Pat Gómez

My work explores and comments on societal contradictions, cultural expectations, and personal and collective memory. Visually this is manifested by juxtaposing unlikely found and fabricated objects and text. I believe that first-person narrative as textual elements can poignantly represent the experiences of whole segments of society.

I draw from past and present events, both short term and continual, that create the complexity of my heritage, using the cultural expectations and life experiences of myself and my extended family to address issues relevant to women, Latinos, or the general human experience. Because of this, my work has an introspective quality. Societal values, relationships, religion, cultural background, and memories are dissected and rearranged, often with varying degrees of sarcasm. Other times subtlety reigns, maintaining an elusive, obscure quality.

Text in the form of storytelling has become an important element. I contrast bald statements regarding life events with often pleasing visuals intended to draw in the viewer. Metaphors weave their way throughout; each image, color, and object connects in some way, sometimes on many levels. As a result of this multi-layering, the accessibility of each piece changes with each viewer. I like this aspect; I feel that it is important for art to pull from the audience, to encourage them to think or draw from their own experiences.

I am especially interested in the interactive possibilities of installation based-work. In the past, I have incorporated objects that individuals can take home, and diary-type narrative elements people can handle.

Text is an essential element to my work. The following corresponds to the work indicated:

War Stories

Text in large outer area:

My uncle grew up in the barrios of Los Angeles in the forties and fifties. In his eyes, both socially and economically, college and a white-collar career were not a viable life choice. In 1957, joining his neighborhood gang seemed natural to him. He became part of "Little Valley" in Lincoln Heights. Because of his coloring (a Mexican with red hair), he was known as "Red." This trait also made him easily identified. In 1958, he was implicated in a shooting in El Sereno. The judge in the case gave him the choice of jail time or the military. Enlisting in the military seemed the obvious choice. In 1965, he was sent to Vietnam. Six months later, he was shot in the head. In the eighties, his name was inscribed on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. His younger brother also grew up in the same environment. He wanted to be the first person in the family to go to college. The only way he could see this as an economic….

Text in the smaller interior area:

In 1987, amid promises of job training and future money for college, my cousin joined the military. In the nineties, he found himself stationed in the Middle East, in the Gulf War.

Guadalupe’s Story

Guadalupe’s Story, a display window installation (in FAR’s Full Moon Gallery), consisted of a series of four hanging frames, each one with three to five text and image sheet elements depicting aspects of my grandmother’s life. Behind the hanging elements and a false paper wall was an altarlike installation symbolizing my grandmother’s culture and religion, and the boundaries they placed on her life and marriage.

Text excerpts from the sheet elements

For ten years, Guadalupe cooked for the priests at the church next door. They told her marriage was forever.

I never saw my grandmother speak to, or allow herself to be in the same room with my grandfather.

After the children were grown, my grandmother and grandfather lived separately for over thirty years, never divorcing.

Notes from the search

This installation featured several essential text elements exploring traditional notions of spiritual comfort, while revealing my personal journey in an ongoing search for sanctuary.

The text and image elements above the pews tell of an unexpected moment of pure bliss experienced at the rosary for my grandmother the night before her funeral.

The brown bags on the left wall, and in the back of the front pew (free to visitors) have the word "God" printed on them. Wall text describes a belief that you can write your troubles on a piece of paper, put it in a bag with "God" written on it, and they will no longer be trouble because God is taking care of them. In the bag grid pattern on the wall, some of the bags are poofed out, some are not. The poofed-out bags form the word "Not."

The open book in the left hand window contained this text:

The last time I confessed was in 1990. The night before that occasion, I had celebrated a friend’s birthday at a bar and had gotten drunk, roaring drunk, blind drunk. The kind of tequila drunk that leaves you with hazy images of actions committed and reckless words spilled. I woke up that morning with the mother of all hangovers, dry mouth, nausea, headache: the works. Horrific as it was, the more clearly I distilled the hazy images from the night before, the more I was overcome with dread. Oh no, did I really do that? Was I so licentious? So out of control? How could I…? I had sunk to an incredible low. Nothing could console me. I wondered how I could ever show myself in public again.

I lived across the street from a Catholic church that year. Until that day, I had never been inside its doors. Actually, except for weddings and funerals, I hadn’t set foot inside a church since my Confirmation in 1973. That morning the church looked warm and inviting. Confession. It’s good for the soul. That’s what I needed. It was the only action I could fathom that could clear my guilt and humiliation. I slowly dressed and forced myself to cross the street, barely holding off the nausea, trying to ignore my pounding headache.

It was still early when I arrived, and I was the first one there. I saw the light on above the confessional. The booths were dark wood, polished, and worn from hands of countless sinners. I gathered my courage, pulled aside the dark red drapes and found my place. The screen cover slipped back and clicked into place. At first I stuttered. "Forgive me, father for I have sinned. It’s been, uh, seventeen years since my last confession." I uttered something, fell silent. "Go on," the faceless voice said gently. I went on. I figured a chronological approach might be best, since I had many years to cover and could delay describing last night’s action as long as possible. "Going on" wasn’t easy. Though once I got rolling I confessed everything I could think of, big and small: white lies, callous treatment of others, and my wild years. I felt lighter, the headache and nausea forgotten. I continued, arriving at last night’s Act.

About halfway through the telling, I heard keys jingling. A few at first, then more clamored for attention. How long had I been in there? My watch indicated an hour had passed. How many people were waiting, voicing their impatience with my performance?

As I prepared to exit, the priest, who had been silent all this time, finally spoke again. "How ironic it is that this week’s lesson is about the prodigal son," he began. He ignored the even louder cacophony of clanking keys. He went on to tell me about the prodigal son and welcomed me back. A tremendous weight had been lifted. I was amazed. I did feel better. He then gave me countless prayers as penance. I was excused.

I dried my tear-stained face and opened the door. A line of people wrapped all the way around the church interior and folded back on itself. Dozens of eyes glared at me in a decidedly unchristian-like manner. I forced myself to walk over to the pews and started to pray.

Several hours had passed since I had returned home, absolved. The acrid smell of smoke filled my house. Sirens dimmed and grew louder, tracing their way through my neighborhood. I ran to the window, mesmerized by strange flashing lights only blocks away. Flames danced on the rectory roof. I retreated into my apartment. Had my confession triggered the flames, brought havoc on this small church? Mass was not held at that church the next Sunday morning. Nor the next week. Many massless Sundays passed before the church was operative again. When it was up and running, I wasn’t there to see it. I gave up, or stepped back, deciding to forgo further steps toward becoming Catholicism’s prodigal child.

Commentary for Additional Slides

Below is information regarding the background or intent specific to some of the slides not covered in the above sections:

Identity Issues

My parents were part of a large contingent of urban Latinos to move to the predominantly white suburbs in the 50s and 60s. They were part of a prevailing "wisdom" which stated that success meant assimilating into the perceived mainstream. As a result, my sisters and I were socialized into a predominately white culture. Our assimilation was eased by our relatively light coloring. It has only been through a conscious effort as an adult that I have connected more fully with my Latino/Chicano heritage. I am very interested in issues related to personal identity. I have been perceived in vastly different ways by others depending on the circumstance of location, the cultural background of the onlooker, or the context of the contact.

On a clear vinyl banner, I have listed names that have been used by others to refer to me. This list is layered over a cameo image of myself repeated in different skin tones. The names reflect both positive and negative labeling; sometimes the same word has been meant as a compliment or insult depending on who is saying it. As such, the banner part of the installation represents external identity imposed by others.

The banner is surrounded by over a thousand slips of paper representing diary or journal entries. I believe self-identity is not established instantly, but through years of experience and reflection. These entries represent moments in my past where my identity has been noted, questioned, or relevant to assumptions by others. They represent an integral process over forty years' time. The title "Identity Issues" refers to an internal struggle, as well as the double meaning of "Issues" as something "issued" to one by an outside source. This piece was my contribution to a larger collaborative installation.

It’s Only Natural

This installation is an homage to women and their historical connection to the earth. This connection does reflect practical concerns such as cooking or making herbal home remedies. However, more importantly–I was probing historical and ancient spiritual links to nature.

Porch of the Abuelos

This was an installation in collaboration with artist Karen Bonfigli. It was an altar in the form of a front porch which was constructed by us as the entrance to a series of altars by others taking the form of rooms of a home. This was for the 1998 Day of the Dead exhibition in Galería Otra Vez at Self-Help Graphics. The porch became an homage to our grandparents who have passed.

Guadalupe and Federico

This assemblage is a triptych created as an altar in homage to my grandparents for the Day of the Dead. The center panel represents symbols of the traditional Day of the Dead altar such as a field of marigolds (dried) or containers of objects reminiscent of their lives. The two side panels go beyond traditional to reflect clothing as symbols of them, but like memory, they are obscured.