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Nothing Goes to Waste in ‘Wizard Can’ Exhibition at Northwestern

Artist from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood featured in Dittmar Gallery’s one-woman show

  • Artist transforms mundane and often discarded materials in a fresh and vibrant way
  • Her art works incorporate sheets, scarves, tablecloths, produce signs, fabric scraps and more
  • Martinez will present a free Artist Talk at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 28, at the Dittmar

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A selection of Victoria Martinez’s latest fabric installations, paintings, collages and soft sculptures are on exhibit through April 31 during her monthlong show “Wizard Can,” at Northwestern University’s Dittmar Memorial Gallery.

Martinez, a whiz at transforming ordinary household items, also will present a free Artist Talk at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 28, at the Dittmar.

Free and open to the public, the Evanston campus gallery is located on the first floor of Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive.

The exhibition’s quirky title -- “Wizard Can” -- is meant to reflect the artist’s one-woman show, which Martinez likes to think of “as an exploding metal aluminum can full of fun.”

The show’s title was inspired by a friend who altered her voice as she recited a line from “The Wizard of Oz”; and another friend who refers to Martinez as a “wizard” because of her ability to juggle various art projects and teach four classes per week. 

“I also have been researching wizards and read that wizards are only men, which is interesting to me because I believe women can do whatever they please as long as they set their mind on their goals.” 

The interdisciplinary artist turns fashion and home decorating fabrics, bed linens and clear plastic sheeting (the kind used for see-through covers to protect upholstered sofas and easy chairs from wear and tear) into cheerful pieces she considers her “environmental interventions.”

As an artist who responds to her environment, Martinez’s most recent works embody her research from culturally vibrant locations in Chicago’s Pilsen community -- where she grew up and continues to live. They also reflect her recent visit to the archaeological ruins in Teotihuacan, Mexico, built between the 1st and 7th centuries and rhythmic patterns she encounters in gritty abandoned spaces that embrace the urban environment.

Martinez’s art works incorporate bed sheets, paisley scarves, tablecloths, sections of hand-painted produce signs from Mexican grocery stores, old clothing from the artist's apartment, fabric scraps from her childhood home in Pilsen, as well as fabrics and decorative trim she found at neighborhood thrift stores, marketplaces and a textile warehouse.

“I hope that visitors have a chance to experience mundane materials that may have been discarded and transformed in a fresh and vibrant way,” she said.

Martinez’s works have been exhibited publically indoors and outdoors across the U.S., as well as in Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico. More information on Martinez and her work is available online.

When she is not creating artwork, Martinez teaches mixed media, hand sewing, embroidery, weaving, machine sewing, and fiber, collage, painting and drawing classes at four Chicago elementary and high schools.

She also is involved in Pilsen area community art projects. As the lead facilitator and artist, Martinez recently completed a large-scale, site-specific art project that involved teaching soft sculpture, hand and machine sewing, embroidery and weaving to 30 students at Benito Juarez Community Academy, a public four-year high school that serves the largely Hispanic population of the Pilsen community. 

After the high school students learned how to weave, hand- and machine-stitch and embroider, they taught these skills to 4th- and 5th-graders at Josiah L. Pickard Elementary, José Clemente Orozco Community Academy and Casa Juan Diego Youth Center, all located in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Titled “Traveling Minds,” the 8-by-20-foot outdoor installation took the efforts of more than 100 people to complete and included working with youth at the Casa Juan Diego organization.

“The fiber section of the site-specific installation is made of tarp, cotton and outdoor fabric and includes all the techniques we practiced, including hand sewing, machine sewing, weaving, painting and embroidery,” Martinez said.

“The patterns relate to the neighborhood’s architecture and everyday items such as backpacks, wash rags from home, plant images collected during a field trip and even the knitting group comprised of mothers who contributed knitted items, such as sweaters and doilies to “Traveling Minds.” 

The collaborative art installation, which was funded through Urban Gateways, and in-kind-donations from the Pilsen community, is on view at the Latino Art Now Conference through April 9. Following the two-day conference, the installation will be displayed through April 22 in the east lot of the National Museum of Mexican Art. More information online.

Topics: Chicago, Events, Media
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