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Artist Susie Bielak On Shaking Things Up

Susy Bielak is a San Diego based artist featured in MCASD’s "Here Not There" exhibition.

Bielak came to San Diego to do her MFA at UCSD, but “a catalytic energy in the city is a large part of what is keeping me here.” She cites MCASD, SDMA, and the opening of sdpace4art as marking “a lively moment for art in San Diego.”

Culture Lust asked her a few questions about her work and her ties to Mexico and the border region.

A lot of your work, like Portraits of San Ysidro engages with the border. Why is this an important topic to you?

From Portraits of San Ysidro.
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Above: From Portraits of San Ysidro.

I've long been engaged with questions of hybrid identity and issues of space. I was born in Mexico City, grew up in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, lived in the Twin Cities, and am now based in San Diego. My father was born to Polish parents in Mexico City, my mother to Russian parents in East LA. My undergraduate thesis was on Mexican American Identity in the Urban Midwest.

Living so close to Mexico was one of the things that attracted me to graduate school in San Diego.

Your work Quake/Temblor engages with the 1985 Earthquake in Mexico City. Can you talk about how you came to build a series of works around that event?

Quake/Temblor evolved out of finding earthquakes in my basement. There, [I found] my civil engineer father's photographs of structural damage in the aftermath of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake intermingled with family photographs.

Studying my father’s forensic photographs of this earthquake, I thought about the impossibility of predicting when disaster will strike in our daily lives, and the human hand at play in so-called natural disaster. While there are devices to test the integrity of structural objects, I wondered what kind of scientific test might anticipate damage to interior lives.

With this question in mind, I visited UCSD’s Caltrans Seismic Response Modification Device (SRMD) Test Facility. The setting is surreal, oceanic. For me, it was also uncanny. In this brute, industrial space of science, I first saw massive fields of blue: the same shades from my father’s photographs: cyan, cobalt, Persian, royal. Being in the space compounded my interest in the correlation between scientific testing ground and biographic artifacts. It inspired me to apply the same pressure and motion normally used to test the integrity of structural systems (e.g. bridge bearings, scaled buildings) to domestic objects and situations.

In Quake/Temblor, the Formica table substitutes for the body in a space of scientific testing, and serves as both a canvas and printing block.

You worked with the SRMD test facility. Was it difficult to gain access? What did the geologists think of the work/helping you set up the work?

My access to the SRMD facility was due entirely to the generosity of the engineers and technicians there. Once they responded positively to my project proposal, getting in was a challenge. The seismic shake table is normally booked solid. After months of waiting, my production took place within a 24 hour window between two large projects.

I'm still inspired by the graciousness and creativity of the engineers who made my project possible. Gianmario Benzoni-- the Project Manager for the SRMD test facility, was the inspiration behind the molded jello roses. He knew that jello would "perform" well.

"Here Not There" is at MCASD's La Jolla venue until September 19.

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