These artists made music drip, cut its head off, sewed it into quilts and laser cut it into sheets of metal. Music's the main inspiration behind most of the art on view at the Mixedtape Vol. 1 show at downtown L.A.'s Federal Art Project gallery.Unless you were one of about a hundred people who stopped by the opening last night you missed Juan Capistran's richly layered piece. It melted down the sidewalk on 2nd Street, east toward Broadway. The piece is titled "Colors (I'm so Bored with the U.S.A. DUB)." Its jumping off point is the 20 year-old song "Colors" by Ice-T. Juan created a pile of ice that on closer inspection includes the phrase "SOBRE TIERRA DE LIBRES" (pulled from the super-controversial Spanish translation of the "Star Spangled Banner" three years ago) spelled with molded ice letters, some clear, some dyed blue, others red.
The piece is imbued with Juan's memories of growing up in the 98th Street and Figueroa neighborhood of South Central 25 years ago. His was one of only two Mexican families on his block. He remembers being beat up, jumped, in the second grade by African American kids. His memories are largely nostalgic. The ice cube colors reference the Bloods and Crips gangs. The cubes also denounce the new oppressive force in that neighborhood. When Ice-T sang about South Central, the LAPD sowed fear among many residents. Now, Capistran says, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers have dutifully assumed that role in the now mostly immigrant Mexican and Central American neighborhoods of South Central.
Seven other artists in the show also layer musical memories into the artwork on display. Hazel Mandujano covers a wall with lyrics from a Joan Jett song. Singer Neil Young inspired artist Rich Shelton to create a laser-cut steel piece titled "Burn Out, Fade Away." Jacob Rhodes documents the Oxnard skinhead scene of the 1980s in quilts sowed with outlines of skinhead guys hanging, drinking beers. He pushes the "do it yourself" aesthetic of the punk movement to its logical conclusion. If you can create your own punk fashion, why not create your own skinhead quilt? One of the three quilts is made of skinheads' green bomber jacket material, lined with gingham and decorated with tassels (a reference to the tasseled shoes skinheads used to wear before they started wearing boots). Jacob tells me the homo-erotic undertones are not in my imagination.
Cal Arts graduate Shizu Saldamando depicts a recent concert scene in Azusa in hyperrealist style in her graphite on wood piece titled "Maria Daniela y su Sonido Lazer Concert, Azusa, CA." There's a lot going on in the piece. Mexico City pop-alternative singer Maria Daniela is depicted only through the butt of her microphone. She's not important. It's the crowd, all dark haired, some Spanish speakers, some 2nd generation immigrants, like Shizu, she says. In Azusa, a majority Latino suburb in the San Gabriel Valley (the Long Island of L.A. County, where immigrants assimilate into the middle class) you don't have to defend your Latino identity, Shizu says, like she had to do growing up in San Francisco. It's a new mainstream setting unlike the under-siege state most Latino immigrants inhabit elsewhere in the United States.
What kind of art is this? Chicano art, of course. But not really. Several of these artists were in last year's big, LACMA-organized Phantom Sightings show. It was a seminal Chicano art exhibit embraced by many artists as an institutional door-opening and rejected by others as an attempt to say the Chicano art of the 1960s is no longer relevant. The show's subtitle "Art After the Chicano Movement" fed the controversy.Shizu Saldamando and Juan Capistran curated the Mixedtape Vol. 1 show. She explains that the show was partly inspired by Phantom Sighting's "Post-Chicano" debate. The label doesn't honor the art and artists who came before, she says. She backtracks soon after though, saying she'd rather frame this show as something born out of love, not hate or paranoia. Next to the melting ice cubes, curator Pilar Tompkins defends the "Post-Chicano" terminology as she hands me a flyer for her upcoming show, "Post-American L.A."
Words and how they're used to frame art are important to these artists. They're not only creating art, they're engaged in how their art drips, is cut, and is sewn into a larger cultural tapestry, which may be far from finished.