From July 30th (Fri) to September 4th (Sat), 2021, KOTARO NUKAGA is pleased to present ‘Future Reminisce’, a solo exhibition by Puerto Rican-American artist Carlos Rolón. This exhibition marks fifteen years since the artist’s first solo exhibition in Japan in 2006, and two years since his participation in KOTARO NUKAGA, Tennoz’s 2019 group show.
Carlos Rolón (born in Chicago, Illinois, 1970) is known for his multi-disciplinary practice that employs craft, ritual, beauty, spirituality, and history, and explores how they work within the lexicon of the art world. Rolón’s childhood home was filled with ornate, faux-luxurious décor, and hand-crafted tables and chairs made by his father in the ‘70s. The blue-collar baroque aesthetic of his upbringing and surroundings reflected the cultural influence brought over by his parents and his extended family from the island. Their homes― filled with patterned tiles, delicate faux porcelain, collected tchotchkes, Venetian and floral wallpaper, and gilded-framed mirrors― brimmed with hopes and aspirations for a better life in the U.S., while juxtaposed against a backdrop of a deep-rooted past.
The artist has used this to explore history that directly deals with questions of inclusion, aspiration, cultural identity, cultivated settings, and their relationship to post-colonial spaces. Rolón takes these social barriers and transforms vantage points based on his experience, producing a hybrid language of paintings, sculpture, social practice, and site-specific installations. In his approach to the white cube of galleries and museums, the artist has created interactive installations such as Imperial Nail Salon (My Parent’s Living Room) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, which offered manicures in a near-exact life size recreation of the childhood living room his mother used as a bootleg hair and nail salon to supplement extra income. Rolón’s two-dimensional pieces, on the other hand, have featured sculptural mirror, tile works, and tropical flora paintings embellished with 24kt gold leaf, a nostalgic homage to the floral wallpapers in his childhood home, but also a sober commentary on the history of his parent’s native Island of Puerto Rico, where the Spanish Inquisition destroyed much of the natural foliage, vegetation, and land for the excavation of gold. In this way, he acknowledges the complex history that shapes the identity of immigrants and emigrants such as his parents and the many that came before them, reinventing them into images of beauty and rebirth with diverse materials that communicate
rich symbolism and offer opportunities for self-reflection.
The current exhibition will feature a new body of works in which Rolón continues these conversations with new mediums. Following the first introduction of his tile works and their acquisition by the Museo de Arte Ponce in Puerto Rico and the New Orleans Museum of Art, Rolón has expanded on the series, referencing multi-layered stories in his new tile pieces. A visual hybrid comes to life in works that suggest rupture, tension, destruction, decay, and beauty, moving beyond national or ethnic identities to speak in more international terms, using various repurposed, new and handmade tiles reminiscent of Caribbean homes while also invoking the deep and layered history of the material. Many of the tiles featured in these works, some dating back to the 18th century, have carried the footprints of hundreds of people; women, men, children, of all colors, nationalities, and ages. Historical craft-based techniques originating from the North African Moorish culture, which have impacted craftmaking as it migrated via slavery to the new world, are represented in these objects. In contrast to these ancient tiles, the artist has also included cheap factory-made tiles available on the mass market. This may seem like a
juxtaposition, yet these mass-produced items were likely made by the very working-class people of the diaspora that Rolón aims to give a voice, the ones that have the least access to art. In combining these elements, the artist simultaneously recreates the comforting nostalgia of his humble origins while also giving a nod to the history of migration.
These tile works are complimented by the artist’s new graphite landscape renderings. The photos referenced in these drawings were taken approximately 100 years ago by the Historical Division of the United States Farm Security Administration as part of a nationwide propaganda project, in which they interviewed and photographed people and scenes throughout the American landscape. While calming and inoffensive at first glance, these photos of Puerto Rico were actually part of this government marketing plan, and were taken to showcase the island’s “prosperity” due to American backing. In recreating these century-old photos, Rolón looks back on the troubled history of his ancestry, and upon this symbol of suppression, he attempts to redraw a vision of beauty, resilience, and optimism.