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Essay by Katja Rivera
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Creative Research Lab

INTERCHANGE - summer 2007

Christa Mares

Christa Mares
Heepstador, 2007
ceramic, steel, fabric, wood
approx. 36"h x 20"w x 16" d

Christa Mares
by Katja Rivera

Our past follows us everywhere. One of the first things people want to know is "where are you from" –from which they can infer, conclude, and speculate many things about your past. Visual art, in particular, lends itself to viewers so that they may draw certain conclusions about the artist and her past. However detached and biased this kind of analysis may seem, we cannot deny the importance of culture and its role in our modern society. Culture shapes individuals and their outlook on the world, and this influence, this part of an artist's self, resonates within their work.

Christa Mares' abstract creations seem to detach from the autobiographical yet provide subtle visual hints of her culture and history. Combining ceramics and crochet, Mares creates sculptures that upon first glimpse only hint at the recognizable or relatable. At first glance, viewers associate her abstract forms with certain cultural staples. For example, one piece whose long pastel colored points emerge from a circled core reminded one viewer of a piñata. This imagery brings to mind rich cultural imagery of bright colors, sunshine, and celebratory events with family and friends.

Mares does, in fact, draw from a multicultural background, but one that complicates its very definition. Growing up in the U.S., her work seems to be a visual bridge between her two cultures. While her work calls to mind imagery that reference both of her cultures—like the piñata—it remains ambiguous enough to allow many different access points for the viewer to be able to read their own experiences into it. Mares, in a way, creates a new culture, a hybrid one that combines time, histories, and places.

In Deer and Chicken, Mares combines a small plastic figurine and covers parts of it with crochet, letting the thread hang loosely from its end. In a conversation with the artist, she voiced her desire to communicate a duality not only in a cultural sense, but also in the relationship of high and low art. Even with the recent re-discovery of feminist art and art forms, handicrafts such as crochet, stitching, sewing, and knitting are commonly considered low rather than high art. By bringing it into the public gallery space, however, Mares appropriates crochet as a high art form. Through covering pre-made objects in crochet, Mares draws attention to materiality. The objects change through the covering of the crochet—they no longer look the same, and more importantly, they no longer function in the same way. Through hiding and accentuating certain areas of these unassuming, discarded thrift store artifacts, Mares gives them a new lease on life and a new purpose.

In other similar wall pieces, the crochet connects to other objects by creating a webbing and intimate fiber—pulling together disparate histories that each object represents. To the artist, these articles also represent memories that are woven and intertwined. Once again she pulls together objects from different times, cultures, and places to create a new memory with her art, effectively drawing on her past to create a new present.