By Lauren Pinson
La Union is an understatedly beautiful place with farmlands to your left and your right, pumpkin fields visited by children and the young at heart, and the foothills of the Rockies in the distance. This quaint little town is a New Mexican treasure, home to the oldest vineyard in the state, intricate corn mazes that draw crowds from miles around, and the Border Art Residency Program, enriching lives and supplying opportunities for new and upcoming visual artists.
The BAR has been around for over 15 years, serving as a support system and safe haven for one contemporary artist each year to explore and refine his or her craft. The seriously talented Pizana Roberts, BAR’s 2013-14 resident and a self-proclaimed “Spanglish” artist, is spending her days out in La Union exploring creative avenues that might make any artist uncomfortable. Roberts is not only an artist with a passion for art, identity, and culture, but a person who is discerning of human nature and breaking down barriers of an uptight society.
Roberts’ work revolves around body politics and the exploration of sexuality through the use of skin suits that she dons in a symbolic yet blatant rebellion against social norms. Her pieces also bring awareness to the bizarre statuses our society finds acceptable and our obsession with bodily perfection through the use of food and the folds, creases, bumps, lumps, curves and crevices visible in her skin suits. She describes her pieces as artifacts of obsession in themselves due to the time, money and effort it takes to create them. Her art is literally a part of herself as Roberts’ personality speaks through the skin suits as she performs. There is a visceral experience to seeing her work, and unless you see it first-hand, it is almost impossible to describe.
How was the application process and waiting to be chosen for the Border Art Residency?
I think most artists dread the application process; each application is different and requires unique information. I value the experience, since it encourages new work. In my application I wrote about my future endeavors and how I would accomplish those goals. The process motivated me to think about the work I have done and where I want to go.
How many people did you compete against for this opportunity?
I’m not really sure how many people applied. Nevertheless, I know one of my closest friends received a high score. It’s always great to share these application opportunities with your friends because it makes the process less grueling. I like to think that artists are not just competing with each other, but celebrating each other’s efforts.
What do you think was the main reason they chose you?
I think they chose my work because it’s extremely interdisciplinary and relevant to our contemporary culture. The type of artwork I make is absurd. The amount of time and money that I invest from making the garments to the video production is endless. The constructions of the garments themselves are artifacts of obsessiveness: cut and sewn by machine, then worn and altered by hand while wearing them on my body. I can’t think of a better way to represent our social fascination with bodily perfection. Furthermore, the video works that I assign to each of my body suits activate the meaning behind my inspirations. Everything from lighting, sound and camera angles are intentionally presented. Overall, my work is very complex, and I like to think that they chose me because they believe in my vision. I’ve been told that my work is both compelling and devastatingly funny. I certainly hope that people are able to connect with my work in this way.
What is your main goal for this upcoming year?
My main goal this year is to complete five new works while sharing all of my insight with students at UTEP. Since I will be teaching in the fall, I plan to divide my time up between the residency, school and my family.
What is your favorite media, or combination of media, to use?
My first love will always be sculpture, since you can feel and hold the material itself. Materials tell their own stories and I enjoy listening and learning from them. My second favorite media is video because I’m still learning so much from it. I find the editing process the most rewarding. I enjoy telling stories and attempting to bridge the great disconnect between live performance and video. Nonetheless, anyone who has worked in video will tell you that it’s a risky medium because it can be easily erased, lost, or damaged. Either way, I like taking risks. How else can we grow?
What role does your culture play in your art?
Culture is a big word that people use to define who they are; culture is often tied to ideas of authenticity. The notion that authenticity exists can be very dangerous because it can encourage stereotypes and ignorance. On the other hand, “authentic culture” is a way to recognize the value of lost traditions. Sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing as authenticity or culture. In a world full of multiculturalism, hybridity is how I make sense of the world and myself. I think food is one of the most direct associations to culture, which is why I integrate it in my garments.
In “Ay Papi,” for example, Rosarita is made with pinto beans, which might be considered a Mexican food. Pinto beans are also a symbol for hybridity, since the color of the beans is both light and dark. Additionally, Rosarita is seen singing and dancing to a Puerto Rican song, which could be considered an embracing gesture towards the Latin culture. On the contrary, her action of pulling out burritos can simultaneously represent the rejection of all of these things. I’m fascinated with the idea of canceling oneself out and not knowing where to stand. I think this position is the most susceptible to learning, growing and appreciating one another. As Duchamp states, “You see, I don’t want to be pinned down to any position. My position is the lack of position.”
How do you want everyone to see you and your art?
I want people to see me as an artist who is always evolving and willing to explore new ideas. I’d like people to see themselves in my work. To encourage this, I create skin suits and scenes to portray my characters’ points of view. My work is not only aimed to represent the woman’s perspective, but also the human condition. We are all living and participating in a community that exploits the human body through sweatshop labor, sports, entertainment, etc. Many artists in the past and today explore these ideas to better understand the world and each other.
View more of her work at www.jessicapizanaroberts.com