|Jacalyn López Garcia|
Screen image and digital print, 11" x 14"
As a multimedia artist, I have discovered how diverse artistic practices (photography, computer art, literature, music, and video) each have the potential to tell a story and serve as catalysts of memory that can conjure up a variety of social and cultural contexts. It is this discovery that has ultimately motivated me to search for innovative ways to create art that can examine the relationship between narrative and memory in multimedia.
In the broadest of terms, I begin my artmaking by imagining how I can introduce a voice for the "modern" Chicana who was raised in the suburbs and is still struggling over identity issues with regard to herself and her family. I then focus on creating artwork with the intent of offering an investigation of contemporary themes based on the complexities of cultural identity, gender issues, sexuality, religion, and feminist concerns.
Because I believe art can provide a powerful vehicle that can be accessed to raise questions and challenge mainstream criticism with regard to cultural identity issues, I choose to explore the boundaries that exist between art and politics. For example, my Web site "Glass Houses" consists of a diverse body of artwork that includes Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicana and California Dreaming. In a very critical way, I focus on exploring the relationship between my mother's life experiences as a Mexican immigrant who settled in the United States with the dream of raising children entitled to all the privileges of being "American" and the role that assimilation plays in shaping one's identity.
Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicana was created specifically for display on the Internet and reflects my interest in creating reflections of the past while examining new understandings of the present. It is a self-portrait that consists of three black-and-white photographs that were taken at different stages in my life, and they are intended to represent my state of social awareness and political consciousness as a child, teenager, and young adult (respectively). In addition, each photograph reflects the standards associated with school portraiture: a plain white border, traditional pose, and friendly smile. The original elementary and high-school photographs were taken by an unknown photographer, and Georgia Dakkis took the photo of me at age forty-two. This digital print also exists as one of several self-portraits in my artist collection.
As a fine art photographer I am intrigued by the psychological meaning and sociological impact that can be interpreted from a photographic image. I am also interested in playing with the notion that an artist can introduce a second narrative by providing a specific title. The title Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicana is therefore intended to create an alternative space for examining a variety of social and/or political issues based on the complexities of cultural identity.
The methodologies I used to create this image involved the use of a computer. I used Adobe Photoshop to change the original color photographs to black-and-white images. I then layered them on top of a colorful wallpaper background. My intention focused on presenting the photographs as framed objects, the kind that might appear on the walls of one's house (in this case, "Glass Houses").
The actual screen image of Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicana is sandwiched between an autobiographical narrative that reveals intimate stories of my mother's life experience and the impact this had on shaping my own identity. "Glass Houses" reveals how I learned to embrace my biculturalism, my mother's attempt to pass me off as a "white" girl, and what it is like to be a U.S.-born citizen who does not always feel American.
Directly below the screen image of Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicana, I offer a question for my visitor/houseguest to ponder before leaving "Glass Houses." The text reads: "How do we survive in a world driven by assimilation and maintain our cultural identity?"
"Glass Houses" is driven by an autobiographical narrative and offers a view of American assimilation from a Mexican American perspective. This Web site is part of the webworks collection at the California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside, and the Media Collection at the Long Beach Museum of Art.
Digital print, 20" x 16"
As a multimedia artist, my artistic vision is fueled by my desire to create meaning and provide my viewer with a deeper understanding of what it is like to live a bicultural lifestyle. I find this is very important to me as a Chicana who depicts the Chicana(o) lifestyle from a perspective that is uniquely different from the inner city and migrant farm worker experience. Therefore, Chicanolandia is intended to create a voice for the "modern" Chicana(o) living in the suburbs. It is a voice that I believe has been overlooked in many art history books.
Having a strong desire to find new and innovative ways to express this voice becomes an integral aspect of my multimedia artworks. Like many of the images I create, Chicanolandia examines the relationship between public and private space. It represents a selection from a series of digital prints that were created as studies for a larger body of work titled Virgins and Whores & Other Stories and for From the Garden, an installation and multimedia project on CD-ROM (respectively).
Chicanolandia is a digital print. To create this art piece I photographed several homes located in the suburbs of a nearby neighborhood where I live in Moreno Valley, California. As I photographed the single-story and two-story dwellings I questioned the identities of the individuals who lived in these houses. Because my work is intended to express a voice for the "modern" Chicana, I interviewed the female homeowners to gather information based on what they believed shaped their cultural identity, sexuality, and religious beliefs. The purpose of this investigation was to create a greater understanding of the role assimilation, popular culture, and tradition play in shaping one's identity.
Chicanolandia depicts the suburban lifestyle of homeowners who reside in a neighboring community located in Riverside County. I have placed a color photograph of a two-story house in the top half of the image. An image of the La Virgen de Guadalupe is superimposed onto the upper right side of the photograph. La Virgen's halo and face are visible in the sky and her robe embraces the names of the residents that are listed on a page torn from the white pages of a local telephone directory. The residents' names on the page have been highlighted with a light pink or bright yellow marker. I highlighted names with bright yellow marker to emphasize the large number of Spanish surnames. This was my way of inviting the viewer to imagine the role that assimilation and religion play in shaping one's identity.
To create this image I took the original photograph, scanned it, and imported the image into Adobe Photoshop using a Macintosh computer. The process also included superimposing an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe onto a layer that was merged with a scanned image of a page selected at random from the telephone directory. The image of the La Virgen was acquired from a photograph I had taken of a statue that was on display in front of one of the houses I photographed in Riverside County. The final digital print was produced using an Epson color printer.
Incidentally, as a result of the interviews, I discovered that there are many Chicanas (like myself) who are still struggling with issues based on the complexities of cultural identity, religion, sexuality and the fear of becoming disenfranchised from one's cultural roots. On the other hand, I also learned that there were Americans of Mexican descent who identified themselves as Hispanic but claimed to have little interest in discussing anything related to their Mexican heritage.
Chicanolandia served as a two-dimensional study for From the Garden, a fictional short story on CD-ROM. From the Garden points to an inner vision in which the self collides with stereotypes and other socially constructed representations of a young woman searching for her sexual identity.
California Dreaming, 1997
Sepia-toned, hand-tinted, silver-gelatin print, 20" x 16"
I remember taking a modest pace in developing the content of "Glass Houses" because I wanted my Web site to be more than just a vehicle for bringing my own struggles of personal identity into the public domain of the Internet. I questioned whether or not I could create a personal documentation of my own life in such a way that others could appreciate the power of public art and Web authoring. I also questioned the possibility of creating an intimate feeling on the computer. Was it possible to create the kind of intimacy one feels when reading a book in the privacy of one's home with a Web site? The quest for these answers motivated me to develop a multilayered, interactive Web site that explored the boundaries of public and private space.
Encouraging a global dialogue became another integral aspect of my Web site. In order to accomplish this task I developed a special area where the visitor/houseguest could correspond with me via e-mail or by posting a public message. This area is located in the kitchen.
To date I have received over a hundred messages from my visitors/houseguests who have shared the similarities of their own life experiences. Some of the messages comment on the impact of the autobiographical narrative as well as the narrative found in the artwork that was created specifically for this Web site. California Dreaming, for example, is intended to explore what living in "El Norte" represents. This hand-tinted, sepia-toned photograph depicts a young child and an adult standing alongside a barbed-wire fence. Together they are attempting to grab the money that is magically floating in the sky. The money is intended to serve as a metaphor for a better life. The kind of life that one could attain if living in the United States.
California Dreaming was inspired by the personal interviews I held with my mother and other family members as I was developing the content for "Glass Houses." The methodologies I used to create this image involved photographic equipment, black-and-white film, and a Macintosh computer. The image was captured in a vacant field where a barbed-wire fence ran alongside the freeway in my hometown. I staged the scene with props and employed the assistance of two models. I also used advanced darkroom techniques to manipulate the image and enhanced its photo quality with a sepia toning process. The photograph was then hand-tinted using Marshall oils to create a lifelike color image. Using a slide scanner I imported a slide image of the finished work onto my computer. I then prepared the image for on-line display using Adobe Photoshop and an HTML editor.
California Dreaming is my interpretation of one aspect of my mother's life. It is intended to capture her longing and desire to settle in the "Golden Land of Opportunity," a place where her children would be entitled to all the privileges of being "American." It also serves as a reminder of my childhood experiences. For instance, I will always remember the awkward feeling that stirred inside me as my family crossed the border after visiting my mother's poor relatives who lived in Mexico. As a child I could never quite understand why things were different for my relatives; I just knew that I felt relieved every time we reentered California. In a very critical way, this feeling has fueled my artistic vision and determination to explore work based on autobiography.
"For the most part, as a young person, my life seemed relatively uncomplicated growing up in middle-class neighborhoods and living in the suburbs of California. But my youth and middle-class status did not protect me from experiencing and witnessing the challenges and hard realities of oppressive environments, especially those of my mother's relatives who lived in Mexico and my Mexican friends who lived in the barrios."
"Glass Houses," 1997
NOTE: For all intents and purposes, the artwork I created for "Glass Houses" exemplifies many of the methodologies I use to integrate new trends in technologies and traditional art practices. The artwork also illustrates the manner in which I combine concepts and ideas based on the complexities of cultural identity with a fusion of visual, social, and technological literacy.
Last Dance, 1997-1999
Screen image and digital print, 24" x 28"
Unlike other artists who depict the Chicano experience from a migrant farmworker or inner city perspective, my artwork is intended to introduce a voice for the Chicana(o) who was raised living in middle-class neighborhoods.
Last Dance documents the remains of an old Spanish-style adobe house that haunted me on my journeys to and from work. As I traveled alongside this abandoned and practically demolished structure, I could see the suburban housing tract emerging in the distant background. Consequently, what remained (a self-standing entryway) left me pondering what one might gain or lose in the absence of tradition. Eventually, this motivated me to create Last Dance.
In its computer-generated form, Last Dance is also intended to examine a "new" generation of a photographic image (which I originally produced in the tradition of a sepia-toned silver gelatin print that was hand-tinted). The location is Moreno Valley, California, and the actual structure now exists only as a photographic image.
Last Dance also appears as a screen image on my Web site "Glass Houses."
"Glass Houses," 1997
Web site: http://www.cmp.ucr.edu/students/glasshouses.
"Glass Houses" is part of the webworks collection at the California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside, the Media Collection at the Long Beach Museum of Art, and my artist collection. It is also available in a CD-ROM version.
The 1990s marked a critical period in my artmaking because it was during this period that I realized the potential of Web authoring. Thus, given my artistic and intellectual need to combine media while integrating concepts and ideas with a fusion of visual, social, and technological literacy, I created "Glass Houses," a multilayered, interactive Web site. It was my enthusiasm for reaching a global audience that motivated me to produce a site that could examine a variety of social and political issues. By May 1997 I had completed "Glass Houses."
"Glass Houses" has received local, national, and international praise as a Web site that offers a view of American assimilation from a "Mexican American" perspective. It is driven by an autobiographical narrative and combines aspects of intimate stories, photographs, artwork, and three short sound files.
This Web site was produced with the use of Adobe Photoshop, Netscape, Adobe Pagemill, and an HTML editor. It contains an interactive linkage between text, a series of black- and-white photographs, color photographs, and a variety of artwork (which in most cases was created specifically for on-line display). The artwork included in this site was either produced as a digital print or the original artwork was scanned, digitally enhanced, and then imported into the Web site. In its entirety "Glass Houses" is comprised of thirty-two screens that are mostly nonlinear, and it takes approximately one hour to view. It was also designed with the use of frames and views best on a fourteen-inch screen, Netscape 3.0 or higher, and a twenty-four bit color monitor.
The order of viewing depends entirely on the choices one makes, and each "houseguest" has the privilege of choosing whether or not to repeat or skip screens. As the houseguest arrives at the "home" page he or she is presented with the option of entering "Glass Houses" as a first-time or return visitor. A set of keys and instructions have been left underneath the doormat which can be accessed by using the computer mouse to click on the doormat. In doing so the houseguest follows a short linear path of seven individual screens that are each linked to the remaining twenty-five screens of the Web site.
To help facilitate the houseguest, I have presented an option of following a guided path (which is suggested by a "pointing finger" icon). There is even an extra set of keys that can be accessed from the hallway just in case the houseguest gets lost or needs assistance finding his or her way around the house.
In an attempt to keep the theme of "Glass Houses" consistent, similar themes related to race, class, and acculturation are reintroduced in each room. As the houseguest navigates through the house, information is revealed about my personal history. Also included on the Web site are personal reflections of what it was like growing up "Mexican American" in the suburbs of Southern California.
Questioning whether or not it would be possible to create an intimate and personal feeling on the computer was a major concern of mine as I worked on this Web site. I wanted to know if it was possible for an artist to create the same experience in cyberspace as sitting down and reading a book in the privacy and comfort of one's own home. The quest for this answer is what actually motivated me to write "Glass Houses" with an autobiographical narrative.
Since I did not know exactly how or where to start, I began by keeping a diary of my remembrances as a small child. I borrowed photographs from my mother's family albums and held interviews with my mother and other family members. A major goal of mine focused on creating a body of work that could inspire the need for an open-minded society, the kind that can embrace cultural differences.
Another important aspect of "Glass Houses" is the individual Web pages that were created for my family members. These pages are intended to illustrate the role that popular culture plays in shaping one's identity. There is also a message center (located in the kitchen) where houseguests can post public messages or send me a private e-mail message. This was my attempt at inspiring a global dialogue and has proven to be very successful.
Like all my multimedia artwork, "Glass Houses" is memory based and is intended to investigate the relationship between memory and narrative in multimedia.