Destinations (detail). Screen print on glass. 50 glass post cards. 3.5" x 5.5" each.
In MICHELLE MURILLO's work, water is a recurring metaphor for migration, and her ancestors' identification cards and passports are a poignant visualization of her own DNA test results. She combines the repetition inherent in printmaking with the spirit of archiving and mapping to explore the relationship between ancestry and identity. Michelle holds a BFA from Boston University and a MFA from the University of Alberta, Canada. She exhibits internationally, including shows in China, Argentina, Ireland and Canada. In 2018, her solo exhibition Adrift was on view at Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueologia de Cantabria (Santander, Spain), and she was an Artist-in-Residence at Edition Basel at Kaskadenkondensator Gallery (Basel, Switzerland). In 2019 her work was included in Aperturas, a satellite group show of the Havana Biennial (Cuba). She was a 2018-19 Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts (Sausalito, California). Michelle lives and works in Oakland, California.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What do you love about printmaking? Is there anything you hate about it?
Michelle Murillo: I am drawn to print because it is a versatile set of media that can be combined with other forms such as drawing, photography, textiles and glass to create hybrid works or prints alone. I enjoy every aspect of it. The process inherent in print lends itself to a methodical way of making that allows an image to develop over time. While some people may find these aspects constraining, I also welcome the possibility that missteps or failures in the technique can present unexpected outcomes that I would not have envisioned if it were not for the transformation that an image undergoes through printing.
Plotting Transience, 2015. Kilnformed glass, vellum, chalk, map pins. 13' x 10' wall, 13' x 10' floor.
OPP: In your solo show A Measure of Time (2015), you use various methods and media to visually represent your “conservative, standard and speculative” DNA test results. How do the works in the show reveal your understanding of identity?
MM: As an American of Irish and Colombian descent, I have always been interested in how one defines and creates their identity through place, culture and politics. Broadly, the show presented what I discovered from the DNA test, and it attempted to acknowledge the intersections between ancestry and identify. I translated this into visual form by using the DNA data along with documents from my family archive to create metaphorical maps that tell a story about my ancestor's origins.
A fascinating aspect of the DNA testing is that the results continue to shift over time as the database and technology evolves. A few years ago the percentages were different, some information fell away while new details emerged. With this realization I wanted to visually record the shifting information. The piece DNA Map for a Shifting identity is comprised of shapes that represent the geographic regions of my lineage. Each region is represented by a unique color that corresponds to a map key. The transparent regions on the wall represent the increments and geographic regions that have fluctuated in the results.
Michelle Murillo, 2011. Glass Driver's License (screen printed and fused powdered glass). 2" x 3.5"
OPP: Can you talk about your use of multiples in Waypoints? What role does variation play in this work?
MM: The use of multiples and repetition of the identity cards is used to map the "conservative" version of my DNA test results. I chose family identification cards to represent specific lineages- British/Irish, African and Native American. The sum of the known percentages totals 86%, leaving 14% unaccounted for. Therefore the piece is comprised of 86 prints and 14 empty standoffs. Variation is visible in the unique and slightly different impressions made by the process of screen printing with powdered glass. This variability suggests that identity is mutable and in flux just as the DNA test shows.
Waypoints, 2015. Powdered glass screen prints. 2x3.5," 3x4.5," 4x6.5" each.
OPP: I’m interested in how artists—myself included—often get something out of a project that is different than what is in the artist statement. In archiving your family’s passports, ID cards and other documents in etched glass, are your personal motivations the same as your artistic motivations?
MM: My creative practice is grounded in research that drives both content and form, so in a sense the motivations are the same. This work is inspired by my curiosity to know more about my family history and it represents material investigations across print and glass that I explored during a residency at Bullseye Glass. By archiving my family documents in a fragile material like glass, there is tension created between preservation and loss, which is a recurring theme in my work. The translation of the documents into another form can take on new meaning and depth as interpreted by the viewer.
Adrift: 1979, Rosalba Llanos de Muñoz. Digital decal print, sandblasted glass. 36 x 21"
OPP: You've just spent a year as an Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts. Tell us about your cyanotypes of the San Francisco Bay. How does the medium of cyanotype support your conceptual concerns?
MM: The work created at the Headlands continues to explore ancestry through the theme of migration, specifically the journeys of my great grandmothers. Map of Migrations is created from photographs of observations of the San Francisco Bay. Looking east into the bay, the images of water are the first impressions one has as they pass through the Golden Gate Bridge and arrive at the California shore.
Historically the cyanotype was used in the 19th century to reproduce diagrams commonly known as blueprints. The Prussian blue of the photochemical process is befitting of the water vistas and like nautical navigation charts the cyanotypes become blueprints of passage through the Golden Gate. In this work, water is the liminal space, in between continental geography and a vehicle for travel, navigation and migration.
Cyanotype, screen print. Site specific installation, Headlands Center for the Arts
OPP: Certainly the conclusions you draw about your own ancestry are both specific to your family and not unlike the stories of many Americans. Do you have any interest in exploring the DNA results or migratory histories of other people?
MM: The DNA test revealed that I am more of a global citizen than I could have ever imagined, and I still feel that I only know what is at the surface. Diving deeper into my ancestry takes me to Ireland, Great Britain, Spain, Colombia and West Africa, among other places. I think there are global through lines and connections to be found that will lead me to other people's histories. As I research I realize there is more to learn about migration and the circumstances that led people to uproot their lives. We are interconnected as a global community, and I find our shared history intriguing.
100 Sons and Daughters. Screen prints. 6' x 25'
OPP: You've mentioned that you are in the early stages of putting together a solo show and residency in Cork, Ireland, where some of your ancestors lived. Tell us about this upcoming project and what you are planning.
MM: I plan to embark on a project that follows the traditions of craft from my ancestors to the present. My ancestors from Cork, Ireland were blacksmiths, shoemakers and cooks. I am in the early stages of piecing together all of the parts, and perhaps the show will include an oral history and work I make on site to create a portrait of the place that my ancestors once called home.
To see more of Michelle's work, please visit michellemurillo.net.