At the Snite Museum of Art, visitors can view Topor: Glasswork by Jaime Guerrero, an installation of handblown and sculpted glass by LA artist Jaime Guerrero that will be on view until December 8. The artist, who works predominantly in East LA with disadvantaged children, chose the title, Torpor, for the periodic hibernation pattern of various species that helps them survive. Guerrero’s work explores the metaphor of this energy-saving inactivity and subsequent awakening to comment on culture, identity, economics, agriculture and art.
At the entrance of the installation, visitors are greeted by a 4-foot glass sculpture of a little girl holding a hummingbird. In some ancient cultures hummingbirds are associated with beauty, harmony and integrity. In many Native American communities this small bird is regarded as a healer, teaching the medicinal properties of plants. In other civilizations, it is venerated as the messenger between worlds, serving to maintain balance between the human and spirit realms. In addition, it is an important and efficient pollinator, and is widely regarded as the disseminator of all new life. Stories of both birth and rebirth celebrate the unique behavior and inspirational qualities of this tiny bird.
When active, the hummingbird maintains normal body temperature and movement; but in periods of torpor its metabolic rate and body temperature drops significantly, thus enabling the bird to conserve energy, to regenerate. It is this state of survival that Jaime Guerrero’s work explores.
The life-sized girl is fashioned from transparent glass and, like other works in this exhibition, is comprised of multiple sections which are individually blown and subsequently sculpted by hand. In addition to the usual glass-blowing equipment, Guerrero also employs a torch and various metal tools specially designed for his work. The intricacies draw attention to the craft itself.
Behind the glass sculpture, a large wall is covered with a William Morris wallpaper design. Morris (1834-1896) was an important textile designer, writer and artist associated with the English Arts and Crafts Movement (1860-1910). Guerrero chooses to link the glass girl holding the hummingbird with the Morris wallpaper to emphasize the link of his work with the Arts and Crafts tradition, celebrating the handmade as the privileged aesthetic process over the manufactured.
Also included in the installation is a section entitled El Mercardo (the market). It is a glass installation that explores notions of identity, economics and agriculture. A series of large-scale glass vessels filled with grains and beans line a gallery wall. Guerrero asks the question: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what [who] you are.” Are we in fact the sum of what we eat? Do our shopping habits reflect our modern, global culture? Are our small, local markets now being consumed by multinational corporations and are their sustainably farmed foods to be sacrificed to the techno-biological experiments of mega business that rally around the next new Trojan horse, the GMOs? How transparent are their processes? Are GMO-free labels a step toward transparency or another contrived illusion to deceive consumers? Are we headed toward self-destruction or rebirth (as what)?" This entire part of the installation addresses issues of food sources and agriculture.
Probably the most unsettling part of the exhibition is the larger-than-life glass cockroaches that seemingly glide over the gallery walls. They offer a poignant insight into the artist’s Mexican-American childhood, an upbringing surrounded by poverty, marginalization and violence. Guerrero uses the metaphor of cucarachas to represent growing up in these conditions. Though initially repulsive, the exquisite and delicate beauty of the cockroaches gradually becomes evident. Commenting on this work Guerrero says, “People usually have a preconceived notion of what is beautiful and what is not; with Cucarachas I am challenging the viewer to reconsider his/her initial response.”
Gina Costa works in marketing and public relations for the Snite Museum of Art. For more information on events and exhibitions, visit sniteartmuseum.nd.edu or call 574-631-5466.