Deborah Castillo is a Venezuela-born, New York based multidisciplinary artist. She holds an MFA and BFA from Armando Reverón Higher Education School of Fine Arts Caracas, Venezuela. Deborah has been granted numerous awards and residencies including NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program, (2015), NYC, The Banff  Center. Artist in Residence  Program in Visual Arts (2015) Canada, Atlantic Center for the Arts (2014), Florida and London Print Studio, (2007) UK as well as “Premio Armando Reveron”; AVAP in the “Young Artist Category” (2013), “XI Salón Eugenio Mendoza” Award, Sala Mendoza, (2003); VI Salón CANTV, Jóvenes con FIA” Award, (2003) Caracas, Venezuela and more. Her work has been exhibited at Museum of Arts and Design, NYC, New Museum, NYC, Rufino Tamayo Museum, Mexico city,  Escuela de Bellas Artes, Bolivian Biennial SIART, Bolivia, Caja Sol, Sevilla,  UCLA, Los Angeles, ICA, London, UK and many others. In Fall 2015, Castillo will present her first New York City solo exhibition at Mandragoras Art Space.

“Power’s Clay Feet”

Exploring the crudeness of unprocessed clay, Deborah Castillo’s RAW showcases some of her most recent work, including a live performance, actions for camera (videos), and on-site installations—all of which employ clay as a conduit to address the power structures at play in society at large. As the raw material that gives form to these pieces dehydrates, hardens, shrinks, cracks, and eventually becomes dust—a poignant metaphor of the cycle of life every living organism is subjected to—Castillo invites us to reflect on the instability of power, here alluded to by the essential fragility of air and time.

Many creation myths portray the human cycle as beginning and ending in mud (wet dust, and to dust we will return). The longevity of this trope is hardly surprising considering that the properties of clay had already been discovered by prehistoric cultures. These properties allowed clay to become a common material for the production of utilitarian objects that, when fired in kilns, could defy the cycle and thereby assume the duty of lasting forever and becoming archeological vestiges. Suggesting that all power is temporal, Castillo focuses on the complete cycle rather than any of its stages, and foregoes the potter’s ancestral responsibilities by refusing to fire her work. Like wet clay, power hardens, but only to later crumble away. Power, has, indeed, clay feet.

With three hundred pounds of wet clay hand pressed into the gallery windows, Castillo creates a precarious and oppressive environment that points to the hostility and blindness of censorship as well as referring invariably to its cycle. As is the case with oppressive structures of power in society, the behavior of wet clay can be predictable in certain aspects but capricious in others: we know it may start crumbling away but we can’t predict when or where. In other words: with the exception of its temporality (the certainty that at some point it will decompose) nothing else is a given.

This oppressive, temporal environment serves as site for Castillo to present handmade objects as well as performances that employ clay in its various consistencies (wet, moist, and dry) addressing different power structures and completing the metaphor of its cycle. In the actions for camera, Demagogue (2015) and Unnamable (2015), Castillo focuses on the power and fragility of desire by presenting pettings between herself and parts of a human made on clay. Meanwhile, in her live performance, Slapping Power (2015), the artist disfigures a bust of a man that she recently modeled. While performing she becomes part of the cycle as her body and the clay become synonyms, flesh against flesh. Her hands are no longer the tools to disfigure, but direct means of interaction with the material, like violent handshakes. Both the wet clay and the artist’s body become sites of action; as she slaps, the clay likewise acts on her –the attack makes both sides alive.

By relinquishing her mastery over the material and establishing instead a partnership with it, Deborah Castillo urges us to consider the cyclical nature of power structures at play in society—a theme that has been a constant in the artist’s body of work for more than a decade.

Silvia Benedetti

Silvia Benedetti is a MA Student in Art History at Hunter College. Since 2014 she has been the Curatorial and Program Assistant to the Initiative for Latin American Art at Hunter College.