A conversation with Michael Anthony García, a multidisciplinary artist and a key figure in the Austin Latinx art scene, about his curating and art practice. We also discuss the possibilities of art and about world-making through art, both, for the present and future.
Michael Anthony García is a multidisciplinary artist and curator based in Austin working across different genres: performance, sculpture, photography, and video, sometimes fusing them. As a key figure in the Austin Latinx art scene, García also curates (with) care by bringing people, words, and art (objects) together and elevating them. At the heart of these cojoined endeavors, there is an intersectional politics and a desire to elevate BIPOC voices. In addition to his curating practice, further evidence of this are the art magazine POCa Madre he edits and the podcast El Puente he co-hosts. We sit down to learn about his art practice, as well as his curating and caring practice, and talk about the possibilities of art for our everyday lives now and in the future.
Resources / Related Links:
POCa Madre Media: https://www.pocamadremedia.com
- Michael Anthony GarcíaArtist and Curator at Los Outsiders Curatorial Collective
- Laura G. GutiérrezAssociate Professor of Mexican American and Latinx Studies at The University of Texas at Austin
Episode 25 – Curating (with) Care: What Can Art Do?
[00:00:00] Intro/Outro: You’re listening to Latinxperts, a podcast of Latino studies at the university of Texas at Austin. Latino experts features the voices of faculty staff. As well as friends and alumni of the department of Mexican American and Latina, Latino studies, the Latino research Institute and the center for Mexican American studies join us for this episode of Latinxperts.
[00:00:44] Laura Gutierrez: Hello Hello hello. Welcome
Michael Anthony Garcia to Latinxperts, the Latino studies at UT podcast. And it is my privilege to host you
just so that we can check in with each other.
It’s been a while.
this pandemic has really sort of made it so that we don’t see each other.
As we used to in social spaces around Austin and so forth, but also so that the wider public of Latino studies at UT and those who listened to our podcasts can also learn about what you do as an artist, as a curator, as you know, a man of many
hats. If this was a being videotape, you would all see that Michael was wearing a very snazzy hat, always making a fashion statement.
You can follow Michael Anthony Garcia on Instagram. It will be available on the show notes, just so you can see for yourself what I mean by always making a fashion statement.
But let’s start with a conversation. Why don’t we start a little bit about what you do in Austin. In addition to being, I think one of the key figures in Latinx art in town, you’re also a curator.
You also have a podcast yourself. So you’re a podcaster. You
have a magazine called POCa Madre. With the POC in big letters and capital letters to highlight the
POC and the intersectionality of the
themes that you talk about in that podcast.
[00:02:33] Michael Garcia: Yeah. There’s lots of crossover between those things.
First, thanks again for having me. I really appreciate this. I’m not one who loves talking about themselves, but you know, just being part of the profession I would say at this point, so, but no, it’s really good to see you and to get to share, uh, about my work.
So. Thank you for that. So I have a studio practice that is based around sculpture installation performance, a lot of performance in the past several years, as well as delving into more video. And this year in particular I’ve re-discovered my love for writing poetry specifically. Which was going to be my major and undergrad.
I was going to, I went
[00:03:17] Laura Gutierrez: I know
[00:03:18] Michael Garcia: with I just didn’t get the kind of reception from the faculty that I guess they didn’t really get where this little brown kid was coming from. I didn’t understand why he was trying to write science fiction and poetry. So that kind of dissuaded me, but then I found art, which is also like a huge passion of mine.
My practice is kind of all over the place. I don’t know what that says about me and my personality, but I love doing that. Like you mentioned now, I do independent curation with projects that I take on here and there, have curated exhibitions, Mexico, the museum at Texas State University in their galleries, just had one at the Austin Public Central Library gallery, which was a beautiful space.
If anyone’s never been there, you should check it out. And then I have an upcoming project that I’m working on with Fusebox. I just love the idea of working with other artists as well. getting to connect with them and create a community. I think of exhibitions in that way, really it’s like creating a community and having these conversations.
And then you mentioned the podcast POCa Madre. I’m sorry, El Puente and then the magazine is POCa Madre. And those two, I work on with two of my best friends in the whole world. We just discuss intersectional conversation topics all over the map from music, politics, you name it and we talk about it.
[00:04:40] Laura Gutierrez: It’s been a delight for me coming to know you here in Austin, since my arrival, I know that we’ve also for short moment overlapped on the board of Outsider Fest. So that’s how I think in a way that we also got to know each other. I also think of our overlapping interests and our love for Mexico City as another location that brings us together.
Another point of reference that brings us together. And we’ve crossed paths there, in different art spaces or events and so forth. And I also think about the aspect of community that you mentioned, right. So seeing you be very active and be very much a supporter and also someone that facilitates that world making, right that world making that the art that you believe in.
Just bring it forward and saying, "Hey, we’re here and we’re doing this thing." Right? And we’re here supporting each other. And that’s one of the things that I find really lovely about the work that you do and your place in this, within the larger Austin and perhaps Central Texas art scene.
Right. I see you as someone that is able to be conversant. With not just the pressing issues at hand through your podcast and through the work that you highlight in the art magazine and the stuff that you. curate, but also you just your precedence in Austin and being there to support , your art making friends.
Right? I respect and have a deep appreciation for that work cause it’s a lot. I don’t know how you do it. I should also say that you’re also doing an MFA
and you went back
to school after quite a few years. And then you’re teaching
[00:06:36] Michael Garcia: Actually, no I’m a literacy specialist
[00:06:38] Laura Gutierrez: Oh, I see.
Okay. All right.
Okay. I thought that you were an art teacher. Thank you for correcting me in
in my head. So here
yet, another talent
that you have that I did not know in terms of the work that you do within the Austin Independent School District. If I had a hat, I would tip it off.
because you do a lot.
So I actually do have a question.
I have lots of praise, but also a question. In terms of your own art practice, How do the different media that you move through, from performance to video photography installation, sculpture, how are they conversant with each other?
Or how do you move through them in the kind of work that you put out in the kinds of messages you want to put forth?
Right. Can you talk to
us a little bit about that and perhaps use an example or two to highlight that.
[00:07:29] Michael Garcia: Sure. Well, I’ve said this before about my practice. I feel like the different aspects of my studio practice for me. Like I related most to being bi-lingual. And that there’s some times there’s, you can’t say something in English the same way you could in Spanish. Like they’re just, that does not either not that phrase or doesn’t have the same kind of connotation to it.
And so I feel like I navigate those things similarly. I’ve, and I can’t think of any examples of this, but like where I’ve tried to start exploring an idea with a certain media and then. It didn’t quite translate. And so then I tried it with something else. I wish I had something on the tip of my tongue, but I don’t. There’s actually one piece that I’m going to be working on in the spring.
That’s kind of like this, where I was just going to make this straight up video where I’m going to be editing the final seconds in the old seventies TV show, Wonder Woman during the closing credits where it was like, you know, that very kind of cheesy seventies feel where like they turned to the camera and they smile and it freezes and then the credits play over their face.
And everyone like Linda Carter always had like this amazing, beautiful, perfect smile. And there was something about that. Just that spoke to me. It just had I mean, just wonder woman in general has access queer energy about her. Anyway I just wanted to make this straight up video of just collaging, all of those smiles at the end.
It was like a subliminal video, but then it just didn’t have quite the impact. So I’m gonna actually be incorporating that into a performance. Which might be because of COVID everything might be a video in itself. So it’ll be like a video of a performance with a video in it. If that makes sense, like a projection.
It’ll have that video projected onto me.
Yeah. So Sometimes you just have to figure it out. So I see them like different languages where you can definitely say the same thing, but it does have different weight. I don’t know. Did that answer the question at
[00:09:31] Laura Gutierrez: Yeah, no . I’m just pausing because I’m imagining that and actually getting excited right. For the way that you’re bringing in not just popular culture, but also an iconic figure
is often overlooked. as Linda Carter is as
often gets overlooked, but also that queer energy that you mentioned, right?
She has a huge Queer following. So I got excited and I got, is this what you’re doing for a Fusebox?
[00:10:01] Michael Garcia: No, no. This, so this is something I’ve been working on just during my MFA program.
[00:10:04] Laura Gutierrez: I see.
[00:10:05] Michael Garcia: Yeah. It was kind of a spring project I’ll be working on in the studio.
[00:10:09] Laura Gutierrez: Okay. And what is your fusebox participation?
[00:10:13] Michael Garcia: So that’s, it’s gonna be a curatorial project.
[00:10:14] Laura Gutierrez: Can you say something about that or is that a little bit under wraps still?
[00:10:19] Michael Garcia: I think it’s okay. Just kind of got to give the vague idea. They’re just trying to bring in more of a visual art component this year to go along with the performative things that they have in the festival. It’s a performance festival mostly. They asked me to come in and do a curatorial project with different art spaces in town and then to have a presence at the festival hub as well.
[00:10:38] Laura Gutierrez: So excited for that. For those of you that do not know, Fusebox is a festival that happens in Austin. Has been happening for over 10 years now and usually happens around the month of
I think that’s when it’s happening
in 2022. As you said, mostly a performance festival it’s free and it happens all over town.
And I think that in terms of what you’re going to be doing there. And also, the work of fusebox makes me think of another question that I had
for you. Just because earlier I had mentioned that you are there. I don’t go to as many art openings as you do because sometimes, I’m traveling or my day job prohibits me
from doing so.
But when I do I see you in those spaces, I see you in these different galleries, different museum at openings or other kinds of events and the spaces. Can you talk a little bit about Austin and art spaces and performance spaces from your perspective, what is your take in your analysis of where we are now?
[00:11:48] Michael Garcia: Yeah. I mean, It’s still a relatively small art community here compared to other cities. But it’s very tight-knit and it’s a very strong community. I would say like the work that’s produced here is it does not receive the attention. It should either statewide or even nationally or internationally.
We have some major superstars that live here, but, uh, Yeah. I just think overall it doesn’t have the same kind of reputation that I think it deserves. There’s still few spaces, especially now, during the pandemic. We’ve lost even more, but, it’s fairly welcoming it just like Austin has that same kind of that Austin field transfers into the art community as well, as far as like, it’s very, I don’t want to say Southern, but the whole idea of that Southern charm in hospitality people are very open.
It doesn’t have the same kind of competitive field that a lot of other cities do from what I’ve seen. People are always out to help each other. So there’s that? I will say when I moved here in 2001, it was a lot harder and the scene was a lot smaller as well. So there were a few opportunities.
So that was, there were more people trying to get in. But I think that’s what fueled, what I do now is. There were not that many opportunities. So I decided to create my own and I think that’s just become part of oh no, I think that’s a very, like, that’s a very Mexican thing.
I think like I could see my parents doing that, like, okay, something’s not happening, so we’re going to have to make it happen.
[00:13:15] Laura Gutierrez: Yeah, I love that. I love that about you and that spirit in you in terms of what you facilitate for it. For many of us I think I also I feel that in terms of the Austin artistic performance community, how it’s welcomed me as well.
so I’m able to do a little bit of existing outside of what’s considered the
ivory tower, right?
I actually do it also intentionally and try to work Across and beyond. But yeah, I sense that as well. So can you take us a little bit back and tell us what brought you to Austin in 2001 and also, where were you before.
[00:14:00] Michael Garcia: Sure. I’ll go back a little bit further to lead into that. So I went to undergrad at Austin college in Sherman, Texas, and it’s a little tiny liberal arts school, about 1200 students, maybe. It’s about an hour north of Dallas. And, when I finished all my family had relocated to the Houston area, but I wasn’t quite ready.
I still have. I kind of enjoyed that freedom. And so the only city that I really knew was Dallas, which is like an hour away. So I lived there for about three years. You know, there’s great art scene and things like that. That was just the energy wasn’t for me.
[00:14:37] Laura Gutierrez: Hmm.
[00:14:38] Michael Garcia: And then around 2001 in end of 2000, I had a major breakup with like this a relationship that had gone off and on for like eight, nine years at that point.
And I don’t know, it just like I needed a break. I was like, I needed a clean break, just go somewhere else. And a friend had moved here and I came to visit her and. It was just like, oh my gosh, this vibe, especially early two thousands, Austin was like, it has certain chill energy to it. so I just kind of ended up here that way. Just recovering from a breakup. And here I am almost 21 years later and it’s like, whoa, how did that happen?
[00:15:17] Laura Gutierrez: Cause so much of the work that you’ve done is very much centered or, situated
Not that it speaks to an Austin experience,
but it’s work that you have created and put out there in these last 21 years.
Definitely in the time that I’ve known you, I’ve seen
that work. But I think your work in general, doesn’t have that specificity that has clear references to anything that has to do with Austin or with Texas, or even like a Mexican or latinx identity, But
yet all of those things are there and I dunno if you want to, or can talk a little bit about how being from Texas, whatever that means
to you, if it informs your work or is that, are you trying to abstract yourself from that?
[00:16:10] Michael Garcia: Um, none intentionally, I will say that. I mean, I’ve always felt like that alien that was just kind of dropped in the middle of somewhere in all kinds of communities. I don’t feel like I fit in here or there, even though I do. you know, I grew up in El Paso and lived there up until I went away to undergrad and the culture is obviously very much a part of who I am, but I I was always a kind of weirdo too.
And so I think that kind of adds a little bit of a twist to how I view and express myself. So I do speak to like to these topics. My work is a lot about, identity and identity politics, but maybe it’s the materiality that I choose that , I don’t know. I think I’ve always just been conscious in the back of my mind of not being too obvious with the materials I use or being too trite in the way I speak to those topics. So I think maybe that’s somewhere in the back of my head.
[00:17:15] Laura Gutierrez: I mean, one of the things that comes to my mind in terms of my knowledge of your work is that there is a question of I think color figures very strongly in your work. But I would say also, in terms of sort of material in a literal way, there’s something. Earlier mentioned you’re that I’m always in awe of how you carry yourself in terms of your fashions in you’re making a fashion statement.
So I think material is also
really a key element in your work.
that I see.
Right? So it’s about colors, but it’s also about textures and materiality in fabric and yarn and these kinds of things. if I were to imagine or think of some pieces that I’ve seen either performance photography or sculptures, that’s what comes to mind.
Color, fabric. And, um, yeah. in some ways in my head, I related to a Mexican NIST or to our Latin X identity yet. It’s not like directly referencing anything at
[00:18:22] Michael Garcia: exactly. Yeah. If anything, I would say there’s for me at least seems like an obvious element of rasquachismo in the aesthetic of it. And in fact, I feel like sometimes that kind of pushes some people away who don’t really get that aesthetic. For like us it’s culturally just it’s a norm, you know?
And it’s like the ingenuity of it. But I don’t like try to be too symbolic with things like color and things like that, but materiality, I think it is important in what I do clothing in particular is something I use very much in my work because it is a kind of an abstract way to reference the human form.
I’ve often said that clothing is nothing but like a fossil of who we are. And so my sculptural work, especially if I’m using clothing, it’s been able to be figurative, but in an abstract way.
In terms of using it in my performances, patterns and textures like that they’ll be hints at other topics that I’m speaking to in the work. Like one piece that comes to mind is a performance I did in Houston. I want to say it was like 2018 for the performance be an ally there. Oh my gosh. I’m drawing a blank on the name of it, creative nano creative action.
Oh, my gosh. Okay. It’ll
come to me.
[00:19:41] Laura Gutierrez: I think it’s in the bio.
[00:19:42] Michael Garcia: Okay. Thank you. Wait, gosh, my brain is fried a COVID brain. But in that one, I was addressing this idea of trying to have forgiveness and pride, the practice of forgiveness as you would do with the yoga or Pilates or whatever. It’s something that you do to get better at and finding forgiveness for racist things that have been said to me over the years, or that I’ve experienced on other people’s behalf and in doing so.
As I was making this piece, it was like this red form. And it was subconscious in a way, I wasn’t specifically going or trying to reference anything in particular, but then I had these white gloves.
[00:20:28] Laura Gutierrez: Mm.
[00:20:28] Michael Garcia: And then in that instance, the materiality of them was the fact that this kind of clean palette to work with. And I was putting them on the hands of people in the audience, and then we were using them to caress each other’s faces and pick up our oils and whatnot, and then taking those and putting them to myself as a way of taking on this idea of forgiveness.
And then. I’m not directly referencing anything religious, but in a way it is an offshoot of like what you would think of, peregrinos like crawling up a mountain on their knees to an alter or things like that. So it’s an abstraction of some of those things.
So maybe so I think they’re there. They’re just not as this obvious to others, maybe.
[00:21:16] Laura Gutierrez: And I think That’s one of the things that I love about your work. It pulls me in because I feel like I identify with, but I also feel that it allows me or gives me the space for me create my own references, but also not stay with the obviousness of it all.
And it opens up the possibility of thinking about it in a different way. So thank you for that. We’ll pause real quick. Mentioned rasquachismo or the aesthetics of that you mentioned for our listeners that might not know what
[00:21:50] Michael Garcia: That’s what she’s.
[00:21:52] Laura Gutierrez: aesthetic might be, but it’s like the working class resourcefulness of using everyday material and repurposing it for daily needs. Like using a can from uh, chili sauce and repurposing it as, a planter, right? so that’s.
Like everyday kind of working class Mexican aesthetic is transferred into the art world and the art making of many Mexican and Chicana, Chicanx artists that has been theorized byTomas Ybarra Frausto and others after him. I just wanted to pause
I can’t help being an
teach the kids.
but they also probably already well versed in this, but I just wanted to pause that. But, I think that one final question would be if you feel like it, to talk to us a little bit about what it’s been like to go back to school, to go back to art school and do an MFA. And is there something that you want to do with this degree?
Sorry to ask you in that way. This is not a job interview, but are you going to utilize that in a way, or is it about being able to just create art and having the support of an institution to do so?
[00:23:14] Michael Garcia: Yeah. So I originally had put it off for many, many, many years. I got my undergrad in 1996, so it’s a big stretch of time in between. And for the longest time I thought I would just never do it. I’m not sure really why I’m gonna have the reasons that would say it loud. I don’t know if those are the real reasons, but yeah, I dunno.
I just cut to the point where I really wanted to have these conversations that I’ve been having in my head about my practice with other people who are also experiencing the same thing. And, that’s exactly what I’ve gotten out of it. Just incredible. Like I said, this, the reawakening of the writer in me, that was just that would’ve never happened if I hadn’t gone back.
Yeah. So it toady is about going back and fortifying what I’ve done. Asking questions about the things I’m not sure about and then exploring new things too. So there’s definitely, that’s a huge part of it and if that’s all I ever get out of this degree, I’m more than worth it, even though it’s been crazy working full time, going to school. But I’m always open to anything in life, really.
So like my teaching job right now, I’m going to have six more years til I can retire. But if something were to come across my path and it was perfect, I would go for that as well. So yeah, I don’t want to say it’s like a safety net or anything like that, but it’s definitely been an important experience in my life and in my practice for sure.
Yeah. Not looking back at all with any kind of regret.
[00:24:54] Laura Gutierrez: That’s great. And to also think that you. I have been doing that during a pandemic is just adds to,
[00:25:05] Michael Garcia: It actually saved me because I was accepted at the school of the art Institute of Chicago
and I’m doing their low residency program. So I got accepted and I want to say January, February, And then the pandemic kid wasn’t like March now, right
[00:25:22] Laura Gutierrez: It was March mid,
March of 2020.
[00:25:25] Michael Garcia: Yeah. And so that first summer, especially, I was offered my teaching gig. I live alone. So this gave me. Uh, focus something to like put all my energy and attention to otherwise I’d have lost my mind.
[00:25:44] Laura Gutierrez: Wow.
[00:25:46] Michael Garcia: I still did a little bit, but no, but it was amazing. Went into it, of course, like anybody does, especially, oftentimes less people of color, like I have this imposter syndrome starting something like that. And it’s like, you got to overcome that and just push through and be like, you know what, no, I have every right to be here as anybody else. If not more so, yeah, but it’s been amazing.
[00:26:10] Laura Gutierrez: No. That’s great. Cause I think of your work and your practice as already being so solid that it
In of itself to deserves several MFA’s.
And here you are doing it to have the sort of concrete validation of the institutions that we live in, right? So hopefully it sounds like it’s already done what, perhaps even more than what you set out, but, hopefully it would yield other things as well.
[00:26:38] Michael Garcia: Oh, definitely. it’s an amazing program because it is centered around social justice and is intentionally trying to put BIPOC and women and women identifying artists at the forefront of who we’re studying. Everything is super intentional and all the readings, everything we do.
At this point I can’t imagine doing another program, you know? Cause I think that’s also something else I’ve gotten out of it. It’s really solidified who I am in the world. And in addition to an artist.
[00:27:08] Laura Gutierrez: Beautiful.
Beautiful. So I think that we’re at time, obviously we can continue talking more.
I know that the opportunities for us to see each other, whether it’s an art spaces or, we also used to run into each other a lot rallies and protests in town. Right. And that was another meeting location for us, and then also traveling into Mexico city.
So, but we will have the opportunities to continue our conversation.
And I hope that
everyone gets into Michael Anthony Garcia’s art and actually goes out and witnesses for themselves and perhaps, also partake in your knowledge, your wisdom and your beauty.
[00:27:49] Michael Garcia: Oh, thank you. You’re so sweet.
[00:27:52] Laura Gutierrez: So we’ll end it there by
Thank you so much. much.
[00:27:54] Michael Garcia: Thank you.
[00:27:57] Intro/Outro: Hi y’all this is Ashley. the communications associate Ella Fino studies. Thank you for listening to this week’s episode, make sure to check out the Latino studies, Instagram page. Follow us at Latinos studies UT to keep the conversation going.