Absolute joy was palpable as I watched Marcela Pardo Ariza take portraits of the back of folks’ heads for a theatrical composition. Wrangling strangers
for a photo and earning trust in a split second is challenging, so the relative anonymity proved to be a magical incentive. Even more compelling was how Marcela radiated empathy as people smiled and posed, backs to the camera, most a bit stunned at the unexpected surreality of momentary reverence. Marcela is a charming cynosure with a knack for encouraging others to kindle their own special souls. Pushing against the history of representation and gaze, it is a boundless practice that incinerates expectations with a warm, sweet fire.
Kristin Farr: Imagine yourself as a still life with three objects—what are they?
Marcela Pardo Ariza: Leather shorts, a persimmon and a tiny portable speaker.
What was your journey to becoming an artist in SF?
I moved to San Francisco from Brooklyn in 2014 to do my MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute. I was drawn to the Queer legacy of San Francisco and the photographic history of SFAI. Six years have passed now, and I have met longtime friends, mentors and collaborators and worked with multiple artistrun spaces, bookstores, galleries, museums and organizations. I now consider San Francisco part of my artistic home.
Tell me about This is Weird Without You, your new public art project.
This is Weird Without You is a series of posters in English and Spanish, made in dialogue with Latinx, women and Queer-owned local businesses in the Mission District of San Francsico that were printed at home and wheat-pasted on boarded-up storefronts at the beginning of shelter-in-place. The project, made in collaboration with the sweet Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera and Felipe Garcia Jr., intended to have a poetic energy in public space that recognizes the fact that we are all interconnected and need each other’s support now more than ever. We wanted to celebrate local places that we regularly used to visit as a way to honor their labor and struggle to keep small businesses afloat during this poorly managed health and economic crisis.
The project grew exponentially. We did an iteration at KADIST, an online exhibition and a limited edition of the posters with Ochi Projects in Los Angeles, and we did an iteration at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s entrance, as the museum is being called to do urgent and ongoing anti-racist work. The messages of the posters read: “We need a museum that destroys white supremacy / We want Black, Indigenous and People of Color in leadership positions / We want Trans*, Queers and non-binary folks leading the way / We need an antiracist, transfeminist and intersectional museum.” This is just the very beginning of the necessary changes that art and cultural institutions must undertake to become actually inclusive.
We are also working with the Museo Tamayo to do an iteration of the project in Mexico City, a version much closer to the roots of the project, all in spanish. This all has happened within the last five months.
Have you worked with text in previous projects?
I am really drawn to poetry and how a few words can really take you, melt you and turn you upside down. Yesika Salgado’s poems do that to me every time. In 2018, I did a biweekly project #PoemsFromaWindow where I placed a poem or excerpt from womxn, POC, and Queer authors in large letters facing the street outside my studio. It can be particularly powerful to encounter large text in public space that invites you to have an effective response. The play of scale, both with text or images, can take on a whole different meaning; we need to bring more of that into the public realm. I want to collaborate with poets and make their words visible in large architectural spaces. We could all use more poetry in our lives.
You knew 2020 would be a year for public art. What are the other key changes you want to see during this revolution?
Public space brings so many folks unexpectedly together, despite their different positionalities. There is so much potential in that. As many museums and art institutions struggle to restructure and think about their own relevance and audience, there is an undeniable power in public space that shouldn’t be taken for granted. This is the perfect moment to reconsider how we want to relate to the streets and places we live, and how we can think about visibility, representation and shaping the visual world we want to see. Especially as outdated monuments are being taken down, what do we really want to see instead?
As for the art world and beyond, I want it to be truly inclusive; I want Black, Indigeneous, POC, disabled, trans, non-binary and undocumented folks in leadership positions. Imagine what that world would look like! I want visible and invisible labor to be fairly and generously compensated, and I want institutions to move beyond transactional one-time collaborations into ongoing non-hierarchical, long-term support. There is a lot of work to be done and we need to thoughtfully and intentionally dive right into it.
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