Shotgun Reviews

Unflinching Facades: New Work by Carolina Borja and Jesse Matthew Petersen at Soo Visual Arts Center

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Camille Erickson reviews Unflinching Facades: New Work by Carolina Borja and Jesse Matthew Petersen at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis.

 Carolina Borja. Lucha, 2017; collage and acrylic; 12 x 10 in. Courtesy of Soo Visual Arts Center, Minneapolis.

Carolina Borja. Lucha, 2017; collage and acrylic; 12 x 10 in. Courtesy of Soo Visual Arts Center, Minneapolis.

In the exhibition Unflinching Facades at Soo Visual Arts Center, new collages by Carolina Borja and Jesse Matthew Peterson plunge into the amorphous archives of religious iconography and fashion. By employing mixed media and visual manipulation, Borja (the subject of this review) alters the concealed power structures beneath the sumptuous veneer of mass representation. In the series All of Them Us (2017), Borja injects appropriated images of saints to reconsider their importance outside of a prescribed religious order. Layered collages featuring Catholic saints with glowing, hand-painted halos, removed from their natural habitat, congregate on the wall. Borja prompts viewers to “choose a saint of inspiration,” and provides a table of accoutrements, including artificial branches, candles, and plastic crowns, inviting viewers to “search for symbols that pair well with their needs.” Against a lustrous blue backdrop in the gallery space, viewers can also strike a saintly pose while (as the wall texts suggests) “acknowledging the strengths you lack and empower yourself.”

In a corresponding video, Borja wears a crown of flowers and a red cloak, freezing her pose as if for a photograph. She breaks this arresting stillness with a smile, exposing the exaggerated nature of her actions. Typically, Catholicism maintains a stringent grasp on the tenets of tradition and guides many Mexican customs, but Borja envisions a renewed enactment of devotion by inserting her own body in a campy performance—and encourages viewers to do the same.

Through this participatory work, Borja offers a reverent, yet critical, reinterpretation of the collisions between Mexican culture, Catholicism, and popular culture. She fragments the identity of the saints, manipulating their respective purposes to empower the practicing individual instead—a form of disidentification. Proposed by cultural theorist José Esteban Muñoz, disidentification is a way to create performative acts that endow social agency to minority groups [1]. Occupying a hybridized space between the extremes of rejecting and accepting oppressive societal scripts, disidentification allows individuals to express themselves by inscribing their own identity into an artistic subject. Borja engages her own body and those of viewers with a reiteration of religious personas (typically relegated only to saints), consequently destabilizing the subjective patterns that regiment multivalent bodies.

By encouraging visitors to appropriate these objects for their own benefit and take a picture, Borja alters religious iconography by obfuscating its origins, instead advocating for informed mass participation. Conflating the sacred with the increasingly prolific platform of instantaneous dissemination of an image, Borja liberates the body from religious regiments. Borja assembles a work that interrupts unquestioned devotional practices by illuminating the value of interpolating one’s ever-fluctuating self into this lineage of tradition.

Unflinching Facades: New Work by Carolina Borja and Jesse Matthew Petersen will be on view through May 20, 2017.

 

As an arts writer and organizer living in Minneapolis, Camille Erickson is seeking ways to advance equity and justice in the arts. Her writing and projects have been published by MnArtists.org, Twin Cities Daily Planet, the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Soap Factory, the Star Tribune, and more.

[1] José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

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