Felipe Baeza with Zoë Hopkins – The Brooklyn Rail


New York

Fortnight Institute
Felipe Baeza: Made into Being
September 8 – October 8, 2022

Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, and raised in Chicago, Felipe Baeza’s follow attracts on collage, printmaking, embroidery, and sculpture. Knowledgeable by queer and immigrant histories, Baeza’s largely figurative follow envisions what emancipation and fugitivity would possibly appear to be for othered our bodies. His figures are hybrid, usually occupying an unfixed class someplace between humanoid and plant-like. Located in opposition to densely textured backgrounds, they appear to transcend place or time, breaking free from any area that we are able to outline or find.

Having graduated with a BFA from the Cooper Union (2009) and an MFA from Yale (2018), Baeza presently lives and works in New York. A number of of his large-scale items are presently on view on the Venice Biennale. Moreover, his work has been the topic of solo exhibitions at Maureen Paley in London, The Mistake Room in Los Angeles, and the Fortnight Institute in New York.

Zoë Hopkins (Rail): As some extent of orientation, I’d like to start out our dialog round fugitivity. The idea of the “fugitive physique” is one thing that form of lies on the bedrock of your work. So I am questioning if we are able to start by discussing the way you navigate the time period fugitivity, what the fugitive physique means to you, and the way it seems as a fixture in your work?

Felipe Baeza: Effectively, I feel it’s a disservice to discuss fugitivity, when the entire level of fugitivity is that it eludes. However it’s fairly vital to say a number of issues about it. My connection to the phrase has modified over time. This has to do with language: I’m talking of fugitivity as a time period linked to some ways of being. I assume earlier than it was the fitting to opacity. However to explain fugitivity, we even have to take a look at what the fugitive is. It’s a noun. It is naming a topic, a situation. It evokes a situation that’s all the time escaping, all the time fleeing, all the time evading. And I feel that is additionally my curiosity, that the fugitive is all the time on the run, by no means at relaxation. The query can also be: What’s it evading? What’s it fleeing? Fugitivity can also be a situation that is associated to being hunted or to being wished. It’s a situation that deviates from legal guidelines or norms. I additionally suppose that as a result of the fugitive is all the time working and escaping, it’s linked to liminal and interstitial area. And that is very a lot what I am inquisitive about. The room for liminality and risk is what permits a topic to reside a life price residing.

Rail: Yeah. And I seen in a lot of your work that there’s an embedded liminality, even within the composition. We’ll discover figures which can be form of caught someplace between floating and groundedness. After all vegetation and roots are a motif in your work, however lots of your figures seem unrooted, unmoored, untethered to any specific form of spatial temporal actuality. And so I am questioning in case you may converse to how your works relate to those ideas? How do they categorical that liminal area between rootedness and unrootedness?

Baeza: I am glad that you simply’re chatting with that. It’s a query that can also be very linked to evolving concepts in my work regarding what fugitivity is and what it’d develop to. I’m fascinated with what a fugitive wishes. And what do I need in my day-to-day life as an individual who navigates this nation in a really precarious method? The fugitive wishes freedom from the regulation, freedom from being captured, freedom from punishment and freedom from regulation, but in addition wishes to get out of the system of management. To search out the surface—as Fred Moten places it. Fugitivity is about articulating an out of doors that is inside, that’s an alternate inside. But it surely’s additionally a freedom from. It’s one other form of neighborhood and one other form of life. And that’s what I’m inquisitive about conceptually, but in addition materially. In my work, these topics, these landscapes, these our bodies are merging in methods the place they begin to reveal themselves slowly. They’re not totally accessible. Just like the fugitive, they’re legible on their very own phrases. Not within the ways in which any legal guidelines demand. I’m inquisitive about these modes of queerness and illegality that do not announce themselves. And that is very a lot embedded in how the work is made, the place these topics can someway mix with the background, and the extra time you spend with them, the extra they begin to reveal themselves. They’re additionally containing their very own company on their very own phrases, navigating at their very own tempo. And that’s vital for me to consider. In relation to the making, but in addition in my day-to-day life, how do I navigate this panorama? And the way do I additionally attempt to follow those self same strategies I am doing within the work in my day-to-day life?

Rail: There’s a lot there. To begin the place you ended, maybe we are able to look at how the idea of opacity pertains to your follow? You may have a protracted standing dedication to collage follow. In my encounters together with your work, I interpret your collaging as equal elements obscuring and revealing. We frequently encounter these figures shrouded behind embroidery or cutouts. However in the end, that obscuring reveals elementary truths about energy, in regards to the politics of visibility and invisibility. So on a fabric stage, there are layers of obscurity and opacity, however on a metaphorical stage, there’s additionally an unveiling and a revealing.

Baeza: I might say that collage has allowed me to consider the potential of combining completely different pictures, completely different instances, and bringing them into a particular dialog. A part of that’s concealing issues and foregrounding issues. After I’m pondering of concealment, I’m pondering of masks. Masks cover elements of you away, however in addition they make new methods of navigating the world seen. And that’s the way in which collage features in my follow. I’m working from a website of fracture slightly than restore. I am working with the rubble, that’s the paper that I have been discovering or making or utilizing, that’s consistently giving life to different items. There’s a type of regeneration of the work that’s giving life to different works. And that is what’s occurring in the meanwhile. The work that I’m making now’s from scraps from different tasks.

Rail: I feel there are some resonances there with the fugitive as effectively, within the sense that collage is such a dialectical mode of working: it insists on seeing all the things in relation to different issues. I feel a part of fugitivity is a relinquishing of individuality. It’s a dedication to being incomplete and to being in relation with others. Collage actually offers type to this: it is a meshing collectively of classes, a coming collectively of all the things in relation.

Baeza: That’s one factor I have been making an attempt to push within the follow, as you talked about. That’s additionally why I talk about how fugitivity features in very alternative ways. I see it as incomplete, so incompleteness features to me additionally as fugitivity. Collage is that this mesh of issues which can be mixed but in addition converse to an incompleteness. Once you see my work, you would possibly generally see fragmented physique elements, and there is likely to be an concept that there’s violence occurring within the work. However I do not consider it that method. The entire physique is there, and the entire physique is prospering. I’m additionally pondering in regard to incompleteness as rupture. Fragmentation permits for different issues to be imagined, to be doable.

Rail: I feel, additionally, there’s a tendency in Western pondering to see something that’s fragmentary as improper. In an effort to be this enlightenment topic, it’s a must to have possession of a complete, unitary self, a sovereign wholeness. There’s something radical in gesturing in direction of the unfinished and fragmentary, in direction of pondering that finds fullness via unmaking.

Baeza: That is actually an excellent level. It is very a lot within the work. Within the items I have been making the previous three years, the physique is all the time in fixed changing into. Changing into different varieties, rupturing and breaking. That is additionally why my work values queerness. Queerness can by no means be encapsulated or outlined.

Rail: Your work lends a lot to that dialog. It actually gives us a reconceptualization of queerness. You’ve emphasised changing into as a technique of regeneration. However so usually there’s this studying of queerness as a rejection of regeneration and futurity: the so-called queer artwork of failure is the failure to biologically reproduce, which is a failure of futurity. However in your work there are such a lot of gestures in direction of changing into and in direction of steady life. There are, for instance, these vegetation sprouting all over the place with uncontainable risk. And I feel all of this holds one other mind-set about queerness. … There was quite a bit in that query. [Laughter]

Baeza: I imply, that will get to it. If queerness have been a challenge, the challenge would by no means be full. It’s this incompleteness that enables for creativeness. I feel the novel use of creativeness is a mode of survival. The queerness of creativeness is how I make a life price residing, and that’s what I try to foreground within the work. There has additionally been an unlearning inside my very own private life. To not reside in these mounted notions of being. And I feel my follow has allowed me to dwell in modes of being which can be emancipatory. That’s the “lovely experiment,” to quote Saidiya Hartman. That’s the ongoing challenge.

Rail: Sure. That’s all the things. That is all of it. To that finish, I additionally need to speak in regards to the vegetation that seem in your work. How does this flip in direction of vegetation and foliage manifest the emancipatory goals of your follow?

Baeza: Using foliage within the work began round 4 years in the past, with my fascinated with these our bodies that by no means made it to the opposite aspect. And by that I imply those that, within the technique of migration, didn’t bodily make it. How would possibly these our bodies thrive via completely different varieties? In Mesoamerican mythologies, and in mythologies around the globe, there may be the concept you begin residing when you die, as a result of your physique is changing into and thriving in a number of varieties. The plant features as a type, as a vessel that enables for the physique to thrive below very particular circumstances. And that is the place I am at proper now with the work: the query of the right way to create liberatory constructions and the right way to thrive when the panorama is not there. There are not often landscapes or settings within the work. I see the physique as a panorama as a result of that is the one panorama a few of us have.

Rail: Completely. I am unable to assist however consider mycelium roots beneath the earth, and the key interconnected lifetime of vegetation. For me, mycelium roots embody an insistence on relationality. And I feel your work actually opens up a method of understanding the query of what would occur if we people seen ourselves in relation to different species? I feel the vegetation actually drive house that query.

Baeza: I am glad you say that. I feel that is an excellent level. You understand, it is like, what if? As a result of we have not. And we’re seeing the prices of individuality inside our personal pondering. It’s affected our environment. We have to be in relation not simply with different people, but in addition with our environment. We have to take care of our environment, and it’s nonetheless doable for us to make that occur. It’s extraordinarily vital.

Rail: Sure, and extra so on a regular basis. You introduced up earlier that in some Mesoamerican mythology, vegetation comprise the lives of ancestors: they’re a portal to previous lives. For me, this resonates with different elements of your follow. I’m pondering specifically about your behavior of archiving pictures and ephemera from the previous, and amassing this assortment of temporalities. Are you able to converse a little bit bit about that, and the way that is knowledgeable your follow?

Baeza: There has all the time been an curiosity in amassing printed pictures. But it surely’s modified over time, and I feel that has to do with the change of know-how. All the photographs I’ve collected are from books, or from stuff I discovered. However I do not suppose I’ve ever gone on-line and printed a picture. I feel it has to do with the curiosity in collage. I acquire a broad vary of pictures which can be later collaged both bodily or mentally to disclose different varieties. In case you come to my studio, it is simply visible noise.

Rail: Yeah, I see a few of that behind you. [Laughs]

Baeza: Visible noise all over the place. It’s an ongoing archive unfolding within the studio. Typically this stuff find yourself within the work, and generally they’re simply hanging round, and generally I simply discover them on the ground, after years of making an attempt to search for one thing. There’s this assortment, this archive that has made it into the work additional time. In undergrad, I studied printmaking in a really conventional method, and I used to be working with pictures instantly, printing them instantly. That modified over time. I am nonetheless working with very particular pictures, however a lot much less instantly. I feel that is what collage gives, I can work with pictures however change them totally.

Rail: That is fascinating. That evolution from printmaking to your newer work—how did that unfold?

Baeza: I went into undergrad with a sculptural background. I had carried out printmaking earlier than, like I stated, and I used to be extraordinarily drawn to the medium. There is a type of abstraction to the medium in that you simply take a picture and you then switch it to a matrix. You’re utilizing very completely different strategies to develop the picture, after which transferring it to a paper. The method itself was extraordinarily attention-grabbing to me, and likewise sculptural in type, in that you simply’re utilizing both a stone to attract on or a bit of wooden to carve out. You are mainly making the picture and sculpting the picture to later switch it to a 2D format. The work continues to be very a lot grounded in printmaking. A variety of the surfaces are constructed on the ground. I’m basically making monotypes, laying tons of pigment and water and laying the paper on high, and letting it take in these colours. There’s additionally that factor of shock that I like about printmaking the place I’m not totally in management. It’s a course of that might be extraordinarily worrying at instances, however extraordinarily fruitful. At first I used to be like, how do I step away from making editions and counting on the printing press? Which, as a printmaker, was extraordinarily daunting. Like, wait, how does one make work? And why would somebody try this? However I feel not accessing a print store allowed that. Now the ground has develop into the press. The final time I used a picture instantly was within the map I made. I used to be basically making a collagraph, which is a course of the place you add completely different textures to a matrix to offer it tonality. As I used to be ending it, I used to be like, “wait, no, that is the work!” It was type of a breakthrough. And since then, lots of the work has been made as a collagraph. You find yourself seeing issues that you may’t see within the precise piece, however once I print it, lots of these parts are revealed.

Rail: So you have got this miraculous stunning and sudden impact occurring on the paper with collagraphing. However your work additionally entails very deliberate interventions like cutouts and embroidery. I wished to ask about the way you got here to those two strategies: cutouts and embroidery?

Baeza: I’ll converse to embroidery first. Embroidery occurred earlier than collage in my work. After which I began working later with the cutouts. In undergrad and after undergrad, I used to be working instantly with pictures. Usually these have been very particular pictures of individuals photographed or documented within the technique of migrating, these pictures of individuals in trunks or different compartments making an attempt to get to a different aspect, to a different life. As I used to be working the photographs via silkscreen and lithography, I used to be troubled by the query of the right way to work with the archive with out recreating the identical programs of violence that made it within the first place. That was the issue that I used to be having. In working with these pictures, was I replicating the identical violence that was already being carried out? That’s the place embroidery got here in, to hide what was occurring there. It began as a line-making device, however then it began to behave as a device to obscure completely different elements within the work. And that has modified over time, it features in a different way now. After I use it, it’s in very small works that are supposed to be seen by one individual at a time. The embroidery is reacting to the setting, to the breath of the viewer in entrance of it. It is form of functioning as a kinetic sculpture, per se. That’s the operate of embroidery within the work. However in regard to the cutout, that was one thing that occurred organically within the studio as I used to be making these giant works on paper. I’m not utilizing a paintbrush, you already know, but when I have been I assume it could be my exacto knife. I began with these scraps of paper, and I might work on particular elements slightly than the entire physique. After which I spotted that is one other solution to discuss fragmentation. And it’s additionally speaking about regeneration, utilizing the identical sources and supplies that I’ve accessible to me to create these varieties and these worlds.

Rail: Proper. So it very a lot turns into a form of metaphorical materials as effectively. I like what you have been saying about embroidery as an energetic materials and a automobile of connection to the viewer. I like the concept of the viewer’s breath changing into a part of the medium and rising entangled with the entire expertise of studying the work. With the cutouts as effectively, I feel there may be resonance with our earlier dialog about fragmentation. It appears like your complete materials sensibility may be very a lot sure up with the theoretical workouts that your work is responding to and likewise producing.

Baeza: Yeah, there may be fairly an curiosity in texture. That does a few various things for me and for the viewer. I feel for the viewer, colour and texture generally operate as a entice. Since I’m working in nontraditional methods of constructing work, individuals usually reply with, “wait, what’s going on right here, what’s occurring?” A variety of the works are darkish and monochromatic. They don’t announce themselves straight away. However in case you’re a devoted viewer, the work begins to disclose itself slowly. What would possibly begin as a monochromatic portray turns into one thing else when you spend time with it, when you confront it. It permits for extra conversations to occur, and that’s what I take pleasure in within the making.

Rail: It sounds to me just like the work itself may be very a lot its personal fugitive physique, within the sense that it is working at its personal tempo, and by itself phrases. It reveals itself when it needs to.

Baeza: True. I feel that is what I have been chatting with and making an attempt to get at in my follow, but in addition in my very own life, in my very own day after day, and the way the work additionally features as a fugitive materially too, not simply conceptually. The work images terribly. [Laughter] And I’m proud of that. It refuses to be legible on a regular basis.

Rail: Completely. I’m inquisitive about some extent you introduced up a couple of minutes in the past: you talked about that you simply began as a sculptor. And I couldn’t assist however discover a sculptural work within the course of pictures for the Fortnight Institute present. We’ve had such a wealthy and intensive dialogue about your collaging and paper practices. I used to be questioning if we may linger a bit with sculpture. What are the sorts of thematics and strategies which can be motivating your sculptural follow?

Baeza: The way in which I’ve navigated completely different modes of constructing have all been sculptural. I’ve all the time been itching to return to that sculptural type. The way in which I work now continues to be very sculptural. There’s this technique of layering and gluing and slicing and carving. When the paper goes via all these processes, it turns into virtually like leather-based. I’m all the time asking myself, how do I get out of this 2D type? Do I have to get out of the 2D type? How does one make what I have been making right into a 3D type? What would that appear to be? I’m nonetheless navigating these questions. There was a chance to work with Ross Artwork Studio, a glassmaking studio, to consider these questions, which led to the sculptural work that may hopefully be within the present. With that work, I used to be additionally fascinated with completely different strategies of being and thriving. In case you’ve seen the work, you already know it is a hand that’s evoking ceiba timber—a younger ceiba tree is surrounded by thorns as a mode of safety. So once more, it’s about how one creates modes of safety to thrive and survive below hostile circumstances. I feel that may be seen within the collage work as effectively. There are these topics that aren’t mounted to a particular floor however are surrounded by these types of safety. They’re nonetheless thriving and changing into.

Rail: I feel it is so particular that you simply’re working with glass as effectively. As a result of it’s this materials that we consider as a stable, however is definitely additionally liquid. It’s an amorphous materials. So it does form of really feel resonant with our earlier discussions round liminality and refusing stability.

Baeza: I am extraordinarily excited. It is one thing utterly new. I’ve by no means labored with glass earlier than. I’ve carried out ceramics earlier than, which is form of comparable, because it’s this materials that turns into one thing else via the method of fireplace and warmth. Each are form shifters. Glass additionally turns into a really precarious stable. How does that inform the work? It was extraordinarily refreshing to work with. I additionally really feel like I have been working with the identical concepts in my collage work, with layering, and carving in direction of one thing emancipatory. I feel for me, this can be a new method of constructing, however it has already knowledgeable the making that’s occurring proper now within the studio.

Rail: I feel sculpture has such a traditionally troubling relationship to the query of the physique. We so usually focus on our bodies in sculptural phrases, and in flip, I feel figurative sculpture has been sure up with notions of the idealized physique. Your collage and paper follow unsettles a lot of the standard pondering on what figurative work is supposed to do. So I am questioning, how does your sculptural follow unsettle a few of these conventions?

Baeza: Sure, how do I push on these strategies of pondering? That’s been the continued challenge throughout the sculptural work. I feel, to your level, sure, collage features as a vital mode of disrupting the norm. In my bigger paper items, I’m pondering of the figurative physique in a really completely different type. The sculpture mimics what I am already doing in my bigger work. The physique is fragmented and incomplete: I am working with a forged I created of my forearm, however my forearm represents the entire physique right here. It features as a relic in a method. I do know we didn’t talk about this, however I feel that relic may be very a lot embedded within the work. I come from conventional and problematic spiritual backgrounds on each side of my household. And it could be a disservice to omit that, as a result of it’s a part of me and a part of the work. In my large-scale paper works, there’s often one central determine. I feel, consciously or unconsciously, that is knowledgeable by pictures that I grew up with, the place the physique of the saint was its personal panorama. There was no floor.

Rail: I am so glad that you simply introduced up faith right here. I see in your work a dimension of transcendence, not faith capital R, however spirituality lowercase s, and it feels to me like there’s something past our personal world that’s being accessed in and thru your work. Possibly, partly, it is as a result of so a lot of your figures are divorced from a background that situates us in time or area. Is that one thing that your work is motivated by or responding to?

Baeza: Undoubtedly. I feel it’s poetics. For me, it has been extraordinarily fruitful to foreground the poetics which can be embedded within the themes I am inquisitive about. In regard to faith and the spiritual imagery that I used to be uncovered to, one aspect of my household is Catholic, and the opposite aspect is Evangelical Christian. However what I noticed on the Catholic aspect as a five-year-old in Mexico, you’ll not often see somewhere else. There is a very, very particular visible language that I discover extraordinarily attention-grabbing and charming. It taught me the facility of fabulation, which continues to be a vital a part of my work. It is a mode of survival too. But additionally, I take into consideration how they have been used within the colonial challenge. Particularly in Mexico, pre-Columbian pictures have been embedded with new Catholic pictures to draw new believers and to impose this new faith onto a brand new inhabitants. This too is a collage, proper? In some unspecified time in the future the colonizers embed and hybridize these varieties, to make new varieties occur.

Rail: Actually layers of violence to consider there.

Baeza: I imply, that is vital relating to my curiosity in printmaking. Printmaking has a protracted historical past of being a colonial device, in creating the “different” and disseminating perception in these classes. How does one take that type of device and create one’s personal language with it? My first printworks have been very engaged with that query. I used to be fascinated with faith, about what it could be to make a queer faith. What would it not appear to be?

Rail: I really feel like your collage work is an providing in direction of a form of queer spirituality.

Baeza: Yeah, the work may be very a lot about responding to a necessity and need to create portals. The essence of my follow is the will to belong anyplace, to belong elsewhere. That, for me, is queer making. This additionally takes us again to the concept of incompleteness. The incompleteness of queerness, which José Esteban Muñoz talks about.

Rail: I need to return to a phrase that you simply used earlier, which is poetics. I’ve seen all through our dialog, you have cited a variety of thinkers and theorists, together with Saidiya Hartman, José Esteban Muñoz, and Fred Moten. I do know that in your titling follow, there’s a citational poetics occurring as effectively, the place your titles are primarily based on textual excerpts. We have talked about the way in which that you simply usually use archival pictures or discovered pictures, however I am additionally inquisitive about your use of discovered textual content and your relationship to literature and poetry.

Baeza: I am glad you introduced up the archival pictures once more, as a result of with titles it’s extremely comparable. I’m consistently studying one thing and a phrase or phrase simply sticks. I simply have that impulse to write down it down. They’re pasted all over the place. I’ve an ongoing archive of language and phrases. And generally these fragments make it as a title for a bit, and generally they don’t. However all that’s to say that these writers have given me language to consider completely different ideas. To consider fugitivity, to consider incompleteness, to consider refusal. And that has been essential to my follow. I situate my creative follow inside mental and inventive communities—writers like José Esteban Muñoz, Gayatri Gopinath, Saidiya Hartman, Sylvia Wynter, they’ve been essential. They permit me to reclaim a queer futurity, a futurity that values distinction over sameness, a queerness that resists assimilation. Storytelling has additionally been essential, not simply to my follow, however to my being. Edwidge Danticat has taught me a lot about fabulation and reminiscence. I’m fascinated with how magical realism—as I might describe it—features in her work. There are these elements that might be actual or not actual, injections of made-up issues that elaborate the story. Depart the logic apart, proper? There’s clearly no logic within the work. Thank God there isn’t. I am not inquisitive about it, and I feel it could be such a disservice to work within the studio from logic. I first encountered Edwidge Danticat in undergrad. On the time, Leslie Hewitt was educating a course, this will need to have been 2008 or 2007. And she or he was like, it’s a must to learn Krik? Krak!, it’s a must to! And I learn it, after which I used to be like, wow. Danticat’s story is form of much like my very own. She grew up in Haiti, got here right here at a really younger age, and I used to be born in Mexico, got here right here at a really younger age. Clearly that’s an expertise of hers that has affected the way in which she writes, and it’s additionally a part of why I really feel so linked to her writing.

Rail: I feel it is so attention-grabbing that you simply introduced up magical realism, as effectively. I truthfully hadn’t considered that time period to explain your work earlier than, however now that you have introduced it into the dialog, it feels deeply related.

Baeza: Yeah, now due to the Venice Biennale, and even earlier than the Biennale, individuals have developed a method of speaking about my work by way of surrealism. I do not need to discredit that dialog, however I feel greater than surrealism, my work is linked to magical realism. I feel it’s about how actual circumstances get altered in these fantastical methods. That’s the way in which that I take into consideration the work. I do not need to label it, however I feel greater than surrealism, there’s magical realism within the work.

Rail: I really feel like this additionally resonates together with your earlier remarks about interstitiality. You’re invoking the area in between actuality and magic, reminiscence and future.

Baeza: I feel I’m permitting the work to form shift, to be unfixed. I do not really feel snug saying that I do know what I’ll do, and I understand how to do it. I take pleasure in creating work in a state that’s unfixed. There is no mounted notion of constructing once I’m within the studio, like, oh, effectively, I actually know the way to do that a part of the work. It’s all the time a particularly joyful frustration. And that’s what I take pleasure in about coming to the studio. Conceptually and materially, the work sits in an unfixed area, and I hope it manages to remain that method.


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