Wednesday, May 4, 2011

seeing through walls: Jacalyn Lopez Garcia's "Glass Houses"

Image from homepage of artist's website:
Connection. It’s the moment you look at an art piece and can’t look away.

I thought I would be able to identify with Jacalyn Lopez Garcia’s work when I read her self-description on her website:

“I strongly believe that as a documentary photographer and multimedia artist, I am able to explore California stories in an effort to deconstruct the negative stereotypes often associated with the Mexican immigrant experience. By offering a 21st century, Mexican-American perspective, I believe I am further able to present positive reflections of today's Mexican, Mexican/American, Latino and Chicana(o) families with images and stories that can inspire a new hope for a better life.”

As it turns out, I was right. I connected to her multimedia project, Glass Houses, and spent more than a couple hours wandering through the virtual home she constructed. Glass Houses is an interactive website which first became available in 1997. It is composed of 32 screens and you, the viewer, become engaged in the project as a houseguest. It is as if Lopez Garcia has invited you into her home. The layout is even based on the plan of her current home (in real life) and you, the “houseguest” are handed a key when first entering the site.

Lopez Garcia wrote the following on her website [] about Glass Houses: 

“…I recall taking a modest pace in developing the content because I wanted Glass Houses to be more than just a vehicle for expressing my struggles for personal identity into the public domain of the Internet. I believed I was creating a vehicle that would invite a global dialogue with regard to contempory themes such as race, class, acculturation, and nationalism . . .” [from]

Dialogue. The word stands out from the paragraph because that is how I connected to her work. 

Okay, so I didn’t enter in a global dialogue but I did have an inner dialogue. Which I didn’t expect, but I really appreciate.

I figure the best way to express how I connected to Glass Houses is to copy & paste the e-mails I exchanged with JLG. She was kind enough to answer several questions (really promptly, I might add) and I gained even more respect for her. So once again, I’d like to thank her.

At the end of this post, I included my response to her answers (and Glass Houses) as well. My response was difficult to write, because I didn’t have an answer to all the questions Glass Houses made me think of. And I still don’t, but I hope to have a more coherent answer one day. 

I chose not to include my favorite screenshots from the project because visiting the site itself is part of the experience.

Link to her website:

As Lopez Garcia wrote, “social networking is a great way to stay informed”. Lopez Garcia is currently working on a new multimedia project titled The Man Hunt Project set to be officially released on the internet in May 2011. The project will be documented on Facebook & Tumblr, and will include video and photography. Here is a preview of the Build a Boy Toy project: and!/buildaboytoy?sk=info
Q: The first question I always want to ask an artist is of course, how did you decide to choose this as a career? Was it a difficult choice?   

[JLG] A:  The person who influenced my decision to become an artist was my father.  He was an artist with a vision that one day I would become an architect.  But, that never happened.  At least not like he imagined.  However, I did employ the floor plan of my house as a vehicle to access contemporary themes about the complexities of living a bi-cultural lifestyle and the fear of becoming disenfranchised from one's cultural roots.  So it is without doubt that my parent's life experiences helped shaped my desire to become an artist and choosing a career in the arts was not a difficult choice at all.  In fact, for as long as I can remember, I could only imagine I would spend the rest of my life making art. 
Q:  I'm particularly interested if you identify as a Chicana/o or Latina/o artist, or an artist who happens to be Latina/o. How do you feel about the labels? Did they influence your choice to become an artist?  

[JLG] A: My identity was first defined by my mother as Mexican, then Manifest Destiny played a critical role and I became Mexican-American, after that the Census Bureau labeled me and I became Hispanic, even Hollywood stereotyped me as a whore, then one day I found myself in college and I became a Chicana and this is where I learned about Cherríe Moraga and I instantly became Xicana.  Now I realize I am just me, and that's all I ever really want to be -- me, a daughter, artist, mother, life partner to my husband, sister, friend, pack leader, and a spiritual being living in search of humanity. 

Q: The third major question I'm interested in is how living in the Inland Empire has influenced your art. It’s not as a metropolitan place as certain LA communities are - do you find living here helps you an artist? Is it difficult to find a community of artists? The more research I do, the more I realize there are more neat art spots in the Inland Empire than I expected. However, even though I'm new to the Inland Empire - I get the feeling the Inland Empire isn't well associated with being a place with many artists.

[JLG] A: It doesn't really matter where I live because I create public art for global audiences.  However, sometimes I feel challenged as an individual born in the U.S. because I do not always feel completely American. This feeling has a direct impact on the images I create because it causes me to look inward to my own cultural base. In doing so I discover reasons for my life, such as why I have to create art.  More importantly, my artistic vision is fueled by my desire to deconstruct negative stereotypes about the Chicano experience and I do this by creating positive images that reflect living in the suburbs of southern California from a bi-cultural middle-class perspective.  I love living in the the Inland Empire and I enjoy creating public art projects and videos for distribution on the Internet and for exhibition in galleries and museums. I have been blessed with good fortune in that I have earned local, national and international acclaim for my artwork such as:  Glass Houses, From the Garden, Life Cycles: Reflections of Change and A New Hope for Future Generations, Cultural Crossings and  I am now working on a new multimedia project titled the The Man Hunt Project.  I enjoy collaborating with other artists from the Greater Inland Empire and Los Angeles.  This process helps me keep in touch with the art scene and the art world that is all around me.
 My e-mail response to her answers (and Glass Houses):
[RG]: Hello again,
I can't thank you enough for your responses! Thanks for taking time out of your day to answer the questions and for providing enlightening answers.
I enjoyed looking through your work - I spent more than a couple hours looking through the projects and exhibitions on your website. I kept coming back to Glass Houses - it really resonated with me. I know you've questioned your "assimilation" - Glass Houses provoked me to question my own as well.
I have always felt American, because in my mind American is synonymous with diversity. As I grew older, I realized the U.S. may be diverse, but not all aspects of it has accepted racial diversity, or sexual diversity, and the list continues.

But I still think of myself as American. Lately, though, its been less about being American and more about being ethnic. In college, I am always a Latina, a term I've never used before. My parents are Bolivian immigrants and work in a swap meet - they are proud of their roots, but we've never had time to mess with ethnic or cultural identities. My 15 year old sister is learning to speak Spanish - while its not ideal, my family has always identified more with other labels...such as immigrant, Christian, etc. 

And we're just so far from South America, it's not as easy to continue traditions or attend cultural events.But we can't escape our ethnic or cultural identities, because society labels us even if we don't label ourselves. Its like what you said in fears...what will my children identify as? I don't know, because I don't even know what I identify as. 

Glass Houses helped me articulate the "identity crisis" (well, it's not a crisis, but a search) that's been at the back of my mind these past years. Thanks for letting us into your home - hopefully, one day I'll have questioned myself enough to layout my ideas like that. Glass Houses also made me wonder what secrets my parents have - I think they've told us everything, because they're happy of how far they've gotten...but no, on second thought, I've always been too scared to ask them if they like being here and being "American". I kinda know the answer to that question, but it hurts to hear it sometimes.

Anyway! Just wanted to thank you for helping me articulate those ideas, and thanks for that thought provoking work of art.

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