A band of cowboys shooting at some unknown enemy. The Virgen de Guadalupe, hands clasped, head bowed, always watchful over her children. Soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. A pig smiling over a fence; unaware of its imminent end, and probable conversion into some delicacy to be enjoyed on a Sunday afternoon with family. The colorful, sometimes bright, sometimes muted, murals on San Bernardino commercial properties tell us the story of not only the business, but of the community in which they existed. More than an image on a facade advertising pupusas and Mexican food, they are stories of migration, hope, dreams, grief, and even loss. It is the story of America. And who better to tell these stories, than a poet and a photographer.
In an eclectic office, filled to the brim with books, paintings, and other tell-tale signs that an artist resides here (and that, really, could only belong to an English professor) I sat down to speak with photographer Thomas McGovern, and poet Juan Delgado about their new collaboration, Vital Signs; a book that forces us to pause and reflect on what we have been ignoring, and question what we have let go, and what we have to gain from bearing witness.
Isabel Quintero: I’ll start with the big questions. So, the title of the book is Vital Signs, which suggests life or looking for life. But a lot of the book, is about loss. How did you come up with the title?
Thomas McGovern: Technically, and this is sort of mundane, I already had the title for the body of work…But I think the bigger picture…would be that sort of vitality that all things [have]. Whether it be loss...experiencing loss is a very clear human experience and there’s a lot of vitality in it. So I think that sense of vitality would be in that sense of loss, or that sense of hope, would be one of those basic human emotions, with clearly a positive spin on it. We have a sort of optimistic point of view about it.
Juan Delgado: We did have a working title for the poetry, which the publisher, Malcolm, didn’t like, Lavish Weeds…About the lament or loss, we didn’t want to romanticize about [San Bernardino]–there was renewal, and there was hope, but there was also hardship. I don’t think there’s a paralyzing loss. There’s a sense of going through it. That’s one of the metaphors we see, in the paintings and murals being constantly redone, and reworked–but a lot of them are gone.
TM: And I think it’s a little corny to say it out loud but, without loss you really don’t know what you have. Just like anything in life...you don’t really appreciate anything until you have loss. You don’t appreciate how beautiful and precious life is, and it’s fleeting. Loss is a really important part of that experience.
Séamus Ó Dubsláine and Siobhán Ó Mócháin Breathnach of the Corridor studio in Big Bear City are in a spring art exhibition entitled Sierra Wonders at Arts Visalia Visual Art Center, March 8-March 28, 2014. The show developed by gallery director Kevin Bowman draws from visual art and poetry in the publication Sierra Wonders. Published in 2013 by Three Rivers Arts Alliance, the 108-page hard-cover book includes sculptures and poetry by the Corridor studio. Opening reception is March 7, 6pm-8pm, 214 East Oak Avenue, Visalia.