Sarah Wheat interviews Yvette Mayorga
S: I want to ask you about your background generally. How did you end up at grad school at SAIC? Where are you from?
Y: So, I’m from Monee, Illionis, which is two and a half hours northwest of Chicago. It’s a super small town, like 40,000 people. I went to undergrad at the University of Illinois in Champagne and I got my undergrad in painting. While I was preparing for my BFA show, I was applying for graduate school at the same time. I got this inkling to come. I had wanted to come here for undergrad, but it’s really expensive. I thought, maybe I should wait and try again for grad school and then I thought, okay this is it. I’m going to try and I just applied here, nowhere else. I was like, if I don’t get in, it’s fine. I’ll wait a year, but then I ended up getting in!
During my senior year, I started experimenting more with sculptures and fiber. I stopped painting completely, which was something really different. I had always done oil painting. Undergrad was a super strict and formal painting school. You just do painting and that’s it. There’s no sort of leeway. So, I took a sculpture class and I realized that this is something completely different, that I’m super interested in, and that can get my concept across in the way that I want to. So then I had this idea…I was really interested in the border issues and I was taking theory classes on the border because I was an anthropology minor. So, I started taking all these courses and through reading Chicano/Chicana literature, I was starting to find a lot of similarities in myself. I asked myself, why have I never come across any of these scholars? It took me until my fourth year in undergrad to figure out that there were other people that felt how I felt. So, this whole idea of being Mexican-American and not belonging here 100% and going to Mexico and not belonging there 100%. I was always somewhere in the middle and I just felt really passionate about that. Then, I started making work about it. Through that process I applied to graduate school. Now I’m here and still trying to figure out how I can still talk about these subjects and be more literal. Like, here in my studio I’m literally painting the U.S.-Mexico border fence. I don’t know, it’s just been a process. I guess it all started with those literature classes in my fourth year of undergrad.
S: I was looking at your website and I noticed that you had this tagline, it says: “Candy, Frosting, Mexico.” Was that for a certain show or is that your tagline for your work as a whole? Can you explain?
Y: That’s my tagline for my work as a whole. Conceptually my work is about the U.S.-Mexico border and being Mexican-American. It’s also about having immigrants think that the U.S. is like Candyland and a place where your dreams can come true and it is actually not like that at all. It falls very short of that and they get here and they realize that you have to work these really low-paying jobs and you will probably never be able to afford the car of your dreams or anything like that. It’s like this whole imaginary place to them. So that’s where I get Candy, Frosting, Mexico. A lot of the work that I was doing last year and the beginning of this year was completely frosting based and I have now moved on to ceramics and plaster just in terms of conservation of the work.
S: I was going to ask you about that because last time I was in your studio you had the big sculptures arranged with the couch in the back and these sculptures had frosting on them.
Y: The purple one does. It’s completely covered in frosting and the rest are different materials I’ve been experimenting with to try and mimic that.
S: You can’t keep these sculptures made out of frosting for very long. Like, the purple one you’ll have to get rid of it at some point. So, you’ve decided not to keep that kind of ephemeral, throw-away aspect of your work?
Y: Yes, just because I’m trying to make as many as I can to have them change and progress and I feel like continuing to use frosting is going to limit me. Then I won’t be able to see how they’ve changed or to have a massive amount of them.
S: With your frosting sculptures, are there problems with how you’re going to show this or how you are going to sell this if someone wants it? Is that also a part of why you decided to change materials?
Y: That was also part of it. So, in the show that I had two weeks ago, I showed all of them. I just expect that nobody’s going to want to purchase these massive things, especially the one that’s made out of frosting and put it in their living room or something. I mean, you never know, but that’s where I think the drawings come in or the ceramic pieces or even now I have glass pieces. It’s just a smaller scale.
S: You say you’ve used new materials to imitate the way the frosting works, what exactly are you using and how?
Y: Plaster with frosting bags. I have this method where I mix plaster with whatever color I’m using, acrylic paint and mix it to this frosting consistency and put it in the frosting bags and go crazy.
S: When I was here last, the focus seemed to be on these big sculptures, but now it’s evolved far past that at this point. Can you explain to me some of the new things that you are trying out?
Y: So there’s this ceramic piece behind you. That was made in the same way but with slip, so mixing slip with different chemicals so that it is like frosting. Also, I went to India in January and I’ve seen all of these amazing temples and I made this piece as the first one when I got back (this is a small ceramic sculpture next to where we are sitting). I feel like it was a response to the excessive towers and all of these intricate details and buildings that I had seen. So that’s how it’s been evolving. I started thinking, how can I observe these and what would be sellable. Ceramics solves all of that, but I’m not going to stop making these sculptures. I’ve made an extra four since Open Studio night in the fall.
S: What inspired you to visit India?
Y: I was always really interested in the materiality of the culture and I saw so many resemblances to mine. I had never gone anywhere farther than Mexico. I was on the plane for 17 hours and I was thinking, what am I doing? It hit me that I was going to the other side of the world and it’s probably going to be completely different and so I started freaking out, but then I got there and it ended up seeming so similar to Mexico. The culture, the colors, the food stands, the smell. The smell of dirt and polluted air and food all intermixed, that’s like, the smell of Mexico. That’s the best smell ever.
S: Do you travel back often to Mexico to visit family?
Y: Yeah, my entire life until I was 16 because, currently, we have our house and we have some family members there but not that many because almost everyone has come across the border. There’s a specific drug cartel that sort of runs the city, so my parents go back and forth every summer. They’re retired now, so they’ll stay there for two months or so, but they refuse to take any of us with them because it’s super dangerous. We’ve had stories like: One of my uncles getting a call that they had his son for ransom, but his son is in the U.S. So, things like that happen. Once they find out you have family in the U.S. they assume that we have a lot of money.
S: That’s something that I haven’t even really thought about, that it would be such a liability to have family in the U.S. Wow.
Y: Yeah it’s a huge liability because, again, they have this imaginary belief that it’s super prosperous here, which it is, but it’s not the way they think it is. I think it’s because of how bad the economy is in Mexico that people just assume that the U.S. is going to provide them with so much monetary relief of that it’s a lot easier. That everybody comes here and has it easy. We have all this money and it’s not like that.
S: I’m starting to think about the materials that you use and the very fake-ness of the materials. Can you explain the stuff that’s hanging all over your studio? It reminds me of something like fiesta decorations. (I point at a decoration hanging on the wall.)
Y: This is from India!
Y: Yeah this is all from India. When I saw this, I thought right away, this is the decoration used for Christmas or somebody’s birthday party in my culture. So, it’s so similar. That had me thinking about third world countries or countries with less money. I feel like they use color and really cheap material in order to have a lot of it. To have this feeling of having a lot of something. I found that really similar in India too.
S: Are there any other things besides that about your trip to India that affected you creatively?
Y: The cakes. I made this costume as a performance piece and then I collaborated with a baker in India. The way that they make cakes is so excessive and amazing. They use this gelatin and frosting or marmalade or something and make all these intricate roses. It’s like pink, yellow, green and every color. Seeing the aesthetics of the baking and the decoration definitely won me over.
S: How does living Chicago inform your work?
Y: It informs my work 100%. Places like Pilsen or Little Village. All the materials that I use here are either from Pilsen or Little Village. So all the frosting for the purple sculpture was donated to met by a bakery in Little Village on 26th street. That’s why there’s so many random colors of frosting. It was all leftover from a weekend of wedding and birthday cakes. So they took the scraps and put them in a bucket, so the bucket was filled with completely different colors. There was even a lot of black and I remember trying to figure out, I wonder what this cake was for. Who wants a black cake? So, it informs it in that way in that they are so culturally heavy. I really love to engage in neighborhoods like that. The people who were here in my studio during Open Studio Night were students that I teach in Little Village. Most of them, if not all that were here, they’re all gang members. There’s this program that they decided to go to on Fridays through church. They would have art lessons there. They don’t get any sort of credit for anything, it’s just a place for them to be able to make work and not feel somehow like less “male” to do it at school. So then I was teaching them classes. I heard all these narratives about being Mexican-American and that informed my work even more.
S: Do you live in Little Village?
Y: No, I don’t.
S: Okay, so you just teach there.
Y: Yeah, I just teach. That ended in December because I went to India and then, recently, I was teaching a Karneval class in Pilsen that ended last Friday. It was an 8- week course. That happened through India because I made this dress and I realized, Oh my God, I can do performance! I was on Facebook, and you know the advertisements that are on Facebook now, and I got one for this studio in Pilsen and I was like, oh this is interesting, and I started researching it and realized that they needed an instructor for this Karneval class. I emailed them while I was in India and sent pictures to them of the dress I had made.
S: Only story I’ve heard where the Facebook ads have been helpful.
Y: (Laughing) Yeah, I was like, you know, this is really not professional, but I’m super interested, but far away. Then I came back and had an interview and got in. It was like 8 weeks of making masks and dresses and all these different things. Then, at the end, we had a performance.
S: Do you see yourself moving to one medium or do you see yourself as more of doing all of these different things at once?
Y: You know, I’m not sure. I think that the performance in India was so much easier because I didn’t know anyone and I felt so free. So I forced myself to take a performance advisor next semester so that I can keep discovering that. If I can progress in any way or for them to give me feedback on it. I hope that that expands somehow, because I think dealing with food and making fake food, I feel like it calls for some kind of performance whether it involves me making them or destroying them or eating them.
S: Do you have anything coming up this summer?
Y: For the summer, I’ll be here in Chicago and hopefully be in the studio as much as I can. I’m also participating in this festival it’s called Quetzal Art Fest 2015 in Pilsen. It’s going to be over the summer and it’s live painting and different things like that. It was through EXPO Collective who hosted my show last Friday.
S: So are you going to be live painting?
Y: I’m going to be live painting. I guess, I’ll go back to painting. I do a little bit here and there but then mostly sculpture. Hopefully I’ll be doing some more teaching.