Las Hermanas Iglesias

InterviewLaura GonzálesComment

Las Hermanas Iglesias is a collaborative team of sisters, the second of four daughters and second generation Americans: Norwegian/Dominican Queens, NY natives.

Laura González: When and why did you first decide to work together as artists?

Las Hermanas: In various ways, we’ve been collaborating our whole lives – we’ve been attuned to each other’s tendencies and troubles since birth. We both came to art making seriously after college, and we turned to each other for camaraderie and critique during graduate school. We sent drawings back and forth and carried on a visual conversation. Shortly after that, we decided to officially collaborate and dubbed ourselves Las Hermanas. From the beginning up to the present, we collaborate because the process is enjoyable and challenging, and it produces work that we wouldn’t necessarily make or think of independently.

LG: How does your collaborative work differ or deviate from your individual artistic production? Does the collaborative process influence your individual projects?

LH: A defining characteristic of our collaborative work is obviously the collective decision-making process and shared fabrication techniques. When we’re working solo in the studio, our decisions and makings are largely the results of our independent efforts. When we come together as Las Hermanas, we often extend our ideas into the performative or gestural realms, where we might not venture alone. It is easier to take bigger risks when we are working together––and that gives us more confidence in our individual studios as well. While our collaboration is a distinctly separate animal from our individual work, there is a free exchange of energy and ideas between all three practices.

LG: How have your international backgrounds influenced your artistic careers?

LH: Our parentage has definitely influenced our experience of livelihood, as have other aspects of our identities – as being women, sisters, outer-borough New Yorkers, straight, fully-abled and healthy, young, documented citizens, etc. While we identify as having an international background, in many ways, we also identify with the experiences of many first/second generation children whose parents instilled in them a certain work ethic and a dis/connection to far-off places.

Our collaboration very much deals with our relationship to each other, as well as with the idiosyncrasies of our Norwegian-Dominican background.  We can trace certain ideas back to our curiosity of where our parents were born and raised—for example, an interest in the handmade and mended objects from our Scandinavian side, and an inventiveness of means and a love for magical realism that reflects our Latino roots.

In terms of the influence our heritage has had on our participation in the ‘art world’… we’ve experienced both a welcoming from cultural communities in the art world as well as moments when some have challenged how we self-identify as though we’re neither authentically ‘Nordic’ or ‘Latin’ enough to fit their bill. Lately, we’ve been interested in exploring this in our work. We’ve been looking to artists such as Adrian Piper, who created calling cards given to individuals who questioned or made assumptions about her identity.

LG: How does the concept of tourism figure in your work?

LH: Our projects are often a process of understanding our place or non-place within a community or landscape. For example, during our residency in Paris we hand-embroidered maps of the city and monogrammed Paris as ours. We then attempted to physically embroider the city with these designs by walking the paths delineated on the map, trailing the thread behind us as we walked.

The project involves the walk, a video of two parallel frames (one of the act of embroidery and the other of the walk), and the embroidered maps. This project was a means for us to familiarize ourselves with the topography of Paris as well as a way to connect with a city that seemed intimidating and overwhelming – it was an attempt to transform from tourists into locals.

In another project, Tourist Photos (2011), we made a 35mm and Polaroid camera out of the cardboard being tossed from the lodging at our residency in Tasmania (with Six_a Artist Run Initiative).  We took the cameras with us to popular Australian tourist destinations and used the viewfinders to form the compositions for watercolor sketches. These watercolors reflected scenes we would have ordinarily photographed. Rather than experiencing this new place through a lens—rather than snapping a photograph and moving forward, we experienced situations and locations through drawing them. Later on, the watercolors, which were drawn on pre-cut 4x6 or Polaroid sized papers, were exhibited alongside the cameras.

LG: You work in a wide range of media, from performance to found materials. Do you come up with a thematic idea first and then brainstorm about which medium would be best suited for it?

LH: Our process usually starts with an idea or question, and the resulting conversations, research, and bickering develop into an approach. In most cases, the approach is a necessary byproduct of the idea. We are interested in exploring different methods of collaborating.

Sometimes one of us makes the first stage of a work and the other finishes it, and other times we create something entirely together from start to finish. Our manner of communication influences which method(s) we use, depending on if we’re working in the studio together or if we’re collaborating over skype, email, phone or post.

LG: What role, if any, has food played in your lives?

LH: Like many other families, our personal family culture has really centered around food. The best example of this is Christmas, the biggest holiday in our family. Christmas Eve dinner is a Dominican feast, while the menu on Christmas morning is Norwegian. Christmas Eve includes  Pernil (roast pork), rice and red kidney beans, sweet plantains, avocados, flan, homemade pastels, and maybe some dulce de leche. Each year, our father, Bienvenido, sneaks into the kitchen to eat the crispy pork skin.

For Christmas morning, our mother Bodhild orders Norwegian Viking breads like potato or flour lefse, smoked fish, cloudberries, yellow cheese, brown cheese, head cheese, boiled eggs, jams and  cured meats for a big breakfast. Our stockings usually included tiny pigs made of marzipan and delicious Norwegian melkesjokolade (milk chocolate).

Shortly after our parents got married they moved to Santo Domingo for a few years, and our mom learned how to prepare Dominican traditional dishes from our father’s aunts. We grew up eating Dominican meals about 2-3 times a week. It seemed completely natural to us that our Norwegian mother prepared quintessentially Latino meals. Sharing a common food history with people has always connected us to other Scandinavians and Latinos, and it has been a way for us to connect with far away relatives and family legacies.

LG: Has it ever influenced your art?

LH: Food has entered into such projects as ‘Bubblegum Competition,’ ‘Tart Eating Contest,’ ‘LollipopDe-coloring’ and ‘Cherry Contest.’ In these competitions, ingesting or interacting with food rides a line between a sensuous experience and a grotesque performance. In one of our videos ‘Souvenir,’ we conjure our memories while eating madeleines and drinking lime flower tea, using food as a reference to Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. We always attempt to have potlucks or food shares at our openings, as it makes the events more festive. We see food as a tool for community building.

LG: What propelled you to create the poster for this issue of Latin Lover?

LH: When we were first invited to contribute to this issue of Latin Lover, we thought about the poster as an opportunity to make a new piece or project in print form. As some of our work has explored the idea of mash-ups or fusions, we also thought it would be interesting to think about overlaps in the cuisine and what Norwegian-Dominican fusion food might taste like. We also wanted to immortalize our mother’s recipes—in the same casual way we’ve inherited them. We’ve made posters in conjunction with other projects before, as we like the idea of an artwork that is free, easily distributed, ephemeral and recyclable.