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Full of Tears at the Vincent Price Art Museum is a fractured self-portrait of the artist Gabriela Ruiz, in which she has constructed a surreal domestic setting defined by a clashing palette of red and green. In one corner, three wide-open red doors, still attached to their frames, are arranged at precarious angles as if tumbling over. A video projection fills each one: in one, we see Ruiz painted bright green, her face contorted to express a range of emotions, from rage to sadness to exuberance. Inside another door frame, a digital model of the artist’s face cries cyber tears that gradually fill up the screen until it’s flooded, her face submerged in liquid. Small mirrors attached to the doors reflect and double the images back on themselves.
Across the gallery hangs a large, empty picture frame bordered by a flowing velvet curtain, onto which images of Ruiz and her family are projected, offering a more tradition-bound foil to the eccentric visuals projected on the doors. An eerie, ambient soundtrack emanating from a speaker in the ceiling fades into clips of merengue and industrial music, adding a sonic element to this hybrid melange. In the center of the space sits a mossy mound and a meditative stone fountain, offering a moment of respite between the drama of the other installations. Still, there is an unsettling quality to this work, as pigeon-spike-topped security cameras, which rest on the mound, project the viewers’ image back to them on a screen. Through surveillance and reflection, Ruiz places the viewer on display as well, locating them within her own personal biography.
Ruiz, who also goes by the name “Leather Papi,” often works in the genre of fashion design and performance art, where her creations celebrate her Latinx heritage, queer identity, and BDSM subculture. Full of Tears pulls that same celebration into a more contemplative, but still messy, spirited reflection on the artist’s interior and exterior worlds. What the show lacks in cohesion, it makes up for in theatrical maximalism, and Ruiz’s mirrors, projections, windows, and cameras capture the conundrum of representation, surveillance, and visibility that greets bodies and communities that fall outside a very narrow vision of normalcy. She turns a lens back on the viewer, making us consider what it means to be seen in ways that are not always empowering, but suspect.
One work captures the raw immediacy of Ruiz’s performances to great effect, making it a highlight of the show: an angry red sculpture, made from body casts and insulation foam, a zaftig self-portrait that alternates between body positivity and body horror. Multiple arms jut out from the torso, whose head sprouts from its crotch, a security camera embedded in its mouth. Between digital fantasy and photographic memory lies this corporeal avatar, yet another manifestation of Ruiz’s multi-faceted persona—one which she forces the viewer to confront.
Gabriela Ruiz: Full of Tears runs from September 21, 2019–February 15, 2020 at the Vincent Price Art Museum (East Los Angeles College, 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park, CA 91754).