
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Artist Carolina Mayorga, on her upcoming installation “Divine Revelations” at Vivid Solutions Gallery
Posted By Eric Hope
On October 30, 2012
Here at East City Art we don’t allow pesky annoyances like hurricanes to get in our way of bring you the latest exhibition news. As the first bands of rain threatened on horizon, artist Carolina Mayorga and I put aside our pre-Sandy preparations to discuss her upcoming exhibition, Divine Revelations: Passages from the Life of Our Lady at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions in historic Anacostia.
Mayorga’s artistic practice is grounded in performance pieces and installations designed to confront viewers’ perceptions of social and political norms. Followers of her work know she doesn’t shy away from addressing gender and cultural stereotypes with performances that, while playful, hold a mirror up to ways in which the “majority” attempt to define social norms (Maid in the USA, recently staged at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, is a great example). For Divine Revelations, Mayorga delves into religion, turning the gallery’s walls into a site-specific, salon-style tableau (ir)reverently honoring the Virgin Mary while simultaneously investigating how religion and the modern art marketplace shape our understanding of religiously-inspired gender stereotypes.
Born in Columbia, Mayorga grew up a “cultural Catholic”, noting that in many Latin-American locales, Catholicism is as much a cultural identity as a religious doctrine. While her personal views on religion have morphed over time, she has a maintained a fascination with the spiritual iconography of her youth. As an artist investigating cultural stereotypes, she also believes that this iconography injects a religiously-based bias to our understanding of gender roles, additionally becoming an instrument of monetary value within the modern art market. By casting herself as a modern day Madonna (with child) she’s challenging herself as much as her audience to see just how the Church’s use of Mary has influenced our views on what denotes the “perfect woman”.
Mayorga tells me she has been thinking about this issue for several years before deciding that the Vivid gallery’s space would provide the perfect backdrop her photographs, manuscripts and performance pieces. Renaissance imagery, especially Raphael’s works Madonna del Granduca and Madonna with Child served as focal point of her investigations, with research visits to sites in Spain and Italy serving as additional artistic fodder for her to ponder. An exhibition of Medieval illuminated manuscripts at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles further informed the written components following the life of Mary (which Mayorga has wryly tweaked for her uses; Mary now crosses the Anacostia River rather than the desert).
Upon entering the space, gallery-goers are immediately confronted by a bright red wall containing dozens of versions of Mary in all her grace, hung salon-style without seeming regard for composition or particular ease of view. The wall color as well as jumbled composition harken directly back to the Renaissance, when images of Mary would have covered cathedral walls, and Mary was revered both as a religious icon but also a model of piety and saintly womanhood. Other walls of the gallery remain stark white, with religious “texts” placed uniformly at eye level as one would expect to see in a modern art show. Photo courtesy of Carolina Mayorga.
The images are initially straightforward. A serene-looking Mary, a vision in fabrics of blue and red, gazes sweetly down on the audience, while passages from her life’s story are presented on adjoining walls. But then you begin to see subtle incongruities. Mary is a Latina (something we certainly don’t see in Renaissance works). She’s wearing nail polish. An innocent-looking Jesus is in reality a rubber doll. And those supposed religious manuscripts lauding Mary’s crossing of the Anacostia? An obvious work of fiction. What exactly is she trying to tell us?
It’s a complicated answer. But then religion and its influence on gender norms is a complicated topic. Here Mayorga brings it down to her level, imagining for herself not only as a mother, but also as an image of virtue to which woman are taught to obtain. “I start with myself and hopefully that will reach other people,” she tells me, stressing that,”Catholicism is my experience, but religions are often similar in the way they [personify] women.” How many girls have been raised in the image of Mary and strive to keep those characteristics, never mind the biological impossibilities behind her noteworthy claim to fame? While Mayorga is thinking about her specific, personal experiences (she actually felt stirrings of childhood spirituality when donning the garb), she believes there is a universal dynamic of what it means to be both a woman and a mother that runs through many major religions that her audience will connect with.
While the photos and texts on the wall offer reflective contemplation, Mayorga wants to push our buttons further with her performance component of the exhibition. She requested that few details be written about, so as not to give readers preconceived ideas, but suffice to it say she’s interested in how the art world validates these representations of Mary (as ideal woman) by bestowing worth upon them. Installations featuring multiple mediums are hard to codify, and I asked her what part of her installation is “more important” to her message – the photograph that will stand the test of time, or the performance that, while documented, will be a fleeting experience. She notes that in some of her projects she could answer that question easily, but in this case the performance will be integral to the photos, imbuing them with an art-world context that they otherwise might not have. Installation view. Photo courtesy of Carolina Mayorga.
In closing, I asked Mayorga what she hopes her audience will take away from the exhibition. She notes that while it’s a statement on how women in general are portrayed in religion, she hopes that using her own likeness will make it easier for viewers to examine how their own religious beliefs effect their understanding of social norms. Will it move you to do so? Find out November 2nd when Mayorga puts each component of her exhibition together for the first time.
Take It to the Bridge, Week 7: “Maid to Order”
Posted by John Anderson on Aug. 31, 2012
This weekend in the Corcoran bridge: identity politics! Saturday, the Take It to the Bridge series hosts Carolina Mayorga‘s “Maid in the USA,” in which the artist will be engaged in a constant act of tidying up the gallery’s entryway.
The performance does something similar to the movie A Day Without a Mexican, drawing attention to residents that many Americans choose to ignore, despite the fact that the United States’ economy has become increasingly dependent on the contributions of immigrants.
Mayorga’s performance addresses stereotypes of Latin Americans, embracing a population that some politicians would like to sweep under the rug—even while some newcomers might be sweeping their patios. Costumed in a dress typically worn for Cumbia dancing, Mayorga not only makes visible the act of labor, but seeks to reveal the cultural identity of the individual.
Take it to the Bridge runs to Sept. 15 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Carolina Mayorga: An Artist as Art
By Bryanne Leeming
Performance artist, painter, photographer, videographer, social commentator, and creator of characters — Carolina Mayorga remains hard to define into a particular mold as she embodies so many. She is a presence made up of many different characters, yet always stays true to her Colombian roots. She majored in cultures in the states, which allows her to communicate her ideas through different types of art. By not focusing on one particular medium, she creates her own image as an artist in the way she lives her life and the messages she delivers in her work.
“I do a little bit of everything. Sometimes you’re not great at anything, which also gives you the opportunity to try many other things and combine different mediums. One of my first performance pieces was in 2005 and I’ve been doing it more often since then.”
Last year, at the AiOP festival, Carolina came dressed as a new character: The Miraculous Artist. She walked up and down 14th street in a vibrant outfit of contrasting colors selling prayer cards for a dollar each to passersby, claiming the cards would bring “health, prosperity, and love” to buyers.
Performance art has its roots in early avant-garde movements of Europe and the US such as Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism. Mayorga’s performances are less abstract than the early Dada performances in the Cabaret Voltaire, and instead are based on realistic characters in a satirical way. However, both start with social critiques and carry a strong message in a public platform. By including herself in her art, Carolina Mayorga personalizes the message, often focusing on themes of Colombian poverty, Latino stereotypes, and the dangers of large institutions and mass consumption.
AiOP: How do you compare performance art to other mediums? Do you find it easier to get your message across through performance art?
Mayorga: It depends on the concept. I think some things work better with performance art, where something else will work better in photography or video depending on the idea. One thing I like about performance art is that it’s immediate. You get it out of your chest very easily. Once it’s complete, you can move on to your next adventure. Compare that to other types of media where you can keep thinking about it after and it can take you so long to put it together that the concept can get lost in the technicalities. With performance art, when you’re finished it’s like a release and you can go on to your next project after.
AiOP: Where do your ideas come from?
Mayorga: Mostly from my Colombian background. I take a lot of inspiration from infomercials as well and ideas of consumption. I put together videos where it looks like I’m selling products from South America. I create characters. ‘The Miraculous Artist’ character is based on the Virgin Mary because I was raised Catholic in Colombia. When you’re born in Colombia, you’re born Catholic. You don’t choose it! I played with that and at the same time I turned it into an infomercial using a little bit of humor. I’m trying to push some ideas of what I think about religion and institutions.
AiOP: Is it a social critique?
Mayorga: Yes, I would say it’s a critique of the institution and the way religion is presented to people. It sometimes becomes a sellable product. At AiOP, I was selling prayer cards and claiming that I would save people, bless them, and turn their lives around forever, and people were buying the cards! I always criticize consumerism in my work. They’re always selling you something! The ultimate goal of ‘The Miraculous Artist’ is not about changing people’s lives, it’s to make money. I also did a project called ‘Newspaper Soup’. It was a piece I created based on my culture where people would sometimes use newspaper in soup. I decided to turn it into a product I could sell to an American audience, and people bought it! I was standing at a food cart in front of the Convention Center in LA and selling newspaper soup for 99 cents. It tastes salty and looks pretty gross because with the ink, it turns brown. It’s not very good looking, but it’s filling.
AiOP: It seems like location is an important part of your work as you have performed and displayed your art all around the world. How do you change your performances based on where you are?
Mayorga: Sometimes I change it, depending on location because I always want to connect to a local audience. When I did it here in New York, I said the card was dripped in the holy waters of the Hudson River to connect to New Yorkers. It allowed me to keep the main concept but always change it a little depending on where I am. In LA, I made a little palm tree out of cardboard and put it next to all the real palm trees.
Carolina Mayorga: Artist profile
Photo: Stephen Mack
By Stephen Mack , DC Local Artists Examiner
July 18, 2011;
At Greater Reston Arts Center in late April, the face of a vibrant Latina woman beckons to visitors from every direction. The series is called Delights from South America, and the woman is advertising fruit in posters on the walls. A video projection simultaneously shows four images of her, holding up pineapples, bananas, papayas and tangerines with a salesperson’s smile. The images on the posters are juxtaposed with written phrases like “I never saw the dead,” and “We lost everything,” pieces of testimonies collected by Colombian journalist Alfredo Molano. But the harsh reality of the words doesn’t interfere with the gaiety of the female character, who doesn’t just adorn the walls but prances around the gallery selling actual fruit to visitors—pineapples are $3.49 each. Her business card is a refrigerator magnet with a photo on the front, a close-up of piercingly pink high-heeled boots, presumably modeled and shot by herself.* This is Carolina Mayorga, once again playing the dual role of artist and art.
“I’ve always been interested in interacting with people,” says Mayorga, who in previous works has played characters such as Super-Tina, a superhero who chases illegal immigrants; and the Miraculous Artist, a spiritual figure whose solution to all of life’s ailments is a set of cards featuring her likeness for the low, low price of $3.99. “Definitely being there and performing helps for selling [the work on the walls], but actually I found that out after the fact.”
Born in Colombia, Mayorga came to the US to study sculpture at the University of Kansas, and moved to Washington after earning her MFA in the late ’90s. “The scene was a little different,” she says. “It was more commercial galleries. It was a little hard for me to find a venue that would be interested in things like performance art and video … Nowadays it’s much more open. There are more people interested in alternative kinds of art.”
In addition to performance, video, and photography, Mayorga’s work frequently incorporates painting, drawing, and computer graphics from Photoshop and Illustrator. Favorite themes of hers include war, the juxtaposition of her native and adopted cultures, and poking fun at the Catholic faith in which she was raised. “I get influenced by weird things, like for example going to H&M.” She describes seeing a four-screen video advertisement in a store in New York, giving her the idea for the video in Delights from South America. The idea for the character she plays in the series came from the label on a pineapple she saw in a supermarket. “I used to be more influenced by artists before. Now it’s more just things that I see around.”
After saying she is in a state of “What’s next?” she immediately describes plans for a new series in some detail. Inspired by paintings of the Virgin Mary she saw in Italy, and expanding on her stint as the Miraculous Artist, she plans on a series of photographs of herself as Mary. Visitors to the exhibition’s opening would undoubtedly be treated to an appearance by the Blessed Virgin herself.
Mayorga notes the struggle to establish her identity in the local arts scene, saying she was often pigeonholed as a Latino artist. “I think I finally broke away from that, and I feel that even though my work is all very related to my background, I’m a D.C. artist … I’m part of the city now.” Her work has been shown in local galleries such as Curator’s Office, Civilian Art Projects, Transformer and Washington Project for the Arts. Her most recent work, Latin/American Diet, a video collaboration with Kristina Bilonick, is on view as part of Greater Reston Arts Center’s BITE exhibition until July 29.
Excerpt from Sculptures reshape a New Hampshire mountain
By Patricia Harris and David Lyon | July 03, 2011
“..Shortly up the main trail, we were literally ambushed by art: Colombian artist Carolina Mayorga’s group of five rusted steel silhouettes of figures wearing caps and carrying rifles. Almost hidden in the foliage, they seem to be waging a guerrilla war in the New Hampshire woods. At the Andres Institute they are labeled “Untitled,” but Mayorga lists the group as “Ambush I” on her resume…”
Hot Off The Presses: A Pot Full Of Issues
By Dave Gustine
By Rachel Beckman, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2007; Page C01
Last week at Transformer Gallery, people were eating “newspaper soup,” a boiled mixture of water, chicken bouillon and strips of newspaper. Artist Carolina Mayorga served the chunky, inky concoction to a few brave attendees, one of whom said it tasted like “dirty chicken.”
Transformer’s Executive Director Victoria Reis sipped the newspaper soup broth but “didn’t go there with the chunks,” she says.
“I figure the alcohol kills the toxic stuff,” Reis says, gesturing to her glass of white wine.
Mayorga was inspired to create the art installation, called “New Trends in South American Cuisine,” after hearing about people eating newspaper soup in Colombia, where she is from.
“It’s about poverty because people do that out of starvation,” Mayorga says. “It’s also playing with the idea of consumerism.”
Her show included a video of a mock infomercial for the soup and packages of the ingredients, on sale for $1.50. Mayorga would sell only one package per customer because “you only get what you need,” she says. She sold about 45 packages at the opening reception.
The soup’s list of ingredients takes a jab at the media: Each package says it contains two cups of advertisements, one cup of sports and only 1/2 teaspoon of art and culture (she used The Washington Post for all of her soup).
During the reception, Mayorga played merengue music and cooked under a picture of palm trees at sunset.
“I wanted to play with the stereotype of Latinos being dancers and always festive,” she says.
Mayorga’s installation kicked off a series of week-long exhibitions at Transformer called “E4: Station to Station.” The series features the four participants in this year’s Exercises for Emerging Artists program, which links artists with mentors for biweekly critiques.
Tonight, Arlington-based video artist Rob Parrish will present his new work, “Jack” (as in Bauer, Kiefer Sutherland’s character in TV’s “24”). Parrish combines footage from “24” with the Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded threat advisory system. It’s a video about lying, and it critiques both “24” and the advisory system as “absurd propaganda,” Parrish says.
Inside the gallery she’ll play recordings of the swish-swoosh of herself ice skating. Outside on P Street, she’ll draw figure eights by attaching chalk to in-line skates. Adams plans to skate each day around 2 a.m. to avoid cars.
Toosi is setting up a faux accounting firm called H&R CABBAGE to calculate gallery visitors’ personal carbon emissions. She’ll be at Transformer full time from Aug. 1 to 4 for this performance piece, titled “You’re Not as Green as You Are Cabbage-Looking.”
Toosi says she’s poking fun at the trendiness of environmentalism and also giving people a tangible idea of their carbon footprints.
“I’m usually interested in things that are in the spotlight because they come and go,” she says. “In fact, it’s a very long-lasting issue.”
“E4: Station to Station” runs through Aug. 4 at Transformer Gallery, 1404 P St. NW. Wednesday-Saturday, 1-7 p.m. Free. 202-483-1102.
Mentor Exercise: Transformer’s developmental program offers support to up-and-coming artists.
By Zoe Pollock
Posted: July 5, 2007
“ ‘Emerging’ is such an odd buzz word,” says Victoria Reis, executive director of Transformer and co-founder of the gallery’s Exercises for Emerging Artists program. “It has more to do with experimentation than with younger artists. Artists can be emerging at all different stages of their careers.”
That’s certainly true for 43-year-old Rob Parrish, one of the artists in Transformer’s upcoming exhibit, “E4: Station to Station.” Parrish, who’s been creating video art for the past 16 years, joins three other artists participating in the latest installment of the four-month developmental program. Launched in 2004, Exercises brings artists together to discuss ideas and processes, as well as to undergo peer and mentor critiques on a bi-weekly basis. The whole project culminates with an exhibit of their work.
“It’s an opportunity for artists to connect with their peers and mentors, once they’re outside of the art-school experience,” Reis says of the program. “Unless you’re being nurtured by a gallery, you’re not always engaged by fellow artists….We provide support for them, whether it’s finalized projects or just a presentation point.”
Reis says she initially sought out guest curator Niels Van Tomme—who serves as the co-director of the International Curators Program Antwerp and, in April, curated the four-day “Multimediale” arts festival here—because of his background in film and mixed media. He and an assortment of artists, including visual artist Alberto Gaitán and Corcoran Curator of Photography and Media Arts Paul Roth, offered guidance and feedback to the program’s artists as they developed their work. The idea is that work will be first shared within the immediate circle of the participating artists, then with the mentors, and then opened to a public audience for feedback, says Reis.
“It was a little nerve-wracking, allowing perfect strangers to look at things that aren’t finished,” Parrish notes, before adding that “the process branched me off into some other projects that wouldn’t have bubbled off, left to my own devices.”
Due to space restraints and the expansive nature of multimedia, Van Tomme decided early on that each artist would require a four-day solo installation. “We knew it wouldn’t be a normal exhibition with paintings or photos, but an experiential space for each station of work,” he says.
“E4” opens with Carolina Mayorga’s “New Trends in South American Cuisine” (July 11n14), which explores themes of social politics and protest through video, performance, and installation art. Parrish’s “Jack” (July 18n21) mixes television and archival footage in the examination of propaganda and manipulation. Former figure skater Rebecca C. Adams analyzes the pedantic tracing of figure eights in “Compulsory Figures and ∞” (July 25n28). In her environmental performance piece, “You’re Not as Green as You Are Cabbage-Looking” (Aug. 1n4), Fereshteh Toosi will calculate carbon emissions for audience members.
As Reis’ program continues to develop up-and-coming talent in the D.C. area, it also continues to solidify Transformer’s reputation as a site for experimentation, capable of both creativity and professionalism. “In their approach, Transformer is very European and reminds me of alternative, underground art spaces in Brussels and Antwerp,” says Van Tomme. “Many times art tries to take itself so seriously. Transformer does take art seriously, but they are also rock and roll.”“E4: Station to Station” opens Wednesday, July 11, and is on view from 1 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, to Saturday, Aug. 4, at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. Free. (202) 483-1102.
SiteProject Sets Up Shop on 14th Street
June 18, 2007
“New Arrivals (pictured) by Caroline Mayorga is on display at Garden District, a neighborhood nursery. The piece places bright green cutouts of praying mantises on a brick wall outside of the store. The installation is one of the more purely aesthetically pleasing, as is an untitled bamboo sculputre by Piero Passacantando that hangs above the entrance to Muleh. The piece resembles a large windchime and gives an organic feel that is an affecting contrast to the rigidity of its surroundings. Other pieces of note include Cycles, Elements and Spaces in Between, a multimedia interactive design by Roberto Bocci that is on display at Metropolis at 14th and P, and Michael Lease’s The Lack of Words, a photographic piece at the old Church of the Rapture at 14th and T.”
By Michael O’Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2004; Page WE28
DON’T TAKE too literally the title of the exhibition “Sculpture in Four Dimensions” at the Art Museum of the Americas. In the words of Sculpture magazine Managing Editor Twylene Moyer, who organized the juried show with museum director Ana Maria Escallon from submissions that were both international and local (more on this later): “Don’t expect any concrete representations of the hypercube’s abstract geometry here.” In other words, even though some works incorporate such airy-fairy media as “time” (one of the ingredients in David Meyer’s “False Theory”), this is a show in which the definition of the titular dimension falls closer to something like “poetry” or “unexpected possibilities” than anything that can be measured with a yardstick, albeit a theoretical one.
What this also means, in practical terms, is that the most successful pieces, at least in terms of hewing to the theme, are those that are the most difficult to see.
I’ll start with one example, which a casual visitor might easily overlook, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s unlabeled. In fact, if you walk outside the museum to get to the garden behind it, where several of the sculptures have been installed, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself standing on this particular artwork. There is no sign — at the request of sculptor Carolina Mayorga of Colombia, I’m told — because the artist didn’t feel her piece was successful.
Called “Grass Clock” and consisting of words “written” in brown sod that the artist had previously covered up next to the museum’s outdoor pool, the simple work is as conceptual as it is sculptural. On the afternoon I visited, just before the opening reception, this message in patches of dried grass was faint but discernable: “As this sculpture fades, 22,500 children will die in war.” By the time you see it, more of the once-green ground cover will assuredly have filled in, making it even harder to read, just as Mayorga’s prophecy will have assuredly drawn closer to its sad fulfillment.
Other works vie with Mayorga’s in subtlety, if not political punch, among them Katherine Kavanaugh’s “Air,” a gorgeous, site-specific installation — no, make that flock — of sewing needles stuck into the wall near the second-floor bathroom. Along with Margaret Boozer, Lynden Cline, Chas Colburn, Carolyn Jean, Erin Root and others, Kavanaugh is one of several fine Washington area sculptors whose works are showcased here. The show itself is one of several in an ongoing celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Washington Sculptors Group, who in this case have been paired with artists from the Americas (e.g., Argentina, Chile, Peru). I particularly liked Boozer’s “Cross Eye Bird,” a composition whose central, unearthed root, framed by an old wagon wheel, is a Duchampian departure from her more familiar ceramic art.
Intriguingly, the women outnumber the men here more than 3 to 1.
Could this perhaps account for that certain — oh, I don’t know — delicacy alluded to earlier? It’s probably sexist to even suggest that, yet it’s easy for the thought to cross one’s mind when encountering works incorporating feathers, hanging rayon paper, flour (and flowers), lipstick, optical fiber, porcelain, velvet, salt and dead bugs embedded in sheets of resin. To be sure, some of these materials appear in pieces by men, and there are certainly women in the show who work with steel — as well as other, more “rugged” material.
Gender aside, though, the truest reason for this daintiness is the show’s theme, which emphasizes ineffable qualities that go beyond length, width and height. As is often the case, the more unorthodox the material — or, more specifically, the more fragile and ephemeral a work is — the more it draws our attention away from what it’s made of to the immaterial. Sharyn O’Mara’s “Untitled: corner 1,” a gossamer-like cloud of shimmering optical fiber and monofilament that suggest a beatific visitation, is such a piece. So is Lucy Norman Spencer’s “Her Jewels,” a sweet little nest of burnt wood containing egglike balls of Kosher salt and paraffin wax.
In a town known for its earthbound sculpture gardens, memorials, monuments and equestrian statuary, “Sculpture in Four Dimensions” is a welcome respite. The airiness and ethereality of its art do not, for the most part, connote a lack of gravity. Yes, there are some clunkers in this jewelry box of a show, but there also are some real gems.
SCULPTURE IN FOUR DIMENSIONS — Through Sept. 30. Art Museum of the Americas, 201 18th St. NW (Metro: Farragut West). 202-458-6016. www.oas.org/museum. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10 to 5. Free.
High Impact: Death, Suffering and Salvation at School 33
By Mike Giuliano
Baltimore City Paper
February 14, 2001
The three artists featured in the current exhibit at the School 33 Art Center’s Gallery I, New Work, have Latino backgrounds that are reflected to varying degrees in the art they make.
Alexandria, Va., artist Carolina Mayorga’s mixed-media works directly refer to the combustible political situation in Colombia. Woodcuts by Washington, D.C., artist Naul Ojeda include quotations from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. And Baltimore artist Luis Flores, who usually incorporates specific personal references in his work, has an installation here that’s loosely autobiographical at best.
Mayorga’s varied offerings plunge us into the bloody specifics of an uncivil society. Her pieces include “Mortal Journey I,” a series of 24 wooden panels on which the combination of printed male names and splattered red paint makes us think about individuals brutally cut down. “Mortal Journey I Floor Game” involves red footprints lined up on the floor as if to invite your feet to walk a certain path, game “rules,” and biographical data about murdered and missing young men from the pages of a Colombian newspaper.
There’s no denying the power of her artistic approach, but Mayorga’s best pieces are allusive rather than so bluntly graphic. In the wall-mounted, mixed-media construction “US,” a wooden panel serves as the backing for a padlock and the soles of a pair of shoes. In several related pieces, the affixed objects include barbed wire and baby shoes. These pieces resonate in a more poetic and yet no less visceral manner than the “Mortal Journey” pieces. There’s a sense of sorrow that assumes a particular loss and also extends to a more universalized sense of oppressed and truncated lives. By way of analogy, consider how gun-control activists in our own country have made their point by lining up the shoes of murder victims along the marble steps of legislative buildings–a subtle tactic more effective than distributing grisly crime-scene photographs might be.”