Alberto Checa: ConchaFlush

July 11, 2024 - August 17, 2024

Reception: Thursday, July 11, 2024, 6PM-9PM

Checa creates otherworldly structures that explore themes of labor among the Latino working class.

Selected Works

Alberto Checa: ConchaFlush

Emerson Dorsch is pleased to announce ConchaFlush, an exhibition of new works by Alberto Checa. A multidisciplinary artist who uses materials typically associated with construction sites, Checa creates otherworldly structures that explore themes of labor among the Latino working class.

On view is a series of modular pieces that are part of the artist’s ongoing investigation into mold-making. Many of the works can be manipulated to fit together in different ways and generate new forms, some even include hinges or metal runners found in cabinetry. Checa starts with a sketch, often of a geometric shape on grid paper, and then constructs a wooden mold of that shape, pours urethane into it, and lastly, pours plaster into the negative imprint. This lengthy and repetitive process is what stimulates the ideas behind the work to begin with—in other words, there is an emphasis on process over product.

The plaster modular systems that result serve as frames which encase original sketches on paper, graphite and silicone drawings, and in more recent works, inkjet prints that are absorbed by the plaster itself. This method again prioritizes process since it allows for the material to take over; there is a sense of ceasing control of what the final outcome will be. That being said, it’s obvious that after much trial and error Checa has found a way to render his ideas with clarity, as we can easily decipher the images inside—documentation of his past performances, pictures of previous systems he’s created, and even a still from a video of Celia Cruz singing “Guantanamera” during a concert in Africa in 1974.

Music, particularly salsa, is another important component of Checa’s practice. Not only will you find it blasting in his studio as he’s working, but so much of his artwork pays homage to the role music plays in Latin American labor culture. He talks about the speaker clipped on a construction worker’s pants at a worksite—up until recently Checa worked in construction and boat maintenance—and remembers the music playing as his mother cleaned the house. He believes culture revolves around music, and notes that although the romantic songs usually being played don’t necessarily correlate with the job being done, they nonetheless stimulate labor and make the long days under the sun more bearable.

At the center of the gallery floor lies a sound system sculpture that uses a submersible pump to flush plaster through PVC pipes. Part of the muffled sound we hear is the plaster pushing through, a process reminiscent of a constant state of flux, much like the maintenance required to keep the ‘machine’ alive when working on boats. The ambient and experimental sounds that are produced are not composed by Checa alone. The artist uses his exhibitions as a platform for performance, and often invites local sound artists to collaborate with him on public programs. The focus on material in this piece highlights the fact that yes, this is an accessible material, but also one which allows for various states of change—here, the plaster starts as a powder and is now in a liquid form, while nearby the plaster takes on a solid form in the modular pieces hanging on the wall.

Taking inspiration from Umberto Eco’s The Open Work, Checa invented the term used as the exhibition’s title, ConchaFlush. The word ‘open’ alludes to a cavity, an empty space, or conch, while ‘work’ can be understood as repetition, plurality, maintenance, and specifically in Checa’s case, the act of flushing. Much of what the author theorizes in the book is the concept of ‘openness’, an artist’s decision to leave things up to chance as well as inviting public interaction and interpretation. This certainly resonates with Checa’s practice: purposefully prolonged processes along with the documentation of narratives that arise during performance work. In some instances, one of the artist’s modular forms may take on a different shape, or the chemistry of a material changes; in others, a piece from an old system is used in the composition of a new work. His pieces seem to be constantly in flux, and it’s precisely in this continual motion that Checa recognizes the possibility of recontextualizing outdated structures and the chance we have to create new ones.

Alberto Checa: ConchaFlush, by Ana Clara Silva, July 2, 2024


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