(b. San Diego, California, USA)
noé olivas is a Southern California-based artist. Through printing making, sculpture, and performance, he investigates the poetics of labor. He considers the relationship between labor as it fits into the conceptions of femininity and masculinity in order to play with and reshape cultural references, narratives, myths, traditions, and objects, ultimately employing a new meaning. olivas received his BA in Visual Arts from the University of San Diego in 2013 and is currently an MFA candidate at University of Southern California. He lives and works in South Central, Los Angeles, CA.
My work for the past 6 years has been a meditation on what I call the poetics of labor. Growing up in a first-generation Mexican American, working-class family home, I inherited a particular idea of what it means to perform hard labor. The grueling toughness of labor—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spirituality—is an integral part of my art making process. There are times I, as a laborer, forget that my practice as an independent artist is akin to the work that my family and other immigrant families do to simply keep food on the table and a roof over the heads of our loved one. I believe the labor we endure is an act of love, something that I continuously channel through my work. What keeps the spirit (el ánimo as we say) in the motion is believing in the beauty that hard labor can create through the collective effort.
Using the platform of fine art, my work allows for a reflection for the working-class community. I seek to confront the invisibility of labor by facing it with people from the community through collaboration, discussion, intervention, or celebration. I often use my family’s personal archive and other found domestic or utilitarian objects and materials to construct sculptures, drawings, prints, and live performance to create a connecting point of familiarity. Additionally, in my work I take into consideration the relationship between labor as it fits into the conceptions of femininity and masculinity in order to play with and reshape cultural references, narratives, myths, traditions, and objects, ultimately employing a new meaning.
In my current project entitled breaking bread, I am developing conversations with day laborers, particularly those that utilize the Home Depot in Los Angeles, California as a gathering place to seek work. I engage with them by offering them pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) and coffee, using my vehicle’s tailgate as a serving station. This vehicle, a 1987 white Ford Ranger, has been passed down through my family and was originally my father’s primary work vehicle, used to haul work materials like wheelbarrows and lumber, which is something I have continued to do to this day. Through the gesture of breaking bread, I hope to create a safer space to affirm confidence, certainty, and comfort with those from the community—in other words, earning trust and building relationships. We engage in insightful and meaningful conversation about labor, money, family, desires, life, etc. I am interested in listening to their stories, and with consent, documenting it through the process of printmaking. I will reimburse them for their time to make a print of their boot sole on art paper. The work becomes an official record of time, location, occupation, class, and most importantly their presences. My approach to printmaking is non-traditional. I create new method to print the objects I’m interested and also using the natural pigments/ stains the object collects over its usage, such soil, grease, and motor oil. Through the utilization and manipulation of the material, I attempt to connect the image back to source labor.
In addition to object and printmaking I have been challenging myself to utilize live performance to embody labor and connect with the community. A notable live performance I have done was with my collaborator Patrisse Cullors at Hauser & Wirth Gallery in Los Angeles. In the performance, we create a ritualistic healing ceremony using salt, honey water, swisher sweets, and marijuana. We both took on a shamanistic, messenger character to bring awareness of the dangerous times we are living in and the importance of being connected. Through this performance I mimic the image of the Sleeping Mexican, a stereotypical character sold as souvenirs that is meant to represent the Southwestern region between the United States and México. These figures are commonly made out of ceramic and can be used as planters, something I hope to explore further within my practice. Although this image has a deeply oppressive history, some people have recontextualized it, giving it a new meaning. For me, that is the meditative thinker and healer.
Untitled (It’s dangerous times. We have to be connected.)
In collaboration with Patrisse Cullors
In Response: Zoe Leonard’s ‘I want a president’
Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, November 3, 2018
Photo courtesy of smg-photography / Sarah M. Golonka