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Thanks to SiTE:LAB, over the past two years, Rumsey Street has had a reputation for exhibiting thought-provoking work during ArtPrize. And while SiTE:LAB is gearing up for ArtPrize 2018 in their new Roosevelt location, the award-winning Cultura Collective has moved in with the stunning exhibition “Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Stories.” Curator Stefanie Rosales has placed several intriguing pieces in the soon to be demolished neighborhood church, rectory and garage to highlight the lives of artists and community leaders who are committed to making a difference for their community.  

We had an opportunity to visit the site and chat with both Stefanie Rosales, curator and Program Director for the Cook Arts Center, and local artist Javier Torres. As you listen to these brief interviews, we encourage you to consider the relationship between disability and culture and how two artists, Reyna Garcia and Javier Torres, draw the viewer into conversations about their lived experience of disability.

As some will remember, Rumsey Street was the site of HYBRID STRUCTURES (think big ramp), the DisArt Hybrid Gallery, and ELEVATE: A DisArt Fashion Show in 2016. This collaboration between artists, sponsors, and activists hoped that the ramp structure and its use through performance and the fashion show would help audiences notice the process of access as an artistic endeavor. Javier Torres has a very different take on that project, as you will hear in his interview.

Here is the transcript of DisArt’s conversation with Javier Torres:

Chris Smit (CS): So we’re here with Javier Torres to talk a little bit about his down at Rumsey St. and we really want to focus on the painting Invisible and you were going to tell us a little bit about that one. Thanks for joining us, by the way.

Javier Torres (JT): Thanks for having me. Yeah, Invisible is something that’s been a feeling for my whole life. I just created it because I was seeing things that I was not too happy with and around the neighborhood and around the world. I mean, people in wheelchairs are, like, invisible to me. It’s my very personal feeling. I see all this cool stuff coming all together like the ramp and stuff like that. And it was going through my old church which brought some other feelings about religion to that I probably don’t have any more. I just decided to write up a piece that shows the ramp going through a heart and there’s a building on the top. There’s a cross, an arrow, a set of wheels from a wheelchair with no person in the wheelchair. Kind of describes somebody feeling invisible. Between all the nuns [a reference to Susana Cook’s performance of “Nuns on a Ramp”] ...to me was awkward because having a ramp, having people around, having nuns… make you feel like you’re in a nursing home. Yeah. That’s kind of a...I mixed everything together with feelings about the church going down. With the church going down. And people wishing to keep the church around but it’s not going to happen.

CS: We’re honored by your reaction to that work and I think...When we spent time together last year, when we were all here working on that ramp, it was a meaningful experience. Meaningful in a good way but also, maybe, in a critical way too. Do you want to say more about that or more about how the idea of invisible makes itself known through the other pieces as well?

JT: Well, I think it was really cool. Having people, having fun around. Everything around.

CS: Last year, you mean?

JT: Yeah. I thought it was a big, big hope of winning and, I don’t know, sometimes I feel that handicap people are used for others to make money. Probably the most common things are going to get wheelchairs or medical equipment. It’s over high cost. So, I mix everything together and try to make something that pulls out people’s mind.

CS: I feel like I could ask, and again, it’s good to hear your reaction to that work. And I feel like I need to ask, for our own sake, what could we have done differently last year with SiTE:LAB to make it a little bit less traumatic or less complicated

JT: Well, I think. It’s very hard to answer that, but I think having this big show you probably deserve...I can’t explain myself, maybe, but a ramp should be a sign of respect and it should be a sign of consideration and open people’s minds about what could be. I don’t know, I think it should be a sign of respect. That’s the most important thing because people around don’t even look down to see that somebody in a wheelchair needs to go too. Or, you go places with a ramp and the door’s closed and you can do nothing about it. I’m not so sure how I can describe myself in that one way.

CS: How long have you been making work? How long has art been part of your life?

JT: My whole life I like to drawing just things around. This is the second year I do it for public. ArtPrize. We got successful last year with the Cultura Collective venue.

CS: I hope you keep doing it. It’s great stuff and it’s really powerful. Thanks for talking with us. You want to share anything else?

JT: I just encourage people to open their eyes, look around, and study art pieces. They’re really done to open people’s minds. We want to bring a big message to open your eyes. Don’t believe only the first thing you here. Do research of everything especially about politics because our country is turning into something that we never thought it would be. There’s a lot of racism all over and that’s why I did all these pieces to try to open people’s eyes.

CS: Thanks again, man. We’ll see you soon, I hope.

JT: We hope that a lot of people come around and watch our pieces. We got three nominations, so that’s very cool. I

CS: Thanks man.

JT: Thank you.

DisArt hopes that you will take the opportunity to get out to Rumsey Street before the end of ArtPrize. It’s well worth the trip.

Chris Smit and Jill Vyn are the Executive Directors of DisArt.

By Jill Vyn & Christopher Smit on