The art of escape

My memory of the relentless winter of 2018 will be that it continued on and on, vengefully adding that one little ice storm the second week of April. However, I was on a countdown to leaving for a week-long escape to Mexico. The weather may have been hard to ignore but I was dreaming of not being weighed down by layers of coats and sweaters and feeling the sun on my skin.

My husband Scott and I have been traveling to Mexico since 1992, which means 26 years of exploring the interior through public transportation such as bus, collectivo, and train. We will never forget that first trip when we took the train through the states of Michoacán and Leon, stopping in Morelia, Patzcuaro, and Guanajuato, then traveling back to Mexico City where we caught the train to Oaxaca, meeting lifelong friends Robert Forman and Robin Schwartz. There are so many stories about these years of travel and changes within Mexico, such as the discontinued train service and increased flights to outlying regions, but I’m getting caught up in the past – what I am writing about today is escaping to a place that is filled with art and communities that engage with art that focus on enjoying a good life.

This time, we had initially planned a trip to Mexico City, but hearing that our friends Rick and Oscar had never been to Oaxaca, we all booked an extra flight to Oaxaca to share travel experiences of Oaxaca.

When I remember our travels, the best discoveries, most delicious food, and stunning art comes to mind. However, I am no romantic. I also remember the difficulties and challenges, like navigating one of the largest airports in the world with poor directional signage. Departing from Mexico City that morning, there were several lines filled with epic switchbacks of humanity pushing huge, bulging suitcases. We made our way into the right line creeping along for 40 minutes and just as we made our way to the fourth set of switchbacks into the bag check area, we were pulled from the line by an airline employee announcing, Oaxaca! As the lines re-organized themselves into those traveling to Oaxaca and those going elsewhere, we realized another 30 minutes had passed and the boarding time was 30 minutes away. No worries, we thought, all we have to do is check this suitcase and go through security.

After checking the suitcase, we were told to go through the security line directly next to us – we were stunned to see the line snaking down to the end of the terminal. We gamely walked to the end of the line when we heard a shout, “Oaxaca” and an airline employee ran up the ramp leading 25 persons at a brisk trot. We ran after them for around ten minutes and saw that we had been led to the International boarding security gate with fewer people in line. We made it through security and looked around – all of our fellow runners for Oaxaca were gone and we now nervously looked for our boarding gate called “T1.”

At the Mexico City airport, all the gates are numbered – we asked airport employees where gate T1 was, they thought there was a language error and checked the reader board – yes, T1. Some of the airport staff pointed in a direction trying to be helpful, others pointed in the opposite direction – we ran and ran, back and forth, and my step tracker recorded over two miles in that terminal. Finally, we found gate T1, upstairs one-half floor next to a pizza franchise – the gate had closed two minutes prior – we had missed our flight.

That was when we discovered there were not many flights to Oaxaca, at least not that day. We could have bought a one-way ticket for four times the price on a major airline, but that didn’t seem like a real option. All of our past travel experience had given us the tools to get to Oaxaca today – we took a taxi to the TAPO bus station and boarded an ADO bus to Oaxaca at 11:00 a.m. The seven and a half hour bus trip seemed somewhat bitter, but we thought at least we’d be in Oaxaca tonight in time for dinner.IMG_20180427_150307.jpg

The ADO Executivo bus service is clean and rather spacious, with reclining seats, restroom, and drop down screens with fascinating movies on them. As we traveled further south from Mexico City, we enjoyed the scenery of the high desert near the area of Tehuacán, seeing Joshua Trees and desert flowers similar to the area of Southern California where we all spent our childhoods.

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Mountains with cactus on the way to Oaxaca.

The final few hours of the bus ride takes you over a windy mountainous road – about 30 minutes into this road our bus driver pulls the bus over, stops and gets out of the bus. Sitting at the back of the bus, I see him open an engine cover and have a discussion with another man – I thought, this can’t be good. The driver gets back on the bus and tells us that the bus cannot go onward due to mechanical difficulties. He will try to contact ADO bus company to have everyone picked up.

One thing I have noticed as a traveler in Mexico is when news like this happens, people may be disappointed, but there is a communal sense that we’ll all get through this just fine. People got up out of their seat and strolled about outside, unpacked snacks, and we admired the moonflower bushes and rock cliffs on the roadside. We watched our bus driver try to scramble up a rock cliff in a valiant attempt to get a signal on his cell phone to make that phone call.

Another thing I have noticed as a traveler in Mexico is that everyone will work together: the bus driver flagged down passing buses and everyone stopped to find out if they could help, take some passengers, or promise to call someone when they got to Oaxaca. The remaining passengers began to diminish as they got seated on each passing bus. After several buses stopped we were finally squeezed into a bus that delivered us to a station in Oaxaca a couple of hours later.

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Thought this looked like an Edvard Munch-inspired face, but it is simply waterdrops when it began to rain.

While this was not the adventure we had planned, we met some new people and had good conversations, like Quetzalcoatl (just call him Quetzal) who is studying to be a medical technologist and was going home for a holiday, or Sara, the young Australian woman traveling to Oaxaca for the first time by herself. When we finally arrived at our lodgings, we felt fortunate and looked forward to dinner that night in Oaxaca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Art & Catalytics

In science, catalytics speed up a chemical reaction while undergoing no permanent change. Recently this premise is actively being tested at the Arts Mid-Hudson gallery – two Hudson Valley curators Emilie Houssart and Xuewu Zheng are launching a series of artistic dialogues through group art exhibitions. Houssart explained that this is facilitated “by getting artists together so that we might ‘collide’ with each other in interesting ways.”

LMRblogJinkookAltogether, eight artists are exhibiting work that could be wildly diverse without this premise. For instance, in Jinkook Hwang’s “Sushi Nam Yeo” series, rice is seen as the object of happiness and love, stemming from his cultural background. In “Couple Sushi,” the artist draws a man and woman resting on a bed of rice that has been magnified to signify its importance in his life.

 

Hayoon Jay Lee, Silent Witness (detail)
Silent Witness I, (detail) Hayoon Jay Lee

Hayoon Jay Lee also creates work responding to food, which can be seen in many of her performance pieces and artworks. Hayoon said, “I try to communicate the tension points surrounding personal conflicts and social inequities. However, a central core and a function my work is an active collaboration by artists to inform and support underserved communities.” Hayoon exhibits “Silent Witness I,” where viewers can consider the artist’s rendition of a beautifully rounded spoon, filled to the brim with rice and contemplate the idea of what is enough.

 

Emilie Houssart and Xuewu Zheng both use their artistic practice to make sense of contemporary culture. With Zheng’s practice of rolling and tying newspapers, the work reflects his fascination with history and the idea that we create a new history as we live our lives. Zheng’s practice can be summed up in his succinct statement about his work: “My goal is to take the treasures of the people in my left hand and the masters of yesterday in my right hand and to clasp them together. I then want to blend them to create the Zheng Xuewu of today.” His installation “Century Text” placed in the center of the gallery features thousands of pages rolled and tied, reminding us that history is made up of thousands of tiny details from each day.Xuewu Zheng, Century Text

Emilie Houssart, Spaces
Spaces – Emilie Houssart

 

Houssart’s work “Spaces” responds to the different perceptions of value in society. Similar to Zheng, Houssart has a darkly humorous approach to contemporary culture, adding it all into the mix and allowing everything to exist side by side in a vaguely chaotic presentation.

Marieken Cochius exhibits her recent ink and shellac drawings on paper. The artist may be influenced by the natural world: her abstraction of color and bold line stands out as a direct emotional response articulated with paper and inks. While Cochius presents ethereal line and shading, Leigh Williams exhibits “Vessels,” two forms that can be viewed as positive and negative space. The hand-built wood-fired clay has delicate colorations that defy their dark, organic shapes.

Joe Radoccia’s larger than life portraits show a dignity and gravitas in each face. Each portrait features underpainting in the background that adds to the depth and nuance of each face. Radoccia places the soul of each person on display using a grand scale and the direct gaze of the subject.Joe Radoccia, 'Joe Weber'

Sumi Pak examines human emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, and curiosity through his daily portraits of his cat, Kopi. Pak’s gestural line and colorations describe the ordinary life of his cat, and perhaps our own lives as we go about our daily business.


This essay was originally published in print:  the Poughkeepsie Journal – March 10, 2017 Sumi Pak, Getting to Know You