ektor garcia: Crossing Arbitrary Boundaries

April 17, 2024 |

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Rebekah Frank

Rebekah Frank

Rebekah Frank is a studio artist and independent writer who enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting experiences to fuel both her art and writing practices. (rebekahfrank.com)

Jewelry Thinking is a multipart series celebrating artists whose practices illustrate jewelry thinking. These artists may or may not have a background in jewelry, but their work exhibits qualities that jewelry artists will recognize, including commitment to materiality, respect of process, and focus on the body.

 

Though ektor garcia is material agnostic, he is preoccupied with copper. He was born in Red Bluff, California, the child of migrant farmers. As a Mexican and an American, he feels at home in both countries. garcia1 is an avid practitioner of the art of crochet, in part to honor his mother and grandmother, and favors unexpected material combinations, challenging traditional techniques to become untraditional. He imbues the simplicity and familial familiarity of crochet with copper wire to bring disparate objects together. He sees the process of crochet as circular—spiraling out from its starting point, then connecting back to itself to create its own iterative structure. As an artist, he is drawn to cross-cultural references and the tenacity of migratory creatures.

garcia first studied art intensively in 2010 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, where he focused mainly on textiles. He next pursued an MFA at Columbia University in New York, where he worked with metals, wood, and ceramics. Becoming intimate with each of these materials in concert encouraged him to explore and experiment across techniques and materials. Ultimately, this concentrated study inspired garcia to disregard arbitrary material boundaries and cultivate an expansive relationship with both tooling and techniques.

garcia became curious about the use of copper by ancient peoples—particularly copper’s importance, stretching across several millennia, for Mesoamerican cultures2 such as the Mexica people (Aztecs).3 In his research, garcia came across the book James Metcalf: Verdadero hijo de Hefesto (True son of Hephaestus) about an American artist who in the 1970s reinvigorated and preserved the unbroken but faltering lineage of ancient coppersmithing in Santa Clara del Cobre, Mexico. Metcalf, with his wife Ana Pellicer, cofounded the Adolfo Best Maugard School of Arts and Crafts, a school that taught pre-Colombian coppersmithing, forging, and smelting techniques. The school is still in operation today as the Adolfo Best Maugard Center for Creative Technical and Industrial Training, or CECATI No. 166.4 And though the copper mines that once supplied Santa Clara del Cobre are no longer active, the metalsmiths of the area now “mine” construction debris by melting down electrical wires and pipes to recycle. This history was of particular interest to garcia because his father is from the state of Michoacan, where the school is located, and he spent time in the region as a child.

In his words, garcia is obsessed with copper. He drinks out of a copper water bottle and uses copper utensils. He notes that copper has natural antimicrobial properties, which were utilized by ancient peoples long before being understood by Western science. “Copper is truly a gift from Mother Nature,” says Michael G. Schmidt, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina. “[T]he human race has been using it for over eight millennia.”5 For garcia, copper feels ancestrally important, connecting him to his family, his daily surroundings, and his process.

Once his interest in copper was ignited, garcia began to see copper everywhere, including how prevalent it is in domestic settings. For example, copper is used for electrical wires because of its efficacy in conducting electricity; it’s also used as water pipes because it resists corrosion and can withstand significant impact without breaking. Inspired by how copper is woven into the walls of our homes, in 2014 garcia began seriously introducing copper wire into his own practice through crochet, a textile creation process that involves looping yarn with a hook. For garcia, crocheting is a nomadic practice born of simple tools and common materials easily found in his surroundings or purchased from construction supply stores. (He notes with amusement how his purchases of ten-plus pounds of spooled copper wire tend to arouse the curiosity of the clerks at electrical supply stores.)

ektor garcia. coil, 2020. Copper, synthetic sinew. Coiled: 16 x 16 x 7¼ in. (40.6 x 40.6 x 18.4 cm); Uncoiled: 125½ x 7¼ in. (318.8 x 18.4 cm) | Photo courtesy of Rebecca Camacho Presents

A crochet project begins with a single line, a “chain” of stitches. And while crochet requires little skill, it demands patience, perseverance, and time. garcia incorporates both chains and knots in his work, creating three-dimensional, nonrepresentational figures and abstract sculptures. For these forms, he brings together materials from detritus that finds its way to him—shells, worn-out bike chains, discarded horseshoes, and construction site debris like rebar—then uses wire wrapping or wire crochet to bring them all together. In portal III (2019/2022), a sort of drapery of delicately crocheted wire is suspended within a heavy rebar frame. And while the crochet captures an abstract rebar form in its decorative pattern, the frame doesn’t completely contain the crochet; at the bottom, garcia leaves the weaving open and uneven, draping onto the floor.

garcia often uses materials or patterns that reference migratory creatures, such as in limpet shell doilies (2022). Limpets, aquatic snails with a conical shell, travel by means of a single muscular foot, following the tides as they graze. Once their dining is complete, they return to their favorite rock, attaching themselves via a suctioning process that leaves circular marks called homescars on the rock’s surface. garcia’s series of four doilies created from limpet shells suspends the shells in a copper-crocheted matrix that winds around the shells, replicating the imperfection of their forms. Similarly, the crochet pattern garcia uses in portal monarcas (2022) references the migratory monarch butterflies that winter in Michoacan, Mexico, before their long journey back to Canada. But rather than replicating the formal shape of individual butterflies, garcia’s portal references the spectacle of hundreds of butterflies clustering for warmth on tree branches overnight,6 the dark bands on the edges of their wings creating irregular shapes in the crocheted form.6

ektor Garcia. limpet shell doilies, 2022. Crocheted copper wire, limpet shells in four parts. 33 x 11 x ½ in. overall (83.8 x 27.9 x 1.3 cm) | Photo courtesy of Rebecca Camacho Presents
ektor garcia. trenzas de cobre, 2021. Crocheted copper wire, copper wire, copper pipe. 78 x 20¼ in. (198.1 x 51.4 cm) | Photo courtesy of Rebecca Camacho Presents

For years garcia has collected lace patterns from websites and old books, as well as pieces of lace from thrift stores or flea markets. He has found patterns from around the world, from as far as Russia and China. He studies the patterns then attempts to repeat them, learning from the construction. In past work he dipped crocheted textiles in wax before casting them in bronze, aluminum, or copper, allowing the imperfection of the casting to contrast with the delicate precision of the pattern.

In bringing together dissimilar materials through copper wire, garcia aims to set them into a conversation—into argument even. They don’t “work together,” and nor do they seek to coalesce. Instead, the objects, material language, and their cultural implications bounce off each other in uneasy communion. In an essay about his 2022 exhibition nudos de tiempo (knots of time) at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Switzerland—curated by Fabian Flückiger and Salome Hohl—the gallery notes that “the artist’s work involves intense physical labor. Countless loops, knots, and fingerprints are evidence of his daily work, in which chaos and logic, connection and detachment exist in parallel. garcia strives for the imperfect, the beauty of the handmade, unique with its flaws.”7

ektor garcia. manos de cobre, 2021. Crocheted copper wire, copper. 48 x 6 x 3 in. (121.9 x 15.2 x 7.6 cm) | Photo courtesy of Rebecca Camacho Presents
ektor garcia. portal III, 2019/2022. Crocheted copper wire, copper, welded steel. 73¾ x 52 x 17 in. (187.3 x 132.1 x 43.2 cm) | Photo courtesy of Rebecca Camacho Presents

For each show, garcia challenges himself. Experimenting with different materials, observing their qualities, he pushes them into the unexpected. He doesn’t see one material as having hierarchy over another. Part of his process is to discover both how far he can push materials and how far he can push his body. How heavy can a piece get before it starts to sag? How long can he crochet until his hands collapse? The repetitive process of crocheting is time intensive, and the stiffness and weight of copper wire adds its own dimension to the intensity of the process. His exploration of material, and his willingness to interrupt imaginary borders between places, people, and techniques, is the cornerstone of his transitory practice—one in which he quietly yet decidedly challenges expectations.

 

ektor garcia’s work will be on display in March 2024 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York during the 81st installment of The Whitney Biennial.

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Endnote

    1. ektor garcia doesn’t capitalize the letters in his name. He was initially inspired after reading bell hooks, seeing the practice as a radically feminist queer move to fully claim one’s identity. He also thinks lowercase letters make his name look better—and makes him feel more connected to it. He also appreciates how his uncapitalized name disappears in bodies of text, slippery and hard to find.

    2.Mark Cartwright, “Copper in Antiquity,” World History Encyclopedia, October 4, 2017, https://www.worldhistory.org/copper.

    3. Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, “Introduction to the Aztecs (Mexica),” Khan Academy, n.d. [2019], https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/early-cultures/aztec-mexica/a/introduction-to-the-aztecs-mexica.

    4. Note: the author attended a three-week course at CECATI #166 in 2008. It was amazing!

    5. Michael G. Schmidt, quoted by Jim Morrison in “Copper’s Virus-Killing Powers Were Known Even to the Ancients,” Smithsonian Magazine, April 14, 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/copper-virus-kill-180974655.

    6. “[Monarch Butterfly] Migration and Overwintering,” US Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, n.d., accessed November 27, 2023, https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/pollinators/Monarch_Butterfly/migration/index.shtml.

    7. From exhibition essay “ektor garcia, nudos de tiempo, 20.05.22–25.09.22,” curated by Fabian Flückiger and Salome Hohl, Cabaret Voltaire, n.d. [May 2022], https://cdn.contemporaryartlibrary.org/store/doc/30899/docfile/original-dee9e27c0e7977ef708662027ae18792.pdf.

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