This spring, UNM Art Museum hosts new-media artist León De la Rosa-Carrillo’s The Remix Room. Curated by Traci Quinn, it is the museum’s second Creative-In-Residence project. The Remix Room will offer visitors “six different stations in which remix can be explored as a viable strategy to conduct research and produce remixed content.” De la Rosa-Carrillo defines himself as a “remixologist and pedagogue.” Based in Juárez, he is a professor at Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez. His recent projects include work in Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande at 516 Arts, Albuquerque, and collaboration on the large-scale interactive installation Border Tuner on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Titus O’Brien: As an artist, your work is often concerned with online interactions in the form of memes and breakdowns in expected communication (glitches). Can you say more about this?
León De la Rosa-Carrillo: I never actually went to art school… in fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever fully enjoyed or trusted art objects whose narratives and purposes seem to revolve entirely around solely aesthetic paradigms. I always need more, and in most cases, that becomes the chance for communication as in “Does the art object communicate something?” “Does it teach anything?” “Does it respond to any questions that concern me?” In that sense, I am concerned with communication—not just online—because I see in it a chance for art to transcend its own comfort zone full of aesthetic truisms that I find quite boring and unnecessarily mysterious and opaque. Whereas internet memes, for example, are, for the most part, all surface, with actual communities standing behind and beneath them. I also go back to the pre-internet origins of memes as elements of dominating cultures, neither true nor good but simply domineering. As such, they can be manipulated and reshaped into new versions of themselves, perhaps ones that speak the languages of the colonized and the unheard.
Your work is defiantly “disruptive” with an activist cast. There is extensive precedent for this in Mexican art, ancient to modern. Can you talk more explicitly about the agendas in your work and your influences?
I’ve never considered myself fully Mexican; I’m a Juárense and fronterizo before claiming any national identity. That notion is quite disruptive itself, I suppose. It is, in that sense, a search for an identity in my surroundings, rather than any nation state, which implies some sort of activism—activism through searching, conversing, and questioning. Likewise, before being an artist, I was a fan of people whose work spoke to me in those terms, regardless of nation states or formal genres. Ian MacKaye from Fugazi and Dischord Records is perhaps my biggest influence, along with Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Tania Bruguera’s [philosophy of] Arte Útil.
While your research often focuses on popular culture, your work manifests in highly controlled, almost defiantly academic contexts. How do you consider this apparent duality?
Academia is just another meme, and as such, it is neither necessarily good nor true; it can be reshaped and reinvented in the forms and the tongues of the colonized (students) and the unheard (those who fail to even become students). I’m just trying to do my part in that process.