The South El Monte Arts Posse is pleased to invite you to check out Carribean Fragoza’s “ay corazon,” self-titled poem-installation that we installed yesterday, Friday July 13, at a vacant lot in South El Monte. This sculptural piece, constructed with plastic grocery bags and copper wire, was mounted onto a tarp-covered fence that faces Santa Anita Avenue near the entrance to the 60 freeway.
My project is influenced by graffiti art and shares graffiti’s affinity for transgressing boundaries and trespassing private property. Also similar to graffiti, the goal is to beautify an otherwise blank or blighted space with my own aesthetic vision. However, there are some marked differences. Unlike graffiti, instead of marking one’s own name as a way of claiming or marking territory, I’m interested in marking the name of another, of a loved one as in a public proclamation of affection. In addition, instead of observing the anonymous moniker of a tagger or graffiti writer, the audience is meant to insert the image of their personal sweetheart. Also unlike the often illegible quality of elaborate graffiti scrawlings, “ay corazon”’s typeface is a neat cursive that resembles the tidy handwriting many of us were taught in grade school. In addition, the dark chalkboard green color of the tarp that runs against the length of the fence also lends itself to grade the school association. In short, Ay Corazon is a playful project.
The location of the vacant lot where “ay corazon” is currently installed is one I have long coveted for its expansive flat territory. However, the green tarp that covers the fence obstructs the viewing of any potential projects installed within the fenced space. This presented a specific set of challenges for an Activate Vacant project intended to transform the space of vacant lots. The chalkboard colored tarp offered a solution. In addition, a mounted wire and plastic bag sculpture does not damage the property in any way. Should anyone, the city or proprietors intend to remove the project, they merely have to go through the annoying task of using a pair of wire cutters to manually snip off the fasteners one by one. Or better yet, tediously untwisting every single elaborate wire tie. Admittedly, while I do not wish to have the sculpture removed at all, I do take some bratty pleasure in imagining their irritation in the said task.
“ay corazon” is intended mostly for a commuter audience as they drive or ride the bus up and down Santa Anita Ave, to and from the 60 freeway, on their way to work or school and back again. Santa Anita is a very transitted street, but also a very desolate one with very few pedestrians, especially on the last few blocks before the freeway. The “ay corazon” audience is all the commuters that leave their homes and families every morning and return to them every evening. “ay corazon” is meant to evoke the loved one and whatever emotion the two words arouse in them. For example, if one particular driver is running late to work after a frantic morning of looking for the car keys their husband misplaced, the vision of “ay corazon” might evoke the image of their partner, in which case, on this particular morning, “ay Corazon” is charged with frustration. Ay corazon, like a regaño or scolding. Or “ay corazon” might evoke the name of someone’s long lost love, in which ay corazon is sighed heavily or even sung melancholically as one would in any ranchera song about love and loss. Ay corazon, might be whispered to oneself in delicious memory or yearning anticipation. Within a single day, “ay corazon” may shift its meaning for any person. In effect, ay Corazon is an emotional holograph for the community.
Yes, ay Corazon, is shamelessly cursi. Unapologetically sappy. But contrary to nearby billboards, its not trying to sell you anything. Ay Corazon simply wants you to reach into your soft squishy heart and find what swims there. At least for a flashing moment before you hop on the dreary freeway.
Activate Vacant requires that artists transform an abandoned space and thus, alter the neighborhood it’s located in. In addition, it also requires that you use discarded objects in the project. I used plastic bags. Lots and lots of used plastic grocery bags from my mother’s kitchen. Sometimes she keeps so many, that they billow and tumble out of her cupboards as if the bags were effectively reproducing themselves. However, these ubiquitous grocery bags make up much of the litter we see pretty much anywhere. My mother seemed happy, even relieved to let me have them. I would add that in the process of constructing the piece, it was also important for me to transform the bags themselves. My thinking was that just because Activate Vacant asks that artists use junk, it doesn’t mean that projects have to look like junk. The soft flimsy properties of the bag also presented challenges and opportunities. It took lots of experimenting with the material and tape and thread and all kinds of wire. Finally, it turned out that braiding the bags gave them a tidy, well-kept look much like that of well-groomed school girl. While there are certainly some feminist critiques of the braid, or “trenza” among Mexicana and Chicanas as a symbol of oppression and confinement of the female body and identity, I have chosen the braid also as a sweet homage to the domestic practices that are also loving and bond-forming among women (although of course, often also conflictive and complex). I should also point out that “ay corazon” is a product of some serious domestic support and labor, as I could not have made this project without the support of my family, including my partner, in-laws, siblings and my mother who intensively hung out with my 11-month old baby while I braided away.