Almost too many goatheads are arranged on the chair in a ghostly shape like a person might make were they to sit in it. The side table is stacked with witchy and feminist tomes. All along the walls of the gallery space at nonprofit Vital Space’s Midtown Annex, further works from Albuquerque-based artist Rica Maestas continue the goathead theme and, in a plastic garbage bag at Maestas’ feet, well over a dozen crocheted goatheads appear ironically soft and plushy.
This is I’m Sorry (I cannot hold you), a sort of self-reflection/self-soothing bit of self-portraiture and examination meted out through paintings and found installation, and it’s the type of show that requires a bit of explanation from the artist herself. Don’t get confused—there is much to absorb and consider in silence, on your own, from the 11 black candles that sit beneath the painting Exorcism with chiles, and even the moody Mijitia in Dreamland, wherein Maestas painted herself as a child, sleeping soundly in a sea of blankets and pillows. At a certain point, though, you’re going to wonder what’s up with all the goatheads.
“It’s a show about unearthing—about trying to exorcise or excise the mingled personal and historical trauma from the body as well as place,” Maestas explains. “I was excited to have this show because...these pieces all came together at a moment in time when I was in therapy, getting started on meds and beginning to unlearn some gross childhood holdovers and social constructs; and trying to understand myself in more personal spaces and a broader social sphere.”
In short, Maestas is incredibly open about her struggles with anxiety. And why shouldn’t she be? Find anyone who doesn’t have some form of panic attack, I’ll wait. No luck? No kidding. In Maestas’ case, her practice became about working through the anxiety, or, at least, finding ways to live with it. Goatheads, it turns out, became an apropos medium for expressing how our anxieties build up through myriad hurts and barbs, and though it can almost feel worse to remove them than when they first slid sharply into us, at a certain point, addressing them is no longer optional.
“The way I started understanding it was by referencing who I was when I was very small,” Maestas continues. “Finding some love for that kid, some empathy for that time...I was very nervous as a kid and just hung out at home all the time, so finding empathy for that experience and undressing that I have anxiety and that’s not bad? It’s been percolating awhile.”
Maestas first conceived of I’m Sorry (I cannot hold you) during a residency with the Santa Fe Art Institute that addressed labor. The pandemic put the brakes on the experience, and the body of work evolved. Part of the evolution came from the uncomfortable aspects of growth. Part of it came from Maestas’ philosophy that change and failure are inevitable. Part of it came from taking a closer look at the goatheads that accumulated outside her house and becoming enamored with their shapes and spikes; the undulations and snowflake-esque quality of being these tough and painful pieces of life in this region, with each presenting different from the last.
“I learned that they start out as fruit, like the pit of fruit, and what you’re looking at is essentially the fractured core of a very mean peach,” Maestas says. “Through their life cycle, they wither down and harden and fracture, which felt very affirming to my own experience. I thought, ‘Oh, this is just the cycle of life, and instead of mourning the lost softness of being a little baby, it’s just a part of your life that you winnow down and disperse and start fresh.’”
Thus, Maestas has somehow made the goathead beautiful. In the acrylic and glitter piece “What is love? (Baby, don’t hurt me?),” she highlights a sort of density and depth through goatheads that almost appear to be spinning on the wind. Or take the aforementioned chair piece, dubbed “Boundaries,” which practically screams that a person once sat there, they’ve since winnowed down and dispersed.
Maestas closes her solo show this week with a performance piece in the tradition of Yoko Ono or German visual dynamo Ulay. Some of those artists’ work, Maestas explains, has been downright confrontational, and hers will be, too, in a way. Without spoilers, audience members might become participants. In any event, it’s an example of ritual, of which light elements wend their way into the overall show. Those black candles beneath Exorcism with chiles? An homage to curanderismo, or the healing arts most commonly found in parts of Latin America. Maestas explains she even became slightly obsessed with the idea of a botched ritual—the sort of thing that doesn’t quite get the job done. It makes one wonder if we can ever fully heal.
“The ‘you’ in the show title is the personal and ancestral traumas,” she says. “This is kind of like an amorphous blob of information and experience. It’s a lot of felt experiences that are not easy to verbalize or haven’t been verbalized. I’m down to have one of many conversations.”
I’m Sorry (I cannot Hold You) Closing Performance: 6-8 pm Sunday, July 24. Free Vital Spaces Midtown Annex 1600 St. Michael’s Drive, vitalspaces.org