Sanitary Tortilla Factory, Albuquerque
December 15, 2017 – January 19, 2018
As it has been subsumed by the works of Pre-existing Conditions, Sanitary Tortilla Factory has taken on all the shape and texture of memory. Here, monuments are built out of pieces that—brick by brick—are themselves eroding. Made entirely of objects and materials scavenged from illegal dump sites in and around Albuquerque, artists Cecilia McKinnon (a member of GRAFT collective) and Lance Ryan McGoldrick (a Meow Wolf collective artist) have created an otherworld of refuse reimagined—no, not just reimagined, but transformed—into sculpture with emotional resonance as they spotlight human-made objects and their resilience, their persistence, even as they degrade.
These objects no longer have any utility, save for in the poetic sense. On the east wall of the wide room, a tape dispenser is mounted on the wall, cased by a frame pocked with the recollection of gunfire. They are both the dull taupe of office supplies everywhere, but in this context, removed from the work desk and fluorescent light—and imbued with the suggestion of danger (these are sourced from illegal dump sites, after all)—their contrasting shapes are more striking, the dispenser like a wave climbing the gallery wall, bounded by rough metal.
Perhaps where Pre-existing Conditions is at its sharpest is in pieces where salvaged objects are integrated with other, more intentional elements. A radial tire, fraying from the outside, packed with dirt instead of its tube, is host to the spindly stalks of a desert flower. Hidden elsewhere in the interiors of the tire is a light, bearing down on the plant like apocryphal sunshine. This piece seems indicative of the aim of the whole exhibition—an enunciation of disintegration so often ignored, now literally brought to light.
In this sense, concepts of production, use, and disposal are everywhere in these pieces. This is literally repurposed garbage, the sort of ephemera that tells us so much about our culture. McKinnon and McGoldrick quite clearly have a fondness for the suggestions and potential of these raw materials. In the gallery, they built a structure that visitors can cozy into—all of reclaimed wood, abandoned screens, and adorned with trashed objects—which has the charm of a childhood fort. Old window blinds turn into looms, strung with rusty orange, yellow, and red yarn through the gaps. Insulation creeping up the walls like mold provides a foil to the bits of a broken dollhouse, emptied of its domestic scenes. Rotting tires are strung from the ceiling with shoelace and electrical cord.
What these works have the power to do is make us rethink objects—and rethink our habits—seeing anew the materiality of life all around us. Though a bit encumbered by nostalgia (that crops up in what is created—forts, swings, plastics stuffed with lights), what is embedded in these objects resurfaces as cultural memory. Artifacts form the wasteland—neither living nor dead—latent symptoms of cultural amnesia, our more recent ability to consume and discard, to the detriment of our landscapes and ourselves. A road sign—directing us to what now?— aimlessly faces the gallery, a perfect articulation of our misdirection. In the face of advancement, there is decline. What is hopeful here is that there are artists like McKinnon and McGoldrick who haven’t forgotten and use the vast materials at their disposal to bring to bear the poetics of repair and reuse.
Beautifully illuminating the concept of repair are weavings made with mop fiber, anchored with a discarded rod. Somehow, even the colors are evocative of the past—the sort of mod ’70s harvest gold and diluted red you might find languishing in your grandma’s attic. In Pre-existing Conditions, manifestations of loss and renunciation are rehabilitated by caring hands and careful attention. Not only is new consideration given to the detritus under our feet, but in seeing our garbage revived, we see a new potentiality for the future wherein nothing is lost and tremendous insight can be gained.