Julia Barbosa Landois tells me what she loves about cemeteries. This conversation has me pondering death and its accompanying rituals. How will I say that final farewell? If my ashes are tossed into a seed pod and offered to friends as a plant, will they find this as funny as I do? Or will they politely decline and leave my husband with a house full of dead-wife-perennials?
Julia’s work encourages the viewer to embrace the absurdities of death. In Veiled in Flesh, three mice run loose over her body. She remains motionless in a plexiglass casket while attendants spray air freshener around the room. It brings to mind the cultural anxiety of dying in dirty underwear and also the notion that cleanliness is next to godliness.
When the artist stepped away from religion, she did so through her work. Star-Crossed II uses a karaoke-style screen to tell of her dying relationship with Christ. She croons a ranchera remix over a melodic chant. Spanish lyrics scroll behind her while English subtitles deviate from the original ballad...
It is God who has raped you, and this child is his gift.
He never gives you something you're not strong enough to handle.
The song drifts along its own new course, just as the artist did when she abandoned her fear of God, "I grew up primarily with my mother's family, strict Catholics from Mexico and went to Catholic school until sixth grade. My mother attended a church that allowed girls to be altar servers, which was uncommon, so I did that and sang in the choir. In hindsight, this was great preparation for being a performer - preparing the stage (altar) before everyone arrives, dressing in ritual costume, performing a set choreography, and taking non-verbal cues from the actors (the priest and deacon), all under the gaze of a large audience (congregation). My father is an evangelical Christian, so between the two households, I developed a sort of insider/outsider view of these radically different faith practices. Although I now practice neither, they obviously fueled my fascination with religion, ritual, textual interpretation, and the role of gender in all of that. I'm hyper aware of how religion and art come together in the power of objects - paleolithic venuses, golden buddahs, and altarpieces."
When I ask why she's interested in mass-produced sacred objects, she tells me, "The irony! I guess, as an artist, I think of the act of making as sacred, as a contemplative process. And it's hard for me to imagine something sacred rolling off an assembly line. And the workers...what do Chinese fabricators think of an injection-molded Jesus?"
Julia stuffed fabricated novelties inside a ceremonial cake for her project Congratulations. Like the artist Jedediah Johnson, showing with Julia in OTGF's current exhibition, she piles weighty subject matter into delicate baked goods. Jedediah sweetly dealt with racism. Julia's cake tastes like rosaries and pacifiers, catechism, consumerism and little baby Jesus.
"Congratulations was all about rites of passage - first communions, quinceañeras, wedding showers, baby showers etc. The cake was stuffed with religious and secular party favors, like a king's cake on steroids. I wasn't sure what the people would do with their slices, but I've performed this piece twice and both times the audience spat trinkets out of their mouths, but still ate all the cake."
The artist, who came of age under a gumbo of doctrines, explain the ways in which Catholicism and evangelical practices can differ.
"Catholicism has centuries of tradition, scholarship, and hierarchy. There's a proscribed ritual for everything, which can be beautiful and also oppressive. The attention to art, architectural space, and music imbues everything with a kind of magic. The evangelical Christianity I grew up with was only hierarchical within the home - otherwise, anyone was free to interpret the Bible as they saw fit, baptize people in the swimming pool, or start their own church in a strip mall. It was jubilant and down to earth, but made it easy to live life without ever questioning your motives. In relation to visual culture, the former is packed with images and the latter almost completely devoid of them."
Death, decay, ritual, and religion are prominent themes in her work, so I question if she has gleaned any insights about the afterlife?
"Yes! Live in the moment. Don't wait for an afterlife."
Julia's work is on view as part of the group show, "Bang Bang," which closes Saturday, March 19th. If you wait, you'll miss this moment as well!