The Arts Exchange
750 Kalb Street, SE, Atlanta, GA 30312
Artist Talk, Jessica Caldas
Saturday, June 16th
11:00 pm to 2:00 pm
The solo exhibition, “Object and experience,” will finish its run on June 16th, with an informal talk given by the artist, Jessica Caldas. Caldas is a printmaker who studied at The University of Georgia, before working with the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Association. The show displays a series of provocative prints and showcases a challenging installation piece, all of which explores the traumatic potential in everyday objects. The images themselves are not disturbing, but the narrative of domestic abuse underlying the images reveal the hidden experience and pain under the surface.
Caldas fell into her current work in which she assists survivors of domestic abuse with obtaining protective orders and housing by chance. An interest in volunteering and community involvement transformed a part time data entry position into a full time commitment of leadership. While working to enter data about clients, Caldas felt a detachment in the numbers and letters that represented human lives. This is a consistent theme in her work, revealing the untold human story behind a mundane facade.
Jessica Caldas is no stranger to duality or the complexity of family relationships. Caldas claims that growing up with a twin sister was formative, shaping her ability to relate to others. Early in her life this meant that she constantly had someone to draw with and make stories with. Later, she realized that she tended to form intense relationships with people she cared about, sometimes to the exclusion of other connections. In college Caldas would form her identity through a larger community and a culturally diverse set of experiences. One pivotal example of this is joining AIESEC an international student organization whose goal was, in her words, basically to promote world peace through business. She also spent a year in Japan studying abroad and made friends through the club. Caldas estimates that she attended at least ten regional and national conferences through AIESEC.
After school she craved a meaningful way to be involved in her community which eventually led to a commitment to the AVLF, specifically addressing domestic violence. As mentioned above this began with data entry. Race, age, sex and incidents of violence were transformed into data, numbers and symbols written in a report. This process which was supposed to be about helping people, was mediated, given a level of remove.
As her involvement expanded, she began visiting the courthouse where she heard devastating stories first hand. Survivors told stories of household bleach poured all over their clothes. A husband’s belt became a torture device, when it was used to beat a wife or child. This directly lead to the narrative of her work in Objects and Experience. Her series of prints,"21 Objects" display the many faces of objects, mundane one minute violent the next, the silhouette of shapes becomes a postmodern gesture. The void where house keys used to be tells a story; their outline looks like a weapon.
This intimate, traumatic experience of transformations find a climax in the piece "Vanessa, Age 11." Within a claustrophobic closet of a space, this installation allows you to hear forty five minutes of verbal abuse while showing you how it was recorded, a Fisher Price video cassette device intended to play children’s songs. This device becomes an artifact of pain, this installation becomes a reenactment of the little girls horror. Perhaps most poignant is the fact that the recording doesn't capture physical abuse on tape, but does capture its threat in the menace of the male voice. The final twist of the knife is learning the ultimate fate of this family after this recording was found.
Installation is new direction for Caldas’s work, but a natural compliment to her printmaking. Similarly, the use of text in her piece called, “Love Notes,” is novel. Although she was worried that it would be too heavy handed, displaying survivor’s quotes, It was deemed by those in attendance as one of the most successful pieces.
Caldas claims her style is not to craft technically superior prints, but a process driven means of painting and drawing within the print medium. By mixing colors and producing monotypes she discovers her compositions. Sometimes she begins by mixing colors, that look like garish. Then by carving blocks and layering images she allows the subject matter and narrative to reveal itself. This doesn't come preordained, but is rather improvisational. The coincidences sometimes produce something perfect. The monotype, wood-carved prints, with their mustard yellows and ketchup reds bring to mind children's toy blocks. This connection matches the show thematically.
This idea of improvisational creation reaches a whole other level of finish when you consider her companion piece in another show at BEEP BEEP Gallery. Create, Destroy, Rebuild is a group exhibition that asks artists to create a piece, destroy that piece and then rebuild it. In Jessica Caldas’ case, she took a print from her solo show, cut it into strips and then reassembled it.
For all the violent and traumatic implications in her work, this most recent series perhaps reveals a chance for hope. While Object and Experience asks the audience to see the horror in everyday things within the context of an abusive domestic relationship, the Create, Destroy, Rebuild show offers the chance to rebuild after violence. As Caldas explains, often times survivors of abuse cling desperately to hope that their partners can change, become rehabilitated or that broken homes can be repaired. Sometimes hope is found while rebuilding.