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July 2011
Published by Artists of Utah
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Carne y Huesos by Jorge Rojas
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Jorge Rojas . . . from page 1

Given a good idea, the first choice an artist makes is what material suits it. Bronze can do things marble cannot, but marble suggests flesh in a way bronze doesn’t. The difference can have lasting consequences. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel with traditional fresco technique, essentially rough watercolor on fresh plaster, while his critic Leonardo painted the "Last Supper" in elegant egg tempera. A few years ago, Michelangelo’s works were carefully washed and emerged looking almost new, while visitors to the "Last Supper" today see a meticulously-researched copy of something that peeled off the wall centuries ago. Today’s artists benefit from new technologies that create new options, augmented by the aesthetic freedom to use non-traditional materials. Picasso’s choice to glue a newspaper to a painting to represent itself blew the doors wide open. Multiple media, applied democratically, became a valid option, while collage became the signature process of our time.

Rojas views his art, and his use of wax, as reaching back to Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and the minimalists who followed them, rather than the obscure, reactionary “postmodern” ideas that came later and denied that knowledge advances—or even exists. If art isn’t science—that is to say, if art rarely makes discoveries on the frontiers of knowledge—it can at least re-dress those discoveries in newly-invented and more accessible forms. Early ‘modernists’ used Classical myths and images to help make their contemporary versions of timeless truth accessible; Rojas does something analogous when he uses layers of wax to combine anatomical charts with bas-relief sculptures. The first time he buried one of these life-sized pictures under wax he had no idea what would happen, an approach that stands in marked contrast to artists who know, when looking at a subject, pretty much what their finished image will look like. For Rojas, then, ‘struggle’ isn’t just a metaphor; it’s a physical and emotional battle that may involve breaking a piece that refuses to reveal—and become—something new. In the diptych "Carne y Huesos (Flesh and Bones)", |0| smashing and re-fusing the mute material, then carving it into the likeness of what lay below, finally made it speak, forging marvelous connections between these idealized, abstract diagrams and the specific, real bodies of those who observe them. Despite the mundane elements that went into it, as one is drawn to peer into these flayed bodies, the closest thing we know to a miracle envelopes us: this is what we are . . . no more, but no less, either. White patches on the otherwise blue background lend the figures a hint of surreal vitality appropriate to their predicament: where but in dreams can mortal beings pose so calmly, their heads in lofty clouds of pretension, their fragmented, animal reality so utterly exposed?

Due to his exploratory process, not all of Rojas’ works achieve the same sort of apotheosis. Some, like "Anatomical Portrait" |1| and "Los Calzones De?",|2| seem to look back to more conventional modes of representation. Others, like "Wax TV: My Space," connect traditional art-making to new media like video and environmental sound.|3| Like other materials in use today, wax chemistry has become more sophisticated, allowing a couple of sound sculptures—wall-mounted boxes containing wireless sound systems—to be fully three dimensional.|4| Everything here uses multiple media, but in different ways. Three mural studies make wax stand in for something common among us all—flesh, say, or life itself?—while found wire-mesh hemispheres represent the ambivalent forces that dominate our lives, yet make individual transcendence possible.

As someone born in Mexico, who immigrated here to raise a family, Jorge Rojas cuts a familiar figure. As an artist, however, he is less typical: a one-time New Yorker who has exhibited on both coasts, and in between, and in Europe, whose objects resonate more with the Latin American avant-garde aesthetic of MOLAA (the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California) than with folkloristic Mexico, but who also, in a larger sense, approaches art comprehensively, dividing his energy between making art, teaching art-making, and curating the spectrum of his contemporary artists. While it’s altogether fitting to see him at Mestizo, he would also be at home at Kayo, the CUAC, or the Salt Lake Art Center. Waxworks suggests he may soon merge both identities: to connect this life, in this place, at this time, to something larger, for the benefit of all.

Living Art . . . from page 1

Philip Beesley
After a long, and sometimes precarious, birthing struggle the Leonardo is scheduled to open its doors this fall in Salt Lake City. The museum's transformation of the old Salt Lake library into a celebration and exploration of science, art and technology, will include a number of temporary and permanent art installations by local artists (which will be the subjects of future editions). The museum is also looking to national and international artists to create installations that will explore the crossroads of technology, engineering and art.

This summer the Leonardo will host Canadian architect Philip Beesley as he installs Hylozoic Ground, a revolutionary project that explores how buildings of the future might move, think and feel.
Three quarters of a million people have seen the project in Britain, Spain, Austria, Holland, Italy, Mexico, and Taiwan, but this will be the first major installation in the United States.

In Hylozoic Ground Beesley is creating what he refers to as "living architecture." With his team of collaborators Beesley installs a structure made out of base materials, chemistry and electricity that appears both feathery and crystalline and calls to mind the sculptures of Ruth Asawa. A series of microprocessors give the structure a primitive sort of swarm or crowd intelligence that responds to the presence of living things. The chemical elements give the structure a function, enabling it to act somewhat like the lymphatic system, transforming toxins into harmless substances. It is an exploration into the architecture of the future, where a building would respond and transform itself according to interior and exterior conditions.

Hylozaic Ground

Beesley's team is looking for a group of volunteers to help install the project. If you are interested contact Chris Davies at cdavies@theleonardo.org.

Simon Heijdens
Site-specific works are often about the dimensions of a space, whether that space is surrounded by mountains or gallery walls. Simon Heijdens' work extends this idea to highlight the invisible conditions of a site, including the movement of air and the passage of people. Having originally studied film, the London-based artist |1| now creates works that evolve over time to tell a story. They often respond to outside stimuli: a window at Chicago's Art Institute was covered in a special film that creates constantly changing shadows that shift with the weather; in "Tree," a light projection shows the outline of a bare tree on the side of a city building, its animated leaves on the street below, dancing about in response to the wind.|0|

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The Utah Museum of Natural History is hoping to bring one of the Dutch artist's works to their new building at the Rio Tinto Center. The new home of the museum occupies 17 acres at the top of Salt Lake's east bench, with views the include the city, the Wasatch Range, Great Salt Lake, and the Basin and Range province beyond.

Heijdens' proposed work, a light-projection project, will grow up along one of the walls of the museum's main floor open space called "The Canyon."|2| The work will use complex code to create projections of digital plants that evolve; they will grow, thrive and decline with the seasons, coming forth in continually new forms as they respond to "measurements of the weather outside and human use of the space inside."

Heijdens' digital plants will be created using forms in the arid environment surrounding the building, as well as some of the 1.2 million natural history objects in the museums collection. The project has received a leadership grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and support from the Marriner S. Eccles Foundation and Utah philanthropists, but the UMNH still needs to raise more funds to make the project happen. Click here to learn how you can help.

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