Craft and the Uncanny: Mandy Cano Villalobos’ “Part of Me” at 337 Project Space

I had forgotten about the car accident that occurred near my home until I passed through the site and noticed sparkling in the gutter. It’s curious how the detritus of such an occurrence seems pretty if you don’t know the source. Mundane items can be perceived as something uncanny or marvelous because context or process. That glittery intersection reminded me of Mandy Cano Villalobos’ exhibition Part of Me, at 337 Project Space.

“Through meticulously executed pieces, the artist explores physical labor as both a meditative ritual and a futile exploit.”

Cano Villalobos’ art often has an allusion to labor as it relates to justice and exploitation. Western ideas about labor and power are eloquently expressed in all the selections included in Part of Me. Included in the show are four groups of approximately twenty artworks including Flesh of My Flesh, Letters from Mariu, Bibliothèque, and an untitled diptych made from burlap and hair.

Flesh of My Flesh consists of two wood structures resembling shoji lanterns. The top halves are sheathed in white fabric crafted from clothing belonging to Cano Villalobos’ family members. Each garment was deconstructed, then carefully reconfigured and stitched by hand to accommodate the wood armatures. According to the artist , Flesh of My Flesh, “acts as an homage to intergenerational memory.” The clothing included can be interpreted as sentimental attachment to items under the guise of pragmatic repurposing. Flesh suggests the Japanese practice of boro, which involves repeated mending of textiles, allowing items to last several generations.

Cano Villalobos indicated that the inspiration for the burlap diptych was twofold; she was interested in the association of hair and burlap with the act of mourning, and then she heard a news story about human hair available for purchase in the United States. Most of the hair comes from women in India who offer their hair to Neela Devi (a consort of Vishnu), while on pilgrimage to Tirupati Temple. The option to purchase hair that was donated as an expression of religious devotion for one’s own enhancement seems almost a moral transgression, and she alludes to this paradox. The bowl of hair is placed like offering, and the coarse fabric embellished with human hair suggests the hair shirts and sackcloth worn a form of mortification for pentinents

Mandy Cano Villalobos Bibliothèque                    Bibliothèque, Mandy Cano Villalobos

Bibliothèque is a series of five mixed media pieces comprised of clay-colored sheets of paper, evenly punctured to resemble flesh from which hair has been forcefully removed. Each has a long swath of hair emerging from its center. “(The) skin-like pages…reference religious relics, bodily absence and unspoken histories.”

Mandy Cano Villalobos Letters from Mariu

Letters from Mariu, Mandy Cano Villalobos

Mandy Cano Villalobos Letters

Letters from Mariu (detail), Mandy Cano Villalobos

Letters from Mariu includes four hand-written letters with text extracted by a fine razor blade. Exceptionally thin airmail paper allows writing on the verso to be discerned, while remaining illegible. The letters tantalize the viewer who scrutinizes text that is inverted, or exists as a void. Letters from Mariu, addresses the inadequacy of verbal communication… (and) reduces the voice of the author to a delicate whisper.” . Personal or institutional censorship would seem to be the subject of Letters, except that the omitted words are collected in a small bottle, not discarded. Both Letters and Bibliothèque resonate with Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction of logocentrism and his proposition that the chain of signification becomes the trace of presence-absence, but knowledge of postmodern aesthetics is not necessary to appreciate what is being expressed in this series. Each piece is visually compelling so the theoretical underpinning and didactics only enhance appreciation of the tangible works. In my opinion, that is a hallmark of great art, and a common feature of Cano Villalobos’ oeuvre.


337 Project Space
337 S. Division Ave., Grand Rapids
Hours:  by appointment  (616) 828-3944



-by Tamara Fox


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