Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Eric Garcia Simultaneously Explores Ideas that Address Local and Universal Concerns

Eric Garcia, “Game Over,” 2023. Image credit: Heather Hopkins

New Mexico artist Eric Garcia is the latest recipient of a spot in Ogden Contemporary Art’s (OCA) artist-in-residence program. The program, as showcased with their inaugural artist-in-residence Ya La’Ford aims, to bring national and international artists to Ogden to investigate via their art issues that affect both Utah and the world at large.

A multimedia artist, Garcia took this mission and implemented OCA’s ideas in two simultaneous exhibitions. Though the two iterations of Garcia’s work have some overlapping themes, they are as different in their visual components as they are in their execution styles. In his eight-week stint with OCA, he created an indoor solo exhibition, as well as a large exterior mural that involved input and implementation from the residents of Ogden.

The indoor exhibition, Aim High, examines ideas of immigration and land invasion. Garcia’s starting point for this work is his analysis of the word “alien.” Whether referring to extraterrestrials or those from foreign nations, the word inherently implies that one with the label is “other.” Garcia plays on these linguistic kinships within his work in a sardonic way.

The exhibition space is bookended with two interactive videogame-style projections. The first may look familiar to visitors as Garcia modeled it directly from the classic “Alien Invaders” game. Garcia’s rendition of the game works much the same as the original. The player (gallery goer in this case) controls a laser-shooting cannon via a button/joystick combination, with the aim of destroying the aliens in the game. Garcia has replaced the alien figures with his own imagined colonial representations such as galleons and cathedrals. This small change has large implications to the perspective of the viewer. Garcia offers a chance for viewers to be part of a revisionist history — one in which colonists face the business end of a cannon. Metaphorically, of course.

Eric Garcia, “Custer’s Last Misunderstanding,” 2023. Image credit: Heather Hopkins

Garcia expands upon these symbols with ink illustrations that line the gallery walls. In the same pixilated style as “Alien Invaders” Garcia reimagines moments in history that pertain to outsiders and the conquering of inhabited lands. Nodding to the exhibition title, “Aim High”, which is a slogan of the United States Air Force, several of the illustrations specifically look at heavy moments in American history in which the military caused harm on its own soil. Garcia utilizes themes from science fiction in these ink illustrations to pointedly compare colonialism and invasion. “Mixing this idea of colonial/historical aliens with popular science fiction imagery for satirical fun, we can start making the connections between conquest and the westward expansion of the Americas, to the exploration of outer space, and the occupation of people’s spaces” Garcia notes about his work.

In “Custer’s last misunderstanding” through both the work itself, as well as the title, Garcia utilizes symbolism and humor to reference the Battle of Little Big Horn, commonly know as “Custer’s Last Stand” and referred to by indigenous peoples as “Battle of Greasy Grass.” In this battle American General Custer and his troops were defeated by the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes. After nearly a century of American troops taking native land for their own while decimating those occupying it, the Lakota and Cheyenne fought back in an unprecedented way. It is understandable why this battle would grab Garcia’s attention as he explores concepts invasion and expansion.

Garcia is a military veteran and the other digital projection, “Discharged,” has visitors utilize a veteran avatar to walk through normal daily life activities in their post-war homecoming. This game combines the military themes he is interested in to analyze another perspective of the “alien.” Visitors, instead of participating in battle, as they did in the “Alien Invasion” game, now participate in navigating the unique isolation veterans experience returning home from war.

Still from “Discharged,” 2023, by Eric Garcia. Image credit: Heather Hopkins

In each of the components of this exhibition the artist challenges viewers to examine moments of history, to think about the perspective they were taught, and look for the complete story. In this way Garcia promotes a critical examination of the past in hopes his art can help prevent “historical amnesia and cultural erasure.”

Next door to OCA, the side wall of The Monarch boasts Garcia’s bright bold mural, which more closely addresses issues close to Utahns. The mural is an illustration of a young girl midstride, shading herself with a large yellow umbrella. The content and style of the work recall Utah’s own Morton Salt mascot. As Garcia likes to do, the mascot he has created invites comparison to a well-known image but with his own imbedded social critique. While the Morton Salt mascot walks on a solid background holding a saltshaker that freely pours behind her, Garcia’s new mascot walks through a Utah-inspired landscape spreading a bag of seeds in place of salt. In her wake the seeds have created a flourishing biodiverse ecosystem. In her path Garcia’s mascot (who is depicted wearing a facemask) fiercely tries to stop the spread of chemical plants and the pollution they produce. (As air quality concerns continue to rise for Utah residents, several coal plants in the state have been shut down and/or have an action plan to switch to renewable energy soon.)

Garcia’s mural offers an image not only of hope, but one of inspiration, urging residents to become part of the solution they hope for. In this vein, Garcia created the mural, not alone, but with the help of Ogden residents. Among those to help him were members of the Ogden Youth Impact program, which helps provide safe and creative spaces for Ogden youth. The students were paid for their participation in this work, which is a significant gesture from a non-profit organization like OCA. While the community mural and indoor exhibition look to be worlds apart in style and content, they both showcase Garcia’s passion for a more beautiful world.

Community Mural by Eric Garcia and Ogden residents. Image credit: Heather Hopkins


Eric Garcia: Aim High, Ogden Contemporary Arts, Ogden, through July 16

1 reply »

  1. Excellent, Heather: your keen observations helped me see so much more than I might have when looking on my own. Tangentially, thanks for including the fact that the community members who assisted Garcia were paid. One of the first things we need to do is see that artists, especially those taking public funds, stop exploiting that very public for help in completing work that goes into the artist’s resumé. Strong work by everyone: OGA, Garcia, the Ogden community, and Hopkins, all showing how it ought to be done: together.

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