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In the coming weeks, Carla founder and editor-in-chief Lindsay Preston Zappas will be hosting chats with members of the L.A. art community via Instagram Live on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The following was edited for web from an Instagram Live conversation on April 17, 2020 at 5:30 PST.
Lindsay Preston Zappas: I always feel like you [present a kind of] wisdom in your work. I’m really excited to get your feedback with what’s going on in the world right now, in a pulled-back, cosmic kind of way. So, how are you doing? What are some of your major thoughts right now, going through all of this?
Lita Albuquerque: Well…
LA: I happen to have landed in this beautiful, beautiful place. We happened to move out of the residency that we were in—in the city for 15 months—a few days before we were to stay home. I landed two miles from where our house was in the Malibu hills, and right now, I have this little space. It’s seven feet by twelve feet, with windows overlooking a dale, almost like a forest and a creek, and bunnies and squirrels are saying hi to me, so I’m like: [laughs, raises hands in praise].
LPZ: You’re in heaven.
LA: In that way, I’m definitely in heaven. In the house, my husband has the news on 24/7, so it’s this incredible reality… A lot of conversations I’ve had with so many people, at least the people I’m speaking with, were very much on the same page, where we’re realizing that in lessening our footprint, [and] in stepping back some, nature is coming back. It’s very evident here, but also in the city. Our sky’s getting clearer, the air’s getting [better]. It’s a little shocking.
LPZ: The birds are going crazy.
LA: I’ve really come to the same conclusion as a lot of thinkers, that we are indeed the virus on the earth. I have increasingly felt that in the last year, and the reason I say that (the reason philosophers say that is for other reasons)[is] because we’re so disconnected from the natural world. I’ve increasingly become aware of it.
Maybe it has to do with the experience with the fire. I’m not sure, but it’s really the sense of this unconsciousness of who we are. This pause has given us a little something to think about, that we are, in fact, affecting [the earth] in a very big way, and not such a positive way. The virus is real. It’s not a joke, and it’s really scary, but who we are—it’s just as scary. I’ve never been that kind of person, thinking that way, but I’m definitely thinking that now.
LPZ: I knew we’d get a zoomed-out, cosmic viewpoint from you. How do you approach those thoughts without it being super nihilistic and negative?
LA: I’m not nihilistic. I’m, in fact, the opposite. I feel that what’s really happening is [that] this consciousness is pushing itself. Just like the universe is expanding, everything is expanding, including us. The light is coming through us, so of course it’s going to show the dark, it’s going to put it in our face. It’s all kind of coming up.
But, if you focus on the fact that if we can connect to the cosmic story, if we can connect to the fact that the elements are just as important as we are—that anything from particles of light, to particles of dust, to cosmic space, to rocks, to galaxies, and within us, you know? That whole thing—we can’t forget that, we can’t separate it anymore. We’ve gone up the top of the mountain, and it’s crumbling. It doesn’t work. The domination doesn’t work.
I think one of the ways of becoming connected to the beauty of that is to [be present in] the moment, to really think [about] what is going on, in a physics kind of way. If you take a slice through time and space, which is the moment, we can [see] ourselves in relation to everything else.
One of the things we’ve learned in quarantine is how incredibly interconnected we are, and how interdependent. I remember, for years, I used to tell this to my students. I’ve had this project I want to do, which is impossible: when I wake up in the morning, I’m in my bed. I open my eyes, and I think of all the people that have gotten me to this place where I can have this moment. Where do you start? Do you start with the wood of the floor? Do you start with the steel, which means getting the iron out of the earth? [There’s] the toothpaste—that has designers and chemists… I mean, who we are at this moment, that’s on the human level. If we could really see that… I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to at least start making that list.
LPZ: I think if you did that list, like you’re saying, you would see how impossible it was—
LA: It’s impossible.
LPZ: —But I would love to see an attempt, you know, of going into the rabbit hole.
LA: I think I should at least try. If we at least begin to get at this moment—all of my materiality, everything, and my thinking—not just who we are materially, but who we are spiritually, who we are physically—all of this…
We’re so dense with others. If you could take that model—I always go to the biological model—and expand it into the universe, that’s the connection. That’s not nihilistic; that’s incredibly positive. That goes to the feeling of sacredness, the feeling of respect, the feeling of gratitude, the feeling of who we are.
I just love these Zoom meetings because you see everybody in their thing— [frames a square with hands]. And we’re all the same. It’s leveled in a beautiful way. The leveling of the ego. I hadn’t thought about it until this moment—it’s as if the ego had left already. It just went away. It’s out the door! We’ve been wanting to do that forever, right? So, then we can start working. Then, we can talk to the Other, and the sacredness of the Other. It’s incredible if we could get to that spot.
LPZ: How do you deal with people that see the world differently, that don’t believe in global warming, that push things more toward a capitalist model and don’t want to collaborate or connect? How do we deal with that energy?
LA: I wish I had an answer. I feel like all the Democrats are banging their heads against the wall every day. Every day, everybody’s talking about the divide. I wish I knew the answer. I don’t. [Laughs]
LPZ: I’m looking at the skies, [which] are so amazing, [and] like you’re saying, nature is coming back. But a large majority of people are going to want to [be like], “Back to business,” “Here we go,” “Turn the lights on.”
LA: I know, and we can’t go back to what we had. We can’t.
LPZ: I’ve heard so many people say, “I don’t want to go back.”
LA: I don’t either, I really don’t. But we’re talking billions of people. We’re talking [about] this huge machinery. I wonder if I could speak like this to those who don’t believe it, and I always think if one can speak soul to soul, heart to heart—if you speak from the heart to the heart, it usually opens people [up]. That tends to be my modus operandus, in a way, especially when I speak publicly. But we’re so divided that we don’t speak to one another. That’s, perhaps, the first thing we need to start thinking about—how to do that.
LPZ: We feel like we’re all connected, but we’re still in our little isolated groups. We’re connecting, [but only] with [a] like-minded cohort.
LA: Exactly, exactly, exactly. [Avoiding the conversation] is not the way to go. I think that’s the issue. We have to [have] that conversation somehow.
We’re up against the wall soon, politically. I do believe in the power of art, and in fact, one of the things that saved me out of the craziness of what happened with the fire was art, being able to make art. I had been slated to do a lecture about my work ten days after the fire happened. I was not even a person. I didn’t even know where I was. But, I switched it and did a performance, and it helped. It really did transcend. Everybody [told] me, “you’re so lucky you’re an artist, because you can express that.”
LPZ: Your house burned down in the Woolsey fire, and your studio, and most of your archive of artwork, correct?
LA: Not all of my digital archives, thank god. My daughter was living there—Jasmine Albuquerque—and my children had their things there as well, and my husband, of course. So it was not just me or the studio. It was a family home for 30 years.
LPZ: It’s been a little over a year at this point. I wanted to ask you about that experience [and] how that has been a precursor for our current moment as far as having to let go, and having to invite that energy of chaos into your life.
LA: It does prepare you for anything to happen. And again, I’ve had so many people come to me, and love, and support. So much support from the community. I couldn’t have done it without that. My childhood prepared me, and [the fire] prepared me. You become a warrior. It’s not easy, but you’re a warrior. You connect with your elemental self. Very interestingly, back in 1993, there was a fire as well. In fact, a lot of my friends lost their homes in that fire, and we were surrounded by fire.
[During the Woolsey fire,] I was teaching at Art Center in Pasadena, and I was coming home and I heard that the fire was really close to our house. I really have a thing about books and my library. I had an amazing library. In my head at that time, I knew it had burned down, and I thought, “oh my god, my library, my library.” In one moment, I shifted and realized, “oh, no.” I understood that I had the elemental self. The elemental self is still intact.
That prepared me for the fire that did occur, where I did lose my library, I think, to some degree. What really helped was everybody coming forward and doing a “Library for Lita.” Steffi Nelson and Maximilla Lukacs — amazing.
So, yes, when it happened, I remember thinking, “oh my god.” I had this feeling that this kind of thing was going to happen more and more. Global warming was a big part of that, and I was thinking, “I just hope it doesn’t happen to a lot of people,” but it was like, “I can handle this. I can handle it.” You become, like I said, a warrior—and that doesn’t mean you don’t have fear, and that you don’t have grief, and that you don’t have those emotions and feelings. So we’re all here now, and we do have each other, and we’re connected. It’s a very interesting place to be.
LPZ: I’ve been thinking about how connected we all are. We’re all having parallel experiences, but we’re also isolated, [and there’s] this contradiction that we’re all living this parallel. But what else could connect the entire world so quickly? Everyone on earth is experiencing some version of this right now.
LA: It’s really amazing that everywhere around the world [is] in their homes. I have friends all over the world. My son’s in Peru, and they’re doing pretty much the same thing: finding routine to make them able to do whatever they have to do, which is really beautiful.
LPZ: How do we channel that communal energy and move it forward?
LPZ: Wise Lita, tell us.
LA: I think keeping [communication]. The more you speak to people and you see how much we’re all experiencing a similar feeling of things opening up for the natural world, that kind of thing. Your question of how to go forward—as artists, we make the work. Like, in my case, I want to do an opera.
LA: I’ve been wanting to way before this, and now I see why I wanted to. It’s very interesting, and why it was specifically the way I was thinking of it. Now, it makes total sense.
LPZ: Tell me what specifically about the opera makes sense for you now, why that idea feels really resonant.
LA: It’s about the idea that it’s time to hold hands. It’s time to face the unknown, to have the courage to face the unknown—and the way to have that courage is to do it collectively, and hold hands and to jump. It’s really about a song, it’s about a song that unites us to the cosmos. We’re all doing that to this new image, this new story.
LPZ: Right, thinking about song as somehow integral to that idea of projecting forward—
LA: —Right, and if we’re all singing and moving toward this unknown. [laughs]
LPZ: We got a question from Hillary. She said, “How do we connect authentically via this virtual platform?” What do you think? Do you feel like the digital/virtual is enabling authentic interactions?
LA: I think it is! I’m surprised. I’m actually surprised by it, but I think it is. My experience with it is that people are more authentic, and are saying and expressing themselves more.
I had a Zoom meeting for a friend of ours who had a birthday, and she had invited seven couples on Zoom. I had no time and I felt really bad—I had to leave. So I did it for three minutes only, but in that three minutes, the seven couples stayed in my brain after I had left. The image of them was indelible, and now, I started to think about the difference. When we see each other physically, the memory is of the body. It goes in our body. We leave them and we feel them. But, in this case, it’s mental and visual.
LPZ: And it’s pictorial, kind of— [index fingers frame a square]
LA: Exactly. It’s graphic. Perhaps it’s through that: perhaps it’s through understanding—I mean, graphic designers are going to have a field day—that visual and how that grabs people. When I do my paintings, what I like is the idea that it’s because of the pure pigments—I use, and gold, and pure materials, [and colors]—that it leaves an imprint in your head. It’s the same kind of thing. Somehow, electronically, if we can really understand that and work with that, that could be a way…
LPZ: There’s something about digital interfaces that feel inauthentic, or that tends to be how we think about the Internet or digital technology. It’s interesting now that that’s all we have. Some of those things you’re talking about, of how we connect with it, is changing our minds and our bodies differently than how it has in the past.
LA: I remember telling a friend, “oh, I’m so glad I can see you instead of texting you.” It’s really fascinating. [Laughs]
LPZ: Absolutely. It’s so lovely that you and I, just right now, are having this conversation that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s been really beautiful to connect with people like that.
LA: It really is.
LPZ: I wanted to ask you, too, on a day-to-day level, [about] what your routine has been, if there’s anything in particular you’re doing that you’re finding really helpful or peaceful.
LA: The answer to that is a lot of things. I’m so happy being here. It’s also been the rainiest year, so it’s so green, and the flowers are all out, so it’s hard not to be in love with [it]. I do quite a routine in the morning. I have to go into the ocean. That’s really important to me. It’s a little difficult these days—
LPZ: Yeah! Are you able to do that right now?
LA: —The [farther] up north I go, I find spots where I’m able and there’s no one there. I don’t do it that often, [or] as much as I’d like. I’m doing a lot more self-care. Just cooking three times a day—the last fifteen months, we were eating out all the time. I was telling somebody earlier, it’s like, “oh yeah, I remember this life.” I grew up in the ‘50s, and in North Africa—in Tunisia—so it was very [much] like this, except for the [electronics]. You get this sense of yourself, and it’s plain but it’s wonderful. I don’t know if your generation has the same feeling, but for us, or at least, for me, it’s like, “I remember this.”
LPZ: It’s like we’re moving all the clutter and everything…
LA: I used to feel guilty if I did this normally. If I did what I do now, I’d feel so guilty. It’s a lot of self-care. It’s a routine that includes gratitude, and meditation, and reading, and walking, and swimming. So, it feels like you’re not supposed to be doing that, like we’re supposed to be working. It feels very healing, which is interesting because we’re working with a pandemic. It needs to heal. So, this part of us has to heal as well.