Cultural Enigma VI
There Can Be No Instructions
Knockdown Center, New York, NY
curated by Tanya Gayer
October 16 – December 19, 2021
Words often solidify histories; they establish the stories we tell each other and demarcate associations, tastes, and knowledge. Words such as Mexican-American, Chicanx, latinx, all carry an intersection of multiple identities, languages, political affiliations, traditions, and cultures. These words additionally engender a feeling of disconnection from identity due to factors such as an inability to speak a language assumed to be native to an identity, or lack of ‘expected’ bodily traits, or through repeated remarks from family and strangers that one does not belong in association with such terms. It is in this space of enigmatic relation that the exhibition There Can Be No Instructions resides, featuring artworks by Lauren Cardenas, Virginia Colwell, Claudio Dicochea, Mev Luna, Libby Paloma, Alexandra Robinson, René Treviño, and Linda Vallejo.
The selected artists unravel the idea of belonging from a Mexican-American perspective and consider the residual effects of cultural gatekeeping, where individuals or groups of people decide who is allowed to claim culture, tradition, and language as their own. Acknowledging historical factors and communal biases that hinder notions of belonging, together the works in No Instructions propose a dialogue that deemphasizes a reliance on markers of identity propagated by belief systems, government, confirmation from others, or borderlines.
Notably, the identifier of ‘Mexican-American’ can signify a multitude of definitions, histories, meaning, and regions in the world. Moreover, the descriptor commonly prioritizes a specific area of conquested lands and references governmentally-sanctioned borders. There Can Be No Instructions does not claim to cover all Mexican-American experiences, but is simply one of many starting points to realize the lived experience of first, second, third, and fourth generation individuals. Artists in the exhibition stage the conditions at which cultural gatekeeping formulates through the use of historical references such as the 1700s casta painting genre that glorified Spanish colonizers with their mixed-race families, as well as the long-overdue inclusion of multiethnicity in the 2000 census. Such histories have enabled a set of unwieldy norms that encourage an active forgetting of familial storytelling and a misplaced sense of community and self.
Artworks included in the exhibition respond to these histories by modifying communicative structures such as morse code, folklore, and protest banners to find solace in nurturing curiosity and the methods in which they realize their present and ancestral past. Indigenous symbols and star constellations are additionally implemented by the artists to learn their usage and titles, and to engender visual and spatial awareness of multiple stories, bodies, and purposeful connection with the everyday in order to undo and disarm forces that dictate narratives around kinship.
The artists in There Can Be No Instructions propose an ardent sense of self by revitalizing the passage of dialog, investigating regional symbols, and investing in future storytelling to transform the formation of identity from always already defined by separation and political agendas. Importantly, there is no single framework—no set of instructions—that satisfies who we are in all places and at all times. In celebrating a fluidity for the terms of who we are, the artists in No Instructions command a reconsideration of conventional taxonomies and demonstrate how they can continuously evolve in manners that both honor and realize lineage.
– by Tanya Gayer, Curator
Tanya Gayer, Curator
Tanya Gayer’s curatorial and research practice is motivated by her interest in history-making, in understanding how we are influenced by time and place, and by examining the cultural impacts archives or databases have when they are regulated through historical bias. A recent curatorial project of Gayer’s opened in June 2019 at Root Division in San Francisco and focused on the governance of individual history seen in security questions (e.g. what is your mother’s maiden name) to discuss online authorship, culture-construction, and systems of knowledge. The selected artists in the exhibition considered the fragility of memory and identity amongst digital data noise to account for information that cannot be quantified through such constructs like security
software. Like many of Gayer’s curatorial projects, the exhibition confronted an infrastructure that categorizes and limits bodies to reveal requisite activism, awareness, and dialog to alter systems that shape identity and culture. Her curatorial practice has been dedicated to sorting through such complex dynamics that denote a status quo in culture to facilitate more inclusive communal interactions and how we know each other.
In fall 2019 she chief curated the Soundwave 9 Festival, a festival dedicated to sound art, performance, and dance. Gayer selected guest curators and artists for the festival to broaden the definition of sound art and performance art to create a more supportive environment in an evolving Bay Area. This program included art parties, choral arrangements, and drag performance that explored intergenerational history; the cultivation of safe spaces for healing and joy within black, brown, and queer communities; art grown out of migration and displacement; and our current political
reality of extreme polarized values. Previous exhibitionary projects curated by Gayer have been exhibited at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, The Internet Archive, Hubbell Street Galleries, Gray Area, Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, Embark Gallery, Pro Arts, among others. Her writing has been published in Daily Serving, in exhibition catalogs associated with Living Room Light Exchange, CULT Exhibitions, Holland Project, Pro Arts, Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, and co-produced a one-off audio podcast for a Living Room Light Exchange publication. She has lectured at UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, California College of the Arts, and at the CODAME Art + Tech Festival #ARTOBOT. Gayer holds two masters degrees in Curatorial Practice and Visual + Critical Studies from California College of the Arts and a BFA from the University of Nevada, Reno. She has held positions at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Richmond Art Center, Brian Gross Fine Art, 6th on 7th Gallery, among others. Currently she works as the Exhibitions Assistant at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is a co-curator for Living Room Light Exchange, and is an independent curator working between the Bay Area and New York.