Artists Tanya Aguiñiga and Nancy Baker Cahill Exhibit New Work at “SHEvening”

The two L.A. based artists talk about the place of feminism and motherhood in their artistic practices

“We like working with holes,” says Nancy Baker Cahill, as we stand together in the midst of “SHEvening,” an exhibition of work by Cahill and Tanya Aguiñiga, opening tomorrow in Culver City. The two are longtime friends, but new collaborators: When Los Angeles collector and contemporary art maven Merry Norris encountered their work while acting as judge for the Herradura Tequila art competition, a light bulb went off. (Aguiñiga placed first in the contest; Cahill came in second.)

Norris, who has collected for thirty years and is well-known for her generous, enthusiastic support of new and emerging artists in Los Angeles, decided to do something she had never done before: curate and host a show. “And I’m smart enough never to do this again,” Norris jokes. She rented the exhibition space from gallerist Edward Cella for just three weeks, creating MERRYSPACE, a temporary setting for “SHEvening.”

We met up with Tanya Aguiñiga and Nancy Baker Cahill to chat about the act of creation, what it means to be an artist, what it means to be female, and what it means to be a female artist.

What does the title of your show mean?
Tanya Aguiñiga: It started out with as a kind of “girls’ night out.” That was what Merry had in mind and so we started working with that and talking about it.

Nancy Baker Cahill: And then we started thinking about the pronoun “she”—all the power in that pronoun. It’s a very active strong pronoun. And then it became an evening dedicated to issues of “she.”

When you started planning this show, what were your early conversations about?
Tanya Aguiñiga: Our early talks were around where the vocations of being a mother and being an artist overlap. And deconstructing norms as applied to what it is to be a woman, what it is to be a working woman, what it is to be a mother, a mother who works. And I think that both of us are really process-based. I guess both of us try to push one thing really far. So also deconstructing norms as applied to discipline and artistic practice.

Nancy Baker Cahill: And the ways in which motherhood and being an artist are entirely entangled. I think you can see that in the work. There is a lot of entanglement. We had a lot of conversations about that rawness extending to our materials: torn canvas, torn paper, torn rope, the simplest media really.

What are the most interesting points of overlap between your work?
Tanya Aguiñiga and Nancy Baker Cahill (answering at same time): Rawness and energy, visceral expressions of femininity, a real interest in the tension between extremes, between voids and forms. Motherhood and the body. Effects of motherhood on the body and on the psyche. Order and chaos. Stability and instability. Motion and stasis. Being tethered and unthethered.

How you do you feel about the word “feminist”?
Nancy Baker Cahill: The word has been demonized and stigmatized, which is a problem, especially for my 16-year-old daughter’s generation. But I don’t care. I will say that word until I am blue in the face. It’s about honesty. And a sense of solidarity and common purpose.

Tanya Aguiñiga: There are so many ways to go about being a feminist. The work is informed by being a woman and a mother, and by having no ego involved. That’s another big problem that women face: finding people to come together who aren’t so judgmental.

Tanya, tell us about your work.
Tanya Aguiñiga: My process is super-organic. It’s all about the structure. It’s a bunch of knitting, weaving, knotting, and crocheting. But I also don’t know how to knit and crochet on small scale. I only know how to do it on a large scale. I don’t have the patience to sit down and crochet a really fine project. I really like starting to work something, tearing it apart and working with something new. A lot of it is unraveled rope. You just start and then you figure out what it wants to be.

Nancy, did you do three-dimensional work before?
Nancy Baker Cahill: No. These pieces, which are called “Decomposition,” are made from individual separate drawings. They are made from a process of reinvention, and kind of resuscitation. That is important because I really wanted them to look animate and alive. That is my hope. I did a drawing, and I wanted it to become three-dimensional. I wanted it to transition into space. I wanted it to have to have its own space beyond the two-dimensional plane. We’re really talking about the idea of the void, but it’s also a portal. There is something angelic about it, but maybe an angel that fell. Not a shiny, happy angel. Don’t trust this angel. It’s a tension I always want to have in my work, a liminal area between things: is it a portal or is it a dead end? But that’s the paradox: strength and vulnerability, at the same time.

Opening Reception: Saturday, 6-8 p.m.
Artist Talk: Saturday, May 23, 1 p.m.
Where: MERRYSPACE, 2754 La Cienega Blvd.