Exploring art from every angle with Saint Paul’s Electric Machete Studios

Arts / Article

All photos courtesy Electric Machete Studios.

One of the most frustrating questions artists get asked on the regular is, “So what kind of art do you do?” Even for specialists, there’s seldom a straightforward answer for that. Whether motivated by financial necessity, available resources or diverse interests, most working artists wear a variety of hats.

For a multidisciplinary arts group like Electric Machete Studios, the question is even broader. The Knight-funded collective’s mission statement cites a focus on “the contemporary creative narrative of the Mexican/[email protected]/[email protected]/Indigenous identity and artistic style,” a tent that encompasses a variety of genres. Since opening its gallery space in Saint Paul’s West Side neighborhood last fall, the group has remained intensely active.

“We haven’t stopped moving, thinking, dreaming and creating,” said multimedia artist Jessica Lyman-Lopez. “Since our opening in September, we have hosted two art exhibits and three art happenings.” Those events include November’s Día de los Muertos-themed Festival de Las Calaveras and December’s Muxer Rebelde, which Lyman-Lopez described as “an anti-mall holiday sale featuring local artists and vendors and a poetry reading dedicated to the power of women across the Américas.” The gallery also serves as a recording space for the weekly Latina Theory podcast, hosted by Maria Isa Pérez and Arianna Genis.

The Electric Machete gallery is currently hosting Xilam Balam: 20 Years of Lines, a retrospective of the artist’s genre-stretching career. “We kicked off the exhibition with live tattooing and Maya Calendar readings to reflect the intensity and futurity of Balam’s work,” said Lyman-Lopez. “The exhibit brings Mayan glyph parchment drawings into conversation with modern hip-hop lyrics and pays homage to the hybrid culture that emerges between the two.”

The collective has its sights on an even more productive 2016, with a major online fundraising push slated to launch at the end of January. The goal is to develop and expand the group’s hands-on educational outreach, such as February’s book-making workshops led by author Aaron Johnson Ortiz. “These will be the first in a series of intergenerational workshops centering on [email protected]/[email protected]/Indigenous traditional and contemporary art forms,” said Lyman-Lopez.

February will also see the debut of Interventions, possibly Electric Machete’s most ambitious project to date. “This is a mixed-media performance installation featuring Xicana/Latina/Indigenous and Native women artists,” said Lyman-Lopez. “The installation is an improv, which evolves over the two months running. First we begin with a 48-hour lock-in where the artists sleep in the gallery to build community with each other and make collective art. After the first two days we’ll install the exhibit, with featured artists coming into the space throughout the month to continue their work.”

It’s a unique project on several levels, both in its inherently unpredictable process and in the represented voices. “Interventions seeks to disrupt systemic inequities that often provide limited resources for Women of Color artists,” said Lyman-Lopez. “The exhibit also works as an intervention in individual artists’ lives. Electric Machete Studios invites the selected artists to stop, take pause and generate new work. Finally, the exhibit’s ephemeral and improvisational nature explores how we are impacted when new ideas, people and materials intervene in a collective process.”

So what kind of art does Electric Machete do? If the gallery’s first six months are an accurate gauge, it might be quicker to detail the kinds of art they don’t do.

The Electric Machete Studios online fundraising drive launches in late January. Learn more and browse recent installations at electricmachete.com.