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Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert


Albino Carrillo

Poet Albino Carrillo

Joy Harjo

Poet Joy Harjo

Duende Poetry Series special event

Joy Harjo, a nationally and internationally acclaimed poet and musician, will be the headliner for the next Duende Poetry Series program on Sunday, June 13 at 3 p.m. at the Anasazi Fields Winery in Placitas, the third of the four readings of the series for this year (the series’ sixth). Opening for her will be Albino Carrillo, a poet who teaches creative writing at the University of Dayton, Ohio, and a graduate of UNM. He has also been a nominee for the prestigious Pushcart Prize in poetry (2008).

Harjo will present her poetry accompanied by Larry Mitchell on guitar (and synth pads) and keyboardist John Rangell. Harjo herself will play saxophone and flute. A member of the Creek/Muskogee tribe of Oklahoma, she has published a number of honored books of poetry: How We Became Human; She Had Some Horses (now out in a new and augmented edition); In Mad Love and War; The Woman Who Fell From the Sky; A Map to the Next World; Secrets From the Center of the World; The Spiral of Memory; Reinventing the Enemy’s Language; and other volumes. She also has a dramatic work that premiered last year in New York City and at the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, as well as a series of CDs: Letters from the End of the 20th Century; Native Joy for Real; She Had Some Horses; and her most recent, Winding through the Milky Way. She has toured the U.S. and Europe with her bands. In addition, she teaches at the University of New Mexico and has taught at the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Santa Fe Community College, and the University of Colorado. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals. Among her many awards are the William Carlos Williams Award of the Poetry Society of America, Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Award for poetry, Native Writers Circle of America Award, the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, and many others. Harjo is among the most dynamic performance poets in the U.S.

Opening for Harjo is Albino Carrillo, a poet and teacher of poetry whose book, In the City of Smoking Mirrors, was published by the University of Arizona Press in 2004 and is a widely acclaimed volume. He has also published his work in numerous poetry journals such as Antioch Review, Americas Review, Puerto del Sol, Blue Mesa Review, Caliban, South Dakota Review, Columbia: A Journal of Art & LiteratureSou’Wester, and in anthologies such as The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry, Library Bound: A Saratoga Anthology, and Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing.

For all Duende poetry readings, wine, free snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks are available to the audience. The event is free, though we encourage donations for the poets. For more information about the event, contact Jim Fish at the winery at (505) 867-3062 or online at anasazifieldswinery@att.net. The next Duende Poetry Series reading will be on Sunday, September 12 at 3 p.m.—program to be announced.

To reach the winery, turn onto Camino de los Pueblitos from Highway 165 in the old village of Placitas, across from the Presbyterian Church, follow the road through two stop signs, and then turn left into the winery parking lot. From outside Placitas, take I-25 to exit 242, drive six miles to the old village and Camino de los Pueblitos, and continue on to the winery.


c. Vasher

Cake, to Another Good Year, another in Vasher's series of pill pieces.

c. Vasher

Detail from Sculpture of the Dolls.

Tylenol Room

Tylenol Room (Entitlement, the Past is Never Dead) was most recently shown at Albuquerque Now at the Albuquerque Museum.

Max and Jennifer Vasher

Max and Jennifer Vasher are in the midst of building their Placitas home, designed by Max and made mostly of concrete and wood.

Home is where the art is

—Keiko Ohnuma
It’s probably best to start at the center, or the heart of the matter. At the center of Jennifer Vasher’s installation, Tylenol Room—a crowd-pleaser at the recent Albuquerque Now exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum—there is a fainting couch shrouded in a dense beaded curtain made up of scores of looped strands. The beads are actually Tylenol and aspirin, 550,000 of them individually drilled and strung by hand.

Similarly, at the center of the home built by Vasher and her husband, Max, a massive brick fireplace sits ringed by wide circular stairs. Like much of the rest of the house, the stairs are poured-in-place concrete, the innermost of several concentric zones so bulky and massive in construction that it seems impossible a mere mortal could have done it himself. Just as she drilled each impossibly tiny pill with a jeweler’s bit, he had an entire bathtub-shower room poured in concrete that nearly burst the forms with its weight and heat.

“Max talks about the house being a living organism,” Vasher explains of her architect-in-training husband, pointing out the kitchen and hearth as representing the center. From here, their ideas seem to ripple outward like a pebble in a lake, gaining speed and expanding so rapidly that a poor reporter can barely scribble fast enough.

 Vasher got her Master of Fine Arts degree at UNM in 2000 and has since had solo exhibitions in Paris, Atlanta, and Houston, showed at Pulse New York, and was a regular exhibitor at the Box Gallery in Santa Fe while still in graduate school. But hardly anyone seems to know her in Placitas, where she and Max have lived for three years, because she basically doesn’t like to leave the house.

In their twin workshops flanking the core of their concrete aerie, Jennifer and Max radiate ideas, concepts, projects, and plans. As an undergraduate at the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis, where she’s from, Jennifer started out as a realistic figure painter. But it wasn’t long before a lust for materials took over, and she started adding ground-up charcoal and clay to her paints for texture, then moved to encaustic, liquid rubber, and bolt resin until finally the canvas disappeared altogether.

Her figures turned three-dimensional as she strived to communicate “the visceralness” of bodies, their externality as the shell of the soul, and ultimately as a metaphor for the social and political body. “I like opposing materials—the plastic next to the organic,” says Jennifer, whose restless experimentation with commercial effluvia contrasts with Max’s strict allegiance to honest materials and transparent construction.

Her workshop now spills over with strange materials morphing into stranger new forms. For the last few years, she has been fascinated with pills as a metaphor for everything from strength to comfort to weakness: pills strung into nets and blankets; pills glued into flowers and then molded, the molds themselves made into wall tiles. Construct a common object out of pills—a cake, a blanket, a flower—and it suddenly explodes with social metaphor and political commentary.

For Max, the house itself serves as his metaphor, the ultimate expression of his aesthetic and moral philosophy. A tattoo artist by profession (“to support my architecture habit”), he designed the structure with help from his former employer and mentor, Albuquerque architect Bart Prince. One has only to meet their Great Dane puppy Roark, named for the hero of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, to get a hint of Max’s pragmatic, purist leanings.

“I saw passive heating and cooling as an opportunity,” he says, explaining that he designed the house around the harnessing of nature. An outdoor courtyard pool and water cascading over a wall provide evaporative cooling as breezes are drawn through the house by high transom windows. A wide overhang shades interior rooms in summer, while the low winter sun shining through the polycarbonate slit windows is absorbed by huge black concrete columns opposite, a low-tech heat source.

As a tattoo artist, Max often works large, Jennifer explains, and has to follow the curves of the body. “We’re both ‘body’ artists,” she points out, “so we wanted the house to radiate out.” Building walls with him got her thinking about wall installations using plaster in varying textures—like skin, a metaphor for how things wear down over time and then regenerate. The play of surface, texture, circulating air and water, sound, and light in the Vasher home clearly provides them with an endless universe of metaphors.

Jennifer and Max were brought to Placitas by Max’s mother, Carolyn Dinsmore McKinley, who owned and operated the historic Hacienda de Placitas B&B for many years. Max did his graduate project in architecture at the Placitas Community Center, which adjoins the property they happened across on a snowy day several years ago, for the just-lowered price of $70,000. That’s how a tattoo artist and an adjunct professor of art at Central New Mexico Community College could afford to live in Placitas. “We feel like we stole our way in,” Jennifer says.

The house still looks like a construction zone, and the couple has a long road ahead with finishing the interior and yard. But they seem undeterred by the scale of any undertaking. One of Jennifer’s favorite metaphors is the “pillar of strength. A stalagmite, for example, forms piece by piece, pill by pill, drop by drop, until it becomes the thing that holds you up, your structure, your house,” she says.

Her two Tylenol rooms each took more than two years of drilling and stringing, and in any other climate, the task would have been impossible—on humid days, the pills burst when threaded. The obsessive task has been compared with the Catholic rosary, a prayer for redemption, hope, and faith. “I’ve always had this thing about searchers and seekers,” says Jennifer, whose father was an itinerant salesman and preacher from Mississippi.

No stranger to pain and hardship, the artist married at 21, had a daughter at 22, and divorced a year later. People close to her have suffered and died from alcohol and drug use; a cousin committed suicide when Jennifer was in high school, which led her to pursue art “because I really thought I should do what I wanted,” even as a young woman with a baby to raise. Provocative and biting, her exhibits after graduate school included polyurethane rubber castings of female nudes, including herself, with titles such as Venus Dong.

As she approaches middle age, however, things seem to be easing in Jennifer Vasher’s life. The Richard Levy Gallery has taken her to New York, Washington, and Miami. Her daughter, 21, lives independently in Albuquerque and even paints occasionally. At 43, Jennifer could easily pass for 30, not only on natural good looks but also a high vibrational energy that suggests she has not really slowed down.

She and Max continue to hatch arty ideas, like moving their massive wooden bed—which he made out of wooden planks and fitted with lights—to an “island” in their arroyo, installing it in a gazebo with mosquito netting, and renting it (wink-wink) to couples. It’s a fitting metaphor for their creative energy radiating from the hearth out into orbit, much like her art installations—from heart to mind to material structure, a body of ideas made visible.

 

     

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