OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz

GuerilleReina #1
Giclee print
64"x 44"

WANDA RAIMUNDI-ORTIZ explores the interplay between vulnerability and empowerment in the space where stereotypes, archetypes and lived experience of cultural and racial Otherness overlap. Since 2006, her persona Chuleta has unpretentiously educated YouTube viewers about the Art World. Her Wepa Woman murals tell the story of a NuyoRican superhero, who is charged with representing all her people and preserving their culture on top of having the deal with the regular stresses that all humans have. Most recently, in a suite of performances and photographs called Reinas, she holds court in a costumed manifestation of personal and universal anxieties. Wanda earned her AAS from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 1995, was a 2002 Skowhegan Fellow and earned her MFA from Rutgers University in Brunswick, New Jersey in 2008. She has been awarded the Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award (2002 and 2006) and a Cultural Preservation Award from the Bronx River Alliance (2009). In 2011, she was named Keeper of the Creed by University of Central Florida, where she has been an Assistant Professor since 2010. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, including exhibitions at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Institute of Contemporary Art at University of Pennsylvania, Centro Cultural de España in El Salvador. Wanda lives and works in Orlando, Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: For years, you've performed the persona of Chuleta on YouTube and live at events like Art In Odd Places 2012, New York City. When was Chuleta's first video posted and what's her origin story?

Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz: Chuleta first came on the scene end of 2006 as an examination of my own presence as a Latina artist visiting Art Basel. It was strange to be at these events, being examined as I walked with my fellow Latino artist friends and feeling like we maybe had infiltrated a world that we were actively engaged in. It was a surreal experience. I became very aware of my otherness in this space and wondered. . . how could I explain this career choice that seemed so. . . pretentious and elitist. . . to my ultra urban nieces and nephews? Somewhere between making fun of the gallerists, collectors and ourselves over drinks, Chuleta was born.

YouTube was still in its infancy—a sort of Wild West with nebulous borders. It seemed like a perfect place to create virtual presence, especially with art studio space at a premium. The earlier works were pretty rough and a bit long. But again. . . that was all pre-YouTube etiquette. I had no idea it (and she) would grow the way it did. It became a direct line to the public and a perfect vehicle to challenge expectations of both the art world and viewers.

Ask Chuleta #6: Identity Art
Video Performance

OPP: Has her agenda (or your agenda for her) changed over time?

WRO: Chuleta and I have enjoyed a great run, but she has taken a break so that I can work on the Reinas, which are closer to my heart these days. Chuleta was a direct response to my life in New York and transitioning into academia. Five years after arriving in Florida, my interests, focus and inspirations are more internal and reflexive. She isn't gone, just dormant. I have been thinking of new iterations for her, now that I am changing, too. I’m older, chubbier. . . achier. . . and certainly wiser.

OPP: How has the space of YouTube affected the public's understanding of the videos? Do you ever get grossly misinterpreted? Do you ever get any flack for contributing to a stereotype about Puerto Rican women? How do you use the stereotype for your own purposes?

WRO: HA! I have certainly had my share of criticism and flat out insults like "You need an education" and "Who is this stupid b*tch?" Classier insults reminded me that Sonia Sotomayor was a supreme court judge and reprimanded me for what I was doing to the community. I recognize these self conscious voices. This is what happens to underrepresented people. We become very self conscious about how the (white) masses view and perceive us. It is like having a run in your stocking. Embarrassing. When one of us does something unpleasant, it is assumed that other people will think that the entire community is going to get taken down as a result. And they aren't wrong. Peggy McIntosh describes it perfectly in her article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. It is that charge, that responsibility to your entire community to represent yourself positively that I was grappling with, on both sides. In my real life, as a Bronx-bred, urban Other with a masters degree from Rutgers in the hood, I was challenged by my own as being a Wanna-Be-White girl or praised for being so "well spoken/articulate" by academics, collectors, etc. This was my way of fighting back.

Wepa Woman: Acts Like a Child, Punish like a Child
Bronx NY
OPP: You've also created comic-style murals and works on paper about "the NuyoRican super hero character Wepa Woman, who is charged with cultural preservation among her beloved NuyoRicans." Will you summarize her story for us?

WRO: I originally created Wepa Woman when I was about 19 years old in an effort to critique stereotypes because I felt like I was an oddity in the hood. I didn't look or act "Latina" enough because I was an artist into New Wave. I hung out with my fellow urban, artist oddball friends that made comics and created Wepa Woman. I was thinking of Wonder Woman, but her origins were ordinary. The real strength that she held was her conviction. The first appearance of Chuleta in my work was through the comic drawings. She was the antagonist, an amalgam of all the things I abhorred about the hood at the time. It, and she felt inescapable, and I wanted to badly to break out of that place and away from that stereotype and the long shadow it casts over us Latinas.

OPP: Is there an actual comic or just the murals? What does it mean for viewers to only encounter one panel of Wepa Woman's story?

WRO: There was no published comic, but the murals came from feeling confined to the page in my original drawings. I think I have a problem with enclosed spaces and ideologies (lol). The murals, also inspired by the hood, offered a different kind of accessibility. I wanted the murals to be accessible whether you knew her story or not. I wanted to insert intrigue into more of my practice. It worked!

PorcelaReina #2
PorcelaReina #2 is the third movement in a suite of performances and photographs from my most recent series REINAS (Queens). Made to emulate a porcelain doll, this queen's regalia is made nearly entirely from packing materials, in an effort to protect me during my most delicate time- pregnancy, and to explore my own discomfort and isolation with my own frailty.

OPP: Your most recent suite of performances is called Las Reinas, in which you hold court in some art space, often a museum. You performed Bargain Basement Sovereign (2012), for example, at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and PorcelaReina #2 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, Florida in 2014. Which is you favorite Reina? Tell us about her costume, performance and viewers' responses?

WRO: My favorite Reina so far is GuerrilleReina, the warrior queen. The photos from that suite are really exquisite. I am thankful for my photographer, Jay Flynn, for being able to harness the warrior I was trying to create. This queen comes from many failed relationships; I found myself hardened, ready to defend myself, sometimes before anything had ever happened. The queen persona in me was protecting me—too well. The costume is designed with materials that are used to protect. But there is no one else in the battle. Just me.

The response is always great. I feel that people see themselves in these works. Chuleta puts people on the defensive. The queens are more. . . I don't want to say inviting. . . but they certainly aren't antagonizing. (Except for the warrior queen—lol)

All of the concepts hold clues to the individual queen. If you spend enough time investigating the wardrobe, you will gain more insight into her. I also like working with unusual materials. I don't want to lead readers too much. It spoils the fun.

Installation view
For four hours I laid in bed in the gallery and welcomed visitors to lay with me, share secrets, joke or share stillness. Much like a confessional, the space becomes incredibly intimate in even the most public setting. Participants were then instructed to write their thoughts on a white wall in white chalk.

OPP: How do the various iterations of Hush, which is about intimacy, vulnerability and public space, inform your performances of Las Reinas and Chuleta? Are you yourself or another persona when lying in a bed in a gallery space?

WRO: I am myself in Hush. The concept for Hush predates the Reinas, and comes from a moment when I was craving intimacy in a very profound way. I knew that I wouldn't be alone in this. Being open and vulnerable in this way was the first time I saw the clear distinction between power and strength. Through the performances, I was able to completely subdue my urge to control or manipulate, antagonize or challenge. After each performance I would emerge covered in hives and almost no recollection of what occurred, other than a sense of being overwhelmed with other people's angst. I wouldn't be able to talk for a long while after. Only wanted to be alone in a quiet space and purge and cry. It is because of Hush that I know my other works as well as I do. I can't wait to do it again someday.

To see more of Wanda's work, please visit wandaraimundi-ortiz.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Stacia will create a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show opening at The Ukrainian Museum of Modern Art on February 5, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Wozniak

Open Wide
Oil on panel
8" x 6.5"

Permeated with the distance and closeness that exist in everyday moments of intimacy, ERIN WOZNIAK's oil paintings and graphite drawings offer the opportunity to contemplate human vulnerability. She meticulously renders the surface of the skin and the boundaries between individuals, emphasizing the body as the physical and psychological interface between one’s self and the external world. Erin received her BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio and studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She is represented by Hammond Harkins Galleries (Bexley, Ohio), where she most recently exhibited her work in Contemporary Realism: Four Visions. In 2013, her pastel drawing Morning won “Best in Show” in the 71st Annual May Show in North Canton, Ohio. Erin lives and works in Canton, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How is the idea of the human body as "the interface of interaction between subject and object, self and other, inside and outside" expressed in your work?

Erin Wozniak: My fascination with the body begins with mortality and the human fear of injury, sickness, aging and death. These are lurking threats to any sense of autonomy or control over one’s body or life. Exploring this vulnerability is central to my work. I am also interested in the way our bodies and minds are shaped by the people we know, the genes we carry and the society and culture in which we exist. The effects of this tangled, symbiotic relationship between inside and outside can literally be seen on the surface of the human body in the form of folds, wrinkles, scars, blemishes and tattoos. These are all markers of interactions and time, and this is where my obsessive rendering comes into play.  

OPP: Your work strongly conveys a sense of intimacy that leads me to wonder if you are intimate with your subjects. I don't actually need to know who the subjects are to understand the work, but I do wonder if you approach drawing strangers in the same way you approach drawing family members and friends.

EW: My paintings and drawing are an extension and reflection of my life, so it is natural for me to depict family members, not to mention the convenience and comfort. I have done commissions in the past in which I’ve drawn and painted strangers, and the act of drawing and painting is very similar whether I know the subject well or not. When I draw family members I approach the drawing as if I were drawing a stranger. Drawing and painting are acts of searching and discovering; they are methods of comprehending. Whether I’m drawing a stranger or doing self-portrait, I ask myself, “Who is this person?”

Graphite on paper
11" x 11"

Do you draw from photographs? If so, do you compose in the camera or crop images in the drawing stage? Tell us about your process.

EW: Inspiration for my work typically comes from everyday observations and evolves from there. Photography and Photoshop allow me to compose quickly, to try different points of perspective and lighting situations, and to decide whether an image works better in color or grayscale. After multiple shoots, I usually narrow down my references to a handful of photos that I will work from. Although I rely on photography, I prefer to work from direct observation if possible. Most of my work ends up being a composite of time spent working both from life and photos.

OPP: Why do you prefer drawing from life? Is it about the process or the final outcome?

EW: Viewing someone from a photograph versus studying that person in three-dimensional space is a completely different experience. Working from life allows you to respond to the physical presence of someone or something and challenges you to deal with things like shifting light, subtle movement and changes over time. I like the amount of control I have when working from photography, but the unpredictability of working from life usually helps to invigorate a drawing and is a necessary part of my process. I find working from photographs alone to be limiting. Through the lens of a camera, visual information like detail, color and value are distorted from the way we optically perceive these things. I want the final outcome of my drawings and paintings to feel like more than just a superficial copy of a photograph.

Oil on muslin over panel
11.5" x 11"

OPP: Are you familiar with the photographs of Elinor Carucci? Your work reminded me a lot of her book Closer, in which she photographs intimate moments between her and her family members. She is often present in the shot. Because the titles of her photographs confirm that the subjects are her family members, I feel more like a voyeur—although an invited one—looking at her work than I do looking at yours. I think it has something to do with the nature of drawing versus the nature of photography. What do you think?

EW: I wasn’t familiar with her work, but thank you for bringing her to my attention. Her work is very intriguing. For me, the difference between photography and drawing is that when I look at a drawing I am pulled into the viewpoint of the artist more so than with photography. With a drawing, I think about the artist, what the artist's mark-making tells me about the person they drew and how they felt about that person.  

Maybe this awareness is what makes a drawing seem physically less voyeuristic than a photograph. A photograph makes you feel as if you are right there looking at something in real life. A drawing has more artifice to it. However, the awareness of the artist that comes with viewing a drawing brings about a different kind of voyeurism—less physically jarring, but more psychological. As viewers, we enter the mental space of the artist and understand how every square inch of the subject was combed over with visual study and, in turn, every square inch of the paper was touched. This sense of touch, along with a sense of time, is what I think drawing possesses that photography cannot. More than an instant is captured in a drawing. A drawing is a compression of each moment of the ongoing struggle to capture what you are seeing and feeling on a piece of paper.  

OPP:There's something sad about pieces like Estuary and Cleft, in which the subjects seem alienated from one another. But all the pieces are about people being close to one another and about the distance that is sometimes present in closeness. Do your drawings romanticize intimacy or reveal the reality of an everyday experience of it?

EW: I’d like to think that my drawings reveal a relatable reality of everyday intimacy and that they communicate a sense of distance, desire and dependence that can be present in relationships. 

Graphite on paper
12.5" x 17"

OPP: These drawings seem sad to me, but I think that might be too simplistic. Perhaps they just make me sad. I feel both the distance and the desire in them. How would you describe the dominant mood that pervades these drawings?

I think there is a sense of sadness in trying to hold on to something, trying to hold onto a relationship or a moment in time that is constantly slipping away. A lot of my work reflects this experience. Even the process of drawing itself reflects this desire to preserve something impermanent. 

Could you talk about Open Wide? This painting strikes me as quite different from the others. The blackness inside the mouth creates a sense of horror for me, like there's nothing in there. Just emptiness. Is horror or emptiness something you were thinking about?

EW: This painting is different from others in that I strayed from reality more than usual. I often find myself completely changing a composition in response to what I feel a painting needs. In the case of Open Wide, I didn’t originally plan for the mouth to be a void. While painting and repainting the mouth, I tried painting it black, and it just worked. When I started this painting, my intention was to create a confrontational portrait of a woman that was equally powerful and vulnerable. I wanted to create a Medusa-like figure that would confront the viewer’s gaze. I think the emptiness seen inside her evokes a sense of horror because it represents darkness or the unknown.

Oil on muslin over panel
11" x 8.25"

Is there anything in-process in your studio right now that you'd like to tell us about? 

EW: I have an old painting of a wall that I started years ago. I never finished it because I lost interest. It’s a painting of an old, marked-up wall covered in chipped paint. But recently I started thinking about the wall painting in relation to a self-portrait I want to do. It’s been years since I have done a self-portrait. I started working on this painting—repainting the wall to fit seamlessly with the image of myself and mostly working from observation—probably a week after giving birth to my second child. I wanted to focus on my own image and the idea of time and change. I thought the wall would work well as the backdrop to a self-portrait, and metaphorically it makes sense.

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinwozniak.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago.Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.