Thursday, April 7, 2022

Amor y Anarquía

For this next series of Storefront Window Installations we'll be pairing our exhibiting artists with other artists and curators for interview conversations. This spring we were pleased to host Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez's installation Amor y Anarquía.

Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez (b. Guayama, 1977) is an interdisciplinary artist, intersectional curator, and educator based somewhere in-between Borikén and the traditional homelands of the Narragansett and Wampanoag peoples. Their artistic production explores the colonial system, otherness, resistance, nostalgia, the galactical and feminist discourse. They have exhibited, lectured and performed nationally and internationally.
Below is a conversation between Anabel and Providence based Curator Kate McNamara.

KM: I wonder if before we jump into speaking about the Dirt Palace window installation, we can take a minute to discuss your interdisciplinary work and practice as a curator, artist, performer and educator? I see all of these roles seeping into each other in a way that makes your work urgent, generous and empathetic. I know you studied art-making and specifically photography in your formal education - was photography a gateway into the multiple roles you currently engage with? How?  AV: Gracias Kate! si photography was most definitely a gateway. I was fortunate to have studied photography with artist Frieda Medín at La Liga de Arte de San Juan. I was just 16 when I first signed up to her weekend b&w darkroom course and was completely blown away. Frieda instilled in me a deeply conceptual and magical way of engaging with photography. I will never forget a lecture she gave at Casa Aboy where she described how she would perfect her negatives with her fangs. Medín’s work was my first experience of the power of the personal is political. Later I attended the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, were I was immersed in a rigorous humanities program as a painting major (there was no photo major at the time) and I was immediately in awe of the vibrant arts scene and began experimenting in sculpture as performance, photography, action painting, literature, punk rock and so much more. Suffocated by the colonial US chokehold, I ended up at MassArt, Boston and in 1998 I embarked on a photography degree there and was quickly mesmerized by filmmaking and artists like Maya Deren and Carolee Schneeman. Film was to me an organic expansion of the psychological space that I was/am intrigued by in photography and led me to installation work, film programming, performance, collective art/activism, diy space programming, skill shares, and more. The camera obscura magic as a portal.

AutoGaláctica series 2014 © Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez

KM: You participate in many communities within the U.S., Puerto Rico, and beyond and have been actively engaged in the politics and art movements unfolding over these last tumultuous years. How does transnational identity inform your work as an artist, curator and educator?  AV: wao that’s a big question! As a Caribbean colonized person, l believe my identity allows me to make palpable and broader connections among socio-political and art movements. This most definitely permeates into my practice as artist, curator and educator. KM: Circling back to Dirt Palace, can you tell me how you first became involved with the DP community and how it evolved?  AV: My first experience of the Dirt Palace was in the early 2000s as a spectator at their music, film, and performance events. It was love at first show! As a curator I exhibited the works of a few members and our connections continued to grow throughout the years. In 2016 I was asked to join the Dirt Palace Public Projects board, and have been serving ever since! KM: Let’s talk about the window, Amor y Anarquía. The window features two large-scale graphite portraits of radical women activists: Lucy Parsons and Luisa Capetillo. I wonder if you can speak to the selection and pairing of these two important historical figures for this installation, as well as the title?  AV: The title comes from the book Amor y Anarquía: Los Escritos De Luisa Capetillo I have been inspired by Capetillo’s life and writings for a while so she was a natural choice for me. In 2012 I made my first portrait of her, Doña Luisa Capetillo. Con razón o sin razón. Ha armado tremendo lío con su falda pantalón.   (Mrs Luisa Capetillo. Rightly or wrongly. Has made a tremendous impression with her trouser skirt)

"Doña Luisa Capetillo. Con razón o sin razón. Ha armado tremendo lío. Con su falda pantalón." 

2012 © Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez

The mix media piece’s title is from a news clipping, when she was arrested for publicly wearing trousers in Cuba in 1915. When thinking about radical women contemporary to the Tirocchi atelier to portray, I immediately thought of her, 2022 additionally marks 100 years from her untimely death. Lucy Parsons also felt like an instinctual choice, such a legendary and still enigmatic radical figure from the United States, whose legacy I was introduced to during my time in Boston. The radical bookstore The Lucy Parsons’ Center, on Columbus Ave. now located in Jamaica Plain, most definitely had an influence. It was a place to meet up, acquire radical writings, stay informed + there were weekly talks and film screenings. The major connections for me in the selection and pairing, were that both women worked as seamstresses/dressmakers, they both deeply advocated and organized for the working class and loved in radical ways. This pairing is also my way to create a bond not only between these two radical women but uniting the anti-capitalist struggle in the Caribbean and North America, through a Boricua and United Statesian whose fierce writings and speeches deemed them dangerous.

Amor y Anarquía, window installation detail, 2022 © Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez

KM: I know you were interested in tying in a range of site-specific, historical and contextual elements into these portraits, one of which was the relationship both activists had to making garments and the legacy of the Tirocchi sisters who formerly owned and used the Wedding Cake House as an atelier. Can you tell me about some of the formal decisions you made when drawing the clothing that so thoughtfully adorn Parsons and Capetillo?

AV: During my residency at the Wedding Cake House in the summer of 2021 I was reimagining that radical women contemporary to the Tirocchi sisters atelier would have a garment made there and/or would be connected to the dressmaking workers. These summer sketches of women were the inspiration to create these larger pieces. Some of the formal elements began when I was stenciling the silhouettes for each piece. I made a stencil using artist tape, created the background and then added details with the graphite, but some of the stronger or graphic elements emerged when I started experimenting with the artist tape itself as a mark maker. I would tear the artist tape creating more organic edges while retaining the sharp line. I used this technique to create a pattern in Parsons’ garment, accentuate Capetillos suit and tie, and both their updos. Parson’s design was inspired by one of the catalog drawings from the Tirocchi atelier collection. Capetillo is known for wearing a white mens suit, so it was important to keep that essence while accentuating the suit jacket with lines reminiscent in the  collection.
Lucy Parsons, Amor y Anarquía, process detail 2022 © Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez

KM: I am interested in your approach to portrait-making and how it connects to your ongoing photographic process. In previous conversations you have used the language of “operator and participant,” rather than subject.

I think this is a clear shift away from more patriarchal histories of dehumanizing and objectifying the person sitting behind the camera and instead speaks to a culture of caretaking, trust, agreement and collaboration. When you were working on the storefront portraits, did you find yourself thinking about these roles of operator and participant even within the medium of drawing and archive? 

AV: Absolutely. I kept having an imaginary dialogue with both of them. I researched extensively both their writing and lives. I felt like they were having a conversation with them like how they would want to be represented, their disdain for the bourgeois made it a lively conversion when talking about couture. 

Luisa Capetillo, Amor y Anarquía, process detail 2022 © Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez

KM: I really appreciate the way the portraits have a sculptural presence within the framework of the window - not only because of their scale, but the fact that they are hanging - almost unfurling. There is an objecthood to them - can you speak about your work in installation and how it figures into this project? 

AV: Gracias, I felt it was important for them to have that objecthood, I felt the space called for it. My installation work has usually incorporated projections/monitors, and cut paper life-size palm trees and objects to interact with while performing. In this project there is a departure from that, even though they are 2d works the hanging and spilling on the surface like a scroll feels in a way more sculptural than previous installation work. For this piece I was hoping for ancient-like large-scale portraits fit for a memorial or procession.  

Amor y Anarquía, process & install 2022 © Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez

KM: The composition so intentionally ties into the beautiful mosaic on the exterior of the building (made by Dirt Palace co-founder Pippi Zornoza). Was this a consideration from the very beginning of your installation planning?  AV: Thank you, yes, the mosaic work by Pippi Zornoza was definitely an inspiration and informed the layout from the beginning. The palette of the piece and the building, street lights and reflections were also considered. KM: Last question! Considering the role that garments play within this installation and your research, I have to admit that I am a total fan of your personal style! I wonder if you can talk a bit about your own approach to dress? Are there time periods or moments in fashion that you draw from? Personal histories that have been aestheticized?  AV: ¡Ay gracias! I love this question!  Luisa Capetillo wrote, Esta costumbre de pantalón se adapta perfectamente a la época de progreso femenino. This trouser custom is perfectly suited to the era of female progress. 1915 Though I have a collection of dresses, I love to wear trousers! Not only are they mostly practical, they do at times feel like armor. I became interested in fashion early on, finding inspiration in all the 80s and 90s magazines and music. I am currently inspired by various time periods, Victorian, 20s 30s fashion, and 90’s power suits. Blazers and a black on black palette with a tropical goth vibe.

AUTO GALÁCTICA EN EL TERCER ESPACIO, Performance ÁREA LUGAR DE PROYECTOS Caguas, PR 2014 © Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez

Kate McNamara is a Providence-based curator, educator, arts administrator and mother. She is a staunch advocate for animal rights, moving her body is medicinal and is really hoping that one day, her ability to move objects with her mind will suddenly become manifest. 


This installation was made possible in part through support from the City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism.

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