Mary Valverde’s work examines both the theory and aesthetics of diaspora, migration, and cultural resilience. She approaches art-making as creative research, exploring how objects are systemically arranged and collected, as well as how these materials can evoke memories in individuals and in communities. For Mary, the process of making is also the process of learning. Here she talks with us about the confluence of art, environment, materials, and space.
Olivia Roldan, Friends of Materials for the Arts: Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with Materials for the Arts? What was your initial connection to MFTA?
Mary Valverde: Originally, I was introduced to MFTA through my friend and colleague, Leslie Hewitt, who participated in a project at MFTA many years ago. I was then nominated for MFTA’s artist-in-residency program for 2014, which gave me a chance to reconnect with the space and all the great work that happens there.
OR: You were born and raised in New York City. How do you think growing up here has influenced your work, medium, process?
MV: Yes, I am very proud to be a Queens girl. Growing up in NYC makes you kind of tough, resourceful, and open to new experiences. This absolutely translates to how I approach making my work, the materials I use, and the creations I am inspired to transform.
OR: What do you most value about the art scene in NYC?
MV: NYC’s most valuable resource is its people. [New York] is always in flux; dynamic with overlapping communities. Everyone has a story, a gift, or a skill that they put in use to live and thrive. The community we build as artists [is] vital to the culture of the city. And it just keeps growing.
OR: What are the main themes you explore in your work?
MV: I am an interdisciplinary artist – I work in drawing, sculpture, installation, photo, video, performance, and writing. I see all of my work as research and a chronicling of patterns; gestures inspired by sacred geometry, science, and cultural traditions. [Both] learning and sharing play major parts in every aspect of my life.
OR: How will these themes be explored in the your upcoming Third Thursday: Catchers workshop at Materials for the Arts?
MV: I will be sharing some of the images and ideas that inspired my piece Catcher. Catcher is a large-scale work [7 ft. in diameter]. It was made with nails and strings – simultaneously a performance, a sculpture, and a drawing. The work was constructed by plotting a series of circles and degrees with the nails and completed by weaving the string through the nails in a symmetrical pattern, making connections with all the points in one continuous dance. Each variation of Catcher has the same plotted points, but the configuration will always be different.
OR: Your work seems to explore “environment” in a much deeper way beyond promoting a “go-green” aesthetic. The work instead speaks to the cultural memory in which multiple environments exist. How does this conceptual approach intersect with your practical concerns about the environmental impact of materials?
MV: The practical concerns are always there because New York City is a place where space itself is a luxury. Space has always directly influenced how I work and the materials I choose to work with. Therefore, many of my installations are made with natural ephemeral materials that are meant to expand and contract depending on the limitations of the physical space and architecture.
[These themes are explored] because of my personal history and cultural history. My parents migrated to NYC from Ecuador for economic reasons. Prior to that, my family had migrated from Peru to Ecuador for similar reasons. Land and natural resources are topics on the forefront of many communities in the Americas. My work talks about these things but it also talks about them conceptually in terms of their impact on memory, loss, transformation, space, and time.
OR: What do you think is the artist’s responsibility to the environment?
MV: I think everyone has a responsibility to the environment, not just artists. As a mother, it’s something that I think of often because I am very aware that what I choose to do and choose not to do will directly affect the resources that future generations inherit – [resources which] they deserve to enjoy.
Mary will be showing participants how to make mixed media ‘catchers’ out of yarn and wire at the Materials for the Arts’ Third Thursday workshop on February 20. This workshop is currently full; call the Education Center at 718-729-2150 for more information.View more of Mary’s installations and art works here.