Carla Jay Harris: Visual Anthropologist

Carla Jay Harris works diligently, contemplating her final body in her studio at the UCLA Graduate Studios in Culver City, CA.  At first glance the back wall tricks the eye into seeing a repetitive pattern of wallpaper, but upon closer inspection the design and images are intentionally meaningful.  

Harris works off of her own history, both genetic and racial.  There is a message that she wants the viewer to hear, but it's a message they realize through their own experience.  However, with the events going on in the United States regarding police violence and racial inequality one can't help but tie the two together.  

Either way when the viewer walks into Harris' Thesis show on April 30th they will choose to interpret what they will from the years of work she has put into it all.  The defining revelation will be if the viewer remembers the day after and the day after that about the lessons they might have interpreted through her work?  History is only repeated when everyone forgets about it, and Harris has chosen not only to remember but to manifest something so others do not forget as well.

To see Carla Jay Harris' work in person visit her Thesis show at 240 Charles E. Young Drive at UCLA's campus on April 30th from 5pm-8pm.  And visit her site to see more of her work at www.carlajayharris.com.

Carla Jay Harris, a graduate student at UCLA, stands in front of her wall paper created through reapropriated imagery and self portraiture.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Carla Jay Harris, a graduate student at UCLA, stands in front of her wall paper created through reapropriated imagery and self portraiture.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Describe the reasoning behind the wallpaper and the need for mirrors.

I started this project as a documentary – a photographic documentation of my connection to my family history. Over the course of the project, the photographs started to feel limited. I began experimenting with installation and sculptural work to extend them. I feel that the wallpaper installation more effectively communicates my lived experience. I also feel that documentary photography presents the photographer as objective – that position does not feel appropriate to so personal a work.

Harris lays out imagery from her project 'Dirt, Dust, Sand Concrete' where she documented the changing economic realities of the American worker through examining her relationship to her familial heritage.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Harris lays out imagery from her project 'Dirt, Dust, Sand Concrete' where she documented the changing economic realities of the American worker through examining her relationship to her familial heritage.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Why do you juxtapose the appropriated imagery and familial imagery on the wallpaper?  Do you feel that appropriated imagery speaks louder than if you had illustrated the same message in the studio?

I feel that isolating the found images or the familial images and presenting them separately would be a false or oversimplified representation of my reality. Mixing the two together, expresses the gestalt nature of contemporary African American existence.

An image from Harris' project 'Dirt, Dust, Sand Concrete'.  Photo courtesy of the artist

An image from Harris' project 'Dirt, Dust, Sand Concrete'.  Photo courtesy of the artist

You mentioned you grew up in a low crime area of Northern Virginia but with recent events in Ferguson and New York how has the racial tension developing in the news affected this project and you personally?

 I think that Americans (myself included) have a tendency to gloss over the uglier aspects of our culture and history. Cultural activism has largely given way to apathy and commodity culture. People should not have to die in order to generate passionate conversations about race.  This idea is in part what inspired me to complete this wallpaper. Wallpaper and the decorative arts have historically been relegated to the background. Incidents like what occurred in Ferguson, racism and stereotype are always there whether we choose to focus on or see them.

Family plays a big part of Harris' work so it is only natural for her to have a portrait of her grandfather hanging on her studio wall.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Family plays a big part of Harris' work so it is only natural for her to have a portrait of her grandfather hanging on her studio wall.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Upon closer examination of the wallpaper design there are Cotton Blossoms and Tobacco leaves. Did you design this and how does it connect to you and your work?  And just as they are intertwined on the design is this a metaphor for both Identity and Heritage interconnected throughout your work?

I worked with an illustrator to execute the wallpaper; however, I designed and conceptualized on my own. Cotton/tobacco are plants that my family worked under the plantation system and later grew on their own farms.  They speak to my family history as well as African-American and American history. I do see them as an extension of the themes of heritage and identity woven throughout the project.

Harris works through a mock up of her Thesis project in her studio at the UCLA graduate studios in Culver City, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Harris works through a mock up of her Thesis project in her studio at the UCLA graduate studios in Culver City, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

What was the evolutionary process of the wallpaper?  How did it turn into the final piece that is in your thesis show?

I like the idea of using wallpaper because it typically functions as a background. The wallpaper began as an experiment. However, as I have worked through it, the piece has come to embody the essence of all the work I've done while here at UCLA. While here, I have really concentrated on exploring my cultural and familial background. The wallpaper includes multiple elements from both.

Silhouettes as potential mirror objects hang on the wall in Harris' studio.  The placement of inspiration for potential ideas is key to any artist's studio especially in graduate school.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Silhouettes as potential mirror objects hang on the wall in Harris' studio.  The placement of inspiration for potential ideas is key to any artist's studio especially in graduate school.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Do you feel the inclusion of mirrors is a way of transporting the viewer as well as you to the times you recall about Virginia?  Almost like Alice in Wonderland? Do the mirrors also call for a self-reflective process amongst the viewer?  Do you have any specific intentions with the mirrors and your audience?

With the mirrors I want to extend the project beyond my own personal experiences to transport the viewer into my experience. When viewers approach the work, they will see their reflection on the wall - literally seeing themselves in the wallpaper.  In this way, I call for a self-reflective process with the viewer.  

Harris works on a mock up of her images and lays them out shifting them around like a deck of cards to see how best they speak visually.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Harris works on a mock up of her images and lays them out shifting them around like a deck of cards to see how best they speak visually.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Your images tell a narrative in their placement.  What narrative do you find them saying either with each other or as a whole?

I have not constructed a liner narrative with the work. However, I do see the included images as in conversation with one another. I imagine them questioning the construct of identity, which has agency over identity and criticizing stereotype.

Image courtesy of the artist.

Image courtesy of the artist.

Like most projects the process can be therapeutic for the artist.  Do you feel that working on this body of work has allowed you to examine frustrations that have lived just below the skin, so to speak, that you have not address personally before?

I would not go so far as to call the project therapeutic; however, I do feel that working on this has allowed me to conceptualize my ideas about critical identity politics and their place in contemporary art.

Harris works with a miniature mock up of her Thesis show in her studio in Culver City, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Harris works with a miniature mock up of her Thesis show in her studio in Culver City, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

You describe your work as Identity and Heritage.  Can you elaborate where the societal aspects and the genealogical aspects are present?

I’d say that heritage and identity are key themes of the project. The genealogical aspects are woven through the design of the wallpaper. The societal is largely represented in the found/re-appropriated images selected.

Jaime Guerrero: Glass Sculptor

Nostalgia, it's a cherished word.  We feel it when we hear a song, smell a scent or recognize a habit from a long ago gone relative in a young family member.  Our memories make us who we are and for Jaime Guerrero they become tangible creations sculpted from melted glass, glass that signifies his memories.

Moments and memories filter through a large portion of Jaime Guerrero's work.  Just as glass is a delicate material so too are Guerrero's memories and moments.  And just as glass can be strong during the manipulation process so too can the messages that pass through Guerrero's work.  Ritual being one of his current subjects surrounding his latest body of work, Guerrero takes a look at a life event from his childhood that made him question the reason behind the hunt.  

Life sized deers and antlers all hold within their sculpted vessels a message of Guerrero's memories.  It's as if while he sat in the hot shop sculpting the glass his hands allowed those feelings, of his time as a child contemplating killing a deer, to pass through to his pieces.  For many artists there is the craft and there is the reason behind the craft, Guerrero is able to utilize both abilities at once which can be seen in years of creating.  

In addition to sculpting Guerrero believes in the passing on of tradition by teaching at-risk youth the same abilities someone taught him.  A collaboration between Guerrero and the Watts Labor Community Action Committee has helped found the first glass blowing studio for at-risk youth in the country.  Since 2010 teens and young adults have been able to learn the tradition of glass blowing and the lessons that come along with it, such as accountability, and how team work and hard work go hand in hand.  Not only is Guerrero crafting his own career but he is also making sure that the tradition lives on in the hands of those willing to learn. 

To see more of Jaime Guerrero's work visit his website www.guerreroglass.com and his is also on instagram @guerreroglass and follow him on Facebook

And check out his solo show 'Cervidae: Open Seasonat the Vincent Price Museum February 7th opening night reception 4pm-6pm.

Antlers are laid out at Guerrero's studio in Boyle Heights where he works on his creations after first blowing them at a nearby Glass shop.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Antlers are laid out at Guerrero's studio in Boyle Heights where he works on his creations after first blowing them at a nearby Glass shop.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Your current body of work involves glass mounted deer heads and antlers inspired by a childhood memory.  Can you elaborate on that memory?

I was about 12 years old and was invited by my uncle and cousins to go hunting. We camped for about a week in the Sierras I think it was. It felt like a right of passage for me, entering into adulthood. It was also the first time I shot a riffle. In retrospect I question this activity. Are these acts that teach us as young men how to be dominant over nature a cause for current environmental denigration, or do these acts derive from a natural instinctual notion of survival and male bonding rituals? Maybe both?

Guerrero works into the night on his upcoming show ' Cervidae: Open Season' showcasing multiple deer 'busts' all meticulously made of glass.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Guerrero works into the night on his upcoming show 'Cervidae: Open Season' showcasing multiple deer 'busts' all meticulously made of glass.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Like many Mexican families you were raised Catholic but now you hold no affiliation.  Do you think it is possible that the translucency of the glass is a tangible metaphor for the spirit? And in a way many of your pieces hold this spiritual element that makes glass your religion? 

 I don’t like to interpret my work in just one way because I believe it is not so black and white, there are many correlations one could make. I have used that metaphor in instances before but I have also played with the idea of nostalgia. I like to leave explanations a little grey because it leaves space to grow and transition into other things. 

Glass dust flies around a set of antlers as Jaime Guerrero cold works a set for a deer head piece.  Cold working is done after the glass has been formed and cooled where any imperfections are touched up.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Glass dust flies around a set of antlers as Jaime Guerrero cold works a set for a deer head piece.  Cold working is done after the glass has been formed and cooled where any imperfections are touched up.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Moving blankets are laid out all over Guerrero's studio to not only protect the sculptures but to allow for a safe working space because the glass is not only incredible strong but also delicate.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Moving blankets are laid out all over Guerrero's studio to not only protect the sculptures but to allow for a safe working space because the glass is not only incredible strong but also delicate.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Glass is a profession where you can not work alone requiring two additional assistants.  Do you see the formation of a piece evolves differently when you have a different team?

No,... actually sometimes for the larger work I use a team of about 5 to 6 people. Glass usually has its loose protocols of how people help with the creation of an art piece but to answer your question sometimes I work with really skilled glass blowers who have years and years of experience and things go a little smoother, with the less experience helpers I usually fill in the gaps and become a little more cautious. In this case I make sure I am clear in the beginning, middle, and end. 

We share the language of technique 

Computer work is a necessary evil of the life of an artist.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Computer work is a necessary evil of the life of an artist.  Photo © Aimee Santos

You recently created an artist studio space where there are six artists.  What has it been like to have inserted a specifically artist location in the Boyle Heights neighborhood.  Do you feel Boyle Heights will become the next Arts District in the coming years?

Not sure if Boyle Heights will become the next hot spot, but I try to steer clear of these kind of local politics. All I can do is support local art, continue my practice in the best way I can, and not give a shit about what people think. 

A test wall of antlers hang in The Spot Studios in Boyle Heights run by Jaime Guerrero.  The final pieces will be presenting at the Vincent Price Museum this February.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A test wall of antlers hang in The Spot Studios in Boyle Heights run by Jaime Guerrero.  The final pieces will be presenting at the Vincent Price Museum this February.  Photo © Aimee Santos

In nature the deer’s antlers regenerate after they fall off, giving them a magical or mystical quality.  Is it possible that this magical quality connects to the nostalgia that is part of these pieces?

Not sure about all that but I know that antlers do have a spiritual essence that many people inherently connect with. It is this relation that intrigues me the most.

Detail of a deer skull in the middle of creation at Revolution Glass in El Segundo, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Detail of a deer skull in the middle of creation at Revolution Glass in El Segundo, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

To keep the glass hot and pliable while outside the furnace, Guerrero torches the deer skull throughout the sculpting process at Revolution Glass in El Segundo, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

To keep the glass hot and pliable while outside the furnace, Guerrero torches the deer skull throughout the sculpting process at Revolution Glass in El Segundo, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

During the creation process do you pre visualize your pieces while in the hot shop?  Or as you manipulate the glass is the piece telling you what it should be?

Wow great question, during my college years I liked to think the medium was partially its own creator. You have to see the process to understand what I mean by this, but to answer your question I have a very loose idea of what I am making (meaning I know the subject matter I want to work with) but the form is much informed by the medium itself. Slowly the shape and gesture begin to make sense. There is certainly an unspoken relationship one has with the medium, especially when it requires such a high level of focus, and ability.

A row of glass called Frit is laid out to allow texture to a piece of blown glass.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A row of glass called Frit is laid out to allow texture to a piece of blown glass.  Photo © Aimee Santos

There is certainly an unspoken relationship one has with the medium, especially when it requires such a high level of focus, and ability.
— Jaime Guerrero
Alejandra Teyura, who has been working with Guerrero for three years, assists Jaime Guerrero during the creation of a deer skull at Revolution Glass in El Segundo, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Alejandra Teyura, who has been working with Guerrero for three years, assists Jaime Guerrero during the creation of a deer skull at Revolution Glass in El Segundo, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Can you speak about the students that you work with?  How did this collaboration come about and what projects do you have lined up for them in the future?

Well Glass art sort of a privileged medium because it is very expensive. Not everyone has access to this medium, I consider myself very fortunate. I feel it is my duty to share this resource with underserved youth to help make the glass world a little more diverse and give youth an opportunity to express themselves in this unique way.

In order to make his sculptures Guerrero needs to rent time at a glass shop.  During a 6 hour rental at Revolution Glass in El Segundo, CA Guerrero was able to create multiple pieces for his upcoming show at the Vincent Price Museum.  Photo © Aimee Santos

In order to make his sculptures Guerrero needs to rent time at a glass shop.  During a 6 hour rental at Revolution Glass in El Segundo, CA Guerrero was able to create multiple pieces for his upcoming show at the Vincent Price Museum.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Your past sculptures have had a strong cultural context.  Has your work always held this connection to your heritage and the contemporary aspects of Chicano culture?

No,... in the beginning I was making high end one of a kind decorative craft. One can stay stuck in that world, especially when the money is good but that was never my drive or intention so I moved on to bigger and better things.

Photo © Aimee Santos

Photo © Aimee Santos

Photo © Aimee Santos

Photo © Aimee Santos

Photo © Aimee Santos

Photo © Aimee Santos