INTERVIEW WITH JUSTIN LYTLE: Sound and Visual Artist at 360 Xochi Quetzal

6a0133ed05424c970b019104b3b017970c-800wiJustin was the second resident at 360 Xochi Quetzal. His work stood out from the applications that poured in from talented artists and writers around the globe. In contrast to our first resident whose work reflected the saturated color of Mexico, Justin’s visual and sound work is quiet and meditative. Justin soaked in the deeply spiritual energies that have been long known to the native peoples who inhabit the mountains and shores around Lake Chapala. You will enjoy reading this personal reflection. dek

How did you structure your time during your artist residency?

The first couple days of my residency at 360 Xochi Quetzel were spent in a state of sensory awe. I was quickly overloaded as I took in each sight, smell, sound and sunray. After a brief adjustment period, I slipped right into a daily routine. I would wake in my wonderfully light-filled bedroom. After breakfast and coffee, I would do some reading and meditation before venturing out to explore. I documented the wealth of local street life through photography and sound recordings. Mondays, I would set out early to the weekly tianguis market on the edge of town, where I would snake the streets in search of incredibly inexpensive quality produce. I’d grab other incidentals at the corner abarrotes or tortillarias on the walk back. For meat and fish, the market in the plaza was perfect. On warm days, the young man selling Agua de Coco was a godsend. I’d work in the studio through siesta and into the evening and would catch a bite at a taco stand or at one of the neighborhood Cenadurias at local dinnertime, around 9pm or so. Then I’d spend the rest of the night back in the studio, and prepare to repeat the process.

Your residency was in Chapala, a small town in central Mexico. Tell us about your explorations and how you found your way around.

6a0133ed05424c970b019104b3b267970c-320wiChapala was the perfect introduction to the authentic Mexican experience. The residence, situated in a lush corner of town is a mere cobblestone step away from all that the community has to offer. Following my ears, eyes, heart, and gut, I meandered virtually every street, eager to explore. I particularly enjoyed walking along the edge of Lake Chapala, where the low water level revealed mysterious exposed artifacts. Once I felt I had a small understanding of my immediate surroundings it was a breeze to branch out and explore the other pueblos along lakeside including nearby Ajijic. The bus station, just blocks from the residency house, offered efficient, and prompt service. I was pleasantly surprised by the rather new Guadalajara direct buses that would quickly escort you to the big city in style with recliners and air conditioning!

What can you share about your creative process during your residency and what ideas were you exploring? How did your work change during the residency?

6a0133ed05424c970b0192ac7d1773970d-120wiFiltering my impressions of simple moments in time experienced in a strange place and rendering them into tangible forms through the use of sound, light and fiber substrates was my chief aim when I began my time in Chapala. I enjoyed vibrant, fleeting moments: an abuelita singing beautifully out of tune for a peso on a cobblestone rocked bus, a grown man crying into a book walking along the Malecon, the siren song of a shamanic pan flute greeting the lake spirits in a simple ceremony hidden in the brush along the water’s edge. I came home with fragments of composed and found sound, sculptural mockettes, and a sense that what precisely is is far more gripping than a pristine idealistic version.

360 Xochi Quetzal is located on Lake Chapala and colors around you are lush and saturated. How did the natural surroundings influence or affect your work?

Something magical exists in the ether between Lake Chapala and Cerro San Miguel, the hill overlooking Chapala, with its looming white cross protruding from endless tones of umber. It lives in the dust kicked up by wild horses running through town, and in the confetti underfoot left by each vibrant bugambilia tree. Each detail of daily life, no matter how mundane seemed to hold more weight than what I take for granted as my daily life in Seattle, Washington (USA). Each moment felt less controlled, less sterile, and more alive. A balance exists between ugly and beautiful realities in small town Mexico, and I found the lines between the two blurred for me as time went on. As a perfectionist, learning to love the flaws was a huge step for me, and one I owe to this residency.

Some artists come to a residency with a particular creative game plan. Others just arrive open to whatever inspires them at the moment. How did you approach your residency and how did your studio time compare to what you anticipated?

6a0133ed05424c970b01901ebdc33b970b-320wiMy creative game plan flew out the window in seconds flat, and I ‘d be remiss if I didn’t admit that. I just tried to stay open. Rather than coming home with crates of finished work, I left with much more raw material and booming questions surrounding who I am, what I am doing, why it is important. My familiar creative practice, which is often a very physical, labor intensive process, felt different under these skies and somehow forced. I had to let go of a great deal. Now, with time to reflect and breathe in what returned from Mexico with me, I am reaping the benefits of my residency’s creative gestation period.

What were some of the highlights of the residency for you? What parts were hard?

6a0133ed05424c970b0192ac7d1bd2970d-320wiI could walk the lakeside endlessly, and found that I was drawn to it on a basis that pushed far past intellectual or even artistic curiosity, and into the realm of the spiritual. It’s no wonder that Huichols and other indigenous tribes still make pilgrimages to send offerings to the spirits of the lake. I had many experiences that I will cherish, but making my way to Tepetates Temezcal to take part in a traditional sweat lodge ceremony was certainly very high on the list. Other memories include an afternoon at the thermal springs in San Juan Cosala and trekking to the Guachimontones on the route to Tequila

I had no real trouble with language, but felt that most locals weren’t sure what to make of me because I was not an expat retiree. I was often uncomfortable using my documentation equipment because I felt like a braggart alien amongst what at times was true poverty.  Sometimes I had to let go of moments that I really wanted to capture especially in the small pueblos outside of Chapala and Ajijic. As a city dwelling person, I found myself much more comfortable on the streets of Guadalajara. I had several wonderful visits to the city and saw many of the sites including all the Orozco murals.

You haven’t been to an artist residency before. How did this focused time influence your work and thinking?

Truthfully it sent my mind reeling. I felt I lost the ability to pretend I knew the ins and outs of what I was doing in my practice. The questions became more important, and the answers became harder to come by. Letting go became vital, and I found I gained much more from my time when I stopped trying to force a previous practice that didn’t feel right into this new context. It brought about more opportunities once I could free myself from expectations. I am still learning from my time in Chapala. – Justin Lytle 

To see Justin’s website: http://www.justinrlytle.com/

To listen to Justin’s sound work: http://justinrlytle.bandcamp.com/track/sin-la-grimas-amigo

To read more about 360 Xochi Quetzal:

Free Residency Overview

To  apply to 360 Xochi Quetzal: http://callforentry.org


Everyone comes to the residency for different reasons. For me it was a
time to reflect upon this whirlwind year. Like many, I lead a hectic life
and run from one exhibition to the next with little time for
contemplation. Even if I hadn’t made a single thing during my residency,
I would have been satisfied because what I really needed was to slow
down and think about what direction my work might take. I reveled in
the environment – the lake and mountains – as well as two trips, one to
see the Monarch butterflies and the other to a fiesta in an indigenous
village with my fellow artists. I left the residency refreshed, with new friends and purpose!

Jennifer Angus, Installation Artist
“Applying for the free Winter residency of Xochi Quetzal was the start of many positive transformations. The silence I found for myself during the residency, allowed me not only to write the best last chapter I can write at this stage of my evolution, it also granted me a most sought-after introspection moment during which I read my dreams and studied ancient Eastern writings. The serenity of the lake and presence of other artists inspired me to get mentally ready and organized for my future as a novelist. I am particularly fond of spending the holidays abroad with ‘strangers’. It always infuses me with these wild insights and whims. Our group was just lovely, the artists one by one very interesting. Cobra and Christian are warm and graceful hosts who made life easy. All in all, Xochi Quetzal was a weighty meditation, a poetic experience that carried me through the rest of Mexico in newness and will resonate long after.”
Heidi Souffriau, Writer
“I was partly inspired to apply for the Xochi Quetzal residency by The Retro Cocktail Hour — a popular Saturday night radio show on Kansas Public Radio 91.5 that features exotica music (a form of tropical jazz).  My hope was for the palm trees,  lakeside sunrises, and culture of Chapala & Mexico at large to inform my creative process.  These elements did precisely that, and the generous hospitality of Cobra & her partner Christian provided me with a cozy composing environment.”
Note from Staff: Listen to the music created during Andrew’s residency -Winter 2016
Andrew Morgan, Composer, Musician

Chapala is a safe, spiritually charged, beautiful place. Wild horses run through town.  It’s a place where you greet strangers on the street.

I walked along the lake in meditation a great deal. I hiked the looming cerro overlooking town. I biked all over the countryside. I wrote, documented, created composed soundscapes utilizing field recordings, and built small maquette light sculptures based on my experiences. I attended traditional temazcals, and sat alone in cathedrals.

It was pivotal for me in a spiritual sense more than a career advancing experience. I’m very grateful for it, and Deborah Kruger is a wonderful advocate to keep in contact with. I truly recommend the residency.

Justin R. Lytle, Sound Artist & Sculptor

My residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal in summer 2015 was both restorative and productive.  I was inspired by the beautiful studio and the surrounding Chapala  / Jalisco region.  The setting worked well for me in terms of inspiring and completing new work, and learning the history and customs of the area.  The flexible residency requirements allowed an easy engagement with other residents, and encouraged me to participate in Chapala and Guadalajara communities.  There are many contemporary art venues in Guadalajara, which are an easy bus ride from Chapala.

Michael Pribich, Sculptor

“Not only was this residency situated in one of the most beautifully mystical, culturally resonant, and stimulating settings imaginable, it also managed to be both peaceful and galvanizing: the perfect combination for immersing oneself in a creative project without hesitation or distraction. Deborah and Christian’s home was an oasis. One of my fellow residents remarked to me that “this place has amazing energy for getting work done,” and I wholeheartedly agree: the atmosphere seemed to hum with a low-key, generative productivity, one that helped me get closer than I’d been in many months to actually fully realizing and finishing a long story. I wish I was still there among the bougainvillea, the jade vines, the dogs and the pelicans.”

Suzanne K. Rivecca, Author

Chapala has become my home away from home. The Xochi Quetztal residency is run efficiently. Cobra and her team are friendly, accessible, and professional. My stay in Chapala is enhanced by the personal relationships I have developed with several of the team members. The casita I stay in is very well maintained and fully equipped. The studio area is large and ready for me to engage in art as soon as I arrive.  The weather is always fantastic. The lake, the town(s), the life, the restaurants, the view, the very friendly local people all call me back again and again. I love it!

Zahava Sherez, Sculptor

“This was the most work I’ve ever done in a single month in my life. I will never forget what an incredible experience this was and I thank you for honoring me with a residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal. The reference material I gathered throughout the trip to Chapala, Mexico is going to fuel my work for years to come. Thank you for everything! You run an incredible residency program!!!”

Santiago Galeas, Painter