Navigating Noctis Labyrinthus
Since the second week of March 2020, everyone's world has changed for obvious reasons. We've all had to rethink, reset and reprogram many aspects of our lives. Some people were stranded for yet to be known amounts of time, while others stayed put in their most cherished habitats. On March 13, 2020, I witnessed what I had only ever seen as news clips: grown-ups fighting for toilet paper at the grocery store. My reaction was pure instinct. I told myself, "Leave NYC! Head for the hills!" Minutes later I bought a one-way ticket to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
I could have gone down to Texas with my mother and sister, or I could have hunkered down in NYC but I had lived through 9/11 and knew that NYC or any major metropolitan area would be my worst dark nightmare come true. So I headed out two days later to the place where I have been living part time since 2015. Without any knowledge or fear that I would get sick or worse, knowing that advanced medical attention is hard or impossible to attain, I still did what my gut feeling dictated. I spent the next 10 months in Bishkek, and only in late 2020 finally ventured out to beautiful Lake Issyk-Kul. Normally I would have gone to the lake as much as possible, but Kyrgyzstan took serious border security measures and even closed off regions and towns and cities from one another. My entire terrain was pretty much limited to several rooms and many, many canvases, papers and subject matter to dive into. I read, listened to and looked at images and data related to radiation, geology, Mars, human space flight, biotech, nanotech, any tech, any color, and surface was game to use, manipulate and reconfigure.
With so much time, no shows, no shipping deadlines, art fairs or immediate travel plans I did what I was supposed to do. I was in my studio day and night. There were months that it was only me, bad news from home, quick trips to the grocery store and the sounds of birds enjoying an almost nonexistent human presence. Between mid March 2020 and January 2021 I produced 108 paintings and textiles and over 200 unique works on paper, started new 3-D modeling visualizations for sculptures, objects, architectural projects and even designed a museum scale home. Pre-covid, on a good year I would produce about 40 paintings and perhaps one body of works on paper numbering a couple of dozen or so that I would at least show and exhibit. The frenzy taught me to not only take full advantage of time but to also navigate ways to work I had not explored before. Navigating in the dark became second nature. Despite the gloomy and sad state of the world, I was happy to be privileged to be able to stay healthy and work so much doing what I love most. The darkest moments were hearing and reading the daily death toll numbers near and far. It was the first time I ever felt that art didn't matter and totally mattered at once. This binary sense was on repeat mode for me daily.
I've never worked because I have a show or because I want and need to sell my work to live and survive. I work because it's what I'm here to do. The reward for my work is more work. Fortunately enough people care and support my far flung ideas, and navigating into the unknown, as I have for more than 25 years, finally feels like home. Home is experimental, it's a place where everything is in flux, like the stars, planets amd atoms that inform all my work. I often think how terrible it would be to settle in a comfort zone.
Being a global nomad is not a comfort zone anyone aspires to create for themselves. Making art with jetlag, working under multiple time zones, language barriers, cultural differences and long distances are all problematic for comfort zones. Maneuvering and staying productive with these variables has taught me where I'm from, where I've been and where I can possibly go and possibly do. The last two years blindfolded us, but through our own rewired senses, we can lay the course towards where we can be our best selves. For me, that place will always be deep inside my work, always ready to share it, anytime, anywhere with anyone.
June 13, 2022
Vargas-Suarez Universal (b. 1972) is an artist currently living and working between New York City; Houston, Texas and Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan). He was born in Mexico City and raised in a Houston suburb adjacent to the Johnson Space Center (NASA). From 1991 to 1996 he studied astronomy and art history at the University of Texas at Austin and moved to New York City in 1997.
He is primarily known for large-scale murals, paintings, drawings, and sound recordings. He sources American, Russian, European, Canadian and Japanese spaceflight programs, astronomy, and aerospace architecture to create commissioned, studio-based and public artworks for museums, galleries, private and public spaces. Vargas-Suarez has conducted post-studio research at NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA; Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico; Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL; Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX; Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, Korolyov (Moscow), Russia; and the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. His writings have been published by Right Brain Words, New York; Edizioni Charta, Milano; and MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Selected collections include: The Museum of Modern Art Library, Whitney Museum of American Art, El Museo del Barrio, Queens Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Dieu Donne Papermill, Inc. Archives (all in New York); Jersey City Museum, NJ; Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, RI; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Mexic-Arte Museum, Austin, TX; Palazzo delle Papesse Centro Arte Contemporanea, Siena, Italy; Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno (CAAM), Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain; DA2 (Domus Artium, 2002) Salamanca, Spain; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC), León, Spain; Winzavod Contemporary Art Centre, Moscow, Russian Federation; JPMorgan Chase Art Collection and the UBS Art Collection.