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Illustrated Chicano at Thistle Hall

Press Release – With Lime Ltd
Tattoos will come alive to tell stories of Chicanos as part of an interactive installation, The Illustrated Chicano, at Thistle Hall, Wellington 23-29 October.

The title of the installation is adapted from the Ray Bradbury story, “The Illustrated Man.” In Bradbury’s story, a white carnival worker is cursed by tattoos that come alive and show the future. Bradbury’s story has been repurposed to tell the story of artist William Franco’s migration to Aotearoa and his Chicano heritage and identity.

Chicanos are Native Americans whose lands (the Southwestern US and Mexico) were appropriated by the European colonisers. “We’ve had to change and adapt our culture multiple times,” says Franco. “A lot of people in Aotearoa don’t know the history or the culture of Chicanos.”

For the installation, a detailed plaster cast of the artist’s body has been made. The body cast functions as a sculpted canvas onto which projected tattoos flow and dance. Using new developments in real time, 3D digital-mapping technology, the tattoos, when touched, morph into videos that envelope the body cast. The public will be able to come and watch the construction of the installation 23-25 October, and then see and interact with it 26-29 October.

“Sculpture is tactile,” Franco explains, “but when you see sculpture in museums, you’re told not to touch it. We want the public to touch this work, to get to know it, to feel its presence, to feel its life.”

The casting was done by William Franco’s partner and collaborator Miki Seifert. Together they are the artistic directors of With Lime, an interdisciplinary arts company based in Wellington. They relocated from Los Angeles in 2007.

The pair have previously worked alongside intercultural art luminaries Guillermo Gomez-Pena and James Luna. They are driven by a desire to make compelling and beautiful work that facilitates intercultural dialogue and engages people in issues of social justice.

As an indigenous living and working in the land of another indigenous, Franco has taken Māori tikanga into consideration when designing his installation. In Māori culture, displaying the image of a body on a table and inviting people to touch it, could be seen as disrespectful.

Following discussions with local Māori, Thistle Hall will be transformed into a distinctively Chicano space, decorated with cultural symbols of marigolds, corn, burning sage,. “Reclaiming indigenous space is important,” says Franco, “and I need to be aware of how my actions effect the tangata whenua. I need to understand how to keep everyone safe when creating art. People will know immediately upon entering that different rules apply, that this is an alternate indigenous space.”

Staying on the edge of technological developments has allowed Franco to talk about culture in new and engaging ways. Technology is a perfect analogy for the sometimes complicated work of communicating between cultures at a time where culture is continually shifting and changing. To make The Illustrated Chicano, Franco has had to get two software programs, Watchout and Kinect, to work together. A process he describes as like an act of translation.

“The work we make lives in a liminal space where technology allows us to adapt to different settings, different cultural contexts.”

Franco may soon need to adapt The Illustrated Chicano with interest being shown from galleries in Los Angeles and San Diego.

In Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, the tattoos show a future that is isolated and violent. Franco’s The Illustrated Chicano shows an alternative future based on understanding and respect.

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