Since the 1970s Willie Varela has worked with photography, film, and video, using source material found in popular culture to recontextualize personal histories. The resulting works convey a sense of emptiness by exposing the overabundance of media images and the potential of consumerism to misdirect human desires.
Recently Varela has turned toward investigations of the moving image and its profound effect on the public. In Detritus, the Remix (1989/2002) viewers are forced to reckon with their intimate relationship to television. The installation requires them to look through a pair of peepholes in order to see Varela’s 1989 film Detritus. The struggle to gain access to the images—which depict death, fire-eaters, wrestlers, violent sections of cartoons, and gruesome scenes from Hollywood movies—symbolizes the consumer’s struggle to escape loneliness, as well as the futile search for fulfillment in goods and services. In this work, as in others, Varela implicates both the consumer and the media industry in perpetuating a system of empty promises.
Willie Varela was born in 1950 in El Paso, TX, where he currently lives and works. He earned a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies in 1996 from The University of Texas at El Paso, where he presently serves as Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre Arts and Film. Solo exhibitions include a mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (1994) and Crossing Over which originated as a collaborative project between the El Paso Museum of Art, TX and the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at El Paso and traveled to Artpace and Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, San Antonio, TX (2003). Group exhibitions include The Perfect World: Contemporary Texas Artists, San Antonio Museum of Art, TX (1991); Whitney Biennial, New York, NY (1993, 1995); and Big as Life: An American History of 8mm Film, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1998).