Rafa Esparza My grandparents were the first people who settled the pueblo where my parents were born in Mexico. I think if there was a beginning, in terms of thinking about a home, that would be a good place to start. My father grew up making adobe bricks, like most men in the pueblo. It was the male thing to do.
Brian Getnick What were the bricks used for?
reThey would sell the bricks, but also used them to build their own homes. It was a fairly new town, so people could just go to an open space and be like, this is my home. That was in Durango, Mexico. My dad now lives in Pasadena. The reason I wanted to learn about brick making was I think initially I needed a bonding experience with my dad because we were going through a rough patch.
bg How many years ago was this?
reThree years ago. I was — still am — dealing with my gayness. And learning about my dad, learning about these bricks, well, they’re really loaded objects. I started seeing them as a symbol of machismo. Making bricks is a common practice in small pueblos throughout Mexico. It has a great deal to do with how masculinity and family units are constructed.
bg On the most basic level, what do you think is the meaning of brick making?
reIt is complicated. It’s a labor that’s created by — I feel weird saying poverty — but it’s done in primarily in stricken places. No one in the pueblo could afford to hire someone to build them a home. And at the same time, traditionally, it’s seen as a sort of coming of age ritual. In places like where my parents grew up, physical labor divides gender roles and in a way creates this idea of masculinity.
bg So kinds of questions came up between you and your father while you shared in this ritual?
reI asked my dad questions about what he thought his life would be like, before he had a girlfriend or a wife. About what he thought his home would look like. I thought from that first talk that we’d have deeper conversations while he instructed me on how to make the bricks.
bg Did that work out?
reNo, not at all. We hardly spoke. It was very meditative. I think any communication we exchanged dealt directly with what we were doing: I need some water, manure or straw.
bg Are those the basic components?
reThe dirt has some clay in it, it can’t be too dry or too moist. And hay, horse manure, and water. That’s it. Then you make this mold out of wood. Because you’re supposed to make bricks with a partner, the mold has two bricks, side-by-side. I really like the idea, of having two guys making two bricks, together. So after my father taught me, I just started making them. I made a batch by myself of twelve or fourteen. I started leaving the bricks in places, using them as markers. I put them in places where I used to cruise: in restrooms, Elysian Park, Griffith Park, UCLA.
bg So there is this labor that people used to do because they actually wanted to build houses and you’re doing it now to enter into this bonding ceremony.
reThat’s totally the intention I had. Like, I’m gonna make this object that’s so charged and I’m gonna have this enlightening session with my dad. And instead it became really special, but in a different way. I definitely staged it for there to be a conversation about masculinity. It was so pretentious on my part.
bg Were you able to force a discussion with your father?
reNo. I have worked with my dad since I was 14. He’s been a construction worker for over 30 years. So when we made the bricks together, memories replayed over and over again. It was meditative for me. Making art, when no one else would even think to call it art, doing something in front of someone made me think how internal so much of the work that I do is.
bg Is there a usefulness to you of sharing your work with other people?
reYes. I always think of the performance as an object, something that’s been building and brewing and there’s this thing you want to share with people. I feel like if no one sees it, then it’s just a scene in my head.
bg Why not keep it just in your head?
reI find a lot of validation in making objects with my hands. It’s always been really important to just make something. I think that was instilled in me as a kid. Especially when you grow up being poor.
bg You grew up poor?
rePoor in Pasadena. I’ve rarely called myself poor, but definitely I grew up with little means. At a young age I learned the importance of making.
Brian Getnick Do you ever make work for audiences that are absent?
Samara Golden Yes. My work is really intuitive and personal,
I made the installation BAD BRAINS for a specific person that I knew when I was 14 years old. His name was Alex, he was 17, and he killed himself. It happened almost 24 years ago. BAD BRAINS was talking to the suffering souls. It was a way of reconciling with a certain kind of powerlessness, a perceived unfairness, and my feelings of sorrow for the people I’ve known, that for whatever reason, didn’t get to grow old. The installation was made for the Frieze fair last year on Randall’s island in New York. Initially I started by learning about the people who had inhabited the island, from the Native American tribes, to the massive “potters grave” in the 1800’s (a grave for unclaimed / unnamed bodies), to the people that were locked in the monolithic insane asylum there. I was trying to connect to other times, I even had a vision of a woman named Anne who wore a yellow cotton dress and who was a nurse in one of the early asylums. But soon realized that the only way for my work to have real meaning to me, was to connect to the people I’ve known that have passed away, and hence I started thinking of Alex. Since that installation was made two of my friends have died, and I sort of think of them as being the audience for the piece too. Also while researching I found out that someone commits suicide every 17 minutes in the US, its very sad, in some way the masks in the piece were made to give a face to those people. The sad thing is that I could make those masks forever and there would always be more to make.
bg Do you want your work to be transmitted to audiences existing beyond the lifespan of your body?
sg Intellectually I’m inspired by the idea of time travel. I hope that my work can be a door, a door that opens to other times, future and past. The audience of now may be able to see the door, but perhaps we don’t know how to walk through its threshold…yet. I like the idea of making things for the people of the future, especially on days when I can’t understand the inhumanity of the state of the world (and when I feel like I don’t want to be part of it). On a more very concrete note, there are alot of absent audiences — The art world is small and made up of people who are fairly similar, the art world wants to be elite, or to co-mingle with the elite, to engage in a capitalist dream. I find more satisfaction when someone who is not really in the art world feels a connection to my work, maybe its an 80 yr old woman, a poet, musician, or a teenager. Most people are intelligent and creative in what they do, I’m sort of more interested in what they think, than I am in the trendiness of the art world. I hope to describe something outside of art, with art … its like putting air in a bottle in an attempt to capture a cloud … its the problem of making the immaterial into material.
bg Do you find the gallery to be a spiritual place?
sg No. I think ‘art work’ can be a spiritual place, but the gallery is inherently not. Galleries are like hotels for art, never a home. The studio can be a spiritual place, I think the idea of the gallery is outdated, its about commerce, so much artwork is made about commerce these days, and its all talking to the gallery, I think art should talk to everybody except the gallery. I would rather make something that one person can feel something from, than engage in the language of commerce. Maybe in the future there will be no such thing as a gallery, we will all make our work in our studios or on site and people will come to see it wherever it is, it will be part of everyone’s lives, not just the elite. In
a way, my form of spirituality is creativity.
bg In past work I have seen of yours, the installation encompasses the entire space of the gallery. Is this expressing a desire for another kind of place, other than the gallery to stage your ideas?
sg Yes, I would rather make things in my house, other peoples houses, or in their swimming pools, or better yet, in a mountain stream, on a tropical beach, or in a birch forest.