Q+A with Tamara Becerra Valdez

Tamara Becerra Valdez is a visual artist and educator based in Mexico City. Valdez has brought her and Luis Safa‘s editorial project Los Libros Del Futuro to Austin for her month-long residency with Human Sciences, which resides in Studium. Los Libros Del Futuro presents sessions integrating visual critical theory and art practice and seeks other ways to expand ideas and information in different areas of philosophy, literature, art, and language in published materials.

The following interview was conducted at Flat Track Coffee and has been edited for both length and clarity. 

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Rebecca Marino: Could you start off by telling me a little about your history with Austin? You live in Mexico now, right?

Tamara Becerra Valdez: I came to college here at The University of Texas at Austin in 2005. I transferred into the art department, and I mainly studied jewelry making and sculpture. By the time I graduated in 2008, I was studying folklore, anthropology, and art. I felt more creative in the anthropology program than I did in the art program, which is really interesting. I’m still trying to figure out these connections. I had lived in Austin for 10 years, and last December I moved to Mexico City.

RM: What brought you to Mexico City?

TBV: The summer of last year I went for a month-long visit, and I liked what I was inspired by there. It was more urban, and for about four years I was doing a lot of work with herbalism and plants and the earth. There was something very different about going to Mexico City where there are no plants; there’s nothing you can wildly pick because of the contamination there. As an artist it was a good push into places of performance, recording, video, and things I was more curious about. I’ve been there for six months, and it’s been a great push in discovery that’s really different than how I’ve grown as an artist in Austin. I enjoy Austin but for reasons totally different than Mexico City.

RM: So what brings you back? How did you connect with Human Sciences?

TBV: Dan Rudmann is a really good friend of mine who I met a few years ago when he was starting Punctum Records. A few friends of mine were on the label that he was just beginning to create, and we just bonded over academia—the drawbacks and faults of academia and where institutionalism wasn’t working. We were inspired by this kind of camaraderie, and he had been supportive of my projects. In the fall I was attending Human Sciences’ critical theory group, and then I moved to Mexico City, and we kept in touch. I’m going to Chicago in July for an artist residency at ACRE, and Dan offered the opportunity to collaborate and work at Studium with the department of Human Sciences. So I came here a little earlier before going to Chicago.

RM: You’ll be doing a one-month residency at Studium in conjunction with Human Sciences, focusing on your project Los Libros Del Futuro. Can you share a little bit about what that will entail?

TBV: I will be facilitating workshops and classes that have been taught in Mexico City, as well as those that are inspired by the social and cultural conditions facing Austin right now, and other classes in critical theory and art practice at Studium. It is going to be a fun mix of thinking and making. I will also be taking advantage of the incredible libraries at the UT campus and focus on making the next book with Los Libros Del Futuro: Xicano Expression Through Object and Performance.

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RM: How did Los Libros Del Futuro begin?

TBV: Los Libros Del Futuro started out as a solution to creating and making publications/printed materials with more integrity, with more of a way of giving attention to the subjects, people or places that have been under-represented. This really came about because of the political climate that’s happening in Mexico and also looking at what’s happening right now with U.S. and Mexico relations. Los Libros is inspired by old publications from Mexico that the government had been putting out in the sixties.

Los Libros has a political identity for sure. I think a goal in the books and materials is to have certain signifying images or important parts where there is an attention to the cultural and political borders and subjects, and that is a position that Los Libros takes, a position that is in favor of that which is under-represented.

Los Libros is a press and it is research and also an archive. I think what we’re working on right now is an archive. We’re gathering material, and we’re saving material, and we’re trying to give a lot of good attention to artists and subjects who have been forgotten.

RM: Tell me about Los Libros Del Futuro as a press and the bookmaking involved.

TBV: Our books are based on the classes and what comes about from discussion in those classes. Our classes inspire different books and vice versa. The books themselves become archives of the classes, too.

The books reflect a very bilingual/Spanglish aesthetic. That’s super important to me. I want the aesthetic to be Spanglish. I want to push people to read in Spanish. This is a statement that we’re making. These books are going to be in English and Spanish, and this is what you’ll always know when you get a book or have a class with Los Libros. There will be these elements of Mexican culture, Tejano culture, and criticism of both.

RM: What kind of materials do you use to make the books?

TBV: It comes together in weird ways. We use a lot of text, a lot of philosophy, and often photos. We go through a lot of old texts. Right now I’m actually working on something different for the classes here in Austin­­—a kind of map pamphlet foldout thing. We go through archives of photos we have and zoom in on different parts. A lot of what we do is zooming in on things that are literally overlooked. We just try to find unique sources for material that have a mutual understanding—but it’s super subtle. We have an idea of adobe brick building and astronomy right now, and we’re trying to find where these things come together. What’s the history of this subject in Mexican culture? Where is it located? Find the context and the environment that it is in, and bring those traces and elements into the book. How do we do that? I think it’s all about how. How can we relate the characteristics and aesthetics of adobe brick building and how do we connect it with the stars?

RM: One of the two classes you’re teaching is The Figure of the Everyday. Can you elaborate on what the class will be like?

TBV: The class offers an environment to draw, discuss, and explore aesthetics from a critical perspective. I will bring in different objects, make arrangements, and see where the class will take us. What is the difference between still life and arrangement of objects? When is something considered beautiful, and when is something considered ugly, and why? The final art project will be collectively decided by the class. I have a few ideas, but I want to hear what the class has to say and see where everyone takes the direction of the class.

In the class we build a community, just for that short amount of time with strangers or even friends you have already been close to. You build a connection with these people because of the thoughts you share and the discussion that comes forth.

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Join Valdez at Studium for her first class this Wednesday, May 25, 2016, for the first of her three session course: La Figura de lo Cotidiano: The Figure of the Everyday.


Rebecca Marino is co-editor of Conflict of Interest and works as a visual artist and curator in Austin, TX.

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