Artists Build a Lush Landscape Where Diversity Takes Root

In this lush setting where water lilies grow, multiple races, sexualities, classes, and desires can coexist.

Beatriz Cortez and Rafa Esparza: Pasado mañana, installation view, at Commonwealth and Council (all images courtesy Commonwealth and Council)

LOS ANGELES — There are flowers growing at Pasado mañana, Beatriz Cortez and Rafa Esparza’s exhibition currently on view at Commonwealth and Council. Water lilies in red buckets reach for the ceiling of a plastic-encased, makeshift greenhouse; pothos in planters spread their leaves along a wall; succulents and red cactus buds sprout from a cardboard Coca-Cola box that itself appears to grow downward from the ceiling and from which strings of old photographs dangle. Next to the cacti is an old phone that looks, and feels, mummified. Something about this particular piece reminds me of a reliquary, but also of a time capsule, constructed as much for the memories as for its eventuate rediscovery by a future civilization.

Beatriz Cortez and Rafa Esparza, “Trópico Nomad” (2018) (detail), water lilies and other aquatic plants, fish, water, glass, plastic, lava, river rocks, pebbles, PVC pipes

Esparza and Cortez —along with Rubén Rodriguez, Brenzy Solorzano, Fabián Guerrero, Sebastián Hernández, María Maea, and Gabriela Ruiz, six queer artists invited by Esparza — have created a simulacrum of a lush future, where multiple races, sexualities, classes, and desires can coexist. In a rich installation by Rodriguez, found wood, clay, and womb-like effigies are attached to the wall, and old clothes — donated to him by the Los Angeles queer community — wrap around sticks. I thought of the poetic adage about vintage clothing: that you’re enrobed with the stories of the outfits’ previous owners, re-inhabiting and imbuing them with a new life.

Beatriz Cortez and Rafa Esparza: Pasado mañana, installation view, at Commonwealth and Council

The cultivation of water lilies alludes to the agricultural labor taken on by immigrants, by ancient Mayan peoples, and, eventually, by bodies in the future. Esparza and Cortez present a vision of a more diverse, utopian future: a triumph over colonial forces, who have downplayed the significance of labor and the rebirth it symbolizes. “The Mayan king Pakal wore water lilies in his headdress,” reads the show’s accompanying text, “symbolizing the rivers, streams, and waterfalls that would run in his kingdom, but also its technological advances in the field of agriculture.” Labor and growth are ways of honoring the present-day landscape, but they also contribute to the environment of an unseen future, one in which the flowers, hopefully, are growing.

Gabriela Ruiz, “Reflexión” (2018), furniture, insulating foam, spray paint

And so Cortez’s “The Argonaut: after Pakal” (2018) speaks to what comes later. The steel structure, which nearly scrapes the ceiling, is a kind of spaceship (a common motif in her work), and it seems to come from the same future imagined by the water lilies. Maea’s “From ancient matter, she takes form” (2018), an altar made of plants, branches, mirrors, and crystals, feels both futuristic and ancient — not only in its aesthetic, but in the ideas it evokes about construction and labor, and who’s doing the building or praying. One might be viewing an archaeological site, or impressions left by the beings inhabiting Cortez’s spaceship, but sacred work was undertaken here.

Fabián Guerrero, “JOSEFINA” (2018), inkjet print, frame

In Hernández’s beautiful video, “Brown Zero,” a collaboration with Brenda Guevara, the artist’s own identity is made fluid: video game fighters, voguers, laser lights, and explosions all form a strange self-portrait — the point being, of course, that sometime from now, who you are — who I am — is of your own making and nobody else’s.

“Pasado mañana” means the day after tomorrow, though its literal translation is “after tomorrow has passed.” The idea of tomorrow is anxiety-inducing, but Pasado mañana, which seems to recall an imagined architectural site from a distant realm, is a balm, precisely because, in this space, tomorrow’s small unknowns are tended to like flowers.

Pasado mañana continues at Commonwealth and Council (3006 West 7th St #220, Los Angeles) through March 3.

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