Photos by Nikolay Maslov, photos and text courtesy of UCR ARTSblock

“Memory Insertion Capsule.” 

Historical depictions of space exploration in modern media reflect a landscape void of multicultural influence, leaving little room for imagining possible diverse futures.

California State University, Northridge Central American studies professor Beatriz Cortez has sought to encourage an alternative to these depictions by fusing her scholastic studies and artistic production into two space vessels scheduled for display from Sept. 16, to Feb. 4, 2018, in “Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas,” an exhibition that highlights the work of Latino artists from throughout the U.S. at the University of California, Riverside ARTSblock in Riverside.

“The ‘Memory Insertion Capsule’ is an interactive sculpture with the look of a space vessel,” Cortez said. “In its interior, it has furniture meant to evoke a home built in the LA Vernacular style: a fireplace, a desk, bookshelves, a large trunk and a tent that serves as living quarters and as a station for viewing the cosmos. The interior includes a multimedia helmet that allows one viewer at a time to participate in the Memory Insertion Program.

“If I had to go in a space capsule because I couldn’t live on earth anymore, I’d want it to feel like a home,” Cortez said in an interview with The New York Times.

“The helmet displays archival research from eugenics programs that were implemented in Southern California in the early twentieth century,” Cortez continued. “It also invites viewers to imagine a future where Indigenous peoples participate in advancing technology, aesthetics, and culture.”

“Nomad 13,” a collaboration with LA-based artist Rafa Esparza, takes the form of an unconventional space capsule, built of adobe bricks and steel. “It houses a garden of plants indigenous to the Americas — evoking a long history of migrating plants,” Cortez said.

“Cultivated by the Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations, these ancient species are known for their wholesome nutritional qualities and profound spiritual meanings,” stated one of the exhibition curators, Joanna Szupinska-Myers. “In symbolically sending these plants into the cosmos, the artists evoke the real ongoing experiments of NASA, aimed at growing fresh food for future space travelers.”

The exhibition brings together works by nearly three dozen contemporary artists and collectives from across the Americas, who use science fiction to imagine new realities and alternate worlds, according to ARTSblock Executive Director Sheila Bergman.

“‘Mundos Alternos’ will present artworks that together provocatively address issues of identity, nationhood and transnational politics,” Bergman said.

Born in El Salvador, Cortez — a writer and an artist — holds a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts, and a doctorate in Latin American literature from Arizona State University. She is a recipient of the California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists for 2017.

Her work explores simultaneity, existence in different temporalities and different versions of modernity, particularly in relation to memory and loss. This includes the aftermath of war, and the experience of immigration in relation to imagining possible futures.

Cortez has exhibited her work nationally in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, District of Columbia, New York, Minneapolis, Miami and Marfa, Texas, and internationally in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Ecuador.

The exhibition encompasses the 11,000 square feet that comprise the changing exhibition galleries at the three ARTSblock venues: the California Museum of Photography, Culver Center of the Arts and Sweeney Art Gallery. An opening reception for the exhibition is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 30, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“Mundos Alternos” is curated by Robb Hernández, Assistant Professor of English at UCR; Tyler Stallings, Artistic Director of the Culver Center of the Arts; and Joanna Szupinska-Myers, Senior Curator of Exhibitions at the California Museum of Photography. Kathryn Poindexter, CMP Assistant Curator, is Project Manager.

This exhibition is sponsored by the Getty Foundation as a part of “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” an initiative of the Getty in collaboration with arts institutions across Southern California. The project is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than 70 cultural institutions from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. The presenting sponsor is Bank of America.

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