In Tamara Becerra Valdez’s makeshift studio is a large box filled with cardboard tubes and rolled ephemera. The box itself is unremarkable, but the way Valdez has placed it in her studio—attached to the ceiling by a confounding rope-and-pulley system—is a fascinating decision. When I ask why the box is hung like this, she says, “I just needed to make some space in here.”
While not an artwork, Valdez’s ramshackle maneuvering of an object around the limits of her studio space speaks to her artistic practice of repurposing found materials. In her most recent exhibition at Chicago Artists Coalition, entitled “BUILD YOUR SELF” after a found motivational note, the BOLT Resident presents a body of sculptural works of found and building materials onto hung panels. Bathroom tiles become picture frames for party confetti or found notes; lottery scratch-offs adorn worn cabinet doors alongside a forgotten EPA bumper sticker that sloganeers for green initiatives past; domiciles are reconstructed as fragments, as home-building materials coalesce together in a second life as art objects. Valdez’s translations make these materials that lack tangible value into something invaluable.
Valdez’s works are not your typical twenty-first century bricolage, that fashionable glut of found art-for-art’s sake junk that lines art fairs and collector vaults. To be sure, many of Valdez’s works are sculpted psychogeography, ordering the wear and tear of the world into something personally resonant. These works read as something familiar but new, a Kurt Schwitters for the late-capitalist age, clean debris that pushes the viewer to question what they see in this art: ecstasy or ruin?
Her pieces are extraordinary in their juxtaposition of refuse and formal sculpture, and at least part of this comes from her feelings of personal contradictions. “I feel like a really complicated human. I feel like I juggle my identity as a Mexican American,” Valdez says. “My identity as a Mexican American being into the Grateful Dead, or hip-hop music, or certain fashions and things, and always going in and out of it and feeling very chameleon-like. In the end these works make me feel like I can feed into all the different parts of myself, and this hippie flower girl part of me can enjoy these pretty colors alongside the fade and wear of other colors.”
Although careful not to make work too driven by commitment to identity politics, the beauty of Valdez’s works is certainly in their fragmenting consensus, whether that be the final resting place of cast-off materials or the big ideas an artist must express. Perhaps most of all, what Valdez does is take the ephemeral out of time and puts it into space, resuscitating the ghosts of moments out of found materials into something that is uniquely hers. These works feel alive, and in their exquisite recombinations of the cast-off there is a poetic resonance toward the hopeful, a feeling that there might be some potential in this new pollution if we can just imagine it otherwise. (Chris Reeves)