about the exhibition
Willie Varela: Crossing Over: New Video Installations
El Paso, TX
April 15–July 13, 2003about the artist
Willie Varela’s photography, film, and video works convey a sense of pervasive emptiness in middle-class American life or, antithetically, cathartic spirituality and death. By portraying both the remarkable and the disturbing in our everyday existence, Varela asks the viewer to recall those things that should be life’s overarching concerns—commitment, purpose, and compassion.
Varela earned a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from The University of Texas at El Paso in 1996 and is presently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre Arts and Film at the University. He has exhibited and published widely and in 1994 was the subject of a mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY where he was also included in the Biennial Exhibitions of 1993 and 1995. The artist lives and works in El Paso, TX.
about the exhibition
In the Hudson (Show)Room, Willie Varela presents four new video installations. This Burning World, a double-channel projection, is an exploration of the transitional space where urban environments become something else, be it suburban, rural, or natural.
In Detritus, the Remix, a television monitor is encased in a hollow, white pillar and can be accessed visually, though not physically, and only through a pair of peepholes. Its companion piece, Night Walking, is also presented in this manner. In each, Varela simultaneously enshrines the TV set and makes it taboo; the pillar references both a Catholic confessional and a façade for an X-rated peep show. Business as Usual? Thoughts on the Events of September 11, 2001 explores the terrorist attacks on the U.S that took place in 2001.
The artist’s goal with the four works in this installation is to examine the moving image in ways that broaden the meanings and implications of an all too commonplace medium—one that we all live with but rarely investigate.
A self-taught filmmaker and photographer, Varela began creating images in 1971. In the early 1970s the artist read two essays: an interview with John Lennon in Rolling Stone in which Lennon spoke about the ease of creating 8 mm home movies, and a profile of avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage from the book An Introduction to the American Underground Film by Sheldon Renan. These two separate—and very personal—points of view inspired Varela to pick up a camera to explore and express his own vision.
Varela’s imagery has a personal edge, and his Mexican-American heritage plays into all of his work. He has said that as a young artist he wanted to create a visual language—not a filmic ‘Spanglish,’—but a vernacular that would “acknowledge the reality that a Chicano must always have one eye pointing north and the other pointing south, with the occasional luxury of both eyes actually gazing inward to the personhood that minorities are usually denied, and that we often deny ourselves.”
Willie Varela employs his own history, iconic imagery taken from cemeteries, and source material found in popular culture, television, and advertising media. By exploring what is familiar to him and relating it to the world he lives in—the largest international metroplex in the world (El Paso, TX and Juarez, Mexico), he is able to twist his experiences as a Chicano artist and a lapsed Catholic into universal themes, blending the personal and the political.
Originally presented at The University of Texas at El Paso and the El Paso Museum of Art, Crossing Over is the first major exhibition of Varela’s work to include both video installations and photographs. Crossing Over is accompanied by a four-color publication with essays by independent curator William R. Thompson and by Kate Bonansinga, Director of the Art Galleries at the University of Texas at El Paso. Following the presentation in San Antonio the exhibition will travel to the following venues: McKinney Avenue Contemporary, Dallas, TX September 13-October 26, 2003 and Mexic-Arte Museum, Austin, TX January-March, 2004.
Exhibition sponsors include: Texas Commission on the Arts; El Paso Museum of Art, TX; Main Gallery, Department of Art, The University of Texas at El Paso; College of Liberal Arts, The University of Texas at El Paso; Department of Chicano Studies, The University of Texas at El Paso; Department of Theater and Film, The University of Texas at El Paso; Department of Art, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM; and The City of El Paso Arts Resources Department.
Previous Artpace Exhibitions
Jul 8, 2004 Willie Varela