"Those rituals of getting ready produce a kind of trance state."
"He's dancing his way back to me."
This digital collage by Karen Gutierrez marks the first idea/collaboration I dreamed up after overcoming a month-long drought of depression.
As always, I had to push through the murk for the sake of my kids. And my ancestors. And myself. Pandemic panic flip-flopping with quarantine peace, I guess.
I knew Karen from Chingonas Con Cameras, a community of photographers who encourage each other to document their stories through photography. They had hired me to DJ a podcast recording event at a local bar, and even encouraged me to participate in my first live interview (even though I didn’t want to, now I am so glad I did).
Later, Karen signed up to participate in my Altar-ing workshop at the San Antonio Public Library. She submitted a beautiful poem for our collaborative zine called “Manos de Oro” about her grandmother’s hands that “battled against sharp needles in the flesh of nopales and thorned rosales in her garden.”
Throughout this, I followed her work on Instagram, @la_asesina_por_aye and was pleasantly startled recently when she started posting her digital collage work. Otherworldly, yet San Antonian in nature, I was dazzled and inspired enough to ask if she accepted commissions.
It couldn’t hurt to ask, a sentiment at the core of these pandemic creative mutual aid projects that manifest as artistic, cultural, and spiritual collaborations.
Our email correspondence over the course of the collaboration gives a good glimpse into our inspiration and process, so we decided to share excerpts in an effort to tell y'all más!
Let's begin with my first email to Karen, dated Friday, January 15, 2021, two days after my eldest daughter, Lila, turned 8 and I marked 43 years since my birth on the border of here and there:
My second radio show is being broadcast on Valentine's Sunday at 4 PM CST on WFMU, a historic, legendary radio station out of New Jersey that broadcasts into NYC. Their app is verrrry cool; folks tune into their livestream from all over the world. Their fans are loyal af. This will be my second guest spot. You can listen to my first radio show ever here.
I called the first show “Missing My Muertos,” and this one is called "Love Came Here and Never Left," from the song by Lhasa de Sela.
After I listened to both shows back to back, I was surprised to discover that my song selections most definitley mirror each other.
Death and love, love and death.
Muertos and Valentine's are cousins, if not siblings, whose themes really do go hand in hand in my mind.
I've loved Mexican-American, but global really, singer Lhasa de Sela (1985-2009) for a long time but somehow this particular song alluded me until I REALLY needed to hear it...as music always does!
Now that my heart is open/
It can't be closed or broken.
That's the vibe!
It's a show of love songs, obviously, and there is a section called Hot Love, which made me think about the science of love and attraction. The hormones. The electricity. The dopamine rush.
For this collage, I would like to use a photo I took of myself in the mirror while getting ready for a gig last year because getting ready to go out, the ritual of it, is a sacred act.
It's taking care of oneself, enhancing beauty, and framing oneself in a way to please the self, yes, but also to please the eye of the beloved.
When I get ready for a gig, I also subconsciously think about the eye of the public.
In the photo I wear staples of the classic señora: silky black slip dress, hot rollers, black medias, Ruby Woo, spritz of perfume.
All work together to ignite the senses and make oneself into a walking, talking Valentine.
Using Lorna Simpson's recent collage portraits of Rihanna for ESSENCE as inspo, I'd like you to transform my selfie into a visual delight. Like an eye candy layer cake.
I am also attaching all sorts of reference fotos: vintage ladies at their vanities, beautiful music icons getting ready backstage, and lots of RED objects from the natural world: raw garnets (my birthstone), ruby red toronja, hibiscus and bougainvillea, and starry red nebula and galaxies.
Although I want the natural world to be present, I also want to make sure to show that this dressing room is an ALTAR to beautification with manmade objects too.
-mirrors, handheld and wall
-lace mantel, crocheted, white
-vintage perfume bottles
-change the IPhone to a red raw heart-shaped garnet
-flowers in vase, bouquet
-framed photo of beloved
-hairbrush, bobby pins, rattail comb
-vintage Great Lash tube
-agua de florida
-an eyelash curler (reminds me of my grandma)
-old-fashioned makeup brands like Coty powder, Max Factor pancake, pots of glimmery eye shadow, tubes of lipstick
-black eyeliner [Karen added a lighter, IYKYK}
Karen’s response, one hour later:
This is perfect! I am on it!!!!!!!!!
Tuesday, January 26, eleven days later, Karen emailed me not one but three collages, first drafts that each had intricate, lovely descriptions.
The first option is the one we decided to pursue, though they all had potential, and here are some excerpts from her eloquent explanation:
I experienced so many creative visuals and feelings flowing through me while constructing ideas for your digital collage.
This process has allowed me to tap into a new wave of ideas while exploring/learning new tools in Photoshop to enhance how I can create a surreal form of expression through digital collage. At least, that is how I have approached this medium of art very new to me.
You are the first person to refer to me as an Artist! An artist from San Anto at that! I can’t express enough the honor it is that you have asked me to create this collage for you.
I thank you Bonnie, first and foremost! Gracias, mujer! *Con mucho amor*
[She follows with two paragraphs of personal, emotional content that I shall keep in my heart rather than publish here.}
Collage No. 1, “Let Love Repeat”
This collage was created from your description of getting ready for a night out and really breaking down the experience of what it is to get ready for a South Texas mujer.
Your selfie reminded me of the one on one experience you have getting ready with your reflection. Your dressing room or bathroom, in my experience, is transformed to a parallel celestial universe that is created from within, how you see yourself being.
Stacks of make-up and rollers covering the counter top. Clothes laying around the floor of the bedroom like groups of petals floating on a pond while jamming to music of your choosing playing in the background.
How cool is it that we are all our own DJ in that moment?
All this leads to a transformation of the person, or persona you want to be, that you become, for the night at least! I added a lot of what you suggested and loads of touches of vintage, while adding things of my own to bring it all together.
In the collage your real self reflects the San Anto skyline under the moon in a ruby galaxy and red nebula. I love where I’m from and want to show San Anto in my artwork as much as possible.
The luna ended up coming from hearing your “Missing My Muertos” broadcast where you shared the album that you listened to when your father passed away.
Funny, when I inserted the red nebula it looked like a hand reaching out. I kept searching for a moon image but nothing worked with it. When I looked up the song I saw this image and cut it to shape it into the moon. it fit so perfectly.
Your surreal self, in the reflection, you are inside of the red nebula. A reflection of yourself, a reflection of your corazón in the mirror.
I always have a visual memory of my older sister in her room and the music blasting out of the one-inch gap that lay at the base of her bedroom door. I knew she was getting ready to go out. Her room smelled of her perfume, a lot of the times she had KTFM coming from the speakers, and phone calls ringing from the landline.
Watching her, I envisioned and imagined how I would get ready and what it was like to go out with girlfriends, dates, etc.
Freestyle music, for me, holds the nostalgia that is that era for me and brings me back to being a child and imitating my sister getting ready to go out. In middle school, listening to freestyle became the form of a right of passage and accepting for a certain click and the “stereotype” that came with listening to freestyle, for me, that stereotype it was being a hoodrat.
We listened to it proudly, and we owned that shit. I like freestyle because there is a song for every experience of love that you can imagine and the lyrics are always hella relatable. This was a similar experience with a lot of women in my age group from different sides of San Anto one when those songs come on, we all sing them loud and proud!
I still know a lot of the lyrics to a lot of songs and can sing them on cue.
This lyric from Shannon’s Let the Music Play came out of the record player this weekend and stuck out to me.
Also, I used to get all my cd’s from Poteet Flea Market and the mixes always included phrases shouting out the DJ on that mix and the phrase that always stuck out to me the most was DJ Mr. Bizzy on the 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s. So that is where second phrase came from :)
After she sent the three versions, Karen and I went back and forth a few times over email. I gave her notes and suggestions for each new draft, which she used to help revise the collage.
The final version is a Valentine to San Anto Nights out with my homegirls, or my date, or, after having babies, at a DJ gig.
In place of my phone, I’m holding a raw garnet that is shaped like a corazón, and my vanity table hovers in a red nebula overlooking our beloved San Anto city skyline.
Beauty products that represent my ancestral infatuation with glamour are represented: an eyelash curler like the kind my grandma used to enhance her false lashes, Airspun powder (dig this quote from Coty's founder in 1904: Give a woman the best product you can make, present it in a perfect bottle of beautiful simplicity and impeccable taste, ask for a reasonable price, and you will see the birth of a business the size of which the world has never seen) that my great-grandma kept on her dresser, an iconic tube of Great Lash mascara that my mom would apply before her shifts at the hottest discoteque in all the Valley in the early '80s, Aqua Net as a nod to my heavy metal homegirl phase, and Agua de Florida as that splash of sacred elixir to make the beauty ritual complete.
In my research, I noticed that many vintage photos of women at their vanity tables include a framed photo of their beloved, so that’s Carlos floating in the top left corner, my favorite portrait of him taken by Chris Castillo (@chrisclean) in Brackenridge Park.
Karen chose to include a St. Jude vela, and as he is the patron saint of lost causes, I accept it.
When will these viruses (biological and social) be conquered?
But the real star of the show is San Anto.
The skyline is composed of mostly hotels, empty now, and punctuated by the Tower-of-Americas-exclamation-point on all the history that brought us here.
I love the way this digital collage is a visual reflection of my radio show. Love, beauty, nightlife, city, bodies, both celestial and mortal.
Home became a reference as I created this show, and Karen’s collage feels like home to me. At home in my body, at home in dressing room, at home with my beloveds, at home in San Anto, at home in the galaxy. Por vida.
Karen @ Artpace. foto by Sol Macias, 2019.
Copyright © 2021 Bonnie Ilza Cisneros - All Rights Reserved.