Camela Guevara had some family in town recently. All she could think to do to keep them entertained was to go shopping and take them to restaurants. Pretty mundane stuff. And that very element — the tedious nature of day-to-day events — comes to the forefront of Guevara's art. Her work lives to shift the narrative of the mundane.
"Making art in general, sewing tiny beads on things, to me, I can't think of a better thing to do," Guevara says. "I like including this absurd combination of things. People have patience and spend time on certain things. For me it's sewing but I'm thinking about it in an art realm, too. For this show I was thinking about it being a little tongue-in-cheek."
Even if humor isn't the intent in all her art, with Guevara's new exhibition You Should Sell That, opening at Charleston Music Hall on April 17, her tongue is planted firmly in cheek. She'll have on display lamé threaded sponges — the shiny and pastel colored ones you can get at Target — that she's embroidered with emojis and abbreviated phrases, and pool noodles she's covered in canvas and painted or sewed on, as well as salt shaker lids that feature her needlework. If you're thinking that all this is just junk you can buy at a store, you're onto a larger theme in Guevara's work — undercutting consumerism.
"In our culture, shopping is an activity and pastime. It's kind of weird," Guevara says. "Part of my practice is finding these unique [items] and things that catch my eye when I'm shopping ... and how that works for creating this cycle of shopping, making something, then that being for sale."
While mindless shelf grabbing is one bit of commentary Guevara puts into her art, she also takes a mirror to her profession's capitalist underpinnings. Money is not the ultimate value of art in Guevara's assessment no matter its perceived grandeur or tradition.
- Camela Guevara
- Camela guevara utilizes seemingly pedestrian objects — sponges, pool noodles, salt shaker lids — to make a larger point about our obsession with consumerism
"Our culture rewards people or values their work if they have a level of success," Guevara says. "It's not my prerogative to sell [art]. It's just to make something new. It centers me. It's my outlet of spirituality, and makes me feel like I'm getting out of that cycle of constantly consuming."
Another side exists to this wry wink at art consumption — that art is often defined by the materials and the technique. Every shrugging-text-sewed sponge of Guevara's is a challenge to that notion while each dolled up pool noodle screams, "I am art, too." To accomplish this, Guevara often manipulates objects out of their normal context and creates a new context for the item she's working with. The finished pieces are self-aware and filled with irony. Guevara utilizes that irony to also explore the ideas of domesticity. Consider the sponge.
"These kinds of objects that are used for work in the home really resonate with me," Guevara says. "The idea of taking a sponge and it being sparkly to make housework more fun is kind of tragic but also funny."
Now contemplate the salt shaker lids that she weaves through with thread: the whole speaks to the unsung heroes of labor, like that of a nameless line cook.
"Taking an object and making it my own, and giving it a new life instead of just being used in the kitchen in work is [purposeful]," Guevara says. "It's a vocabulary that I have of customizing things."
That language harkens back to more traditional crafting methods as well — like quilting, sample making, or painting on china, things that you might see on Antiques Roadshow as a symbol of the time, but not worth a ton of money.
"I definitely value crafts, doing something for the sake of making something beautiful or functional," Guevara says. "A lot of people associate embroidery with old ladies, which I don't think is a bad thing. My aesthetic leans towards grandma."
That sense of whatever the creation is — as long as it's created — is good, guides Guevara. All this talk of consumerism, capitalist art values, domesticity, and grandma, is peripheral to her work. Guevara believes her art can be brought back home, literally, and in the sense that the art is personal.
"Trying to bring some whimsy, a little bit of humor to these everyday objects that we engage with all the time and putting them in an art setting is interesting," she says. "It's just kind of where I'm at right now."