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Emerson Dorsch Announces Representation of Yanira Collado

January 26, 2021

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Emerson Dorsch Gallery is proud to announce our representation of artist Yanira Collado. A Joan Mitchell Foundation fellow in 2018, Collado spent the weeks leading up to March 2020 in New Orleans, at the Joan Mitchell Center’s residency. In May 2020, Perez Art Museum Miami announced its acquisition of Collado’s 17-foot wide installation untitled / sumando lineas, first shown at Emerson Dorsch Gallery in the group exhibition Fragment in 2019. Collado has long shown with a group of fellow artists, many of them at Miami’s Bridge Red and Under the Bridge, who explore diasporic identities and how art can impart knowledge in a way that is more than exposition. Other pivotal group shows have been at Project Row Houses in Houston, TX, and The Franklin in Chicago, IL. With the announcement of her inclusion in the ESTAMOS BIEN: LA TRIENAL 20/21 at El Museo del Barrio, Yanira Collado is poised for a new phase in her work and career, and we at the gallery are excited and honored to support her vision.

In her work Yanira Collado culls rough-cut pieces from her collection of patterned fabrics to build up her surfaces, such that the fabrics’ shapes themselves become components of pattern that form and dissolve. They swim in a cloud she forms with transferred and pasted patterns, drywall adhesives, paint and ceiling paint. She regularly uses cuaba soap, widely available on the island of Hispaniola, as a component in her works as part of the overt structure, or hidden, as an ingredient in a ritual cleansing. In the Dominican Republic, where Collado lived when she was a child, cuaba soap was part of a zafa, a counterspell which both literally and figuratively had the power to wash away a fuku or a hex. The structures supporting or containing these patterns and ritual substances are usually made of untreated pine or birch, along with building materials like bricks and stones salvaged from nearby.

Along with her titles, materials, shapes and patterns, Collado’s work invokes multiple histories with just enough detail to register their presence. Patterns from African American quilting traditions like the Flying Geese appear as if beamed from a distance or from a distant past. Collado has alluded to the book Hidden in Plain View, which recounted an oral history of a coded language African American women used in their quilting patterns. The code could signal if a house was safe, indicate direction or the proximity of a crossroads, guiding men and women in their escape from enslavement. The research in the book indicates that these codes may have grown from West African visual and symbolic systems which often adorned clothing, houses and skin, imported and remembered despite brutal depredations that sought to strip humanity away. Hidden in plain sight, they were effective precisely because the knowledge needed to read the symbols was guarded, shared by word of mouth and only among the initiated. Collado references many of these visual codes in her work.

Some of Collado’s pieces resemble relics, rescued portions of walls once built to shelter, protect, or border. In western history, wall relics are graffitied concrete from the Berlin wall or bent steel from the World Trade Center towers. There are sacred walls in Jerusalem and a new wall being built on our Southern border. Collado’s walls resemble the practical neglect of Caribbean walls worn by tropical weather, where the weather’s toll exposes layers of paint, repair or plaster. Foundations encountered in a recent exhibition could be either the beginning of a structure or the end, a ruin. There is a field of study which analyzes the collapses of complex civilizations. It began in the late 1980s, with the examination of ruins in New Mexico, and the interpretation of them at that time theorized that the civilizations failed when their complex systems could no longer solve the problems of its citizens. Recently however scholars question the idea of catastrophic collapse. They point out that descendants and survivors of some of these civilizations are still here. It seems instead that the before-ruin residents left the place, reorganized and adapted. The place is the ruin, not the people. Confronted with Collado’s dwellings that were or could be, imagine flux and adaptation with all its pain and strength – at once. She denies us the comforting thought that the destruction is long past. Her structures could have been abandoned uncomfortably close to here and now. At the same time, summoning those systems and people who were lost can give them presence, which, when intuited can be a salve.

Cuban artist and designer Ernesto Oroza wrote two essays responding to Yanira CoIlado’s work. In the first, accompanying her exhibition Penumbras in 2019, Oroza related her walls to the appearance and ethos of architecture in Cuba to his own theory the “architecture of necessity,” defined and discussed in his eponymous online project. This term refers to the way architecture in Cuba is shaped and carved by urgent contingencies in an environment of deprivation. It has resonance throughout the developing world and in at-risk communities in developed countries, but is especially pronounced in Cuba, where access to goods is extremely limited, so the urgencies of practical needs make aesthetic concerns of wholeness or aesthetics seem a world away. A wall might be built up with snakes of electrical wires run from the neighbor, with supplementary plumbing, or DIY version of a high design upgrade, like a trompe l’oeil window or balustrade. He sees in Collado’s walls and installations the same fragmentation and improvisation. There’s a logic to the codes of communication she references that is as disobedient to oppressors as Cuban household mish-mash solutions are to the wholeness and integrity of branded products.

Oroza’s second essay, “Four Entrances to a Yanira Collado exhibit,” which accompanied her exhibition if they knew these things / reliquias ocultadas, at Dimensions Variable, begins by introducing us to a poem by Ferreira Gullar about the act of writing where, with each word put to paper, the poet – and the very act of writing – calls into being what can happen next on the page. “Chance,” writes Oroza, “becomes necessity.” He develops this reference into a discussion of the idea of invocation, suggesting that this calling-into-being is one way among at least four others with which to understand Collado’s work. He sees in her use of fragments signs of invocation – building worlds through stories.

Collado summons symbolic systems of displaced peoples but exposes only pieces. Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat sees this technique as one way of representing mortality especially one’s own, in part because it is always just eluding what anyone can explain. (Because it works, evoking emotions that are largely ineffable, and also because direct exposition destroys the truth of it.) In Danticat’s book The Art of Death, she connected this observation with Ernest Hemingway’s “iceberg effect,” the capacity of the reader’s imagination reaches to complete the idea, so that the impact of the words or symbols radiate outward, more immense than fact. Hemingway let the synthesis of disparate parts of what the author knew come together in the reader’s mind, rather than ending, dead, on the page. Collado takes the technique further; for her, “partially revealed elements…are an effort in preservation.” And so, her references invoke, but they also withhold, and her works’ secrets, retained, accumulate potential energy and gravity.

One discrete sculpture called Fragment 2 (if they knew these things/ reliquias ocultadas) (2020) is a small three-tiered set of handmade pinewood boxes on top of which sits a blue enameled vessel, stuffed with blue pigmented powder. A triangle of cuaba soap rests on the middle tier; its long side rests against the length of the wooden cube. In other pieces this material was part of a zafa, a counterspell which both literally and figuratively had the power to wash away a fuku or a hex. The soap is widely used on the island Hispaniola because it is made from the sap of the island’s eponymous tree. It is fantastically practical and effective to have the ability to make magic from readily available materials, those that are easily overlooked, like the patterns on a quilt, hanging just so in the sun. How better to confound an oppressor than to make use of widely available materials in service of disobedience?

Rather than sewing the strips and scraps of fabrics, Collado builds them up in layers amidst plaster, drywall components and cardboard, whatever is available. They coalesce into patterns and dissipate. Legibility ebbs and flows like a memory you reach for but cannot grasp. Patterns exist at the structural and miniature levels, a call and response across canyons of time and space. There are well-worn ideas in Western theory about reasonable case studies of the co-incidence of ancient symbols, but in shifting focus this work taps into ritual again, with a force that can exist precisely because it is mysterious. Crucially, Collado protects her references by keeping it so. Writing about this work in an orderly, logical and analytical fashion risks gutting it. Writers like Oroza spiral from discussion of a versatile and strong hammock widely used in poor neighborhoods around the world, into a reference to oldest human-made model of a globe in Europe, back out to an observation of the multi-valent potential of “discrete” when applied to Collado’s work. The web he spins gives the impression, without saying so directly, that her work accesses a web that supports the world.

1.Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, PhD. Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. Originally published by Doubleday in 1999. Collado frequently references this book.
2.Ben Ehrenreich, “How Do You Know When Society is about to Fall Apart?” The New York Times, November 4, 2020. Accessed online https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/04/magazine/societal-collapse.html Last accessed 11/10/20. The field began with a landmark study by Joseph Tainter, who wrote the book The Collapse of Complex Societies, published in 1988. The book initiated a field of research into the decline and collapse of civilizations. In the book and his subsequent research Tainter developed a theory of the elements that cause civilizations to fall apart. Ehrenreich’s article surveys the field and the debates.
3.Ernesto Oroza, “Penumbras.” [brochure accompanying Yanira Collado’s eponymous exhibition] North Miami, FL: Under the Bridge, 2018. Ernesto Oroza, www.architectureofnecessity.com, last accessed December 8, 2020. The website details developments, including publications, in Oroza’s project since at least 2002.
4.Ernesto Oroza, “Four Entrances to a Yanira Collado exhibit,” if they knew these things/ reliquias ocultadas [exhibition brochure]. Miami, FL: Dimensions Variable, 2020.
5.Edwidge Danticat. The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2017.
6.Ryan Dennis, “Seeing the Obvious, Revealing the Hidden: Yanira Collado in Conversation with Onajide Shabaka,” BOMB Magazine, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/seeing-the-obvious-revealing-the-hidden-yanira-collado-and-onajide-shabaka-interviewed/ First published June 4, 2019. Last accessed online September 23, 2020.

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