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Eamon Ore-Giron

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Jun 15, 2011
Location: USA
Topic: Interview with Eamon Ore-Giron
Interviewer: Tiffany Barber

LatinArt:  You were born in Tucson, Arizona in 1973. Can you talk about your background, upbringing, your experiences of the American Southwest, and how all of these influence your practice and visual vocabulary?

Eamon Ore-Giron:  My dad emigrated here from Peru in ’69, and my mom is 4th generation Tucsonan. My mom and dad would take my siblings and me driving in the back of our Chevy. Every Easter we would go to the Yaqui deer dance and watch the capturing of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, a very sad and eerie thing to witness. It’s a reenactment of when the Roman soldiers of Pontius Pilate capture Jesus, except the soldiers are all Yaqui interpretations of evil called Chapayekas. They make their masks out of cow and javelina skin. The men that play the part of the Chapayekas are allowed to make them into whatever character they want, so some look like Hitler or Yosemite Sam. At midnight, they go running out of the church and look for things to steal in the neighborhood. They actually stole our spare tire and my baby stroller, and we had to go to the church and “buy”it back. That was a form of donation to the church.

Back to my family. When I was a kid, my mother taught outside of Tucson at an elementary school on the Tohono O’odham reservation in a place called Topawah. I learned a lot from her. She wanted to widen my perspective of the world and showed me the beauty in the people and the landscape. The Southwest to me isn’t just a retirement community with pink coyotes howling at the moon and Kokopeli statues; in fact that stuff drives me crazy. The place I know runs deep with history and complexity. It’s full of people struggling to make it a better place than what’s been happening lately, the militarization of the border and the hate that it breeds. The physical landscape had a big effect on my work. To be honest though, I haven’t lived in Tucson for about 20 years so as much as my roots are there, my current reality is much different.

LatinArt:  How has your artistic practice developed from art school to now?

Eamon Ore-Giron:  I got my BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute (USA) in ’96. I didn’t go for my MFA until 8 years later. In those 8 years I worked as a metal worker and also went and lived in Peru. When I was in Peru I worked with an artist named Josué Sánchez. He really inspired me to get back into the studio, so when I came back to the States, I started a large body of work based on a very personal vision of the American West, a place dominated by golf courses and inhabited by Peruvian folkloric dancers among other characters. That work got me a lot of attention; I showed that work in NYC at Deitch Projects and in San Francisco at the Yerba Buena, among other places. I really love that work and I still feel very close to it, but something kept pushing me to evolve and change. After some time, I decided to go back to school and went to UCLA for my MFA. While I was there I started to work in performance and music with my close friends, which became the group OJO. I also began to experiment with different ways of working, such as collage and incorporating text. I moved further away from the figurative work and more into a free association of text and shapes. Along with being a painter I have always been involved in the music community, whether in bands or as a DJ. It has been an important part of my life.

LatinArt:  You had your first solo museum exhibition just before you graduated with your MFA from UCLA, correct? Tell me more about the exhibition, Mirage, hosted by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2005. What images and cultural references were you exploring at the time and why?

Eamon Ore-Giron:  Yeah that was the culmination of the work I’d made from 1998-2003. It was an amazing opportunity. The curator at the time was a really great guy by the name of Alex Baker, who had seen my work in a group show in 2001. The imagery and cultural references I was exploring at the time dealt with the psychology of the West. I was really obsessed with the idea that in order for something to be won, it simultaneously must be lost. The reality and the myth of our history are two very different things, and I wanted to explore that in a very personal voice, one that included imagery from both my Peruvian and American backgrounds. One memorable piece is a painting I did based on a photo I took at a steakhouse in Tucson. In the back of the restaurant there is a re-creation of an Indian village complete with a squaw and her baby under a tent, with an amusement park type mini-train that rolls through carrying tourists. When I was there it happened to be passing with one lone rider, a big fat guy in the back seat. So I took a photo and based my painting on it.

LatinArt:  Your work has shifted a bit since that exhibition. Over the last few years you've been using cutting techniques, vinyl records and album covers that feature artists often excluded from the 'mainstream' popular music canon. You’ve also played with varying shapes, colors, materials and text drawn from your interests in ancient mythic songs of cultures that existed before the written word and the lyrics of 1960s Mexican psych bands. Can you talk about Into a Long Punk your 2009 solo exhibition at Steve Turner Contemporary in Los Angeles?

Eamon Ore-Giron:  Yeah, like I mentioned before, that work was reflecting my concerns from that time. My realities have changed on some levels. The later works that use vinyl records come from all the discarded vinyl I had laying around my house and studio that I wanted to reanimate and incorporate into my practice. The cut records were actually used in the first OJO recordings; they were used as a sort of clock or metronome. Into a Long Punk was a riff on language and myth. I included text pieces that referenced Gaelic, Mayan, and Aztec creation myths. Oral tradition presented visually, with nods to Modernism and graphic design.

LatinArt:  With Into a Long Punk, your work also playfully interrogated the regimes of imperialism, colonialism, and globalization. I really loved that show and I thought the exhibition read more like multiple narratives that you formatted and reformatted. How has your work evolved since then? What were your conceptual concerns in Road to Ruins, your 2010 solo exhibition in LA?

Eamon Ore-Giron:  Thanks so much, I really enjoyed making that show and I’m glad someone else caught onto what I was getting at. It was a break from the earlier work I had made in the sense that I wanted to have more fun and play, rather than be so heavy handed, I guess. In Road to Ruins, I started to work with large-scale silk screens and incorporating them into the paintings, as an extension of the work I did with the cutouts of record covers. I used the record covers to create large format silk screens, and then transferred the images to canvas. I really love the feel of silk screens especially when applied to canvas. I see these pieces residing somewhere between concert posters and paintings.

Road to Ruins started with a record I found in Peru by the band Los Shapis. This particular album made a big impression on me because Los Shapis ripped off the cover from The Ramones’ 1978 album “Road to Ruin”and superimposed themselves over the Ramones characters on the cover. Along with having such an interesting album cover, that album became the first “Chicha”album to break into the mainstream realm of Peru, a country that until then put more importance on music from other countries than it’s own. It was such an amazing blend of American punk graphics and Peruvian rhythms and attitude. I also love that the original Ramones album is titled “Road to Ruin”because it made me think about how Peru is a country that is primarily known for the ruins of its past rather than its contemporary culture. I am in the middle of expanding on these ideas for future works across multiple platforms such as video and public interventions.

LatinArt:  Tell me about your collaboration with Julio Cesar Morales, Los Jaichackers for the Phantom Sightings exhibition.

Eamon Ore-Giron:  Los Jaichackers came from our collaboration as DJs. Around 2001, Julio and I founded a monthly dance party called Club Unicornio. Our mission was to create a night centered on Latin music that wasn’t the typical Salsa or Latin Pop crap. We wanted to expand people’s perceptions of what Latin American music is. We would have special guests like the art punk band Faca Faca from TJ and Silverio from Mexico City. So when we were asked to create a piece for the Phantom Sightings exhibition, we both thought of expanding the idea of Club Unicornio by making a migrant sound studio, one that would generate recordings wherever it went reflecting the different styles and approaches to music across the border. So as the exhibition traveled, so did we, recording and making videos with bands we met in each city. The studio took shape as a 10’x10’ cube with sound proofing interior and mirrors with our logo wrapped around the whole cube. As for the name Los Jaichackers, it was an ode to all the refried music bands that we love from the ‘50s and ‘60s like Los Apson or Los Saicos. In that sense, the project also functioned like a band. Part of the project involved us giving the bands certain American songs to cover, such as the song Bathysphere by the band SMOG. In that way, we were introducing the idea of translation across both language and music, and it made for some really interesting results. One of the bands, the L.A. BOYZ, made it into what I’m convinced is the first Tropical Goth song ever made!

LatinArt:  Amazing! Can you tell me more about your performance work with OJO and as DJ LENGUA? Do you consider DJ LENGUA as an alter ego, an extension of your practice from objects and installations?

Eamon Ore-Giron:  OJO is a collaboration between myself and four other artists, a psychiatrist, and a college history professor. That almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, but I mention it because it illustrates the myriad personalities in the group and what each person brings to it. OJO first started as an improvisational music group. We were interested in how the approach to making art intersects with making music. At our first gig we decided to expand on the idea of who is in the band by composing a piece that included the whole audience. I’d found a Roland 808 drum machine at the local thrift store a couple of weeks before the performance, so it became the centerpiece of the composition. So we made a giant stack of speakers in the center of the room, then poured 400 pounds of salt on the floor, and commenced the show. The composition included specific parts that pushed the audience to make noise, like starting with a full-handed clap and slowly removing a finger out of the clapping until the whole room was clapping with just one finger. When you have a room of 200 people doing that it sounds like rain. We then coaxed people to start slowly shuffling through the salt, creating a shaking sound, like a ton of maracas. I got that idea from when I traveled to Cuba. I was in a little town called Baracoa, and there was a big street party. The people would march through the streets behind the band, and as they walked they would shuffle their feet collectively to the beat. It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard.

As for DJ LENGUA, I have been producing music for over ten years now. My DJ work started with Club Unicornio, the party I mentioned earlier. I have been collecting music from all over Latin America for the past 15 years or so, plus I grew up listening to a lot of Peruvian music. So the club became a great outlet for all the rare stuff I had. I have always been interested in the ways that culture is transformed through reinterpretations, like the way American pop music is covered by cumbia bands from Colombia, or how garage rock was filtered through bands in Peru in the ‘60s. In a lot of ways, I do see it as an alter ego of my visual work, but the cool thing about music is that it’s a platform that allows you to incorporate multiple disciplines, like video, graphics, and performance. Since retiring the monthly Unicornio parties, we started a label that presses only vinyl. I’ve released two 12”LPs of my own DJ LENGUA material, as well as some 45s and another LP from other musicians we admire.

LatinArt:  What's next for you?

Eamon Ore-Giron:  I have a piece in a really great show at a space in Bogota, Colombia called La Central. Currently I’m working on a video piece that involves attack dogs, screwed cumbia, and a dancer wearing one of those dog bite suits. I’ll be showing that in late September 2011 at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. After that, I’ll be in NYC for three months doing a residency at the ISCP. I’m really excited to have all that time to make new work and explore New York. I’ll definitely be doing some OJO events and DJing in NYC in the Fall. As for OJO, we have a sound installation at the Studio Museum in Harlem that is currently up and we’ll be participating in the Pacific Standard Time events at LACE in January 2012.

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