Social Artifacts

Courtesy of Cobalt Studio

“The creation of artifacts is inevitable, for all will be remnants with the devouring of time,” writes Leonel Hernandez in his artist’s statement. One of eleven artists contributing to the third show at Cobalt Art Studio in Pilsen, Hernandez touches on a theme running through “Artifice//Artifact.” Curator and co-owner Adriana Baltazar describes the new show in Pilsen as an “inquiry into artifacts and photography as a medium to represent facts or to construct them.”

No part of this inquiry is visible while standing on West 21st Street in the cold. Cobalt Art Studio shares its address with an apartment building, and it takes a few minutes before the space reveals itself. About 30 people are chatting in the brightly lit room, leaving wet boot marks on the cement floor. Bowls of chips and salsa are left mainly to their own devices on the incongruous black kitchen table lounging against one stark white wall.

After reading the curator’s introduction, one wonders how photography can construct fact. Linda Prieto’s photographs of trees seek to capture their emotions. She titled the series “It is what it is,” but her explanation expands “is” to include “might be.” Thelma Uranga, another artist, displays pictures of her family and community in the series “Everything is Inherited.” While the pictures are factual, almost documentary, she explains that she was expressing or constructing her relationship with the subjects through the photographs. She writes that she intended the photographs to display her personal understanding of the subjects, rather than a neutral portrayal.

The representation aspect of photography receives an equally novel approach. On one wall of the exhibition, a spiral of nine photographs is accompanied by a large can labeled “The Secret Jar.” Jackie Orozco invites her viewers to write their secrets down and put them in the jar. She has already collected 52 secrets, and her photographs are representations of some of those collected at earlier shows. As she puts it, she has received “confessions, fantasies, and everything else.” The photographs represent the secrets while referring back to the project at large with visual clues–in most cases, a jar-shaped object inhabits part of the frame.

Antonio Martinez, co-owner of Cobalt Art Studio, confesses that a lot of the set-up work was done at the last minute. He holds a conversation with a friend in equal parts English, Spanish, and laughter, detailing the mishaps that occurred in the last few days before the exhibition. That said, he points out that he and Baltazar have “been around the block and taken notes.” The atmosphere at the opening is chatty and relaxed: when Martinez tries to call Baltazar for an interview but she can’t be pulled away, he shrugs and says simply, “she has a lot of friends.” While the artists in the show are mostly their friends, he adds that as soon as they had a space, “people really came out of the woodwork.”

Cobalt is not-for-profit and Martinez adds that his goal is not to “collect commissions” or “hustle people’s work.” A gap in the gallery walls allows a peek into the studio in the back. A tree made out of junk mail, featured in Baltazar’s series of photographs, stands over Blick plastic bags, art supplies, coats of the in-crowd draped over chairs, and the fancifully painted unisex bathroom door. Martinez explains to someone else that it was a great move to have a space other than his apartment for this work. The studio is in high demand, to the point where Martinez said that after only a few months in the space, he has had to remind those looking for a fundraising venue: “I’m still unpacking my stuff!” The community growing around Cobalt Art Studio and its willingness to take risks point to a bright future for Martinez and Baltazar. In the meantime, they’ve got as many big questions to unpack as they have boxes.

Cobalt Art Studio. 1950 W. 21st St. Show runs through the end of January. Viewings by appointment.