At least one historian has described the Peruvian song form called cumanana as descuidado, or careless. He meant that in the best way, referring to the form's random, haphazard meter. Likewise, the group exhibition Cumanana currently on view at Saltworks showcases art that feels casual, thrown together and improvisational.
The 13 artists assembled by curator William Cordova all have long histories of collaboration – many of the same shows from the last half decade pop up over and over in their CVs. In Cumanana, the artists use mostly trash, found objects and low-grade materials to channel the experience of making something from nothing. This should sound familiar – the trend of making art whose list of materials reads like the inventory of a homeless lady's shopping cart is well-established.
This kitchen-sink strategy often creates unsettling, thought-provoking assemblages – Leslie Hewitt's staged photographs of photographs for example. Other times the strategy fizzles on the launch pad. A case in point is Gean Moreno's small, untitled installation of fabric swatches, a newspaper clipping, and a few other odds and ends hung close to the floor. The anti-aesthetic aesthetic Moreno employs has become fairly predictable in some circles, just another abject little collection of fill-in-the-blank.
Moreno's collaboration with Ernesto Oroza, installed on the wall directly opposite, is another story. Also untitled, the sculpture consists of a functioning lamp made of fabric, Mardi Gras beads, tape, a plastic comb and other items wrapped around a gracefully arcing wooden armature. It's weirder, scarier and altogether less predictable than just about anything else in the show.
Equally open-ended is Mari Omori's "Sundial." Omori has repurposed hundreds of paper tea bag envelopes to form a stained and variegated mandala. The work references everything from the history of East/West trade (of which tea was a major player) to the rituals of Japanese culture (the tea ceremony).
Other artists also manage to squeeze expression from unexpected materials. Mary Valverde explores geometry with nails and string in "Catcher." "Refurbish," Glexis Novoa's hyper-detailed drawing on a marble slab pits permanence against impermanence. And Cordova's "Eroica (for J.A. Alamin)" exploits the ready-made history of found paper to compose a nimble mixed-media composition.
As the U.S. economy keeps finding new ways to unravel, making a little go a long way has reemerged as a moral value. Cumanana reminds us that some spiritual traditions of remaking and reusing have been going strong all along.