- Johanna Unzueta born 1974
- Graphite and pastel on paper, acrylic and wood
- Object: 1284 × 1218 × 220 mm
- Purchased with funds provided by the Knapping Fund 2019
April, May 2018 NY 2018 is a drawing in pastel and watercolour on a large-format rectangular piece of watercolour paper, mounted horizontally between two Perspex panels. It is set into a base formed from a single wooden beam, underlining the sculptural character of the work. For the symmetrical composition, the artist has used round shapes reminiscent of floral textile patterns. In the left part of the drawing, a flower-like form extends in gray and pink over the height of the sheet; it faces two red circles bordered by an oval in blue on the right side of the composition. This is one of a group of free-standing geometric drawings in Tate’s collection by the Chilean artist Johanna Unzueta (see also November 2017, January 2018 NY 2018, Tate T15158, and April, May 2016 NY 2016, Tate T15157). The final appearance of the drawings is the outcome of a complex process that includes dyeing the paper with natural pigments and puncturing it with needle holes. The title of each work refers to the time and place where it was made, so that this particular work was made between April and May 2018 in New York city where the artist is based.
Unzueta’s work is characterised by an engagement with traditional crafts, particularly those of her native Chile. As an apprentice to an indigenous Mapuche woman in her rural southern Chile, she learned techniques such as weaving, spinning and dyeing, which she uses in direct and modified ways in her own work. Thus when colouring her drawing sheets with indigo and other natural dyes, she uses a traditional manual technique. Unzueta’s preoccupation with textiles and textile-based processes is also evident within the composition of her drawings. To create the shapes of the oval, circular and geometrical forms in drawings such as this one, she uses embroidery hoops from her extensive collection; the resulting designs sometimes resemble textile patterns or woollen threads. By puncturing her paper and presenting them as three-dimensional structures, she further underlines the object quality of her drawings. Curator Fabiana Lopes has described how these gestures link Unzueta’s art to an indigenous practice: ‘Unzueta inscribes traces of indigenous craft practices into the history of art, disrupting distinctions between art and craft, the traditional and the contemporary, while maintaining critical engagement with the idea of progress, notions of labor [sic.], and their implications of human existence.’ (Lopes 2018, p.36.)
The distinct appearance of the display structure chosen by the artist for such drawings resembles and refers to the exhibition design of the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914–1992). Her acclaimed invention of glass easel structures with a concrete base on which to display paintings became the key characteristic of the main gallery in the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, where they were first used at the museum’s opening in 1969. The display was intended to promote a closer engagement with the art on the part of the viewer and to create a less elite form of display (Sabrina Moura, ‘The Re-enactment of Lina Bo Bardi’s Display for the São Paulo Museum of Art [1968–2015]’, in Between the Discursive and the Immersive, Stedelijk Studies Issue #4, Spring 2016, https://stedelijkstudies.com/journal/reenactment-lina-bo-bardis-display-sao-paulo-museum-art-1968-2015/, paragraph 12, accessed 12 October 2018). Unzueta adapts this concept in a fashion that also allows her to link her drawings with her sculptural practice. Thus, as well as connecting sculpture with drawing and textiles, her work embeds traditional arts and crafts within a contemporary fine art practice.
Johanna Unzueta. El Jardin de Psyche, exhibition catalogue, Galeria Gabriela Mistral, Santiago de Chile, 2 September–21 October 2016.
Fabiana Lopes, ‘Johanna Unzueta’, in 10th Berlin Biennale of Contemporary Art, exhibition catalogue, Berlin, 9 June–9 September 2018, p.36.
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