graphite rubbing of reproduced inscription from El Morro National Monument, NM Don Juan de Oñate, Governor
bottom: woodcut , San Ysidro Catholic Church, San Ysidro, NM built approx. 1940’s
What's your personal relationship to New Mexico?
My parents lived in Albuquerque for a long time, and during the holidays I would visit them. We would go on road trips traversing the state, which easily convinced me to move to Santa Fe in 2008. I’ve been living in New Mexico on and off since then. The history of the state—specifically the conquista and reconquista by Spain, independence and becoming northern México, and then being incorporated into the United States by the U.S. Army—was my motivation to live in New Mexico and try my best to understand an extraordinary past. I believe New Mexico is the most unique state in the country, not only because of its renowned landscape, but because of its culture and traditions. I am Venezuelan and my work is rooted in researching the origins of the New World and the consequent development of the modern Americas. Since my first visit to New Mexico I felt a strong connection to the churches, ancient sites, and vast open distances traveled, which I think help answer many of the questions I have about my trajectory and that of my ancestors—particularly about religion, spirituality, borders, migration, and displacement.
How did you come to the idea of juxtaposing bark beetle markings, colonizer graffiti, and churches together?
The idea came from a trip to El Morro National Monument in New Mexico. That is where I saw the Spanish inscriptions carved right into the sandstone rock face. I had never seen anything like that before—physical, handmade evidence of the conquista in the United States. I thought, why isn’t this a popular tourist destination? Like the historic Spanish churches and missions are throughout the state— there are guided tours to see them. I also remember thinking, why did the Spanish generals, governors, missionaries, and soldiers carve messages here at El Morro and not into the adobe walls of the churches and missions they constructed? Then everyone would see the inscriptions today. I quickly realized that they probably did, but those original churches and missions were either destroyed or rebuilt several times over. I wondered what effect the carvings would have on people visiting New Mexico if they were more accessible? That’s when I decided to bring the structures and the inscriptions together in the form of relief prints—to preserve and show a record of the decaying buildings and of the writings on sandstone. The Bark Beetle rubbings follow that same logic of preservation as fires continue to burn away the forests in New Mexico. In a way I’m creating an archive of invasive species that deface New Mexico’s landscape, and at the same time, participating in the tradition of New Mexico block printing. Treating the Spanish churches and missions as a form of mark making on the land, I am able to juxtapose the three individual entities and suggest the similarity of their character. Visually they become the same language: materially, as hand carved surfaces, and conceptually, as detrimental forces.
graphite rubbing of reproduced inscription from El Morro National Monument, NM Ramon Garcia Jurado, Spanish soldier
bottom: woodcut , Iglesia de San José de Gracia, Las Trampas, NM , built 1760
How did you make the rubbings of the conquistador texts and beetle markings?
This is a funny story. I thought that the National Park Service would have no problem with me making direct rubbings of the inscriptions from the rock face at El Morro National Monument. It turns out I was wrong. I guess it wasn’t a good idea to create friction on 400 year old text. As a result, I took photographs of the inscriptions which I later converted into vector files. I was then able to laser engrave them on masonite in order to make rubbings on paper using graphite. In contrast, I was able to make direct rubbings of the Bark Beetle egg galleries on-site. There are fallen tree trunks with elaborate Bark Beetle markings all throughout the Sangre de Cristo Mountain hiking trails. I would hike for hours looking for good examples of Bark Beetle egg galleries on trunks with paper and graphite ready to make rubbings. I scanned the rubbings I made on paper in the field and also converted them into vector files for laser engravings on masonite. With laser engraved plates of both the inscriptions and the Bark Beetle egg galleries, I can arrange them on the same paper that the woodblocks of the carved churches will be printed on.
graphite rubbing of Bark beetle egg gallery Sangre de Cristo Mountains
bottom: woodcut , Nuestra Señora de la Luz Church, Canoncito, NM built 1880
How much research do you do on the churches?
Quite a bit. It is absolutely necessary for me to visit each church in person and take my own photographs of it for reference. In 35mm black and white film and digital. I also want to make sure that none of the churches that I document are on Pueblo land. Most of the truly historically significant, fabled, formidable, still standing and operational churches and missions of New Mexico are on Pueblo land. I do not, in any way, want to disturb or use those spaces for the purposes of my work or this project. One could argue that all of the churches and missions from this project are on indigenous land, however, I try to be as careful and conscious as possible to only access the buildings that are open to the public and on New Mexico state roads. I also read books about the conquista, and about the American Frontier Wars, for example, the relación by Cabeza de Vaca, the journals of Bandelier, and the journal of Lieutenant James H. Simpson to name a few. These books describe very vividly the New Mexico landscape, and more importantly, they try to imagine and portray the everyday life of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas before and after the conquista. Within those narratives there is always the discovery and mention of specific Spanish churches and missions, and of the inscriptions at El Morro, which archeologists found while retracing the steps of the conquistadores. Those are the same routes I try to follow on my visits to the structures. Growing up Catholic I am well acquainted with the church and its mass. When I spend time near the churches, I say near because the majority of their gates and doors are locked, I immediately feel comfort and also anxiety simultaneously. I take a moment to reflect not only on my experience with religion, but also with the historical context I have learned about each location and its surrounding landscape.
Is this series complete?
No. I am currently carving 9 more churches and missions, and I am still exploring the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to find more Bark Beetle egg galleries. In total there will be 15 church and mission woodblock prints, 11 inscription rubbings, and 4 Bark Beetle egg gallery rubbings. They will be editioned and housed in a cloth clamshell box with a writing component and colophon. I am also excited about the possibility of a frontispiece.