Throughout human history, the wall has been a symbolic structure with a double-edged meaning. The wall protects while shutting out, isolates while offering a sense of community, and depending on your position in society, it can be either inclusive or exclusive. Today, the notion of “building a wall” and its possible outcomes strikes a sensitive chord given America’s current political situation. C.J. Chueca’s exhibition titled Illuminations of Angie: Someone there is that doesn’t love a wall at Y Gallery offers a rich discussion about the wall, which is at once personal and universal, poetic and matter-of-fact, beautiful and gritty.
C.J. Chueca was born and raised between Peru and Mexico and has been living in New York City since 2003. For this exhibition, she has constructed an immersive environment that draws from her memories and experiences as a student in Peru when she met people who were homeless, and living in nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals. She sets out to give a dignified and worthy existence to the people who have been pushed to the fringes of society.
Throughout the gallery are walls, which the artist has fabricated using concrete, wood, and ceramic tiles. The surfaces are stained, cracked, and chipped to reveal a spackled underlayer. Outwardly, they are like the age-worn and soiled walls that we see in the underground corridors of NYC’s subway system. On a deeper level, they are surrogates for the broken and forgotten castaways of humanity. Tucked behind the walls and at the corners are ceramic objects such as cigarettes, a black plastic bag with shoes inside, cardboard toilet paper tubes, and bottle caps, which Chueca made in order tell us more about these individuals.
Amidst all this brokenness exists a strength and beauty. Chueca refers to the walls as bodies – each is unique and has undergone varying degrees of treatments by the artist. Arranged with white tiles above a grey base, Body #1 (NY) is heavily fractured exposing the scored plaster layer beneath. In comparison Body #2 (NY), made of white and black tiles, is very much intact with minimal staining on the surface. The black tiles of Body #4 (NY) are haphazardly chipped away and smeared with a whitish residue. From the top, a thin drip of white paint descends to dramatic effect. There is a stillness to Body #6 (NY), which is not sensed in the others. White and off-white tiles are assembled to form a square. Delicate fractures splinter the surface as amber resin drips from the top in a pattern. We sense that though these bodies have been violated and beat down, their spirit and will to live remains.
It is impossible not bring up modern abstraction and minimalism here. Agnes Martin, Frank Stella, and Mark Rothko are artists that come to mind. But Chueca has distinguished herself from her predecessors through use of materials, resourcefulness, and interest in narrative. The exhibition’s title pays homage to a line in Robert Frost’s Mending Wall, a poem about two neighbors who have varying views on the upkeep of the wall that divides their property. Some may not want walls – their main purpose is to keep things in and keep things out after all. Chueca, however, re-imagines the wall beyond its basic function. She uses the wall to express sympathy for the lives of those at the periphery and show admiration for their resilience.
Illuminations of Angie: Someone there is that doesn’t love a wall at Y Gallery has been extended through November 18, 2016.