Iliana Emilia Garcia


By Edward J. Sullivan

In her most recent works, iliana emilia expresses a sense of duality. In her series entitled ¿One Last Sitting¿ she employs one of the most quotidian of objects -the chair- and embues it with intimations of both strength and fragility. The chair itself becomes an iconic form which takes on a plethora of meanings.

As related to tradition and visual history, the image of the chair may be conceived of as a simple seat, or as a throne, as a support for the most humble of human creatures or as a structure on which an emperor or a god may rest. In the history of more recent art, the use of the chair as a subject in itself may recall work such as Vincent Van Gogh¿s famous painting of ¿Gauguin¿s chair¿ in which the Dutch artist conjures up the palpable presence of his absent friend by depicting his empty chair. In a more conceptual sense, Lucas Samaras has utilized the chair as an integral component of his art, often creating chairs which threaten our well bring through the nails or spikes with which they are encrusted.

The chair is employed in the art of iliana emilia to remember history, suggest our basic needs of comfort and to serve as a simulacrum for absence and mourning. In this installation intimations of loss are heightened by the creation of veils of diaphanous material with the imprint of the chair. These may be read as shrouds of persons known to us who have departed this world. They may be equally understood as reminiscent of the veil of St. Veronica who wiped the bloody and sweaty brow of Christ on the road to the Calvary. Indeed, the artist has explained this chapter of her work in quasi-religious language, referring to the 12 apostles of Christ. When looking at these images we may recall the steadfastness of their faith at the supreme moment of stress while remembering, at the same time, how they stood by and allowed their leader to be arrested by Roman soldiers. Yet there is nothing specifically religious in this art. This is a work which embodies transcendental meaning while recalling the mundane realities of the things with which we are most familiar.

The chair has, indeed, played an integral role in the development of the art of this Dominican-born installationist. She has employed it with an iconic force. She has dealt in the dualities of strength and weakness, of love and forgetfulness, of palpability and loss. The chair has become one of her signature icons - yet it is not the only image with which she has developed her unique visual vocabulary. In other pieces she has, in a similar manner, dealt with other immediately recognizable and powerful forms that mean something to each of us. Among the most potent of these symbols is the heart. Iliana emilia has taken the single most utilized symbol in the history of western visual representation and given new life to its meaning in her paintings, drawings and her three-dimensional pieces. In her plexiglass boxes, the heart appears in multiple versions. Each viewer may choose his or her favorite references - from the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the hearts of Pop artist Jim Dine. In a way iliana emilia has fused many of these meanings into her own visual language that literally palpitates with energy and personal resonance. The strength of the object is evident: the plastic box is very difficult to break; yet there is an unbending, immutable fragility inherent in the work. A heart can be scarred or broken by words or mis-deeds of others. Iliana emilia plays on the dual nature of our bodies and souls. She understands the strength of the mind yet represents the fragility of our egos and emotions.

In the art of iliana emilia there is also an insistence upon the very act of making art. In her 1998 installation entitled ¿Building a paradise¿ we observe a group of drawings which have a raw, unfinished quality. The edges of the cloth upon which the image is drawn is ragged (suggesting, again, a certain fragility with which the artist often plays). The drawings themselves seem rugged, even crude, suggesting first ideas and an immediacy of the hand. Yet this is a self-conscious rawness, skillfully used by the artist to indicate the immediacy and energy of the first steps in the process of artistic creation. Among the most attractive things about her art is her desire to allow her audience to be part of the process of creation.

Creativity and performativity play equally significant roles in ¿One Last Sitting.¿ The chairs themselves are painted or covered in a variety of rough and smooth textures. The swaying curtains and the drawings that accompany the piece (forming an integral part of it) also combine the dualities of finish and roughness. The audience that approaches this and the other works of iliana emilia must make themselves a part of the action to experience it to its fullest. This is a piece that cannot be viewed completely from any single vantage point - and, like all installations, cannot be properly appreciated through a photograph. Iliana emilia¿s work must be viscerally experienced, comprehended through physical integration within the aura they create.

Words and text have traditionally played a significant role in iliana emilia¿s art. There is never a conventional written narrative in her art, yet words are used as signs in her complex web of meanings. In her drawings, plastic box constructions and other pieces, words convey an almost random sense of direction. Yet once the words are read and comprehended together, they form patterns as strong as the visual labyrinths that she constructs for us. Iliana emilia plays with the eye and the mind, the intellect and the emotions.

Finally, it is important to point out the implicit references to specific places in her art. Iliana emilia is at once a cosmopolitan artist and, at the same time, a Caribbean artist. The Dominican Republic has inevitably played a key role in the development of her sensibility, the use of the decorative as a cogent visual strategy and the reference of the banal, domestic existence through the inclusion of elements such as the chairs and the curtains links her to the traditions of the Caribbean. But iliana emilia takes these elements to ethereal heights, removing them from the vocabulary of the ordinary and taking them to levels of understanding that raise not only our minds but our consciences. We listen to these works, we interact with them and we gain greater insight into the spirituality of the personality who has created them by engaging directly in their ¿performance.¿

Essay written for the ¿Chosen Hearts¿ catalog, 2001