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Javier Tapia and Camilo Ontiveros: Travelling Dust

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Javier Tapia, La Tirana research image, unknown photographer from 1980s, courtesy of the artist

In partnership with 18th Street Arts Center an artists' residency program that provokes public dialogue through contemporary art-making.

Javier Tapia is a Chilean artist, based in Denmark, and currently an artist in residence at 18th Street Arts Center. His exhibition opening November 7, "Travelling Dust," is a multidisciplinary project in collaboration with artist Camilo Ontiveros. "Travelling Dust" seeks to explore the shared culture between the United States and Latin America. The artists consider themes such as history, geopolitics, immigration, diaspora, artistry, and even the Hollywood film industry to seek out graphic representations that have stayed in the imaginary of the region.

Tapia grew up in Chile, where he studied Visual Arts at the Pontificia Universidad Católica for the first four years of his formal education. After finishing his degree there, he decided to explore different contexts for his practice, so he went to study art theory in Barcelona, Spain, at the University of Barcelona for three years. Once he finished his program there, he decided he wanted to challenge himself by working within an even more different culture to his own. This brought him to Copenhagen, where he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts from 2004 to 2010.

Javier Tapia & Camilo Ontiveros, "Travelling Dust" research image (installation detail), 2014, unknown photographer from 1970s Mexico | Courtesy of the artists
Javier Tapia & Camilo Ontiveros, "Travelling Dust" research image (installation detail), 2014, unknown photographer from 1970s Mexico | Courtesy of the artists
Javier Tapia & Camilo Ontiveros, "Travelling Dust," 2014 | Photo: Javier Tapia
Javier Tapia & Camilo Ontiveros, "Travelling Dust," 2014 | Photo: Javier Tapia

In Denmark, although Tapia experienced some culture shock, he also found the Academy very welcoming and was able to take his art in new directions. There he found different forms of support, not only in the form of encouragement by his mentors, but in the form of sponsorships for travel and production from the Royal Academy and the Danish Arts Council. He was able to take advantage of this support to make his work, and also to do extensive traveling. These travels have taken him almost every year to Chile since 1998, and have taken him to a residency in Istanbul as well. "When you live abroad, your country, your roots, your identity becomes a big part of the work you do," he explains.

It was through the Academy that he ended up in Los Angeles for the first time in 2007, where he connected with the city and decided to come back and spend a year studying at UCLA in 2009. This was when Tapia met Camilo Ontiveros, who was pursuing an MFA there at the time. In a way, "Travelling Dust" is a project that has been in development since Tapia and Ontiveros met. Their long conversations about shared experiences and getting to know one another are a large part of what the project is about. Tapia expressed the importance of building relationships and how that was a major influence on the project. "I see every project as an opportunity for learning. This collaboration with Camilo has the potential to teach me, and open in my work possibilities of growth," he says. Ontiveros moved to Southern California from Mexico as a young child, and lived in Orange County and San Diego before moving to Los Angeles to pursue his MFA.

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In Tapia's studio at 18th Street Arts Center, one might ask about the origin of some of the items that are being collected or borrowed from archaeologists, while others are bought at flea markets or similar local stores. It's not easy to tell where each object came from just by looking at it. Says Tapia, "This project has been a very intense process that started five years ago, but it was cemented in the last two months prior to the opening." Many of the objects have a very personal connection to the artists. For example, in one corner of the studio there is a stack of cases of Pacifico beer, which turns out to be brewed in Ontiveros' hometown; besides that there is also a stack of bags of beans imported from Mexico. Food and alcohol are two aspects of the project, but others include textiles, dolls, books, photocopies, music, ceramics, and copper. The process of making this work has been an exhausting search for items that can communicate the concept that the artists have in their heads about origin, identity and nostalgia. This search has involved extensive traveling and meeting with archaeologists, artists, sociologists, barbershop owners and family members.

What place do these objects have in contemporary art? That is precisely what this project seeks to explore. Tapia expresses how "We like to make a project that puts up questions, these questions aim to help us understand our history." The artists have been exploring these subjects for five years, but it is the journey and the process that is important. It is a process of learning. They are not trying to teach Angelenos about Los Angeles or the United States' roots; they are only sharing their own stories and perceptions, looking to comment on parallel realities, conceptual loops, and the stories behind the objects that describe a series of relationships. For Tapia and Ontiveros, as Chilean and Mexican artists, the goal is to find common ground.

While looking for a shared culture is one major element of the project, another important element is contrast. Within Los Angeles exist plenty of geopolitics informing racial divisions. What does a project like this achieve when it is realized on the Westside? How will this project be perceived differently when it is shown on the east side (as it will be at the Vincent Price Art Museum on November 15)? The artists present the audience with their vision, but ultimately the goal is to create a dialogue and inspire viewers to share their own point of view. Just as Tapia and Ontiveros have been in conversation for years, they hope that others will be inspired to discuss the same issues.

Javier Tapia & Camilo Ontiveros, "Travelling Dust,"  2014 | Photo: Ruben Diaz
Javier Tapia & Camilo Ontiveros, "Travelling Dust," 2014 | Photo: Ruben Diaz
Javier Tapia & Camilo Ontiveros, "Travelling Dust,"  2014 | Photo: Ruben Diaz
Javier Tapia & Camilo Ontiveros, "Travelling Dust," 2014 | Photo: Ruben Diaz

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