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Contemporary Traditions in Horacio Rodriguez’s Salt Series Exhibit – The Daily Utah Chronicle

Avery Greig

“El Camino del Diablo, the Devil’s Highway: Yuma 14” by Horacio Rodriguez (2022). (Photo by Avery Greig | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

the Art Museum of Utah last salt episode of the series presents the artist Horace Rodriguezwhose work invites viewers to examine the identity of borders and the overlapping contexts of ancient and contemporary.

Salt 15: Horacio Rodriguez

It’s official: Horacio Rodriguez is the fifteenth artist in the UMFA Salt Series. The series, affectionately named after Salt Lake Cityseeks to showcase the work of emerging artists from around the world,”to reflect the impact of contemporary art, forging links with the world.

Rodriguez’s work explores heritage and personal identity, often engaging in politics and confronting commercial appropriation. The artist applies layers of external glazes, gold luster, and decals to the ceramic of various objects, including handguns, a childhood boombox from 1984, and pre-Columbian artifacts from his personal collection. In past collection Project MolotovRodriguez uses a ceramic soda bottle shape to create various works in the shape of a Molotov cocktail — an instrument of resistance. Rodriguez sees his slip castings like “blank canvases” and creates metaphors that span generations of historical contexts.

Do it again

“Make America Great Again”, the central mantra of the Trump campaign, is an expression with which all Americans are familiar. The slogan, along with other political phrases and quotes, takes on new meaning with the medium of Rodriguez’s works. For the Salt:15 exhibition, Rodriguez used digital scanning and 3D printingcreating slip-cast replicas of pre-Columbian objects before decorating them with a contemporary patina.

Rodriguez’s artistic method, as seen in salt:15, interacts with modern contexts through the prism of ancient Mesoamerican art. “I seek to transform and infuse new meaning into objects and symbols synonymous with my pre-Hispanic and mestizo culture, as well as the alluring visual language of mainstream Western culture,” Rodriguez states in his artist statement. “It creates a hybrid work that mimics my own layered identity.”

The exhibit features several works of art that critically examine the tense history of the US-Mexico border, with which Rodriguez has been artistically engaged since grad school. “El Camino del Diablo, The Devil’s Highway: The Yuma 14″ is a work located on the west wall of the exhibition which presents fourteen ceramic heads modeled on “Seated Woman of Veracruz”, a statue from the UMFA collection. The fourteen heads represent the fourteen lives lost in the deadliest attempt by migrants to cross the US border in Arizona. Rodriguez describes the busts as honoring their spirits, each meticulously and individually crafted with layers of embellishment.

Summoning stories

A video work featuring a drive-through of the border wall sits at the center of the main exhibit, acting like the sun as objects Rodriguez salvaged from the current border in Arizona orbit in powerful silence. The exhibition stretches along UMFA’s Mesoamerican Art Gallery where Rodriguez’s photographs of the US-Mexico border coexist with works from the gallery, forming a long hallway covered in historical comparisons.

As a viewer, I personally found myself stunned by the binaries created by the exhibition between the Mesoamerican collection and the frontier photographs, double exposureraw materials next to models cast in slip and amplification instruments traced with persistent phrases.

UMFA’s Fifteenth Salt Series, Curated by Senior Curator Whitney Tassieaddresses contemporary issues through the cultural traditions that Rodriguez, as a self-proclaimed “future ancestor,” poses to generations to come.

The Rodriguez Salt Expo is viewable from January 22 to June 26, 2022.

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