Art Beat // Liquid on Paper

THE WEDGE — For a little more than a decade the Mexico City-based visual and performance artist Carlos Amorales has been working in an invented language.

Amorales’ Liquid Archive is a pictorial language, a visual vocabulary of birds, wolves, airplanes, apes and other forms drawn from his sketchbooks, photographs and Internet explorations. They enter the archive after being transformed into digital silhouettes in a computer-drafting program, appearing and reappearing in Amorales’ animations, installations, paintings and other projects.

He even lent them out to participants in a February 2009 Free Ink Day, the last open-door printmaking workshop Highpoint Center for Printmaking held in its old Lyndale Avenue space before relocating its print shop and gallery to Lake Street. At that time, Amorales recently had been in town to collaborate on a series of prints with Highpoint’s master printer Cole Rogers, work that is now on display for the first time in “Skeleton Images Tossed by Chance.”

Before the printmaking could begin, Amorales had to extract some of his Liquid Archive images from their digital realm. The bits and bytes were transferred to Plexiglass templates that then could be inked and printed.

“What I did was to try and make it physical,” said Amorales, reached via Skype in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he was teaching in October. “Because [Liquid Archive] is always in computers, it tried to make it something I could work with.”

The templates were the pictorial equivalent of a lead typeset used in letterpress printing, each image a discrete idea. But if the Liquid Archive is like a dictionary, it’s one in which definitions remain fluid and open to interpretation.

For one series of prints, Amorales tossed templates for the heads of an eagle and another bird, a hawk in flight, an ape and a pair of human legs into a box, shook it and let them fall at random on paper. They were printed in a jumble, one on top of another, in overlapping and darkening layers of ink.

It was an experiment, he said, in “azar,” Spanish for “chance.”

“By putting them together [I] could create meaning, but the meaning is not completely formed,” he said, comparing the process to the cut-up writing technique used by Dadaists in the 1920s and, several decades later, the Beat writer William S. Burroughs.

In their details, the prints show evidence of Rogers’ masterful touch. Each template was incised with very fine, radiating lines — perhaps a nod to their digital origins — and when layered, the lines form a complex web that binds the images together.

In other prints, Amorales shook up a Mercator projection of the globe so that countries, unmoored, went floating around the map. Printed in solid black on white paper, it could be read as a Rorshach test on a changing global power structure.

For the “Snake Glyph” series, Amorales and Rogers printed an eagle’s head — a symbol both of Central America’s great pre-Columbian civilizations and modern Mexico — over and over in long, snaking lines. The impressions bunch together as the eagle’s head crawls across the paper, and dark gray ink grows more and more opaque to near black.

Amorales said his collaboration with Rogers brought a new “tension” to his work with the Liquid Archive.

Working on a computer, he said, was “too much like a fast food experience” — quick and temporarily satisfying, but perhaps lacking in nutritional substance. As prints, the Liquid Archive images gain permanence, transmuted through the sheer physical labor of the printmaking process.

On their own, the Liquid Archive images pack a powerful graphic punch. That impact is tempered by the traditional printmaking techniques employed at Highpoint — not diluted, 
but refined.

GO SEE IT

“Skeleton Images Tossed by Chance” runs through Nov. 20 at Highpoint Center for Printmaking, 912 W. Lake St. 871-1326. highpointprintmaking.org

 

 

Portrait of the artist figuring it all out 

THE WEDGE — Sarah Nakano is 17, a senior at Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul and a budding local artist whose first-ever solo show opens this month at Soo Visual Arts Center (SooVAC).

Nakano is young enough to have just recently adopted her nom d’arte (Nakano is her middle name). She is young enough that, when asked to explain how she first took up photography, she doesn’t have to think back very far.

“I guess I started two summers ago,” Nakano said. “My mom and I would take vacations and stuff, and I would take pictures — just random, touristy pictures.”

It is a remarkably short line connecting two summers ago to July’s SooFUZE exhibition at SooVAC, where Nakano showed some of her moody photographs of nighttime scenes set in neighborhoods emptied of people. They caught SooVAC founder and Artistic Director Suzy Greenberg’s eye and won Nakano the grand prize of the gallery’s first juried all-teen exhibition.

“What stood out about Sarah’s work was the eerie quality of the images that she created through the lighting,” Greenberg wrote in an email. “The images took on a mysterious feel and a dreaminess that made me curious.”

Nakano used homemade color filters to tint her photographs orange and purple. The vaguely ominous mist enveloping the van parked on an empty residential street was just pure luck, she said, although now she employs smoke machines in her largely staged photographs.

Her drive and ingenuity continue to impress Greenberg, who added: “I can honestly say that she has been more organized and prolific than most artists I have worked with in the last 10 years.”

High praise, indeed.

While her photos from the SooFUZE show had an undeniably eerie quality, Nakano said that wasn’t what she was aiming for, exactly. She meant to capture one of those quintessential late-teen experiences: wandering around with friends late at night, when everyone else has gone to bed.

“Night, to me, is a very interesting time,” she said. “Everyone retreats into their houses and it’s a very quiet, mysterious time.”

Night is inspiring her new work, too, but in a different way. Her new photos, staged with the assistance of friends, her color filters and that new smoke machine, are visual interpretations of her dreams.

“I’ve been writing down my dreams on pieces of paper, and those will all be in the show so people can read my dreams,” she said.

Also included in the show are drawings, collage work and a sculpture Nakano was still working on in mid-October.

Nakano placed her interest in dreams in the context of self-discovery, the current focus of her nascent artistic career. She’s headed off to college next year — hopefully an art school in New York, she said — and, like her peers, Nakano is trying to figure out who she is, what she wants, where she’s going.

“It’s a lot of those basic teenage questions, like: Who am I?” she said.

GO SEE IT

“Half Awake: New Work by Sarah Nakano” runs Nov. 
13–Jan. 2 at Soo Visual Arts Center, 2638 Lyndale Ave. S. 871-2263. Soovac.org