Elizabeth Rhodes
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Prior to the opening of Rodrigo Valenzuela‘s exhibition, “Sin Héroes,” at David Shelton Gallery on Friday, I had the chance to speak with the Chilean-born photographic and sculptural artist while he installed his works at the gallery. Currently serving as a CORE Fellow at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Valenzuela has a busy schedule this year with at least five solo exhibitions planned for 2024 already.

FPH: Can you tell me about the title of your exhibition?

Rodrigo Valenzuela: So, the show is called “Sin Héroes” — “Heroless.” In my mind, there’s not that many heroes in contemporary society. When you drive around the South you see a lot of monuments for the wrong people. In Latin America, there’s the tradition of the roadside altars, so I wanted to make this similar to that, kind of like the attitude of making the altars in a more artful way. So I mix a lot of the signs, kind of Soviet-looking designs with the signs of ancient civilizations. I’m building something that looks like a roadside altar. It’s going to be like the altar has taken over the whole gallery.

There are also things I’ve tried out with altars in the studio and I’ve been documenting these objects as public manifestations of remembering someone that is not “important.” Families make and keep these structures in an urban environment when a loved one dies. I’ve been trying to build a show around that concept: What are the right structures to remember someone and why doesn’t American society have that? There’s something of that with power and money, but there’s no connection with the everyday guy. You don’t see them in movies, you don’t see it in politics now. I wanted to make these memorials and sculptures about that: What is the right way to remember someone?

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Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Valenzuela

FPH: I read that you worked in construction for the first 10 years you were living in the United States. Has that impacted your work?

Valenzuela: A lot. I mean, every piece is made by hand, so I have that mentality of: Give me two 2x4s and a saw and I can figure something out. A lot of my images are very focused on construction and about the process of making images. Obviously, I have skills to build things and I use them, but to me, the thing about construction, image making, movies and art — I like to know how things are made. When you show the seams of things, you evidence the materials.

I like the idea of displaying the materials and knowing that I worked on it because I see it. It’s not just about the skills, it’s also about showing that there is an economy and an intention to make things. I’m not really skillful, I’m just really good at hiding the problems.

My goal is to make people think about these spaces to reflect on the monuments. There’s so many (monuments) in the urban environment but I don’t know what they do. So I wanted to make one to figure out what they do. I think by making. With construction, it was a lot of that: making and thinking and making and thinking.

FPH: It seems like you have so many solo exhibitions this year.

Valenzuela: After this, I have a show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston as part of the CORE program. That’ll be the final show of my residency and it opens April 21. On May 14, I have a solo show in Los Angeles at Klowden-Mann. Then I have a solo in Kansas at the Ulrich Museum in Wichita. The show in Kansas — which is of work I made last year — is called “Prole,” it’s about the labor union movement. I made flags and a movie about the labor union movement, kind of the decline of labor unions and the decline of collective bargaining. You see a lot of politicians fighting for less and less collective bargaining and destroying teachers unions. It’s really important to think about that because they’re the only way that we can fight the rich and the powerful. That show was in Utah and now it’s going to be in Kansas.

After the shows, I’m taking a break for the summer and then I have a show in Vienna, Austria in October. I’m going to get ready for that show in the summer. Until June, I have one solo show a month. I’m more like a stand-up comedian. I go city to city, I do a gig and then I move on to a different city and different gig.

The opening reception for “Sin Héroes” takes place on Friday from 6 to 8 pm at David Shelton Gallery (4411 Montrose) and the exhibition runs through April 16.