On my collaboration with Chicago-based artist Mara Baker
A lot of spaces are interesting to me when they're generated not by the architecture of form, but of the overlay of thought.
-James Turrell, Mapping Spaces
In August 2009, artists Mara Baker and Rafael E. Vera began a collaborative project. Simply put, either Baker or Vera will start with a piece of paper. Vera begins with a monoprint usually depicting architectural space; Baker, with a mixed media abstraction. Their collaboration is one that allows Baker (who often creates room-sized mixed media installations) to work, in a sense, site-specifically “in” Vera’s rendered two-dimensional spaces. Conversely, when Baker begins the work, Vera builds a structure around her abstraction in order to contain her patches of material. Something of an exercise in order versus chaos, theirs is a project of edges, opportunities and interventions.
Vera creates monoprints, often using graphite, velum and color pencil, to depict architectural space. He usually draws one, two or a series of rectangular voids that appear to be a skylight, window or attic entrance. Establishing with few marks a remarkable depth of space, his representation of structure casually defies the two dimensionality of the plane. Importantly, he does not construct these spaces from actual structures, but rather creates them intuitively. Though undoubtedly informed by his studio (he works in his home) these images ignore the tempting discursive and emotional elements of architecture, favoring instead what one might call a pure and “imagined empirical.”
Vera’s stark spaces provide a perfect two-dimensional workspace for Baker to move through, deftly crafting visual incidents. Using visceral materials such as acrylic, pen and ink, graphite, surgical tape and residue from her other projects, Baker’s constructions activate Vera’s compositions. Energizing his geometric voids, often with color, they work against his illusion of space by way of stuff. Layered, drifting, pushing and pulling, her mark making can be violent and flattening, or deliberate and minimal—but it always reminds us of the picture plane. And when Baker begins the collaboration on a blank page, it is as if she is challenging Vera to sensibly constrain her whirling creation. And brilliantly, he does.
At first consideration, it seems that Baker and Vera approach the paper from different ends of an artistic spectrum. But if we think of artistic production as endless decisions and actions informed by a million different aspects of the everyday, Baker and Vera’s work is actually magnificently in sync; each artists’ practice is inextricably rooted in the physical and physic space of the studio- informed by its architecture, forms, materials and structures. For Vera, this is represented graphically in the work by architectural space; for Baker, the influence of the studio exists in how she physically approaches the picture plane, and moves around it in her studio as she applies materials (many of which comes from nearby works in progress).
The finished works vary aesthetically. Some are very much collage, several feel unusually photographic and others have topographical properties. All feel ambivalent in the best way possible, as if the page was the site of an exchange or struggle. To that end, sometimes the aesthetic of the final work feels wholly unified, and other times energetically violent. In spite of the myriad aesthetics;and affects, however, the work always feels resolved—which is a remarkable testament to each artist’s endurance to practice collaboratively.
Working together, they not only make visible what James Turrell describes as an ‘overlay of thought’ but also manifest visually the lovely and reflexive imagined spaces where two artistic investigations meet.
-Jessica Cochran, June 2010