INTERVIEW WITH JUSTIN LYTLE: Sound and Visual Artist at 360 Xochi Quetzal
Justin 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.
Chapala 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?
Filtering 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?
My 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?
I 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:
To apply to 360 Xochi Quetzal: http://callforentry.org