I AM BOTH. I AM NEITHER.
I AM BOTH. I AM NEITHER. DISTRICT GALLERY, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
JULY 21 - AUGUST 19, 2018
Kristianne Molina's practice is a search for origins—the origins of color, fiber, and culture, their interwoven histories, their roles in the crafting of identity. Her hand dyed, lightweight works on fabric, often featuring red hues derived from cochineal, carry the density of complex narratives tracing the migration of people and goods. There is the story of the insect itself: Used as a fabric dye across Central and South America since Pre-Columbian times, it was then shipped across the world following Spain's colonization of the region. And then there is story of the artist's own migration, from the Philippines to the United States, from a once-colonized territory to the colonizing country. Some of her materials repeat this journey, like the woven abaca that she brings back periodically from across the Pacific.
Molina doesn't just look to the past, she brings it to a boil, into the present. Cooking down the cochineal insects is a slow affair, requiring a careful balance of ingredients and a tolerance for mishaps. To climb that learning curve has been a central part of the artist's process: the difficulties involved mirror the obstacles we face when trying to untangle the past, to find one's roots. After achieving a successful batch, Molina dips her fabrics into the dye, which sometimes includes different additives in order to attain a variety of hues. Many of the resulting works are spare, placing a primary emphasis on texture and color, and encouraging the viewer to ask questions about the objects' material qualities. If revitalizing ancient processes is the artist's way of better understanding history and herself, then the works themselves look to transfer that curiosity to the viewer.
In addition to her hands-on exploration, Molina has undertaken more traditional academic research to chart the journey of the cochineal bug across history. In a talk at the 2010 Textile Society of America titled Symposium Tracing Cochineal Through the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum, conservator and scholar Elena Phipps and research scientist Nobuko Shibayama point out that "cochineal, along with gold and silver, was considered by the Spanish, after their arrival in the 16th century to the Americas, as one of the great treasures of the New World. [...] Heralding the age of global trade in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, cochineal was shipped throughout the world."
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One route went from the Americas to Spain, continuing into Northern and Western Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. "Another route left from Acapulco, Mexico and Lima, Peru along the Pacific route with the Manila galleons —the fleets of Spanish ships—that travelled to the Philippines—and from there to Canton with the exchange of American silver and cochineal, for Asian silks and porcelains," explain Phipps and Shibayama.
This connection to the Philippines during the colonial era was an important discovery for Molina; it draws a direct line between the dye and her own heritage. Yet she knows better than to try and oversimplify a complex tale; she is interested in connecting the dots only to show that they are scattered across the map, that we are all caught in a seemingly infinite web. In Our Portrait, a found frame with the geometric patterning characteristic of Islamic art offers a subtle nod to the spread of Islam in the Philippine archipelago in the 1300s, before the Christianization that occurred under Spanish rule. It is yet another dot on the map, another detail in the patchwork that Molina is sewing together. To search for the elemental makeup of something is to break it down to its smallest parts, to turn something that appears whole into a constellation of ingredients. Molina's work invites this kind of scrutiny—we can follow along the seams that connect different fabrics, notice the weave of the textiles, and differentiate between the various hues that have been absorbed by the fibers. The works, just like the artist behind them, are a multicultural mosaic, and they are here to remind us that no one is from a single place, that we have all traveled.
Noémie Jennifer June 25, 2018