Alibi V.27 No.20 • May 17-23, 2018

Culture Shock

Brick by Brick

Artist Joanna Keane Lopez makes contemporary installation with traditional techniques

Joanna Keane Lopez' family owned an old adobe home in Socorro, built by her great grandparents on her father's side. She looked across the dusty parking lot of The Kosmos as if looking into the past as she recalled the place. “That's why,” she said, “and just living in New Mexico.” She offered this by way of explanation as to how she has come to build a creative practice around working in adobe. “I just fell in love with it.”

Resolana
"Resolana," a new adobe installation by Joanna Keane Lopez at The Kosmos
Joanna Keane Lopez

At that moment, we were sitting under the thin shade offered by a cluster of small trees near Fifth Street in two metal chairs turned toward each other. A few feet away, one of Lopez' latest works amicably looked on, its washed white adobe walls growing toward the sky, slender mirrors running vertically downward, reflecting the parking lot back to us. This is “Resolana,” built on-site at The Kosmos/Factory on Fifth (1715 Fifth Street NW), aiming to further cultivate community there by providing a meeting point, a place to come together. “Resolana,” Lopez explained, “means the sunny side of a wall, or a place where the sun shines. Traditionally, it is a place where people come together to share dialogue or perform or talk.”

At it's unveiling on Saturday, May 5 “Resolana” had exactly that effect. A cast of all women performers stood before the piece to play music and share art while a crowd of visitors backed their trucks up to the structure, swinging open their tailgates to sit down and watch.

Lopez has been working with adobe since she learned the craft five years ago from two adoberas and artists in Taos—Anita Rodriguez and Carol Cruz. During her tenure learning from these two women, she helped them re-plaster churches around Taos and Truchas, noticing how the community would come together to do this work of caring for the structures. Lopez works with foundational techniques, as well as the historical contexts embedded in the medium in order to “push the boundaries of adobe, so it is more contemporary,” as she put it.

Joanna Keane Lopez
Artist Joanna Keane Lopez with her piece "Resolana"
Matt Adams
“Resolana,” is the third adobe installation that Lopez has built in Albuquerque this year. Two of her other works are currently on view around the city. One large piece is outdoors at the Harwood Art Center (1114 Seventh Street NW), its large soft pink walls gently curving, its brickwork is stacked skyward. This piece, titled “Expanding Sequences,” is on the west side of the building, visible from the street. Meanwhile, Lopez also has a piece in the recently unveiled exhibition at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW), Because It's Time: Unraveling Race and Place in New Mexico. This particular piece, “Nine Ways to Say Hello,” incorporates some similar shapes as the other two, but each adobe-built pillar stands alone, distinct multiple pieces comprising the whole.

“In that piece,” she said, “I was thinking about fragmentation within race and place.” Hence, the detached pieces. “But also, there's a concept of wholeness, so I made these fabric pieces,” she explained, flipping through several pictures on her phone, as I cupped my hands over the screen to protect it from the glare of the afternoon sun. These circular fabric swathes are layered behind the architectural components of the piece. Lopez hand dyed them with cochineal (“little insects you find on cacti here,” she explained) and onion skins (“which are so layered”) to create a contrast.

Meanwhile, “Resolana,” is less about disparity. In fact the piece itself, while quite distinct, feels natural in its landscape. That perhaps is in part due to its mirrored columns. “The mirrors almost make it so that the materials include the sky and the land, the people,” Lopez observed. “It becomes something larger.” In that way, it works with its surroundings and with the people who gather around it by its very nature. Being adobe, the structure must be maintained in order to persist—that naturally lends it a relationship with the community. What’s more—it can adapt and even erode. Because “Resolana” is adobe bricks, a lime wash (which is the same chemical composition as sea shells) and mortar with straw gluing the whole thing together, it can be returned to the landscape. Unlike, for example, large metal public art projects that lay more heavily on the land. This piece—Lopez pointed out—has the potential to “go back to the earth.”

As we sat and talked near “Resolana,” about the concepts that are built into it and its many underlying contexts, I saw its most basic premise playing out—that here we were, brought together because of the piece for conversation and exchange. I imagine that this will be a common sight for the work’s six month (or more) tenure at The Kosmos. “I want people to know,” Lopez said before we parted ways, “that they can create space anywhere—from nothing, you can create something. That something can then become something more that involves more people, where more things can happen.”

“Resolana” is currently available and open to the public to make things happen. “Expanding Sequences” will remain a permanent installation at the Harwood, and “Nine Ways to Say Hello,” will be on display at the NHCC through Feb. 28, 2019. Connect with Lopez and follow her work by visiting her website, joannakeanelopez.com.