art residency

Work from Buenos Aires Art Residency by Kerri McGill

LPEP Art Residency

Buenos Aires is a powerful and passionate city. The layers of history weave a fabric of paradox as each generation past speaks as loudly as the bands playing the street corner today. European architecture and statues loom by contemporary street art. Tango and intricate sign painting are unique to the city. Music from protest chants to carnival drums fills all corners. I live by the tattered scraps of map in my pocket.

How will I make a sincere body of work about such a massive and complex place in only a few weeks? 

I pull materials from the street to talk about those very streets: plaster, cardboard, paint, billboard advertisements...

I lay down an image, cover it with plaster and a second image.  I break through the first.. It’s a physically literal extension of the potent layers of BA

Each piece is a humble response to the different realities in the evolving landscape of the labyrinth that is BA.I sample protest chanting, drumming, Carnival bands, and the president’s address.  This becomes the soundscape for the show.

Because of size and mixed media such as plaster, many works staid behind. The piece exhibited here was sliced into pieces for traveling.  The disjointed pieces lend a sense of distress and disjointedness appropriate for the theme.

There is a heartbreak in leaving my artwork behind. The loss becomes a conceptual layer…As it comes from the city streets to speak about the city, so too may it return to the streets.

As I held on so tightly to a little ripped gray map with one hand,
I had to let go of my own artwork with the other.

Art residency, Buenos Aires- The Madres by Kerri McGill

The thundering storms make mornings good research time.  I pour over books and websites and bus schedules to piece my days together. One tour guide touts SanTelmo's "faded grandeur".  Another the bright colors of Boca... A poverty stricken barrio that became the most colorful after using boatyard leftovers to paint the homes. The tour books make it very clear it is still a poor area and whatever you do do not leave the tourist area. Tourists books are a little strange.

They celebrate Chinese New Year here--perfect!  My second day in the art residency at Buenos Aires and celebration of a new start! There is a large Chinese population here with a run on small food markets. The announcer explains the story of the dragon dance.  At one point he says: "The next time you buy your groceries, know this is what all those ppl working in fruit markets believe is true..." Apperntly this celebration is also an introduction to the holiday.

I dutifully visit the list of museums and openings Frank gives me. It seems like standard homework that leads me to a touristy area and the Museo Nacional de Bello Artes. A beautiful collection of European art. Sadly the second  floor w/regional artists is under construction. I traipse to the top floor for work from a contemporary photographer. Black and white portraits, extremely close, extremely large.  The walls are filled with faces of old woman. There are two photos of each woman: one with the fluffy hairdos of woman of that age. The other, with a white kerchief around, tying their hair back.  Without the fluffiness of hair, the shape of the face Is different.  I can't help but meditate on the cause behind ages' deep wrinkles .With and without a white scarf hair. There is no longer a visual balance to the deep austere lines of age of many if the faces. I don't understand much of the text. Not sure if the scarf is a social comment or traditional symbol but I like the idea of alter egos. Like a super hero cape.

That evening as I do my homework, I catch a few pages about history. The Madres. Their loss at the hands of the government, children disappeared-Their march-Their strength and persistence. Many of them still march every Thursday.  I read these word and mark it on the map for tomorrow, Thursday. 

They march in the Plaza del Mayo, in front of Casa Rosada (the pink equivalent to the White House).  A crowd cheers as they climb out from a minivan.  They walk with a banner chanting nd singing. At the end, a speach.  Her voice is powerful, maybe a voice and a strength you wouldn't expect.  I am moved to tears even though I don't understand her words. 

It is plain that Spanish lessons are a necessity. As someone who enjoys conversation, the inability to understand others is upsetting in the most painful sense of the word.  How can I know a city if I can't understand anyone? 

On the way home, another thunderous storm appears. My Chinatown umbrella doesn't stand a chance and is blown into oblivion. I run to the corner pizzeria. The house is only a few blocks away, but the rain says; "Stay. Have an empanada and a beer."  The server speaks no English but he is kind and patient as I hack up his language.  We wait out the rain and watch the local fúrbol match. With the help of my dictionary, I find out the teams, His team, and the schedule for the wknd games.  Maybe there's hope for me after all... 

Art Residency: Buenos Aires by Kerri McGill

I've made a monstrous miscalculation, an enormous error in judgement...

As dreams are clean streamlined versions of reality, my dream of travel in Arg leaves a hefty something out. That something is the city, itself.

After years of working in city spaces, the idea of traveling the Goliath space of Patagonia followed by making art seemed complete. Buenos Aires, the spot to contemplate ideas of time and space in cities vs natural setting: sitting in a quiet cafe reading and sketching, working in a studio, trading ideas w/other artists... A satisfying plan.

As the plane circles BA to land, my heart sinks a little. The city reaches as far as the eye can see without break or deviation. The city is All. My plan does not take into account the shear power charisma and magnitude of this city, this city, unknown to me. Of course I mean to explore this city. I just had no idea how much city there is!

The taxi driver grimaces when I tell him the address. It's a good drive away from the city center. Paternal is a working class neighborhood. The Main Street is lined w/kiosks(bodegas) fruit stands, and the type if stores you'd find on the edge of Chinatown. The sidewalks are broken. There is construction everywhere. Construction looks like holes in the dirt. 

The residency is a homey apartment with 3 bedrooms, 2 cats and a studio space. There is a roof deck and a small apartment where's he organizer,  Frank, lives. 

When I speak about my project idea. The reaction: it would be good if you make work about Buenos Aires.

Of course. This makes sense. But my Lord I just got here! Have you seen the size if this city? How do I approach an unexpected unknown subject and make honest work? Even if I use Patagonia as a point if departure, I fear coming off as the typical tourist. How can I know this city well enough to make a sincere comment?

Things become more complex...
The rain storms of the first two weeks hold me captive. This is not weather, this is a beast that shakes the walls and infiltrates the house. All of the cracked sidewalks and dirt-hole construction turn walkways into mud.  Storms own the mornings and often appear from nowhere in the afternoon. When I say there are sheets of rain, I refer more to sheets of plywood and less to sheets of Egyptian cotton. The weather fluctuates from cold rains to debilitating heat and humidity, and the rain in the evening is dealer's choice. This is not conducive to exploring.

In packing, I have only hiking boots or sandals. My sandals rub the skin off my feet, give me blisters and disintegrate in the mud bathed walks within a week. A hunt for shoes takes up more time than I'd like. It's hard to find something between a $10Flipflops and $180 Nikes. I get lost easily. My, first day I trek  along Warnes Ave- an unending avenue full of auto body shops with unending piles of motors and parts. I cannot explain what it is that makes this greasy street enchanting in some way.

A window in the rain allows me, bandaged feet an all, to get to a few of the museums, artisan markets and cafés.  I spend so much time avoiding sidewalk hazards, I often miss the details of architecture that fill the city with magic.  But the street art stands out at every corner.

In my favor I came armed w/George's Luis Borges Ficciones. When I had enough of fighting the city storms, I hide in a cafe and read. I had enough for thought to know his work is full of possibilities, a connection factor. His stories are full of labyrinths, double realities, twisted time space. He might as well be a quantum physicist. 

Time moves quickly. There is still much to see.  Between thoughts of Patagonia, the depths of BA, and the cpmplexity of Borges.. I am overflowing w/thought. How to pear down and focus... I still need shoes.


My Art Residency asked for a project.  I didn't really have a solid thought when I applied.  As I went through older paintings, one image stood out...and I ran with it.  It's a great image and a universal concept:
The line between the imagined and reality

On a large piece of muslin I paint the imagined South America with colors and shapes made out of dreams. The 10x9' muslin will be folded tight to the size of a small pillow 9x10", folded like a map and crushed into my backpack. It will stay with me as I travel through Argentina. It will be used as a pillow for the physical element of sleep and dreams. The painting becomes an art object, a map, a dream catcher of sorts. It will be altered, maybe damaged, as dreams will change shape, maybe loose color, paint may chip or stick. Maybe it gets torn, left behind or stolen!

I arrive in January, meet with Andres in Satiago, friend's will remember Andres' Story .  Santiago is home to Pablo Neruda, a huge influence of mine.  We will travel to Padagonia from there.  As we travel, I will sketch the real Arg, real colors shapes experiences...Will it be bold and dramatic like my imagined landscape, or will they resemble my familiar sketches of NY's subways and Boston's cafés?

In Feb I arrive at LPEP for a month as artist in residence. I will pull out the large drop, check it for physical damage....Has the dream staid intact? I will compare the sketches and the dream piece ..

Installation- large drop (imagined) vs small sketches (reality)