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2004 Documentation Project: A Year in Review

Tuesday, January 11, 2005–Saturday, January 29, 2005

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Edra Soto ’s 2004 Documentation Project: A Year in Review consists of two projects, Ornamentos and Landfill, which takes place in and around Gallery 400. Ornamentos is a detailed documentation of popular culture inspired by Mexican folkloric art. Over the course of a year, Soto traced 365 newspaper images, one per day, from publications such as El Nuevo Dia in Puerto Rico and the Chicago Sun-Times, directly onto sheets of metal. Also featured are twelve line-drawn wall murals highlighting individual ornamentos from every month. Derived from the engraved Saints Without Body, the Ornamentos are presented on sheets of metal in a repose style and in a small scale. The Saints and the Ornamentos have in common a fragile, mundane, and somewhat kitsch physicality paired with unexpectedly insightful content. The Saints are custom made for a person who has passed away to commemorate his or her death. What Soto represents in the Ornamentos are records of daily news, not limited to a portrait representation, but rather to everything that she decided to give meaning to through this ritual of selective inclusion of historical data.

The Ornamentos ’ dimensions are a maximum of ten inches by ten inches and a minimum of one and a half inches by one and a half inches. The sizes of the images selected were not altered. The result was a transfer—a direct tracing from the picture selected from the newspaper. Then this image was given the title of the headline under which it was found. The titles are presented in a compendium similar to a statistics book and categorized through color. A color code legend was placed towards the beginning of what became an immense grid. Gold covers entertainment news, silver world news, and copper national news.

The gathering of information was gradual and accumulative (day by day), taken from a single source, and it was relevant to the place where the artist was living at the moment. Through this manner of gathering information from selected newspapers, Soto became (symbolically) what she called a narrow-minded historian.

In the Landfill project, after having dissected, quoted, and traced the daily news throughout the year, Edra Soto and Rodger Cooley buried the remains of the newspapers utilized in Soto ’s Ornamentos project. Gallery 400 ’s front lawn was transformed into a landfill displaying the contradiction of preserving history by burying it.

According to Terrence Hannum:

Even for pasts that were not a direct part of our experience, such as a national or international event, a readily accessible image often remains. Or as Jean-Paul Sartre writes in Being and Nothingness, “The past is present and melts insensibly into the present.” Edra Soto provides a document of the past in which she buried the year. What remains are her translations of their contents littered throughout the gallery. Soto ’s evidence is similar to the single images that occupy columns of newspapers, but hers is injected with bits of manipulation, translation, and an ever-helpful assertion of the individual. Soto ’s assertion of an individual, herself, in the scope of a year ’s journalistic history provides an element of proper perspective.

2004 Documentation Project: A Year in Review was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2005 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago
series.

Related:

EXHIBITION SUPPORT

2004 Documentation Project: A Year in Review is supported by the College of Architecture and the Arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Special thanks to the jury that selected the 2005 At The Edge projects: Marc Fischer (Chicago artist and previous At the Edge participant), Barbara Wiesen (Director, Gahlberg Gallery, College of DuPage), Tricia Van Eck (Curatorial Assistant, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago), Julia Fish (UIC faculty member), and Lorelei Stewart (Director, Gallery 400).

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST

Edra Soto

Abril, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Agosto, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Deciembre, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Enero, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Febrero, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Julio, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Junio, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Landfill Documentation, 2004
Video, 16:30 min.

Marzo, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Mayo, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Noviembre, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Octubre, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Ornamentos, 2004
12 aluminum repoussé groupings and title sheets

Septiembre, 2004
Paint pen on wall

Edra Soto with Rodger Cooley

Landfill, 2004
Remains of 365 newspapers, soil, and plastic

EXHIBITION ESSAY

Memory and History

Terence Hannum

I don ’t really remember 2004 even though it was only a few months ago. I think I can recall an event. Then I realize that the event occurred in 2003. Or it happened this year but is an aggregate of two events. I do not think it is because I have a bad memory, even though sometimes when it comes to events, I do. It is because of the way that the past becomes past. I have come to accept that my memory—after all, it is the only memory I have—does not retain a reliable sequence of rigid, linear information. In the case of non-personal events, I need confirmation, a record of some kind such as a newspaper or, more than likely in recent years, a web source.

Edra Soto is interested in this intersection between memory and history. She has stated that the visual re-presentation of history was her concern in Documentation 2004: A Year in Review. Soto has chosen the newspaper, the banal catalogue of events, as her source and inspiration. The newspaper has been the primary means through which the becoming of history has been textually and visually displayed for nearly the past three centuries. As news outlets have shifted from print to the virtual realm, what was a rigid linear means of recording history has become more uncertain, as if it has been thinned out. For example, in the instance of bloggers, one of their primary devices, in addition to their opinions, is linking to a news story or lifting quotes in a manner that allows the reader to shift back and forth between harsh or praiseful opinions and make their own judgment. Or go another route and even start their own blog. Documentation 2004 also works in a similar way, reassembling images from recent history…making connections between them…

Edra Soto ’s exhibition, Documentation 2004: A Year in Review is composed of two parts. The first is titled Ornamentos, which occupies the galleries of Gallery 400 with a series of small metal engravings and a corresponding series of wall drawings. The second, titled Landfill, is represented by a video inside the gallery and an actual landfill outside. In Ornamentos, an archive is created by Soto ’s monthly organization of historical images culled from the periodicals El Nueva Dia from her native Puerto Rico and the Chicago Sun-Times, from Soto ’s current home. In this part of the exhibition, the images are literally imprinted into metal, a technique inspired by the milagro, a Mexican folk art form. A milagro, literally ‘miracle ’ in Spanish, is sometimes created to commemorate deaths and are usually engraved into silver, bronze, copper, or gold. They mark a passing and a memorial. Soto ’s images are pressed into golden, silver, and copper colored metal. The color-coding in the reduced contour drawings designates the section of the newspaper from which the image was drawn.

The second part of Ornamentos is defined by monthly groupings of the same images, similarly color-coded as collaged large-scale wall drawings. In some of the collages, an image from Soto ’s personal life, marked by their black color, manifests itself next to national or international figures such as John Kerry or Ed Paschke. Some individuals may be more recognizable than others and some, such as the ones of soldiers, have become so familiar, their specificity is lost. Soto ’s isolation and combination of the images replicates a divide within memory between the textual and the visual. In both parts of Ornamentos, Soto separates images from text and translates them with her hand. The headlines are gone and the story becomes obscured by the fragmentary grid of images.

Even though G.W.F. Hegel believed that history was moving toward a rationalized whole, in the Phenomenology of Spirit,he described the “becoming” of history as “a gallery of images.” This “gallery of images” is the external expression of history, which by its nature is at first fragmentary. These two concepts, a gallery of images and fragments, apply to Soto ’s exhibition, whether in evenly spaced grids of imprinted metal or painted monthly wall groupings, though they do not fit the tidy end that an Age of Enlightenment thinker would seek.

Located outside the gallery, the long-term installation Landfill resembles a small hill and contains beneath it a year ’s worth of decaying and deteriorating newspapers, the same newspapers that were the sources of the images inside the gallery. Inside of the gallery, video and photographic documentation of the landfill ’s installation shows Soto and colleague Rodger Colley wrapping and interring the used newspapers. In Landfill, Soto buries history, creating a metaphorical act of memory similar to the conventional sayings “bury the past” or “leave the past behind.” Burying or leaving are odd designations, for the past tends to exist with us in some ethereal simultaneity.

Even for pasts that were not a direct part of our experience, such as a national or international event, a readily accessible image often remains. Or as Jean-Paul Sartre writes in Being and Nothingness, “the past is present and melts insensibly into the present.” Edra Soto provides a document of the past in which she buried the year. What remains are her translations of their contents littered throughout the gallery. Soto ’s evidence is similar to the single images that occupy columns of newspapers, but hers are injected with bits of manipulation, translation, and an ever-helpful assertion of the individual. Soto ’s assertion of an individual, herself, in the scope of a year ’s journalistic history provides an element of proper perspective.

The presence of history can always be felt, though sometimes it is difficult to decipher. It is how it is present that can be mystifying. In that sense, it is like a ghost that one can feel but cannot pin down as the source or result of actions. Hegel, in his Introduction to the Philosophy of History, attempted to reconcile memory and history by writing on Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the muses, including the Muse of History. In the scope of the Introduction is Hegel ’s attempt to pin down through dialectic the objective and the subjective experience in the definition of history ’s narrative. For Hegel, of course, it is easier to conclude the auspicious State is necessary for History. Hegel does address the individual by referring to “family memorials” and “patriarchal conditions,” but they do not enter the “prose of History.” Soto lets history (what we could call historical experience, if not history) represent itself, leaving room for free access to memory and to acts of memorializing. With the reference to milagros and in using images from her personal life, Soto juxtaposes establishing personal histories with the reportorial accounts of newspapers.

In the myth of the Muses one of the statements attributed to them is, “…we know, when we will, to utter true things” (1). This statement evidences the truth telling we have believed the Muse of History to inspire. It could be said to further the hegemonic claims of news media. An argument on the other side could be that the Muse of History can inspire anyone to speak truth, or to expose truth, outside of the locations that claim a monopoly on it. Inspiration by the Muse of History becomes crucial when those monopolizing locations cease to represent the course of events for individuals and communities. By juxtaposing the hegemonic and testimonial, Soto trumps history with memory, be it collective or individual. Soto encourages the frame of history to be adjusted in another way, a way that permits potentiality, reconsideration, generosity, and, perhaps most importantly, access.

1. Edith Hamilton, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (New York: Mentor, 1969), 37.

ARTIST BIOGRAPHY

Edra Soto Head ShotEdra Soto (born 1971) grew up in Puerto Rico, spending most of her life there with the exception of a yearlong fellowship in Paris, where she studied painting with Alfonso Arana in 1995. She has had solo exhibitions at La Pintadera, Puerto Rico and Polvo Art Studios, Chicago. Her work has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including Museo del Barrio, New York (2004); Mission Cultural Center, San Francisco (2003); and MoMA PS1, New York (2002). Soto was awarded the Community Arts Assistance Program Grant from City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs in 2003. In 2000, she was an Artist in Residence at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine and an Artist in Residence at M&M Proyectos in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Edra Soto received an MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2000.

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST (EXPANDED)

Color guide to ornamentos and murals:

  • gold = entertainment news
  • silver = world news
  • copper = national news
  • black = Edra ’s personal history

Edra Soto

Abril, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

History shows Islam, democracy unlikely to mix in Iraq / Shiite Sheik al-Karbalie lead thousands of Muslims / This isn ’t Spinal Tap – The Darkness / Cleric ’s backers riot in Iraq / Will our Bill get paid? / The Apprentice Finale / Faces of Chicago: Mexican Family Festival / L motorman badly hurt when branch hits window / Another new coke / ‘Idol ’ vote process may explain Hudson loss / A-bomber co-pilot Fred Olivi dies / Ex-NFL Star killed in Afghanistan / Butshershop Quartet.

Agosto, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

She ’s golden: Another All–Around for U.S. / Boston Sale Garcia Parra / Espadachines / Atenas 2004 / U.S. military doctor accused of role in torturing Iraqi prisoners / Se hace historia / Comodo ‘El Pollo ’ en su primera cita / Hazana de Tingui / Boriquas en Atenas.

Deciembre, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

ATA gives Southwest more of Midway / Red and Louise ’s Christmas tree / Edra Soto at St. Joseph Hospital / 2004 was a Daley grind / Fire Dept seeks way to soup up water / Remember those we ’ve lost in 2004 (Reagan) / Ann Ruby / Rob and Sara / Daniel Sullivan / Tsunami death toll grows to 119,000.

Enero, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

Hacia otra etapa Disney / Fatal atentado dinamitero / Harta Siempre “Churumba” / El sumo pontifice clama por la paz / Jose Alvarez Martinez se confieza por haber matado a su esposa / Oprah Winfrey / Artesania / Mama y Papa / Iris Chacon.

Febrero, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

Yoga Center turns traditional yoga concept on its head / Nancy Burns and Diana Elood married on Monday in San Francisco / Into the Blue, Brett Schultz, 13 / Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City – We can ’t help wonder / Sen. John Kerry: Dixie could prove tricky for Democrats / Justin Timberlake. Nipplegate, two Grammy ’s, Now What? A movie deal / Beauty treatment / Bush friends support with Iraq–bound guardsmen / Janet ’s Wardrobe Malfunction / Second suicide bomb kills 47, targets Iraqis / Courtney made it to court / Bremer hits at blocking Islamic law / C. Jan, one of Afghanistan ’s few woman police officers.

Julio, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

Maxima felicidad para Marc / Nuevos miembros en la familia Jackson / Christ – centered conscience is key to thruth / Dejara Mary-Kate Olsen el Hospital / Spaceship is lord of Saturn ’s Ring / Berry backs Revlon in loud purr over ‘Catwoman ’ plot / Brando was a rebel / Bajo la policia laguardia municipal (Calderon) / Inalterada la participacion federal.

Junio, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

Strike one! Lollipop hits Bowie in eye / Mary-Kate Olsen gets treatment for anorexia / Marine, Pakistani seized in Iraq: Arabs / ‘Fahrenheit 9/11 ’ Drawing Fire (‘9/11 ’: Just the Facts?) / Coroner: ’She died in that creek ’ / Spider-man heroically human / Ryan Digs in / Reagan / Nancy says good bye.

Marzo, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

A Knotty situation / The Oscar winner: Light done right (winner Renee Zellweger) / Stain athlete was hanging with friends when gunfire erupted / Ambush – Aristide takes asylum in Jamaica / Hellboy / Gibson ’s Passion of The Christ / Aboutface: National Security Advisor, Condolezza Rice.

Mayo, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

Fantasia Barrino – Winner of American Idol / Bushes to skip daughter ’s graduation / US Naval Academy freshman climb covered in lard / Sharon (Prime Minister Jerusalem) preparing new pullout proposal / Collage craziness (UIC students play Calvin ball at the 18th Annual Scavenger Hunt / Olympics / Super Size Me / Exhibit shocks Italy (Maurizio Cattelan) / Celebrating Cinco de Mayo / Circus performer falls to her death : Dessi Espana, 32.

Noviembre, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

Lining on (Ed Paschke) / U.S. pours force on guerrilla / Car bomb kills a dozen in Iraq / Obama Takes Senate / Daley ’s son enlists in Army / Tis the season to be married (Hadley Allen) / Technology advances, humanity doesn ’t (Nicolette Sheridan) / Death Romance (Scott Peterson) / ebay returns cheesy item to auction block / kidnapped aid worker likely killed by terrorists / Oprah in a giving mode – and teachers cash in / In a rare interview, Prince William defends brother, dad / Exec charged with stealing $93,000 from charity.

Octubre, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

Please help me, Please / Stern gets in FCC boss ’s face on live radio / FACE OFF on Iraq / One win away / Dad charged with girl ’s killing / some curses haven ’t been lifted / Christopher Reeve / ‘We ’re The Chicago Boys ’ / Osama messes with the election / Scholars plan Godzilla conference.

Ornamentos, 2004
12 aluminum repoussé groupings and title sheets

Septiembre, 2004
Paint pen on wall

(counterclockwise from right to left)

Martha slated for remote prison in W.Va. / rather sorry / Crown will go to Conan / Patriots on parade / Utter despair / Showing their true colors / Regina McGrathe Senechal.

Edra Soto with Rodger Cooley

Landfill, 2004
Remains of 365 newspapers, soil, and plastic

Landfill Documentation, 2004
Video, 16:30 min.