On a nondescript block in Inglewood, Los Angeles County, an office building facing onto the street has a window illuminated long after working hours. The window belongs to Mandujano Cell, an exhibition space established and run by local artist couple Juan Capistrán and Hazel Madujano with the aim of exposing contemporary art to the community.
Resisting the typical gallery format, the space opens around the time many people finish work and hosts a series of installations in its window viewable from the street throughout the day and night. Mandujano Cell is both disruptive and cohesive: it sticks out against the rows of uniform windows and venetian blinds, but it is also an open, welcoming space with a will to be an active part of its surrounds. At its heart is a desire to question and to reevaluate how we experience art and how an artist can use their context. I went to the space and spoke to Juan and Hazel about Madujano Cell and their own work:
Can you tell me more about Mandujano Cell ?
Juan: I wanted to have a space that was accessible to the public at all times: we wanted something that had top to bottom windows, so anyone passing by can see it. For the most part all the artists we are working with are LA based and they’re all at different levels in terms of career: emerging, well established, or somewhere in between.
There are multiple meanings of ‘cell’: there’s the jail that’s right across from us, and the space itself is the size of a cell, but it’s also playing with the idea of a clandestine, underground cell, and then also a cell on a biological level, and this idea of how you can infect a system. The way the space works is very word-of-mouth. We were always into subcultures and this idea of ‘fuck the mainstream’. On the one hand we are part of the art world, but we want to stay on the margins too. We want to keep the space like that, for instance our openings are at a really odd hour.
Hazel: Partly because we don’t want to disturb our neighbours, we’re really respectful of them. Some of them have been here for twenty years in this building. We’re not interested in changing the neighbourhood. That’s not our intention at all.
Why do white bricks recur in your work and what do they symbolise for you?
J: The white bricks came from a series I started in 2012. It was a series of whitewashed objects that had to do with revolutionary ideas: a brick, Mao’s red book, and flags. A lot of Camus’s writing influenced me during that period, I was thinking about the idea of the struggle for a just life. I did a performance where I shattered these white painted bricks, my hands are painted white and there’s a white background. The innards of the brick are exposed and it’s this bright red. It’s an idea of rebirth and a symbol of violence.
H: We printed a takeaway where on one side was this rock texture pattern on the same scale as a brick and the viewer could take it and crumple it up and it becomes a rock. The back side had a step by step guide on turning it into a stone, by destroying this object you transformed it into this idea of a weapon. It was the project that really set the pace for our collaborations. We realised we were able to speak the same language at that point.
J: That piece captured this idea that of revaluating our ideas of revolution and resistance.
Why are those ideas particularly interesting to you now?
J: That project captured a moment of transition: from this old idea of revolution, of acts of physical resistance, I think we’re at a point now where that doesn’t work anymore, we have to find different ways to struggle. We live in a moment of crisis. We have to stop being afraid, because that’s keeping us back, this fear of the other. How do we move forward from that?
So the answer is action? Resisting the static?
J: Yes, here everybody is so content with consuming, just so long as you have your thing, you’re good. There has to be some kind of levelling of the field. The only thing I can do is pose these questions. I don’t have the answers.
We wanted to open up a space, it’s a labour of love, we want to work with our friends, our peers, our mentors, and artists we think are producing interesting things.
H: We want to use this space as a nexus point.
How does LA inform your work?
J: It’s heavily influenced my practice, its multiple histories, the multiples centres, all the people that come and go through here. The idea of just producing work that is just about one place doesn’t work anymore, but at the same time you can’t help but use what you know. I make work that is informed by my experiences, but at the same I layer it with all these other ideas.
H: LA is one of the things we live and breathe. We both grew up here and I think its influences us in almost every way, the spirit of it, the histories, the neighbourhoods. On a formal level – the blue here is different from a blue in Holland, so it influences how we choose colours.
Mandujano Cell is currently showing Freddy Villalobos: In Wounds, We Live Our Unfinished Adventures. mandujano-cell.com