LOS ANGELES — Above the entrance of Guadalupe Rosales’s exhibition, East of the River, is a tilted mirror with the phrase “Un Rinconcito en el Cielo [A Little Corner of Heaven]” hand-painted across it in gothic script. Adorned with a dangling pair of furry plush dice and a blinking LED light border, it reflects the corridor behind that you’ve just passed through and acts as a harbinger for what’s to come as you cross into the gallery: an exhibition of memory, chance, and grief, all encased in nostalgia.
Best known for her expansive online archival projects — “Veteranas and Rucas” and “Map Pointz” (both 2015), celebrations of ’80s and ’90s Latinx youth culture developed in reaction to the erasure of these histories in Southern California — Rosales’s second exhibition at Commonwealth and Council focuses on the artist’s personal experience of her native East Los Angeles. Hung around the gallery walls are six framed photographs taken at night. In three of these, “Nicola’s,” “el cine” and “home” (all works 2022), we see closed doorways of a strip club, a theatre, and a domestic space. These unopened portals represent memories we as viewers are unable to enter, offering a narrative only accessible to figures in Rosales’s life. Yet because of their mystery, they pique a curiosity — behind these thresholds could be a new or alternate reality. In the other photographs are sites or objects in disrepair: a burnt-out building in Hollenbeck Park cast in a pink hue, a defaced and disintegrating Smurf mural, and a static lowrider propped up on a bejeweled stand. These vandalized, dilapidated, and broken subjects reveal the neglect of a city and the threat of the night, speaking also to the instability of memory and the archive.
Elsewhere, a freestanding two-way mirror is installed with LED lights to create the illusion of an endless passageway. Between the two glass sheets are versions of objects already present in the exhibition; fixed in this chamber are a Smurf figurine, and a pair of dice that appear to be perpetually rolling. Etched into one surface of the work are dates, symbols, and names of friends who are deceased or absent. On the alternate side is a rendering of the sock and buskin — the Greek symbols for comedy and tragedy — opposing genres in storytelling and understood to be the extremes of the narrative framing of human experience. “Lucky” echoes this iconography with a different paradox; one side represents an eternity and the other our own short and vulnerable lives. Its title suggests a certain optimism, but one that is bound in time and chance.
Etched, too, with tributes to Rosales’s community is another mirror in “90022 (Leonard Ave),” named after an address in East Los Angeles, an area undergoing rapid change and gentrification. On the surface and around its bespoke frame, the engravings come in and out of view like spectres. Analogous to tattoos, they’re born into the surface. And like grief, they’re permanent. A moiré mesh distorts the glossy surface of the mirror, the materiality of the work obfuscating a clear reading. The screen blocks a definite view, refusing to provide a “complete image” or the full story.
Archives, like memories, are prone to decay, fracture, and rearrangement, continuously in process. In East of the River, Rosales captures a material response to a city wherein her memories are held within an ever-changing landscape. A site of both mourning and reverie, the exhibition conveys a wistful hopefulness for the future, one that Rosales will continue to capture in her own idiosyncratic way.
East of the River continues at Commonwealth and Council (3006 West 7th Street, Suite 220, Koreatown, Los Angeles) through June 25. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.