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INTERVIEW: Eva Maria Lourdes

INTERVIEW: Eva Maria Lourdes
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By Michael McFadden

Edit: Guys, we dug up the extended interview. Check out Eva’s full responses. 

Counteracting its own sense of immobility, a sculpture can temporarily expand the mind, allowing us a space in which to foster a new understanding – of ourselves or an idea. In her work, Eva Maria Lourdes seeks to create this space. Using her work to enact change in her own life, she provides a platform from which the viewer can reflect upon his or her own capacity for expansion, movement, and transition.

In your bio, you state that you graduated with an MA in Psychology from Stanford and soon joined a startup in Silicon Valley. This mindset of following the typical path of “graduate and get a job, any job” has been pretty commonplace for a while. What led to you stray from it and into an artistic career? 

It wasn’t exactly that way for me. I didn’t want to get just any job—instead I felt an obligation to start a career “worthy” of the credentials that I (with my family’s strong support) had earned with a lot of hard work. Basically, I was seeking a particular earning potential right out of college; I wanted, or at least I thought I wanted, the privileges and status of a Stanford-educated young professional. After a few years of committed effort, I landed a job at an exceptionally attractive and promising tech startup in the Bay Area. I should have been really excited; I should have been encouraged and motivated to continue on the career path I had chosen. Instead, I was miserable! And the disparity between what I had supposedly achieved and my actual feelings about my job forced me to confront how deeply unfulfilled I was. At some point, I could no longer forego pursuing art as my main priority. Very simply, it was no longer a choice I could make.

What role did art play in your life before the switch? 

I have always developed ideas and created material objects; I just never allowed them to take center stage in my life. Being an artist just didn’t seem practical, even though making things was what sustained me in various ways. So, for years before I left my career in online media, I had been taking weekend and evening art classes. The switch had more to do with a conscious acknowledgement that I was willing and able to pursue a career in the arts.

You moved to New York to pursue art, which while bold some also might find naïve. Why did you choose New York? What direction did your experience there afford you? 

Well, I guess it was naïve—in a way. But I moved to New York and worked in online media for a short while longer before finally quitting. Quitting my career, and admitting to myself that I wanted to be an artist, is what finally served as a strict point of divergence. So, yes, I knew it was ridiculous. But I also knew that it was the beginning of a willingness to take extreme risks and even to fail. That was hard—you know? But actually spending the time in New York turned my willingness to take a risk into a deep-seated motivation and creative resilience that I hope will see me through.

Going back to your Psychology background, it’s especially apparent in your submission for DiverseWorks’ Luck of the Draw in which the origin of the title, at least, is from Psychology. Can you speak to why you chose to study Psychology and whether/how it impacts your work now? 

I can’t say enough about how crucial my training in psychology has been; it has informed my conceptualization of everything. This is not to say that my learning, questioning, and seeking ended when I graduated from college. I’m still a very curious person, and I continue to read widely and a lot. But while at Stanford, I was able to build a foundation that, in retrospect, I can see gives me the courage to express myself artistically within the public realm.

In May, you spoke at a Diverse Works on Wednesdays Pecha Kucha-style event. In lieu of speaking, you played a segment of Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” in which the title character listed off a series of statements when asked by a friend to reveal his findings. How is this representative of your work? Or is it simply something that people need to hear? 

Well, the work I was presenting was work that I had completed about six months prior to the event. Having moved away from some of the motivations and ideas behind the work, I felt strongly that I wasn’t going to be able to speak authentically about them. This is not to say that I don’t remember those ideas, or that they aren’t still valuable or real—they are. But I thought that the excerpt from “Siddartha” was a more telling, a more articulate and authentic representation of the motivations and ideas that I am working through presently. I thought perhaps that it would be more interesting, given the limitations of the talk and the limitations of my work, to offer old work paired with (what were to me) new ideas versus old work paired with old ideas.

After a prompt by Rachel Cook at that same event, you revealed that you’ve only recently come to terms with accepting the idea of being an artist. What played into this transition? Was there any sort of epiphany that led to your acceptance of it?

A large part of my being able to accept the idea that I could be an artist was realizing that many artists have difficulty with this same issue. Feeling commonality and companionship with others has consistently gifted me the courage to empower myself and share the knowledge that I have gained with others. While the companionship with other artists serves as a comfort- I have to forge my own individualized journey. A larger goal of mine, a milestone I wanted to accomplish, was to pursue an MFA in studio art. When I accepted admission to an MFA program, it was such an overwhelming commitment- it allowed me to accept a little more ownership of choices and therefore my identity.

In New York, you began working in soft sculpture – textiles, fabrics, etc. Why did this material appeal to you more than others? 

There are a lot of reasons. Here is just one, having to do with practicalities: teaching myself to sew and working with fabric was within my means, both in terms of available money and space.

In our last conversation, you suggested that a lot of artists working with textiles have something hurting them or holding them back, and you gave the example of Louise Bourgeois dealing with relationships in her family. For you, fabric, and the sculpting of fabric, acts as a process of healing or nurturing. Can you expand on this idea? 

For me, art is about expressing oneself authentically. I know this sounds clichéd, but it’s true! In addition, art for me is about playing—pretending, letting go of my seriousness, testing out ideas, living in the imagination, even just amusing myself. Once I began to intentionally create art, I started to think about children as a source of inspiration. I thought especially about my own childhood—that place where my own schemas are rooted. Once I finished making them, I realized that my soft sculptures expressed the way that I, as a small and vulnerable child, had projected my too-difficult-to-deal-with emotions onto toy-like objects. Creating my own toy-like objects in adulthood gave me a way to actively mold and strengthen my emotional maturity in real time. Louise Bourgeois’ example, her history and her work, opened the door for me in countless ways. She continues to be my most formative inspiration.

Specifically, this idea of healing or handling issues made me think of your piece “A Self Divided” – fabric bodies trapped inside mesh stairs. While beforehand it appeared darker to me, you mentioned that it had more to do with stepping over yourself or not letting yourself get in your own way. Did you find that sculpting this piece helped you accomplish that? 

I did! But this particular piece is speaking to a generational issue. Many people of my generation—the Millennials—grew up being coddled by our parents. As a cohort, I think we were petted and encouraged and told that we were all winners; our teachers and parents alike tried hard to avoid hurting our self-esteem. The amount of positive feedback we received throughout our schooling meant that sometimes we didn’t really face disappointment until after we had graduated from college and had to make our way in the real world. And of course we’re the generation that had to try to find gainful employment during the height of a serious recession! But, the thing is, we hadn’t had very much practice at failing. As a consequence, we have had to collectively learn to “get over ourselves.” A Self Divided, was about me literally stepping over my past selves—which were ruled by a fear of failure—and refusing to let them get in my way. It was about growing up and moving forward in an intentional and creative way. But beyond the specifics of this piece, I think creating any work at this early stage in my career always helps me move forward.

As you work to expand your portfolio before you head off to grad school in Chicago, do feel pulled in any specific direction in terms of the materials you want to work with? What are you working on now? 

I think I need some time to explore different kinds of materials so that I can figure out what they mean to me. I am ready to join an increased knowledge base about materiality to the depth and strength of my ability to conceptualize. So I’m in the process of exploring; my energy is directed toward trying out new things. In the meantime, I am keeping a sketchbook and working mostly on drawings.