Q&A with Resident Artist Lucia Hierro
It didn’t take long for some of Detroit’s DNA to seep into Lucia Hierro’s work.
“Cities are cities, so there’s a lot of similarities to where I’m from in the Bronx,” says Hierro, sitting at her workbench inside of Red Bull House of Art. “Similar development and similar histories in a way.”
The 30-year-old artist locked in on the abundance of street art in Eastern Market and throughout the city, noting its ability to create energy and drastically change an often grey, post-industrial landscape into something more vivid and colorful.
“I did a big mural in New York for the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum and the kids had such an amazing reaction to the scale of it,” says Hierro. “Driving around Detroit, you realize how much the city is covered in murals and what that does to the experience. The murals add a poetic thing to the city.”
Hierro says she’ll have a mural component at her upcoming exhibition at House of Art, but adds that she wasn’t just inspired by what was painted outside the walls but also by what was hanging inside of them as well.
At the Detroit Institute of Arts, Hierro took in one of Donald Judd’s famed “Stacks” in the museum’s contemporary collection — a minimalist set of stainless steel squares attached to the wall, perfectly placed and industrially designed to eliminate the artist’s own handling of the work.
Hierro’s playful nod to the work is the tentatively titled “Racks” — a rack like you’d see in a liquor store or bodega holding about a dozen oversized plantain chip bags arranged in a similar fashion to Judd’s squares.
“With the repetition of the image, it just becomes this abstract object,” says Hierro. “When they are blown up, they are not exactly life-sized so it becomes an art object and not the thing it’s referencing so much.”
While Judd aimed to take himself out of the work, Hierro is purposefully placing her own experiences, personality and background into hers.
From her perspective as an artist, she says it’s “inevitable.”
“The personal is always there in the work with any artist,” says Hierro, “but I always remind people because they go, ‘Oh, is this about a specific space or person?’ And it’s all constructed. Community is a shared constructive narrative and sometimes it’s so arbitrary for these things that become share communal markers.”
You work in a lot of different mediums — photography, soft sculpture, collage, fabric — that add a look to your work to begin with, but then there’s also this personal and nostalgic streak that runs through it. What themes and imagery often rotate throughout your work?
I think about abstraction a lot and how people react or respond to an abstract image. Sometimes, when you’ve got objects that are unfamiliar to people, the work oscillates between something that’s recognizable and something that becomes an abstract image. The objects in these are all sort of nostalgic. In that one over there, there’s a bacon, egg and cheese on a roll and a mango juice and there’s a book in the back called Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez and a screenshot from an episode of “The Cosby Show.” The piece is called “After School Special.” That was totally me as a teen coming home from school — that’s my meal.
The other pieces that have plantains and that sort of thing, they start getting more culturally specific. If you know what each of those ingredients are, you know what I’m about to make. Otherwise, they are just objects placed together in an abstract way. I like the idea that there are some things that are secrets of a culture. That’s OK when people don’t know what those things are.
And then there are little moments of art history in them that sort of draws attention to what the thing is. The still life, the flower pot, the Van Gogh — they’ve become so every day that I find it interesting when art enters the mainstream. I pull a lot of these images from online and photoshop, so there’s a lot of ideas about ownership and appropriation, too.
Are these ideas the same as the ideas you hope the audience walks away with?
I’m into people’s interpretation of things. I used to go into making work with a clear sort of ‘this is my message to you’ and then I realized that meaning is sort of generated between the artist and the viewer — it’s that meeting point when something gains meaning — so I tend to not worry so much about that or I’d be completely frozen in the studio. I like the idea of a cold read and a reaction. I feel that the idea of a still life is familiar enough to folks and even now in the social media age of taking shelfies — you know when you take a picture of your shelf or objects — and they define you in some way that the still lifes gained a different form. I think people are receptive to that when they see the work. Screen culture is a big part of the work, too. I think people start to realize these things are screenshots or taken from online — they have a quality to them. The images aren’t really hi-res — they kinda look funky when you see them up close. You see the pixelation.
You’re definitely bringing a lot of energy back into the still life.
Some of the thoughts I have with the work — there’s so much going on in America. Race is a construct but culture is very real. The other thing about culture is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and our stories intersect more than we think. That’s where the still life is such a rich place for different objects that come from different places and go through different hands. When they all come together in this one image, for me, is very impactful.
By Ryan Patrick Hooper.
The Resident Artist Exhibition opens Friday, April 6th, 7-10 pm.