Monday, November 3, 2008

wishing i could meet elena del rivero

Art is a funny thing. It has a way of seeping into your unconsciousness and when you least expect it, has you waking up at 2am with obsessive thoughts. A month or so ago, I attended a Business Women's event at the Corcoran. There on display, but roped off with yellow-do-not-cross-ticker-tape, was Elena Del Rivero's work (it was being filmed).

When you're an artist and art enthusiast and everyone is looking to "see" something, yellow ticker tape doesn't necessarily keep you from doing everything humanly possible to drink in an interesting subject, and the first image above is what greeted my eyes as I twisted and turned around the door jam under the watchful eyes of the very bored and mean security guards. Out of paper. The whole thing. Translucent and impermanent and free-floating and light-capturing. Gorgeous. Is it textile, is it paper, is it composition, is it really there? Called A Chant, 2001–2006, it is an installation of found papers mended, burnt, embroidered, and stitched to five rolls of muslin.

What I didn't get to see that day, but later saw via the Internet, and the image that's stuck with me over the past several weeks, and has now become "my purpose in life," "my cause," or "my addiction." It is the second image above called Home (Reference Library) (detail), 2000–2001, mixed media and paper. It is the detail of paper art, art journals, and visual diaries the artist used to chronicle items found immediately after September 11th - which is not only an admirable project (to have the state of mind to systematically collect and chronicle items during a world crisis) but is also so powerful because I'm not sure any of us are over THAT big one (even seven years later), especially reflecting on the state of the country on this historic, dramatic, and imperative Election Eve. Let not any of us ever forget that Tuesday for any reason.

del Rivero's bio from the Corcoran's exhibition reads: Elena del Rivero’s art inhabits the boundary between domestic space and public activity, between experience and memory, and between the desire for control and the surrender to chance. Both [exhibitions] explore the passage of time and the ways that daily routine and large-scale events intersect to shape our ideas about place and home. Fundamentally concerned with how materials gain and transmit meaning, Del Rivero works primarily with paper. For the two projects presented at the Corcoran, the artist drew and walked on, ripped, stained, bound, embroidered, wove, spun, cleaned, mended, and archived the paper that ultimately became her finished works of art. In this way, paper became a medium through which to both register and present the effects of activity and time.

On view through September 21, Home is, according to Del Rivero, “the story of a year.” She began the project in July of 2000, conceiving of it as an ongoing performance which would attempt to capture the entirety of her life during that period. Placing twenty large sheets of handmade paper throughout her home and studio in lower Manhattan, Del Rivero marked them with the traces of her daily existence—walking, eating, washing, and working. At the end of six months, she gathered the trampled sheets and transformed them over the second half of the year. They became the basis of [Swi:t] Home, where they hang amongst drawings, maps, books, and sculpture. Using the phonetic spelling in the first word of the title, Del Rivero’s piece evokes both “suite,” as in a series of works, but also “sweet,” with all its attendant associations of the memories and comforts of home.

In one sense, [Swi:t] Home: A Chant grew organically from the concerns of the earlier work; in another, it is the product of pure chance and outside intervention. When the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001, Del Rivero’s living and working space—located just across the street from the towers—was also a casualty. Returning home to find her windows blown out and every surface covered with ash and debris, the artist began the process of making sense of an event that had, in an instant, supplanted the memories made and recorded there during the previous year.

Over the next five years, Del Rivero painstakingly collected, catalogued, and, ultimately stitched together the bits of paper and debris that she found in her apartment. The result is a majestic curtain of sewn paper, more than 500 feet long. Installed in the Corcoran’s rotunda through November 16, the work cascades from the ceiling onto the floor—at once dramatic and humble, mournful and reparative. Like [Swi:t] Home, it speaks to the complex intermingling of daily routine and chance events, and the ways in which life intersects with art.

Elena del Rivero was born in Valencia, Spain, and has lived in New York since 1991, gaining U.S. citizenship in 2003. She earned her BA from the University of Valencia in 1974 and a diploma in English Literature from Cambridge University in 1977. Del Rivero has had one-artist exhibitions at the Drawing Center and Art in General in New York, and at the University of Salamanca, the Museo Nacional Centro Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, and the Caixa Foundation, Barcelona, in Spain. She has also been included in group exhibitions in museums in the United States and abroad.

In 1995, Del Rivero represented Spain at the Johannesburg Biennale. In 2006, the Institute of Modern Art in Valencia (IVAM), along with Patio Herreriano in Spain, organized At Hand, 15 Years of Works on Paper. Del Rivero has been the recipient of two grants from Creative Capital (2003, 2001), two NYFA grants (2002, 2001), and two grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (2002, 1991). In 1988, she won the Prix de Rome. In 2005 the Rockefeller Foundation awarded Del Rivero a residential fellowship at the Bellagio Center in Italy.

She has been a visiting artist at the University of Barcelona; the College of New Rochelle; Wellesley College; the Whitney Museum of American Art at Champion, Stamford, CT; and Brooklyn College. From 1993 to 1997, she was on the artistic staff of the Studio in a School, New York. Del Rivero’s work is in the collections of IVAM in Valencia, Spain; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Yale University; the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard; and the Museo Nacional Centro Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, among other institutions.

Where is elena del rivero today? If anyone knows, please contact me. I'd love to meet her to thank her for my awakening and ask her what she thinks of our new President-to-be.

Images Credit: Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the artist. Home image is (Courtesy of Patio Herreriano, Valladolid, Spain, 2007, and the artist. (c) Elena del Rivero