Installation by Daisy Quezada Ureña

Porcelain Bridges for Cement Borders: Artist Interview Daisy Quezada Ureña

Daisy Quezada Ureña is a visual artist currently based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Her work is chiefly composed of ceramic and porcelain sculptures, made through a process of layering porcelain slip onto fabric or garments, which are themselves burnt away in the firing process.  These sculptures are then painstakingly paired with additional elements to create a final installation.  Her installations are understated at first glance, but are structured in a way as to pull you in, and you find yourself a part of an intimate experience.  Each sculpture is not so much haunted by as it embodies the stories from one or many individuals.  Daisy currently teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts, IAIA, in Santa Fe, and her works have been shown at the Denver Museum of Art (Denver, Colorado), Summerhall (Edinburgh, Scotland), New Taipei City Yingge Cermics Museum (New Taipei, Taiwan), and Icheon Ceramics Festival (Icheon, South Korea).  I met Daisy years ago while working together at my father’s business in Santa Fe.  At the time she was completing her undergraduate program at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, previously the College of Santa Fe, which has since closed.  Since then, her art has taken on themes and issues primarily dealing with people and place.  Daisy’s creativity and art draw significantly from experiences of her youth, which was split between her family’s land in Jalisco, Mexico and the American Southwest (California, Arizona, and New Mexico).  Her work also engages with themes and current events surrounding immigration—specifically how immigration affects individuals.  She is a founding member of the Present Cartographers, an organization consisting of Daisy Quezada Ureña, Sylvia Arthur, and Lois Klassen. The three met at SFUAD SFAI and already produced one publication after receiving the 516 Art Grant for Northern New Mexico.  A link to this chapbook can be found on her website (link below).

Lena: What mediums and themes are you working with right now? 

Daisy:  I’d say it’s probably the same, it hasn’t shifted. It’s attempting to morph and change but I’m still young in my practice so I’m still using clay, specifically porcelain and embedding them in sort of different ideas or situating them in different spaces.  So I’ve worked a lot with concrete, embedding pieces in concrete because concrete is sort of the earth, specifically the USA.  A lot of it came from a book that I read that was about this family that was migrating north to the US and when they got to the border, they were looking across and all they saw was this flatness of old concrete, so that’s where all of that was drawn.  I made coffins that are risen segments of earth, or mimicking segments of earth, talking about Juarez, acknowledging that’s a thing, and how do you obstruct people or stop them in their path.  I take what the scale of an average woman in that region is, I’m creating a form, a coffin form, and lifting it up. When I was making that I was told that it was like the holocaust memorial (in Berlin).  Right? The risen segments of concrete bed, up and down and then you can go around and you kind of lose track of space and people and bodies and stuff.  It’s not to that scale, they’re just smaller pieces.  The piece that I did at Vital Spaces, it was called, “Se Vende,” I think I was very upset with like people being used and extracted for a specific purpose, and not really recognized as human beings, and what it is that they can do. So it was called “Se Vende,” For Sale. It is, I was going to take it back to her (her collaborator), but I’m going to do just a few more things with it, and then, as an act of closing that piece I’m going to take it back to her, from where it is.  It’s a concrete block form, that has an article of clothing on top of it, and it has a floodlight that hangs in super close proximity to it.  To the left of it, depending on the way your looking at it, there’s a palate with blown earth, these bags of blown earth sort of that earth that blows back and forth between the US and Mexico. It’s this red sandy earth. I went and gathered a ton of that and it’s bagged and sealed off, so it’s a stack of all of that earth next to these pieces, and they are in conversation.  The idea is you approach this piece, and you see it and you’re like “what’s going on?”  The floodlight’s washing out whatever is on the concrete, so you don’t really understand, specifically, you’re like “what? What is that?” You can’t really see it. So as soon as you approach the piece you lose track of everything that’s around you, but you can actually see what’s going on.  So it’s playing with our bodies and relationships, also when you approach it, it’s right at your feet.  So if you want to take a closer look you come to your knees or maybe you don’t come to your knees.  I’m also trying to work on other pieces because most of my work is about the people that I engage with. They are pieces that I make with them, and after the piece is exhibited or shown, they end up going back to those people. It’s not something that I want to hold onto.  It’s not something that I want to market. We came together to do this thing, and I’m not going to profit out of that.  I don’t know if I want to sell.  I’m cool with making these pieces that bring in all of these individuals so we can have a conversation and then disbanding and going back into those spaces and having those conversations continue in those areas.  They don’t necessarily stop.  It’s not just a hallelujah moment.  Maybe it is a hallelujah moment for some people, but that’s not the main goal.  Outside of that, I’ve been trying to go inward a little bit and trying to figure out myself.  I’ve been trying to extract myself or deconstruct myself. I am currently working, also in porcelain, I may eventually move beyond porcelain but I haven’t exhausted the medium yet to where it feels like it’s not, it’s not communicating what I want but I’m making small porcelain pieces for myself, they are super tiny like something you can hold in your hand, and I’m packaging them.

L: Can you see them?

D: You can see them.  They’re in, they’re in blueberry containers.  I haven’t figured out what they do or what they are but I keep giving them away too.  I’m eating a ton of blueberries because all of them need to be consumed. But it started with thinking about the Driscoll factories and people down south and how they were asking for a raise, but then they didn’t like that and they were fired. So I was participating with a class, with a friend, Daisha Vilakova and we were having conversations about that and I was like “ahh, I need to do something about that but I don’t know,” and it’s sort of morphed and shifted and it became this thing, and I don’t know what it is but I think it needs to get situated at some point. It isn’t about the actual project but about where it goes, what it does, how it engages, and different things.  I think the object itself might be interesting but it’s not doing anything at the moment because it’s just sitting in my studio idling and stacking up, but we’ll see what it becomes.

L: The engagement is really important to your work?

D: It is, very much, yeah, I would say it’s a huge part of it.  I don’t, I’m interested in, well this piece is very much about myself. But it is, I want to have conversations with people. The most meaningful, I think, was when I worked with the youth in Denver, in Aurora.

L: That’s the one that was at the Denver Museum of Art?

D: It was at the Denver Museum of Art, Mi Tierra.

Mi Tierra, by Daisy Quezada at the Denver Museum of Art

Porcelain Artwork by Daisy Quezada
Daisy Quezada Ureña, (Displacement/Containment), 2017, featured in Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artist Explore Place at the Denver Art Museum.

L: I saw your piece in that show!  Was here supposed to be audio with it? It wasn’t on when I saw it unfortunately.

D: There is, so there is audio when you walk into the space on the right. A friend of mine from Mexico, Carlos Colin helped me, so I took sound from the border region of southern Arizona, and combined it with narratives from the students that I had interviewed.  The audio was students from Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA) and then students from here in Santa Fe, talking about their experiences of being in this country and what it means to be situated here but not being able to move, you’re sort of contained. You’ve crossed into this border, you’ve moved into this space, but it’s a struggle, right? People sometimes living with a big fear without documents, so you have to move around, you have to consider so much. We were having conversations about what it means to be displaced within a space, so there were conversations with students sharing their experiences.

L:  So, I’m paraphrasing, but Ai Weiwei has said that every artist is an activist because they’re expressing an opinion.  Working with the people and themes, immigration issues, would you consider yourself to be an activist?

D: I’m going to keep on saying no.  I guess it’s the way I think about activism, I think that I’m not on the ground, in the field.  I’m not a lawyer.  I’m not doing all of this work. I feel like what I’m doing is different.  I know I’ve had this conversation with other people and they’re like, “No Daisy, you don’t understand,” but it doesn’t feel like activism.  I feel like I need to be better informed, better aware, and I don’t feel like me having shared experiences with individuals, similar experiences, it isn’t enough.  I know it has some qualities of that, the work I’m doing. But when I see activists, I think people on the streets, people making flyers.  I think of chain breakers, here in town. I think also of Somos (Somos Un Pueblo Unido) what they’re doing, entities like that. I just feel like my work is very much just an object and it’s bringing those conversations to a specific area, which I think is important, but I think it needs to do more and I think I need to figure out how to push that, and maybe when I figure out how to get beyond that area maybe I’ll consider that but right now I don’t think it’s that. 

L: When you’re making your art, who is your art for? Is it for those people? Is it for you? Is it for anybody who sees it or just for some people?

D: I think it is probably for whoever I am working with and myself, and then as anything when you put it out into the public sector it changes right? It’s becoming maybe not solely for that individual and myself, it’s bringing in this other sort of body, into that conversation, it becomes for a greater sort of people.

L: And you’re okay with sharing it with any other person?

D: Yeah, I think that’s important. The Denver piece specifically, I think it was an important piece to be in that setting and to have that audience.  I tried to make sure that the students that I was working with understood that “your voices are in there and your pieces are in there and you’re holding a space for everyone that is in front of you and behind you and we’re occupying that area. I don’t know if my most recent work has done it as effectively, but because that piece was super intense. I remember going in and taking a group of students and we got to check out everybody’s work and then we ended up talking about being an immigrant, and we were talking about what it meant, and it just got super heavy.  I don’t know if you felt that but that work in itself, I felt heavy as I was making it, like it was weighing me down.  Not externally but I felt like I was being pushed, but not in a bad way, it was just like being held, intensely, not intensely, whatever this gesture is (Daisy opens and closes her hands at mid-line like she is holding and squishing a soccer sized ball).  We ended up having a really intense conversation and just the energy.  A lot of the students and I ended up crying intensely, and a lot of people would say, “Well why are you going to make people cry?” and it’s something I do think about, but it’s also a release.

L: Right, I’m sure it was cathartic.

D: Yes, I’ve lost track of your question.

L: I’m sure a lot of people don’t talk about that at home, a lot of families.

D: A lot of those students in the group don’t have those conversations, some of them do, because it’s a thing you have to live with.  It kind of gets suppressed and I know that’s how it was in my family, things just get suppressed because, at least my parents were like, you’re just a child and we don’t want you to have to deal with that, at least that was their mentality.  Some parents are like, you need to know what is going on so they just throw all of this shit at you and you need to grow up like now.

L: These are high school students?

D: They were middle school.

L: Wow!

D: At least here (Santa Fe) in DAVA it was more mature students. But I had worked with them before.  I had engaged with them through El Otro Lado.  It’s a program through the Academy for the Love of Learning.  So we had done different activities and we had gotten to know each other a little bit.  At DAVA, I hadn’t worked with them before, they were still sort of open I think.  When you find that individual that you can share with because you have, there’s something that connects you two, it’s really easy to exchange.  When I was talking with them there were a lot of conversations about embroidery, tortillas, food, and other things. 

L: Shared culture opened that door . . . 

D: Yes, but you have to be respectful too. When you interview them, before we did the interview, I said, “if there’s anything that you share and you feel uncomfortable about, like let me know and I can omit any of it before it goes to the museum, I’m going to share this with you all here together, we’ll think about what it is and if it doesn’t feel right, you guys gotta let me know and we can change it up.” I was trying to make sure that they feel respected because if that’s not them then there’s no point to making that, at least for myself. And we listened to it. I think they felt alright about it.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it but it felt like they thought, “cool, this person listened.” Because people can hear you, I’ve run into people that can hear you, a lot, and I sometimes do that where I am not listening but I’m hearing, but it felt like, I was channeling some part of what I am and it felt successful.  Everything that was said, that needed to be said, was a part of it, was communicated, and I owe Carlos with the audio a lot of credit for that, but it just felt like it was the honesty was communicated and it didn’t feel like it was sugar coated.  Because that whole thing was us coming together and sharing right, and then the articles of clothing were in porcelain were just them. All of those were documented before they were turned into porcelain and we talked about what it means to have clothes on the body and what it does, and the pieces that they were willing to share and will to part with because we made sure that they knew they would be loosing those pieces because they were going through that process, the actual article burns away and all you’re left with is the form, the exterior form that’s holding something inside of the porcelain.

L: So those pieces came from the same kids you were working with?

D: They did, so all of them contributed pieces and they got them back at the end. We catalogued all of them, thank you David Astilli for teaching me all of that (laughs).  I documented all of them to make sure I noted where and who they were coming from so after they were exhibited they went back and all of those. Every single one of them.  There was a reason why they brought that piece.  It wasn’t just like ahh I have this blouse I don’t want it any more, it was more like, this is my father’s work glove, it’s really important, this is what sustains us here.  This is the hoodie I wore when I was homeless in Chicago and this was all I had.  This was the dress that I wore when I was a little girl and my family came from this country and this is how I remember it.  It was articles like that that were, it was intense. When they were sharing and giving I was like oh my gosh, you have to be super aware and super conscientious. They are kids so you have to make sure that you are being respectful.  There was the audio, and the clothes. That project was a ton of people working together. Even the one right now that I’m working on, that’s a lot of people coming together, not just me, it’s a collective that I’m a part of, it’s photographers, and all of the contributors, it’s articles of clothing that were contributed by those individuals that then became seed that represent plants in those regions.  I guess I’ve been so fortunate with people being so giving

L: How do you support and make time for your art practice? It doesn’t have to be financial support, how do you support and nurture your creativity and your art?

D:  That is a much better question.

L: And make time for it because that is something most of us struggle with now.

D: Time is difficult to come across.

L: Do you have a schedule? Every Thursday from 6-8?

D: That would be super smart yes that would be logical. I’m actually trying to get to that reality. Right now, I’m not making as much but I try to make time every night to read even if it’s just a little bit because that practice supports my creative self.  I took that specifically from a friend who was doing that. It’s something I’ve been trying to bring back for a while. I think I was just emotionally drained and exhausted. There were just a ton of things going on overwhelming me where I couldn’t but what I’m doing now is at nights when you get home, you walk your dog, you make dinner, you live and share with the individuals you share space with, you take time for yourself, and just regroup, and then with that sometimes I’m more engaged and think okay I’m going to my studio so I’ll sneak over there and do some stuff for a while.  So that’s where I’m at. I think it’s hard to make time but I try to set time aside.  All of my roommates are artists so even if they aren’t making art, they’re constantly practicing. We are trying to remember practices.  For a while one of my roommates was setting aside time and drawing himself, so he’d say okay Daisy, I’m going to step aside and I’m just going to go do this thing.  He would just sit there, and he was making a practice of every day, this is what I’m going to do just to keep my mind going. So with that sort of same idea I think we go back into one another and we do that thing, so even if I’m not making it’s still there. And I think teaching is sort of like that, I go and see students and whatever it is they are making. Or if I’m demo-ing I’m making to some extent.  I’m engaging with that material and it’s in my hands so it’s there even thought it’s not the same sort of process.

Scultpure by Daisy Quezada Urena
 Daisy Quezada Ureña, Untitled, Coffin 2

L: How much of your art practice is conscious or planned and how much is more intuitive as you are making it?

D:  Some of it is very much intuitive.  Actually maybe it’s more so intuitive because the more successful pieces are very much intuitive because there are these things that come up and I end up putting in a sketchbook and I end up going back through a sketchbook and thinking, yes, this was an idea, how can I expand on that a little bit. But the ones that hold more, that are stronger, that I feel just hit more . . .  Other ones that I plan A, B, C, D you’re going to do this, those are good pieces, they aren’t bad, but they’re not holding that same . . .  . Like the piece, Invited Spaces, they were like, we’re going to have this show, we’d like you to be a part of it and you can do whatever you want. Amazing! Yes how much space do I have to work with? And then that fluctuated a lot. I would feel like “no this isn’t working!” then go back and think, “this feels right.” It was the artist negating themselves and also just accepting.  It was very much a lot of psychology that was going on in that piece. A lot of my roommates dealing with me having breakdowns as I was making it. 

L: And when you are collaborating, I am assuming you can’t plan everything out.

D: Yeah, the collaboration I am doing right now, the person that I am working with, we talk about what content gets presented in the publication and if anything gets omitted, but I was like, “I told these people nothing was going to get omitted,” but they were like, “If we include everything then it isn’t a strong sort of piece, but if we start taking things out . . .,” but my brain wants to include everything then they say, “No Daisy, step away.”

L: That seems to be more of a writer thing to do, “kill your darlings,” as they say. I wanted ask about the role of place and landscape, they play a big role in your places. Was it a conscious decision to use porcelain and clay in your work because it comes from the earth, or did that just happen naturally?

D: I think it just happened naturally.

L: Is that something that you think about?

D: It is, I’ve been thinking about my art in the spiritual realm, or thinking about it in other ways.  How a specific gesture is emitted into the pieces as you are making them, and what gets released through that action, and what it means.  I’m probably going to go back to extraction of materials and earth to make clay and what does that mean, how does that relate or contribute to that piece a little bit. But that is a big part, clay and land and what it’s doing and how it’s becoming a part of the body or a segment or void of the body.  As I’m making the pieces that’s actually really important. Like how do you take clay and put it on an article of clothing that has been on your body, that holds onto what it is. Is it that clay?  Is it the clothes?  What is it that’s communicating all of that?  When I’m making pieces, the clay, the earth is also releasing a scent as are the clothes themselves.  So you smell the earth and then you smell that person which is really strange and some people are probably like . . . I’ve been trying to figure out if I’m going to be using, like because I’m using porcelain it’s very translucent, it’s very fragile. It predominately comes from China though, so it’s not a primary clay here in the US.  And I haven’t figured that out yet but I think it’s fine. It is land, the pieces are land, and when I make them if you look closer at them I see ravines, I see hills, I see rivers and stuff in them.  So it’s interesting to look at them in that sense. 

Rosa, Sculpture by Daisy Quezada

“Rosa,” Daisy Quezada Ureña

L: I love that idea that the clothing becomes its own landscape.

D: For a while I was waking up and doing one drawing every day, again practicing, I had my sketchbook and the nearest piece of fabric I saw I would sketch and they were all landscapes. 

L: Is there anything that has surprised you or that you have discovered through your art, or that your art has taught you that was surprising to you?

D: Yes.  But I don’t know how to answer that.

L: What are some ideas that came out of your art?

D: Everything.  A lot of what I was making didn’t happen until I sort of removed myself from here.  I moved to Delaware and I was sort of isolated and then I ended up reading, “The Bridge Called My Back.” I think by removing myself, I wondered more who I am, and I began to understand more who I am and why it is I’m making.  I keep growing, each piece, each piece is teaching me something new. Like with the Denver piece, it taught me a lot about people, community, and spaces and relationships. The piece that I did more recently taught me about extraction of individuals and what that is. I might not have the language for it but I’m understanding.  And the other piece taught me about plants and regions and cultures and customs.  They’re all connected and they might not be super xxx but it’s a part of me that is sprouting.  Or I feel like seed are there, and it’s acknowledging that all of that is there and they’re all kind of born, and it’s all kind of this strange tetris and the words don’t come out.  Each piece, every collaboration, every interaction I have I am learning and drawing from that. 

L: Who are the people that have had the biggest influence on your career as an artist?

D: Like a lot of people. Everybody pretty much.  My family absolutely, my mother brought me into this world and the way we lived and the way we moved in space and the land that we were from had a huge part in making me.  We joked when I was little, we lived south xxx where there’s a whole bunch of Dairy and that’s where I physically grew more and my mom would joke oh it’s all that cow dung, it’s in the air it’s just nourishing you!  So maybe the land in that sense affected my physical growth. School helped me as well, professors.

L: Did you know that you wanted to be an artist when you were in undergrad, the College of Santa Fe or did you know what you wanted to do?

D: I did, I had no idea what I wanted to become I just knew that I liked art. I was in high school with my art teacher, Mr Burnam, who I still write to. We would have a conversation he’d pull out cards like, “these are my students, this is what they’re doing and they write to me every now and then and I just hold onto to them.”  So I try to make a point to write to him at critical points in my life.  When I was in grad school I wrote him a letter.  When I was in Denver I wrote him a letter, and at all of these other times. Because he pushed me. He helped me with my application.  I came to the College of Santa Fe thinking art is something I really like, as is Tennis.  I had no idea what art was in a sense.  I thought it was pretty pictures, paintings of grandma, or flowers.  Being there and seeing other people making kept me going.

L: Do you think you are born an artist or is it something that you become?

D: I think we’re probably born as artists. We are very creative as kids we’re playing, we’re experimenting we’re doing all of these other things. Sometimes we suppress it, some people do that but it doesn’t mean that it’s not present. When I was in China I gave a presentation and a student was like “Daisy, how do you do all of this stuff?” and I said, “I don’t know it’s me and you have something in you as well it’s just trying to figure out how to get it out and figuring out how it engages and communicates, it’s not going to be the same thing as me, it’s maybe going to be completely different but it’s in you.” I think we all have some creative entity within us that manifests in its own way.

L: Do you listen to music when you are making your art and who/what are you listening to right now.

D: I was actually just talking about this with an artist in resident. I can pull up my phone.  We were talking about podcasts. I listen to podcasts sometimes.  I do listen to music and I can give you some names.  So I listen to Latinos Who Lunch, Wait What’s Up, Café Con Pan. But he gave me, we were talking about this, Food 4 Thot.  I listen to music when I feel like I can’t read.  Who did I like that I’ve been listening to for a while? Nouvelle Vague, Gotan Project, I love Gloria Trevi.  Lido Pimienta . I listen to random messes of stuff and I’m bad at remembering names.  

You can learn more about the art of Daisy Quezada Ureña here:

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