Jessica Gispert: Desvelos
October 14 - November 18, 2023
Reception: October 14, 2023, 4 - 7 PM
Gispert uses transformative materials as a way to contemplate the transient connections that define life, utilizing various substances as conduits to unknowable realms.
Jessica Gispert: Desvelos
Emerson Dorsch Gallery is pleased to announce Jessica Gispert’s solo exhibition Desvelos, opening October 14, 2023. With tondos, paintings and sculptures in wax and metal, Gispert employs tools of her artistic training to explore healing rituals of various Latin American and Caribbean cultures. Cotton-like fibers from the ceiba tree’s seed pods and root system join with the wax to invoke Gispert’s meditations on time, lineage, healing and alchemy.
Jessica Gispert works in elements, similar to the way a bruja mottles ingredients for an enchantment. For this exhibition, wax, a medium for ritual practices in religions all over the world, takes on paint-like properties. With it Gispert leans toward the sensual appeal of painting’s history in abstraction while retaining wax’s symbolic and scientific associations. To assemble her wax paintings, she starts with a round steel armature into which she pours many layers of wax and pigments, embedding plant materials, objects and candle wicks. One title is an incantation, Devuélvenos, for replenishment and restoration. This piece’s title alludes to how the destructive path of tropical cyclones can also bring benefits to our natural environment. The beholder lights the painting. In this, its most active state, the moment of chemical change and meditation is one and the same. “The wax for me at this moment is not only ceremonial and ritualistic, but also symbolic of the passage of time and disintegration, much like memory.”
It is for memory’s sake that Gispert suspends in wax materials from Latin American and Caribbean folklore and shamanistic practices. She began referencing what was most personal, with memories of family and Cuba, then expanded her view, collecting impressions from mythologies of the Global South. In a small collage called Ofelia (2023), Gispert’s paternal grandmother is beneath a Ceiba tree. She died before Gispert was born, and so her magic conveys only through black and white photographs and family stories. Her abuela was Cuban, as were other family members who connect Gispert to Cuba and to Afro-Cuban spiritual practices at a remove. Another piece, a wall sculpture called La Catorce (2023), is an abstraction of her maternal grandmother. She lived on 14th Street in a typically Caribbean house, bound – or protected – by iron grates. Gispert has poured wax into the spaces between the bars, like stained glass. Rectangles of mango orange flank the center one, which depicts fluffy white clouds in an azure sky.
These pieces’ dreamlike abstraction connects to wax’s physical properties, its ability to melt what was once solid. At about 2 am, there comes the time of waking dreams, when as Gispert says, “the unexplainable starts to happen.” The word for this in Spanish is desvelos, the show’s title, and it evokes “the space where imagination and the unseen come to life.”
Gispert associates the labor-intensive process of building up the surfaces of her wax paintings with the developing process in studio photography, another dark space for thinking. Furthermore, she notes relationships between process-heavy artistic practices, alchemy, and the Afro-Atlantic rituals she remembers from her youth in both Miami and New Jersey amongst Cuban American communities. She made this connection more recently, when she was studying and teaching in Germany. In 2017, after four years there, she began seeking out research and social connections to her personal background. One that, like many expatriates, was thrown into relief by living in a place and culture so utterly different. There, she discovered an active community of Santeria practitioners , consisting of both Cubans and Germans. She began revisiting patakís, the sacred stories of Santería— mythologies that underwent their own kind of emulsion, having grown from the memories of enslaved Africans. Like a spray of seed, these practices adapted to new homes in the Caribbean, South Florida, New Jersey and more as the diaspora continued to grow. It was this search to discover more about her spiritual lineage that brought Gispert back to Miami. She was looking for an answer to her questions about the relationships between chemistry, abstraction and ritual.
The heft of her wax paintings answer these questions with force. After she finishes building up the layers of wax, objects and pigments, she bores holes in them. They have a celestial aspect, Gispert says, and the holes can be rips in time and space, or core-samples, depending on your perspective. She has embedded wicks in them, so that the beholder can light the painting, enacting a change from solid to liquid. She writes, “The ritual of lighting the candle in this case would be for protecting and healing the spirit. Symbolically, the melting wax alludes to the passage of time and transubstantiation. ” With works in wax, Gispert emulsifies, processes and enacts the state of being “on the periphery of spirituality, exploring silent parts of your identity.”