Tenochtitlan Toyland

This is one of two proposals I recently submitted for a solo show… boney fingers crossed. The first, The Thinking Reed is pretty much ready to hang; this one resides mostly within my head and deals primarily with perception and the problems that arise from appropriation and misappropriation.

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Tenochtitlan Toyland: Playthings from New Spain

My proposal for “Tenochtitlan Toyland: Playthings from New Spain” is a theatrical concept room, an installation piece that essentially represents a nursery from hell. My concept which employs painted and constructed assemblages, cardboard and papier-mâché figures, marionettes and paintings on paper also incorporate an interactive element in which to engage the gallery viewer.

The nursery in question is that of the Infanta Margaret decorated with imagined booty from New Spain. By utilizing commonly found construction materials, I wish to poke fun at consumerism and the incessant quest for novelty.  To achieve this end I plan to make a plywood Selfie Booth, fashion a series of cardboard jumping wall puppets , even introduce a live performer encased in a walking puppet of my making. There is also a faux didactic element to this installation; I’ve painted a series of watercolor illustrations for an alphabet primer of New Spain that completely misses the mark in comprehending these vanquished people. From encouraging the use of hashtags for my proposed Selfie-booth, to passing out crayons in which to color pastiches of Baroque wall hangings, I wish to engage the viewer, reflect the past and hold up a mirror to the foibles and vanities of our current society.

My work is always narrative based and whether expressed through two dimensional or three dimensional works, I seek to tell universal stories and explore universal truths. With this installation I wish to employ every weapon in the arsenal. Paintings, sculpture and interactive engagement are part of my concept; I wish to create a sense of Gesamtkunstwerk, but instead of a Wagnerian Valhalla, I instead wish to create a dark and funny depiction of our seemingly unquenchable thirst for power and privilege.
Much of this work is still in the conceptual stage, so I have provided preparatory drawings to illustrate my intentions. I have also, when available, enclosed images of completed elements such as marionettes, paper dolls and pages from the aforementioned Primer of New Spain. I have also enclosed an itemized page providing details concerning my concepts and anticipated materials for the elements which make up the whole of Tenochtitlan Toyland; they are numbered to correspond with the images. Concerning which gallery I would prefer I have submitted a scaled rendering of the show situated in the W Gallery; of course that decision is up to the gallery. Given that much of the work is site specific I would appreciate, if I were fortunate enough to be selected, a later date in 2017 for the opening. Given my themes of consumerism and toys, a slot close to Christmas would be devilishly delightful!

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An Itemized List Concerning Tenochtitlan Toyland: Playthings from New Spain

1- “The Rape of Tenochtitlan”, 2016, colored pencil on paper, 18 by 24”.
The initial impetus behind this concept.

2- Pages from my alphabetic primer The Primer of New Spain ; letters A, B, C and D shown. The entire alphabet will represented .
Materials: watercolor on paper.

3- My marionettes of the Hero Twins. These marionettes are part of a body of work that includes other puppets and doll derived from the Popol vuh, that will be incorporated into the concept as a whole.
Materials: Sculpey modeling medium, armature, paint.

4-Part of a collection of paper dolls that I have been working on over the last few years. Some of the dolls are nearly life-sized, some conventionally sized.
Materials: watercolor, graphite, on paper, brads.

5- The Coatlicue Selfie Booth , given that Aztec goddess Coatlicue (and her war god son Huitzilipochtli) is quite a fearsome presence, she is an amusing choice for a selfie cutout . I would actively encourage the hashtag #teotoyland while visitors snap away; both ridiculing social media and exploiting it.
Anticipated materials: self supporting painted plywood cutout.

6- My proposal includes four “jumping jacks”, childish amusements of the Victorians, the difference being, as is the case with this depiction of the rain god Tlaloc,my offerings would be considered inappropriate for the nursery by most sane people. I imagine including three other Aztec gods including the aforementioned war-god Huitzilipochtli. Each will be placed behind a baroque inspired “tapestry”, that with crayons provided near by, I would hope gallery visitors would color in. I imagine an interactive experience, as with the selfie booth.
Anticipated materials: paint, cardboard, string, brads; tapestries, enlarged renderings with crayons provided.

7-The Templo Major, the heart of Tenochtitlan, home to the primary altars of Tlaloc and Huitzilipochtli , scene of countless human sacrifices and terrible battles , could not be a more inappropriate inspiration for a dollhouse; yet I propose just that concept . The installation would include rag dolls of gods, priests and their unfortunate victims. I anticipate quite a few hearts.
Anticipated materials: Painted wood and or papier-mâché construction, lightbulbs, mixed media as yet undetermined.

8- One of the aforementioned rag dolls, in this case, Huitziliopochtli.
Materials: rags, thread, paint.

9- A Meso-american television complete with vignettes from the creation myth , the Popol vuh. It would include the aforementioned marionettes.
Anticipated materials: painted wood and or papier-mâché , lightbulb , mixed media elements as of yet undetermined.

10-A prototype of #9, the Meso-american television.
Materials: painted wood, mixed media.

11- Mictlantecuhtli (Lord of Xibalba) parade marionette. A walking interactive puppet depicting the major god of the underworld . Once again introducing an absurd interactive element into the nursery concept. I hope the performer to be most fetching.
Anticipated materials: chicken wire armature, papier-mache, dowels, string, wire, paint.

12- Schematic of my proposal within the Wubdemann Gallery; drawn 1/4” scale.

 1-Rape of Tenochtitlan
1-Rape of Tenochtitlan
2-detail from Primer of New Spain
2-detail from Primer of New Spain
3-Hero Twin marionettes
3-Hero Twin marionettes
4-Paper-dolls from Xibalba
4-Paper-dolls from Xibalba
5-Selfie Booth
5-Selfie Booth
6- Tlaloc Tapestry design
6- Tlaloc Tapestry design
7-Welcome to the Xibalba Dollhouse
7-Welcome to the Xibalba Dollhouse
8-Huitzilipochtcli Rag-doll
8-Huitzilipochtcli Rag-doll
9-Xibalba Variety Hour
9-Xibalba Variety Hour
10-prototype example
10-prototype example
11-Walking Puppet
11-Walking Puppet
12-Installation Schematic
12-Installation Schematic

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Well, that’s it. I’m not sure which worries me more, being rejected or actually having this proposal accepted and going mad putting it all together! Wish me well please.

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“T” is for Tohil; False Idols and the Death Wish

Like a perverse Prometheus, Tohil gave man the gift of fire, but the price was steep. In an attempt to appease the ancient god and to repay the debt, early man offered up gifts of precious metals. The haughty god refused such paltry offerings, only  flesh and blood would satisfy this god’s insatiable hunger:

“It remains for you to give thanks, since you have yet to take  care of bleeding your ears and passing a cord through your elbows. you must worship. This is your way of giving thanks before your god…” An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya (144).

Auto sacrifice wasn’t all Tohil demanded, according to the same source, Tohil ”  insists upon the right to drink not milk from the breast, but blood: to be suckled by Tohil is to have one’s heart ripped out” (170).

This insatiable god would prove a false god, setting into place the sacrifice tradition ; which would cause much enmity between the ruling Aztecs and their tributary neighbors. Ultimately causing the collapse of this great empire.

“T” is for Tohil:

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“T” is for Tohil

2013

watercolor on paper

11 by 18 inches

In my studio,and in my life I face many false and demanding gods , as ruthless as Tohil. These gods, the ideals I hold myself to may in fact be a death wish.
What I strive for, what I value and cherish may be my undoing.  What inspires me may  in fact hinder my progress in life and in authentic expression. What seems so rich  often leaves me feeling impoverished when I am unable to  reach  such lofty goals :physical beauty in the face of my own crumbling shell; envy triggered by the  seemingly golden charmed life of others; the greatness achieved by past masters that  make a mockery of my own weak daubs.
My own country seems  intent upon adhering to an  Ideal that is no longer suitable (or possible) ; formerly represented by the  ruling WASP class, certain angry factions now bristle at an “uppity” black president ,  an”ungrateful , greedy” immigrant class,  “unholy” gays demanding full inclusion ,  fair social programs for the “takers” and woman seeking full autonomy.   Isn’t this archaic ideal a false idol ?, won’t clinging to it surely be the death knell of this nation?  This  stubborn resistance to progress seems a death wish.
I understand this resistance I just experience it  in different ways.
What drove the Aztecs to cling to their false gods, gods that were in the end, their  downfall. It is easy to blame the Spaniards but history is revealing a more complex narrative, how  disgruntled neighbors of the Aztecs, notably the Tlaxcalans, facilitated the destruction  of this great empire (that and smallpox) . Neighboring Indians, weary of offering human tribute to the insatiable gods of the Aztecs, realized the wisdom of aligning themselves to the enemy of their enemy. What would have happened if the Aztecs had looked beyond the shiny facade of their gods with their impossible demands . Was there no point when the  divine demands became too much to bear, too bloody, too insane.  Did anyone think there must be another solution or were they at that time  just too entrenched .
I for one do not want to become too entrenched in my own damaging practices, I hope to break free and reject my false gods and push against  my own death wish .
With that, good night, take care and be well,
LG

“D” is for Dogs

As this may be the last entry for my Primer of New Spain, before the  Alphabet Soup deadline of the end of November, I thought I would base the character upon my favorite beastie.

To the Maya and to the Aztec dogs were, in addition to a foodstuff (gruesome I know), believed to be excellent guides to their owners in the treacherous Underworld.  Apparently they were particularly adept as crossing bodies of water.  As the Mesoamerican dog was bred to be hairless I suppose that makes some sense.

My own pup, and model for this image is a modern day chihuahua, quite hairy and slightly chubby ;a delightful and I think quite handsome fellow. His name is Speck and he hates the water.  I would however be thrilled beyond belief  if Speck was waiting for me in Charon’s barge.

 

 

“D” is for Dog

Dogs may have been excellent guides in the Underworld, but in the studio my little fellow was a reluctant model, refusing to hold a pose for very long.

But I fashioned a resemblance of sorts, altering  the color of his fur, he is in actuality a beautiful blonde, not this garish yellow.

A reluctant muse.

Here is the superstar, posing on his own terms.

Speck

According to tradition, the dog when imagined as a guide to the Underworld , would be depicted wearing a mask. It is a particularly  fascinating stylization, well suited to my interest in symbolism and dreamscapes.

The following is a local treasure from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), I am particularly fond of it.

Dog with Human Mask
200 B.C.-A.D. 500
Clay with pigment
Mexico, Colima

http://collectionsonline.lacma.org/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=63765;type=101

It seemed fitting that if my little Speck was stuck in the Underworld that he could at least have a jolly time playing fetch with all of the bones lying about. For his unearthly companion I once again made use of my handy demon maquette. 

Lady Demon Maquette

I will continue with the Primer, perhaps relaxing the color restriction a bit, perhaps not.

Well that is all for now,

until next time,

take care,

LG

“C” is for Climate Change

Given the extreme weather we have been experiencing  recently :here in southern California, insanely hot summers and back home in NY and NJ, unheard of hurricanes, climate change has been in the thoughts of many. Even folks who I know to be staunch deniers of climate change are rethinking their stance that perhaps we have had an impact on Mother Earth.

My interest in Meso-American culture has me linked to numerous blogs and I recently received this post claiming the great civilization of the Maya collapsed due to man made climate change which resulted in a “long catastrophic drought”.  The Maya civilization as many know was massive , a complex web of city states ruled by various lord/kings. As power was brokered, each lord would vie with one another in building massive elaborate temples, palaces and public building, all with the intention of giving expression to their magnificence. The architecture, rubble and stone in construction was given a fine white stucco finish. When Cortez and his men first encountered the Aztec they were dazzled, but this magnificence came with a cost.

According to a NASA Science News article twenty trees were needed to heat the limestone in order to create one square meter of plaster. Given the massive scale of these structures and the tropical climate which demanded incessant maintenance, that’s a hell of a lot of dead trees.

All of this course sounds and feels familiar to our own increasingly desperate situation. Clinging to a fuel that is outmoded and toxic to a planet we claim we love. We treat this planet as a resource, not something to be revered.

The Maya have been idealized by many as having been more attuned to the gods of the natural world,  yet  by their hubris they ignored the divine pleas for mercy. Ignoring the pleas had serious consequence. I’m hoping against hope we can learn something from the Maya, sadly I fear the worse. Whereas the Maya left behind enchanted ruins I fear we will leave behind the shells of big-box stores, McMansions and endless freeway system going nowhere.

“C” is for Climate Change.

“C” is for Climate Change
watercolor on paper
11 by 19 inches

“C” is also for Cinteotl, a manifestation of the maize god. Usually depicted as a young man, golden in coloring and wearing a maize head-dress.

I stumbled upon an image of the young god with a distinct resemblance to Apollo. The statue is described as Huastec, 11th-13th c.A.D.

What is notable is his nudity, there are very few depiction of the human figure in its natural state in Meso-American art. Since I have a fondness for nudity he was a suitable model for my letter “C”.

Symbolism for life cut short played a factor as well, but mainly it was due to the fact that he was a comely young man. 

I will be spending the remainder of my holiday catching up on readings and working a linoleum block (this time a Christian saint).

Until next time,

take care,

LG

“O” is for the Owl (& for Obama)

 I had been planning on owls for “O” from the beginning, mostly because they re so darn cute.The Mesoamericans however did not necessarily find them as adorable as our contemporary society seems to find them. According to my ever reliable Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya , owls were a mystical yet fearsome creature. Dwelling in dark caves, portals to the Underworld, owls were  considered guides to dark mysteries and ominous omens of what lurked in the shadows.

 As does western culture, owls were identified with the night, further cementing their connection to the supernatural.

To the Maya the owl represented fertility and death, this dual nature can be seen in the Popol vuh narrative: owls deliver the Hero Twins to the Lords of the Underworld sealing the Heroes doom and also guide the pregnant Xquic out of the darkness of Xibalba. This seems in keeping with the rather consistent duality of Mesoamerican mythic narrative.

The green owl was favored by the artisans of Teotihuacan, appearing in wall paintings, and according to the Dictionary over mirrors (I assume polished obsidian), the mirror itself representing a passage to the unknown. I was happy for the chance to use green as my accent color for this page of the Primer.

“O” is for the Owl
watercolor on paper
11 by 18 inches

I mentioned that “O” was also for Obama, this is because I had intended to work on this painting during the presidential election last Tuesday. I had expect a long anxious evening ; I had hoped working would soothe my nerves. It was a stressful evening, but at some point the dominoes of fate starting falling in Obama’s direction; in no time at all it seemed as if my president would be given a second chance. I began to just feel incredibly giddy, something I have not felt in months. This election has been particularly stressful , full of vitriol and mean spiritedness ; when Obama gave his acceptance speech the little green owl on the branch smiled- and that is how I left him.

Hoorah for Obama, that is the cheer of this chorus of wise little owls.

So “O” is for the Owl and for the president, I can now exhale peacefully.

One of my inspirations for my owls was a funny little Halloween decoration from the 50’s-60’s , very familiar to American baby boomers . I always liked his green and orange coloring and his funny wink, I wanted to squeeze a reference of him into the painting. I hope I captured some of his goofy spirit. 

Halloween decorations from my youth, mid-century.

I have been receiving notifications concerning the Alphabet Soup deadline at the end of this month; I thought I would enclose the following for inspiration.

Until next time, take care,

LG

Primer

“L” is for La Llorona

The character of  popular Southwestern/Mexican folklore La Llorona is familiar amongst Mexican Americans. When  I requested information about the Weeping Woman, as she is popularly known, David’s Aunt Lydia fondly recalled the delicious childhood terror of the northern Arizona winds being described as the “cries of La Llorona”. Aunt Lydia was,  as many youngsters were, advised to behave, or La Llorona would snatch her up.

 Succinctly her tale is thus:

Although several variations exist, the basic story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria who drowns her children in order to be with the man that she loved. The man would not have her, which devastated her. She would not take no for an answer, so she drowned herself in a lake in Mexico. Challenged at the gates of heaven as to the whereabouts of her children, she is not permitted to enter the afterlife until she has found them. Maria is forced to wander the Earth for all eternity, searching in vain for her drowned offspring, with her constant weeping giving her the name “La Llorona”.

In some versions of this tale and legend, La Llorona will kidnap wandering children who resemble her missing children, or children who disobey their parents. People who claim to have seen her say she appears at night or in the late evenings from rivers or oceans in Mexico. Some believe that those who hear the wails of La Llorona are marked for death, similar to the Gaelic banshee legend. She is said to cry “Ay, mis hijos!” which translates to “Oh, my children!”  Source

“L” is for LaLlorona
watercolor on paper
12 by 18 inches

It has been argued that LaLlorona is an incarnation of the much maligned La Malinche,  Hernán Cortés’ guide, translator and romantic companion.  La Malinche has been accused of having sacrificed her “children”, the native people to her lover and  to the  brutal tyranny of the Spanish empire.  This is an easy assertion to make, but the historian Luis Leal believes that La Llorona has roots that date  before the Conquest- hence her inclusion in this Primer of New Spain. Leal’s belief is that the Weeping Woman is not La Malinche but in fact the ancient goddess Cihuacóatl, the Serpent Woman.

Source

Leal quotes  Fray Bernardino de Sahagún‘s Historia de las costs de la Nueva España, describing the Earth /Fertility Goddess as such :

” …she appeared before men, she was covered with chalk, like a court lady. she wore earplugs, obsidian earplugs. she appeared in white, garbed in white, standing white, pure white. Her womanly headdress rose up. By night she walked weeping, wailing; also was she an omen of war.”

My desire was as usual, was to interpret this mysterious goddess through Western eyes, hence the stylization in the manner of the Artemis-Ephesus

Artemis Ephesus[edit]
I have placed upon her head the helmet of a warrior, for before the time of the conquest the Woman-Snake, Cihuacoatl was called upon by women giving birth. Patroness of mid-wives, the soon to be mother was urged to call upon the goddess for strength. As described in the Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, she was of “warlike aspect” due to the fact that giving birth was akin to battle, ” Midwives exhorted women to call out to her in childbirth and to be as warriors in the violent expelling of the child from the womb”.  I love that description, not a whiff of romantic sentiment to be found, just sound advice. Our goddess goes from benign protectress to demon after the Conquest which is not at all surprising.  According to Leal,  Sahagún considered her an incarnation of the devil, speaking to the conquered he describes her :

 “Behold another confusion of your forefathers. They worshipped a devil in the guise of a woman, named Cihuacóatl…She terrified men…And because of this they celebrated her feast day. They laid offerings before her, they slew victims before her, that her anger, her fury, might not fall upon [them]” (Book I, 69-70).

Later on Sahagún softens her image more in keeping with the pitiful LaLlorona. During the final days of the ill-fated reign of Moctezuma II she seems a demon reformed:

“In the days of this same [ruler] it happened that [the demon] Cihuacóatl went about weeping, at night. everyone heard it wailing and saying:

‘My beloved sons, now I am about to leave you’ “(Book VIII, ch.1,3).  

Truer words could not be imagined as Cortés marched into the dazzling city of  Tenochtitlan.

With that image in mind, I have tried to paint the pre and post colonial character with  the sensitivity and pathos reserved for Medea. I have taken liberty with the violent death, the children are known to be drowned, but my approved accent color is red!

Take care,

LG

“N” is for New Fire Ceremony

At last another entry for my Primer of New Spain, “N” for the New Fire Ceremony. The end of the Aztec “century”, every 52 years was a precarious time, one full of tremendous trepidation. In the period of 7 “centuries” four major disasters occurred ; it was of great significance to the Aztec  that the New Fire Ceremony succeed .

After all flames within the kingdom were extinguished, the ceremony was performed south of Tenochtitlan at Huixachtlan, the Hill of the Star. The  nocturnal ritual entailed the usual human sacrifice; but after the removal of the unfortunate victim’s heart, the priest kindled a new flame from a drill board placed in the chest cavity.

The belief was that the new flame was divine, sent from the heavens ; IF a flame occurred the Universe was given a 52 year reprieve, if not…

My interpretation depicted with my usual romanticism includes a youthful priest, the victim equally young; I am currently a bit obsessed with Cain and Abel; my Temple of Huixachtlan fashioned to vaguely resemble the letter “N”;my altar looks suspicioulsy Neo-Classical.

All to be expected I suppose.

“N” is for New Fire Ceremony
watercolor on paper
11 by 18 inches

It is interesting to note that according to Fray Bernardino de Sahagún the last New Fire Ceremony was held in 1507 during the reign of Motecuhzoma II; the eighth was scheduled for 1559 but by then New Spain was a firm reality and the Aztecs long vanquished.

On another note my painting The Sacrifice of the Father: Recollections of the Popl huh I has been accepted in a group show at the Los Angeles based Brand Library and Gallery ;the exhibition, Memories , seems to have proven a suitable fit for my offering.    This is the second year I have participated at the Brand, the exhibition is Brand 41 as there have been 41 exhibitions.  My painting is now sitting in my studio freshly ( and unexpectedly expensively) framed.  I will most likely not attend the opening ( a bit of a schlepp), but I am hand delivering the painting tomorrow . 

Recollection awaiting delivery.

Until next time,

take care,

LG

Found a  silly Aztec cartoon that seem timely to this post: