María Velasco’s Lawrence studio initially appears to be a wonderland. Her delicate drawings for Your Ideal End are of hot air balloons and children holding hands, mixed with archival photos and kid’s sketches of smiling suns. There is a fragility to the space that is soon polluted by disturbing adult shadows. There are children playing cowboys and Indians, but there are also clumps of long hair dancing down the drain of a bathtub as a young girl’s innocence is presumably washed away. The exquisite scenes hold a lightness and whimsical quality while also examining an intrinsically traumatic experience.
Velasco conjures an imaginative world where childhood fantasy is ruptured by a haunting perversion. Originating as illustrations for her brother Juan Velasco Moreno’s book, The Massacre Of The Dreamers (2010), the project has now expanded into an animation that will be completed later this spring. Both the book and the project address how escaping to an alternative reality may be the way a mind copes with abuse.
Velasco’s artwork has always included an examination of intimate and psychological struggles. She felt that the layering of emotions, memories and imagination in this particular body of work lent itself well to animation.
The animation’s layers include mystical scenes where a shadowy enemy materializes then quickly vanishes, photos from the old West, images appropriated from a US passport, and drawings made by children. Themes of the colonization of the West glimmer throughout the story, brought to mind by both the cowboy games and photos of trains and dessert scenes. This motif of coded violence and of something being taken without permission acts as a backdrop for the action.
Velasco also includes scenes from testimonials of abuse survivors – like an image of a staircase coupled with the sound of squirm-inducing footsteps for example. There is a constant tension between the seen and unseen, fun and fear, innocent and sinister. The whisper of danger is acute, often associated with the shadow that manages to creep into each scene.
The narrative is also fragmented, leaving the viewer constantly uncomfortable because the reality of what is going on is out of their grasp. Through a delicate combination of play and uncertainty Velasco shapes her animation into an investigation of the brutality that can make its way into childhood, and specifically sexual abuse.
The work is not autobiographical yet Velasco has done extensive research in order to connect her art to life in a genuine way. In addition to researching survival testimonials, she also organized two workshops related to child sexual abuse. The first was for clinical students at Kansas University who were in training with patients. The goal was to allow students to see the symbolic power of images and the healing potential of art.
Biri Rottenberg-Rosler PhD, a bibliotherapist who collaborated in producing the session, asked students to bring in their own chosen texts. The participants also drew and created their own visual representations of how they would like to see the narrative of abuse end. Through this experience they were able to understand for themselves an alternative way of healing.
The second workshop was held with the staff at the Willow Domestic Violence Center. The staff is often responding to anguishing situations and this workshop was focused on their own mental health. The Willow Center staff also had the chance to illustrate their ideal end to abusive situations through art. The second workshop was so successful Willow Center is continuing its own project, the Phoenix Project, using art as a tool for healing and fundraising for survivors.
While Velasco has exhibited clips of the animation accompanied with life size drawings at various locations, the full-length animation is not yet complete. She has not revealed how it will end, but she does hint that it will not necessarily have a firm resolution. This is fitting for the dark and disturbing issues the project addresses. Your Ideal End opens a pathway to another world where fantastic imagination coalesces with unsettling realities.
While the final film is not yet complete Velasco is already considering future spaces to show Your Ideal End
Velasco’s exhibition A Very Long Night at Living Arts in Tulsa, OK uses images from this project. She arranged the space as though each gallery was a room in a house-allowing the audience to be included in the story by walking through each incident for themselves.
For details about this installation http://issuu.com/ovac/docs/artfocus-marapr14/19?e=1732622/7123913
This is the second in a series of Feature posts by Rocketblog intern Meredith Derks