Rubén Ortiz Torres : Alien of Exceptional Ability

After the exhibition ‘Plata o plomo o glitter’ at Royale Projects, Los Angeles, July 2020

All the drawings were made by Rubén Ortiz Torres for his journal of the ronawave period: Ahi viene LA PLAGA, 2020. A selection is published here courtesy of the artist.

He always played with joyful irreverence in the house of life

by Rosanna Albertini

October 2020. Like children jumping rope, training their feet to forget the obstacle and go fast, move, until the counting grows to the exciting discovery of a new ability, almost a different personality invisible to adults, but easy to share with the other little aliens lost in dreams of cheeseland or other outerspaces, all the art pieces by Rubén Ortiz Torres jump rope over borders: between Mexico and US, popular icons and sanctified boxes for arts, baseball mascots and codified symbols. His alien toys are incredible rope jumpers, some of them as big as real cars stripped of heavy organs, so they can move their limbs in the air like mechanical puppets, try to fly, and fall down on the stones where they finally dance the music of freedom. Why should they keep going straight?

Why should artists abandon the dirty dusty bumpy roads through the house of life and condemn themselves to the freeways? As Allan Kaprow says, “art tends to lose itself out of bounds, tends to fill our world with itself…” hard to believe he wrote it in 1958, if I say more than half a century ago it seems farther away, a long time ago. Kaprow was one of those wanting to put a bit of life into art. He was also saying, indirectly, modernism is not covering the whole of life, restrained as it is in the room of art. 

Rubén’s reality, which is also our ground and background since humans appeared, starts in ’64, when he was born on a planet still licking wounds after half a century of wars. Damage, pain, destructions, children deformed by nuclear radiation, people orphaned by the myth of eternal progress, by the cult of ideal forms. Trash, ruins and low price objects replaced the cult of human exceptional creativity. The idea of commodities became dominant. Although trained in a traditional art school in Mexico City, Rubén has dedicated his hands and mind to these disgraced creatures — artifacts in large numbers uncovering dreams and aspirations of most everyone trying to escape the pressure of reality. Artifacts and their producers, after all, are no different from the children of the Titans, the giants disgraced by Zeus. Titans stole fire, the fire that never ceased to burn and be cherished among us. For an artist of our days, this fire is the powerful, dense central region releasing the will to fight back against brutality and stupidity. A new enlightenment is necessary and heartfelt. 

RUBEN ORTIZ TORRES, Witness Protection Program, 2020 silverleaf, urethane, lead, candy paint, flake, one shot enamel, and Alsa chrome paint on decommissioned Tijuana Police car panel 48 x 62 x 5 in Courtesy of Royale Projects, Los Angeles
RUBEN ORTIZ TORRES, Chota, Cholos, and Narcos, 2020 silverleaf, urethane, lead, candy paint, and flake on decommissioned Tijuana Police car panel 48 x 62 x 5 in Courtesy Royale Projects, Los Angeles

Ortiz Torres: “I replace money with silver, and bullets with lead. I add glitter over layers of paint. Glitter is for me another form of power: power of seduction. Maybe more powerful what we do with culture, we fight back, making life something worth.” 2020, on the phone. 

That’s the difference between now and 1958: the house of art has exploded. Every fragment moves and brings beautiful flowers to the house of life which, instead, is shaken by disbelief. 

RUBEN ORTIZ TORRES, Burnt, 2020 urethane and crystals on decommissioned Tijuana Police car hood 48 x 62 x 7 in Courtesy Royale Projects, Los Angeles
RUBEN ORTIZ TORRES, Glitter Protest, 2020 silver leaf, urethane, lead, candy paint, flake, and pigment on decommissioned Tijuana Police car panel 44 x 56 3/4 x 5 in Courtesy Royale Projects, Los Angeles

Rubén picks up and reproduces images and objects when they have been disfigured, offered to the public in their cheap and funny version, winking to assure us that to be illegal is not a sin. Or he dismantles and remakes a lawn mower to let it perform like an artist, in honor of the immigrant gardeners in Los Angeles.

But recently, under the pressure of the ronawave, the magic transformer who had painted and transferred into art pieces Darth Veder, Ninja Turtle, Piolin, —marionette puppets for sale on the Tijuana border— calling them “Aliens of Exceptional Ability” (1998), has started to paint himself as an alien. As we all are, forced to distance, defaced, warriors. The ronawave needs it, for us it’s survival. No distance between the artist and ourselves. “The world goes round and round / In the crystal atmospheres of the mind, / Light’s comedies, dark’s tragedies, / Like things produced by a climate.” (Wallace Stevens)

The face Rubén shows, at the same time, are his paintings. Luminous mirrors of California colors and pictorial traditions, they mix pixels and crosses, innocuous splashes of silver and light, lots of light first of all. As if the paintings were telling us: look at yourself in our surface, and bring up the best of you. They were all painted on broken police car panels found in a junk yard in Tijuana.

“It is easy to see how underneath the chaos of life today and at the bottom of all the disintegrations there is the need to see, to understand: and, in so far as one is not completely baffled, to re-create. This is not emotional. It springs from the belief that we have only our own intelligence on which to rely. This manifests itself in many ways, in every living art as in every living phase of politics or science. If we could suddenly re-make the world on the basis of our intelligence, see it clearly and represent it without faintness or obscurity, Ortiz Torres artworks would have a place there.” 

Wallace Stevens, Briarcliff Quarterly, October 1946

 (The last line is altered by me replacing “Williams” with Ortiz Torres.)

RUBEN ORTIZ TORRES, Red Skin, (in 3 parts), 2020


Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, The Library of America, New York, NY, 1997

Allan Kaprow, The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California Press, 1993

Rubén Ortiz Torres, DESMOTHERNISMO. Catalogue of the survey of work from 1990 to 1998 at Huntington Beach Art Center, curated by Tyler Stalling, Huntington Beach, CA Smart Art Press, 1998

Rubén Ortiz Torres–THE TEXAS LEAGUER, Catalogue of the exhibition organized by the Glassell School of Art of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, curated by Valerie Loupe Olsen, 2004

SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON : Mi mamà era preciosa


an art piece by Sylvia Salazar Simpson to celebrate her mother

 Veneranda Emanuela Gutierrez 


( Images of “Mi mamà era preciosa” in the final configuration)




Poetry, poetry, is a gesture, a lanscape, 

your eyes and my eyes, girl; ears, heart,

the same music. And I say no more, because 

no one will find the key that no one has lost

And poetry is the chant of my ancestors

a winter day that burns and withers

this melancholy so personal.

Elicura Chihuailaf, “The key that no one has lost”

subterranean poetry from South America

Sylvia’s poetry is visual. It comes from moments and days that don’t sit in the memory, nor are they saved in a notebook. Time particles lacking the illusion of shape or names. Time is one name without a body. It’s hard for me to distinguish it from another strange name, life. Yet, both of them are the source of Sylvia’s attachment to decay as one of the most impressive, stirring and surprising living processes. A rosary losing pearls. Petals and fruits softened by their lack of effort in keeping their self separate from natural dissolution, and from human disillusion. Showing the decay as a body of marvels, Sylvia the artist reveals the physical apparition of time, and it’s a phantom.

ALLAN KAPROW      “Just steps along the way, and the artist’s eyes may have opened up a little…”

“But let’s say that art is a weaving of meaning-making activity with any or all parts of our lives.” 

SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON      “I had received some photographs of my mother. I reproduced them but didn’t want to put them on the wall. In the meantime the mantel of the fireplace accepted to receive some Indian globes, at the edges. On a round table adjacent I started to place flowers in glasses, with water. An old wrinkled squash and giant fresh Persian lemons were added to the globes. Persian lemons have a fungus on them that lets them rot quite rapidly. Some are green, some black. They were followed by pieces of bread from a Eucharistic celebration, and pieces of cedar. My mother crawled into the piece. It was appropriate for her to be on the wall, but her photographs wanted to be in the piece. There is a small owl. Some flowers were removed, or replaced, or added every day for fifteen, sixteen months, starting in April 2017. Drippings were done at Christmas to make beads and small candies shine for the day. They were drippings of piloncillo sugar liquified. My mother was a very proper person. The contrast of the baroque decay and her image is what makes the piece. The piece is a small offering, a celebration.”

Not only a celebration of Veneranda, also a salutation to

“The greatness of every day life, and above all its details, the sparkle of flames, eyes, hands”

as in the South American poem by Elicura. Eyes must become hands to approach Sylvia’s pieces, hands and tongues, two imaginary mouths opening when the moon fades and the sun is still pale, chewing and swallowing what the day brings, and at night, closing the gate of  teeth. Past and present are only one canvas. Dates, facts, would make hole and cuts in it as in Burri’s paintings. Family stories are a mirage from her childhood spread by words of the old women of Veneranda’s house in New Mexico, and later by Veneranda herself in Mexico City.

There is a pond of blood in their memory

a great great great great great…grandmother 

went to New Mexico with the first settlers coming from Mexico

Catalina Robledo gave birth to the first Spanish

 child to be born in that part of the world

they came with a land grant 

they had received from the king of Spain

not without disputes with the local Indians

Indians had their feet cut off

a puritanical morals in the house

more and more children were born

and when Sylvia arrived she was told 

she was better than darker people 

so when she grew up an adult woman she 

embraced the darker people’s side and started to say

about herself “I am Mexican”

she cooks and eats like a Mexican woman

it’s an art-making for her

ephemerality and messiness 

poverty and art were inseparable in Mexico City

where Veneranda lived with her husband and children

she sat in the park with them and taught 

them to draw and to revere art

Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera and the early colonial churches

metal or silver hearts, candles, flowers and food in front of them

miracles were described

every thing as real as light through the window

transforming objects in treasures

as if raining sparkles of gold

On the round table near the fireplace a jungle of dry and fresh flowers, candles, glasses, fruits, sticks of wood, almost cover an odd piece of wax: Silvia’s foot cut off and changed into a candle.

“Do you know my mother’s last words?” Sylvia told me years ago. “She suddenly woke up from her quiet absence and asked me, ‘what time is it?’ And I thought, in myself, the time to die.”

She died, — this was the way she died;

And when her breath was done,

Took up her simple wardrobe

And started for the sun.

Her little figure at the gate

The angels must have spied,

Since I could never find her

Upon the mortal side.

VANISHED. by Emily Dickinson


Emily Dickinson, Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1982 Gramercy Books New York • Avenel

Allan Kaprow, Essays on The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California press, 1993

Elicura Chihuailaf, Two poems on Poetry, in Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg

Source: Rodrigo Rojas, from “Three Mapuche Poets, ” in J.R. & J.Bloomberg-Rissman,

Barbaric Vast & Wild: A Gathering of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present, Boston, Black Widow press, 201

“Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpán (his fill name) has been referred to as the lonco, or chieftain, of mapudungun poetry, and works at recording & preserving the oral traditions of his people. Elicura is from Mapudungun phrase for ‘transparent stone,’ Chihuailaf means ‘fog spread on the lake,’ and Nahuelpán is ‘tiger/cougar.’ ”



Heavy! With thoughts? ― A BRICK

by Rosanna Albertini

Los Angeles, UCLA School of Architecture and Design, Room 1020 B Perloff Hall

An art exhibit in a classroom confirming that art is a strange ritual sometimes involving understanding and feelings, but not necessarily. The story features:

FIONA CONNOR, the artist, SIMONE FORTI, artist and friend, ROSANNA ALBERTINI, friend and writer, ALLAN KAPROW, the father of lifelike art

The three of us met the first time sitting on the grass of the Barnsdall Park with a few artists of Made in LA 2012 who were curious to know each other. Fiona was there, stretched out on her belly, handling a tape recorder.
She had in mind an alternative catalogue, and the conversation was a good starting moment, and was printed as it happened as a flux of words voiced by nameless people.

Simone felt easily part of that book out of order, more a bottle of water than a collection of statements. Words were kept in motion, escaping from their temporary blockage in meanings. When she performs, Simone’s body in movement is a fullness of feelings channelled into a slow motion physical language, almost savoring the quality of each gesture.

“I held a large grasshopper in my open hand. It swayed from side to side as we gazed into each other’s eyes. We sustained this alignment of sight through an exact correspondence in our movements, which created a certain resonance between us. We danced together like this for many minutes. I had just saved his life and we were very curious about each other.” (Simone Forti, Handbook in Motion, 1974)

Kaprow “When you do life consciously, life becomes pretty strange … so … a new art/life genre came about, reflecting equally the artificial aspects of everyday life and the lifelike qualities of created art. For example, it was clear to me how formal and culturally learned the act of shaking hands is; just try to pump a hand five or six times instead of two and you’ll cause instant anxiety. I also became aware that artworks of any kind could be autobiographical and prophetic. You could read paintings like handwriting, and over a period of time chart the painter’s abiding fantasies, just as you might chart writers’ thoughts from collections of personal letters or diaries. Happenings, and later activities, being less specialized than paintings, poems, and the other traditional arts, readily lent themselves to such psychological insight.” (Allan Kaprow, “Performing Life,” 1979)

The brick should be allowed to raise his protagonist voice in the room. No way. Kaprow hasn’t be around for a while. He never died for me. He might be happy to see a sort of happening resurgent in a school room in 2016. The brick, the English name doesn’t help to describe it. Italian is more direct: il mattone. Tongue and palate must stick to one another before the weight falls on the tip of the tongue and the lips shape an oval for the second o, that receives the accent. Sure heaviness, a compact thing. Like two teenagers dancing very close for the first time: il ballo del mattone, the mattone dance we used to call it. Brick, instead, is a Teutonic and French hybrid name: a broken thing, and the form of a loaf. Therefore, a baked form of clay. Architects of that day mainly saw the practical usage, the stillness of facts.

Our brick, along with 74 brick friends, lies in a corner of the room. On the walls, some bulletin boards replicate the originals at the Pacific Clay factory. Some bricks are wrapped with a printed sheet about the history of  bricks of the UCLA buildings. The building itself, and most of the other buildings on the campus, speak unmistakably brick language. But to hold only one, naked, unfinished, is handling a rough unit, a number asking to be a body, a body that would like to be something else: “I want to be an arch,” the brick told Louis Khan. The architect accepted the challenge. But here, in the school room, the only challenge is “doing life consciously” and feel a solid piece of clay transformed into a book.

Maybe Fiona looked at the brick like Simone at the grasshopper, were they very curious about each other? Clay is the opposite of an inert material. Minerals trap water into their molecules. And, in this Happening at the end of day, because of all the elements orchestrated around the little heavy red rough block, the mind goes through walls and buildings, the mind can feel what happens: the brick is a catalyst like any book, a substance that increases chemical reactions in our brain without changing her own composition. Water is trapped in our brain’s chemistry.

Suddenly The UCLA buildings appear melted back to the original condition of the clay, which was entirely dug from a site near Lake Elsinore. Let’s pretend it’s a virtual reality experience: bricks meet from ancient China, India, Egypt, and Northern Italy of course, they shake hands with their California siblings and go back to their functions in the walls, buildings reappear intact. It wouldn’t be history without hands and tools of their makers at the factory, without the people who provide the loafs, architects designing the forms, others teaching how to build, and inevitably taking the bricks for granted, as we do with our legs and arms. Fiona Connor gave to the brick a day of glory knowing it wouldn’t last. “Life,” also “conscious life” absorbs everything: geology, fantasies. The brick, a human idea.


ALLAN KAPROW, Essays on The Blurring of Art and Life, edited by Jeff Kelley, University of California Press, 1993

SIMONE FORTI, Handbook in Motion, An account of an ongoing personal discourse and its manifestations in dance.  Contact Edition, Northampton MA, 1974

Commentary by Charlie Morrow:  

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