Describe a typical day during your artist residency
One of my favorite parts of each day was waking up in a sunny bedroom and gazing at all the birds—especially the hummingbirds—enjoying the gorgeous bougainvillea bush outside the window. After a little breakfast and tea I would normally work in the studio most of the day, taking a break for lunch or to run out to buy art supplies at the local papeleria (paper supplies). Most evenings I would walk down to the lake to watch the sunset, then wander through the neighborhood to find a taco cart or cenaduria (only open for late dinners). The town has a different personality during the day so sometimes I would shop in the mornings in order to buy salsa or herbs at the plaza and fresh tortillas at the tortilleria (torilla shop). On the weekends I spent a lot of time down at the malecon (promenade by the lake), people watching…and knitting—I always met interesting folks when I knit on the boardwalk.
Your residency was in a small town in Mexico, a place that you didn’t know. How did finding your way around and exploring the town affect your residency experience?
The residency house is located in truly the perfect place—situated in the middle of a neighborhood bustling with small, local businesses and only about 5 blocks from the lake’s malecon, as well as a huge, shady park. I wandered down a different street almost everyday to see what new stores and eateries I could find. This type of wandering allowed me to not only find supplies for my collages, but also to enjoy the varieties of colors, patterns, and textures used for the neighborhood architecture and signage—which translated into my work—and discover delicious treats along the way. One day I ran across a woman selling quesadillas outside her home; another day I was quite thirsty and found a guy selling the most delicious “diablito” drink from his bicycle cart. Walking through town and following my inner compass rewarded me with interesting interactions and fantastic sights. I fell in LOVE with Chapala—everyone was so kind to me—it is wonderful to be in a place where folks greet each other on the street.
When you arrived in Chapala, you had just finished a graduate program in Fibers. What can you share about your creative process during your residency? What ideas are you exploring?
I had just finished a very intense year (well, 3.5 years) making, researching, and writing about pop culture, mating rituals, gender stereotypes, and personal ornamentation. The graduate program simultaneously built me up and beat me down, so I was extremely grateful to have this experience and time to make work on a different physical and intellectual scale. The work I made in Chapala was still related to my thesis work in terms of materials (sequins, glitter, lace, etc.), concept (idealism in media), and masking/ornamentation (in relation to the figure or character). Instead of large-scale costumes and installations I worked on a series of brightly colored collages based around anonymous figures/characters found in magazines and cultural archetypes—like pop stars and religious icons.
I also had the need to work on something more dimensional so I created a small vessel (inspired by Jerry Bleem’s work) made up torn loteria cards and staples, as well as a large-scale sculpture made of hula hoops and recycled “trash” that now hangs from the side of the residency house.
You hadn’t ever been to an artist residency before coming to 360 Xochi Quetzal. How has this time alone influenced your work and thinking?
I know that most residencies often have a group of artists living and working in close quarters—a treat for folks who might be missing that type of community. Since I had just finished graduate school I had been privileged to be a part of a close-knit art community for the past 3.5 years. It was actually a nice change to be on my own for a bit. I think that being alone—rather than being surrounded by other artists everyday—allowed me to tone down my “filter”. Instead of questioning every color, material, image, and object placement as I would in graduate school, I let myself make decisions with less judgment and more freedom. Sometimes I would ask myself, “Does this make sense?” and sometimes I would answer, “I don’t care…just do it.” I mostly tried to follow the “What if…?” in order to see where the work would take me. Part of me did miss being able to get another set of eyes on the work in progress though.
What were some of the highlights of the residency for you? What was hard about this month?
I often have a difficult time being able to sleep in a new place. From my first night there I slept beautifully. That to me was a sign that I was in the right place.
Having this time to just work was a gift. I had been working long days finishing up my thesis work and writing my paper, so that routine of hours in the studio was already in place. But this time I was more relaxed doing the work!
Other highlights included the migrating white pelicans and hummingbirds; the holiday cheer and decorations; the family band & people watching at the malecon; the FOOD (tamales, ponche, champurrada, tacos, pozole, etc.); new friends (Deborah introduced me to Chris, Jackie, Alberto, Norman, Ernie, Rich, etc.); the sunsets; practicing Spanish; being near water; and being able to just wander and explore a new place. It was all an incredible adventure.
I am extremely grateful for the house’s wonderful Wi-Fi—I was able to Skype with my family whenever I wanted, work on my blog, and load photos onto Facebook. Having Internet at the house helped me keep in touch and feel closer to my loved ones.
What else can you share about your residency experience? What surprised you about it?
The aroma of this land struck me the moment I stepped off the plane—it has always amazed me how a place can smell like smoke and dust and sunlight and simultaneously feel so fresh and wonderful. I studied in Guadalajara for a semester when I was an undergrad and Mexico has been embedded in my soul ever since. I was thrilled to have been accepted to this residency—and the first of the venture no less—so that I could return to the region that I fell in love with 20 years ago. I was surprised at how immediately comfortable and “at home” I felt in Chapala and at the house. I would love to return to Chapala one day and perhaps follow through on the installation ideas I had. I would also love to share the area with my husband. This magic place has definitely impacted my body/mind/spirit in very positive ways. Thank you so much for granting me this opportunity to explore. -Catherine Armbrust
To read a recent interview with a video about Catherine: http://www.voxmagazine.com/stories/2013/03/07/catherine-armbrust-displays-craft-studio-show/print-story/