ADELA GOLDBARD: An explosion of laughter and fears

by Rosanna Albertini


ADELA GOLDBARD, Sheep, light jet print 23.5 x 70 inches.  From the series Fictions, 2006  Courtesy of the artist

I start the new year reminding myself that art goes beyond the artist’s person, art is an action sometimes opening eyes and heart, our intimate perception, in moments of clarity: we can see how things are. Then we cover them up quickly, as if they were sounds of one note that doesn’t becomes music unless other notes come around to give her meaning in a collective song. As we keep going we forget, looking for the next change, hoping not to be stuck, filled with disquiet, on a doorstep that leads to nothing, to pages that never turn, where stories have lost the possibility to be told.

Adela Goldbard is a Mexican artist. Part of her family went to Mexico from Poland and Lithuania; her name has European roots, but Mexico is her home. The body of her art not older than ten years. It’s a body well fed by concepts received through other contemporary artists, conceptual in the first place. I look at her work and hear Chris Burden telling me of his attention to relics, that are wrecks with no value, signs for memory. Lived life doesn’t come back. He adds, “I thought: a few minutes of performance, that I will never redo… it becomes a myth.” “You can make your tombstone out of cardboard, but then the graveyard won’t look real, will it?” “What’s real? What does it cost to do that?”

What’s real for Adela Goldbard as an artist? At the beginning it was one photographic image, the instant life of places in which she had introduced imaginary alterations in a physical way, with real objects: little red horses on a dry road, hats in the air, books among sheep on a field of grass. I wonder at her listening to dust, water, grass and landscapes who are perhaps asking for surprising horses, or dreamed flowers in a lake.

ADELA GOLDBARD, Horses, light jet print 27.5 x 70 inches. From the series Fictions, 2006
Courtesy of the artis

ADELA GOLDBARD, Lake, light jet print, 27.5 x 70 inches. From the series Fictions, 2006
Courtesy of the artist

Those foreign objects are placed with gentleness to play with the natural scene, not to hurt, they are only fleeting guests introduced by an artist. Images, one for each place, become crystals of memory. Some facets from the past, some of them completely new.

Down to the soles of my feet.
Down to the palms of my hands.
At the apex of my thought.
At the core of my extremities.

My spirit has feet,
my soul has hands,
my veins leave tracks,
pulses of time and the way.

I can talk with the dawn,
can submerge myself in turbid waters of torrential rivers,
barefoot can walk up the incline,
can hurl my song against the wind.
Indigenous poem from Mazatec, Mexico*

Did she feel like the woman of this indigenous Mexican poem? If Adela’s images are symbols, they seem to bring up a sense of resistance, an attempt at not stifling the art piece within only one meaning, or a simple verbal definition.

Quite rapidly Adela Goldbard started to interact with the Mexican human landscape: a texture of unexplained killings, social inequality, small airplanes or helicopters crashing with no survivors for the governmental or military members traveling in them; the feeling of an undeclared, bloody war tearing into pieces the canvas of peoples’ daily life; layers of cultural and religious veils wrapping the souls of the forgotten and the unconsoled, and infusing an extraordinary creative ability into their hands.

Their hands met with hers. Not only helping her to build three dimensional copies of newspaper images, the crashed small airplanes and helicopters becoming in their sculptural form visual monuments once more hiding from the viewers, as before to the readers, the reasons for the deadly accidents. The artist made them as white as silence. She kept the final photographic image and destroyed the piece. Little by little, Goldbard’s art makes tangible one of the still most diffused of our illusions: the belief that a written report, or a paper body, allow us to see and understand what really happened. So, if they are paper tigers, what to do with them? And how to preserve some sparkles of memory? Her answer is: by destruction. Let’s remake them and blow them up. How much I wish she would do it with the Tower of Pisa!

ADELA GOLDBARD, Cessna 208 XA-TWK, Analogue photography/ light jet print 55 x 69 inches. From the series Fantasy Island, 2012.
Courtesy of the artist

Monuments become a stop, a hole in the human landscape. Yet it is precisely what we don’t know that makes them attractive. During the making of her artworks, supported by many many hands of Mexican builders, Adela Goldbard felt her art had something in common with allegorical meanings of local rituals, older than the Spanish colonization. In some cases intertwined with Christian stories: the image of Judas for instance, burned out by fireworks in a search of purification. And her artworks, as she says, do work “opening space and time, expanding through a collaborative effort, then closing again.” No illusion, once again. If nothing else, they are a vibrant, heartfelt restitution of feelings to people used and abused by various powers over their heads. An ephemeral explosion of laughter and fears: Goldbard’s most recent work comes from three years of preparation and blew up in twenty five minutes. The soundtrack in the Pomona College Bixby Plaza spreads real gunshots, screams and groans, the voices of violence in Mexico. The action displays the unofficial protest of an artist who knows where she belongs, how much she, we all, transpire the air and the soil we walk on. The title, hard to believe, is in the lyrics of a song made by Walt Disney: It’s a small world after all. She let it enter her mind, didn’t push it away.



Concert for sounds and pyrotechnic colors and action  

 Bixby Plaza, Pomona College (CA)  November 18, 2017

Video – Courtesy of the artist and Pomona College Museum of Art



Photographic documentation:

Photo: Peter Kirby

Photo: Peter Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby












Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Here the fiesta ends / the road is closed, the song is over. / Lucidity is lingering in the copal, / kernels of corn close up their pages, / standing guard over the journey’s secrets.

A mystery is disappearing, / new ways emerging, ways to fathom life. / The birds trace paths, the earth is fasting. / The moon confides her troubles to the sun / and dawn shakes loose on the horizon.

Here the fiesta ends, / the song rests in the morning’s arms. / The children who spring forth open the world’s heart, / nature is sending signals.

Indigenous poem from Mazatec (Mexico)**


The two stanzas are the n.8 and 10 from a poem translated by Jerome Rothenberg in Like A New Sun: New Indigenous Mexican Poetry, edited by Victor Teran & David Shook (Los Angeles, Phoneme Media, 2015). I read them in Jerome Rothenberg,  Technicians of the Sacred, University of California press, 2017, pp. 364 and 365. Thank you Jerry!

Rosanna Albertini, White Owls – Artists I found in Los Angeles 1994-2011, Oreste & Co. Publishers, Los Angeles. Quotes from Chris Burden’s voice in “Boxed In”, pp.100-109.






From Dallas to Los Angeles, flying with Chris Burden twenty years ago and now — by Rosanna Albertini

He had prepared us knowing that we would have hardly taken him seriously. People rushing toward everything that looks new, like the rats following the magic flute, aren’t likely to easily accept Chris Burden and his art. At the opening of Metropolis II, at LACMA, was a Chris lingering about the entrance seriously tempted to disappear: “Maybe I shouldn’t be here,” he mumbled.

He had never given the public permission to devour his image. Art for him is not about the artist, not a matter of science or opinion, it is a gesture, an act that liberates from exterior superfluous things. And of course it’s human making, playing and replaying everything that has already been done, including death.

Chris Burden’s last piece is lighter than air, an airship prisoner of the room, turning around like an idea filled with helium, driven by a motor, “It keeps going, that’s okay,” Chris would say. Then, “It is good, maybe it is not art.”

Chris Burden, ODE TO SANTOS-DUMONT at Lacma, May 15, 2015  Video by Peter Kirby

TEXT by CHRIS BURDEN     Alberto Santos-Dumont is considered the father of aviation in France. He flew am airship held aloft with a hydrogen-filled balloon to cruise the boulevards of Paris at the turn of the century. In 1901 he won the coveted Deutsch de la Meurthe Prize when he flew his airship around the Eiffel Tower. I have been inspired by the imagination and experimentation of Santos-Dumont. 

Through the inspiration os santos-Dumont airship, I enlisted master machinist John Biggs to handcraft a quarter-scale replica of a 1903 De Dion gasoline motor. After working on and testing the motor for seven years, the motor was completed and functional in 2010. In 2014, after much experimentation with propellers, building the gondola out of aluminum Erector parts, installing the engine and mounting mechanisms, and after working with a balloon manufacturer to produce the cigar-shaped balloon, we employed our knowledge of engineering and physics to realize the sculpture Ode to Santos Dumont.

The airship sculpture, Ode to Santos-Dumont, is a highly balanced and refined mechanism. The airship travels indoors in a sixty-foot circle. It is tethered from the inboard side with very thin, almost invisible threads to central hard points in the ceiling and the ground. The balloon is filled with helium to neutral buoyancy and the motor is just powerful enough to push the balloon in a sixty-foot circle. If the airship were to deviate from its sixty-foot circle, the geometry of the tethers would force the balloon to turn in a smaller, tighter circle, which would cause the motor to work harder. As a result, the airship and its motor always seek the sixty-foot circle, which is the path of least resistance, or the sweet spot. The sculpture Ode to Santos-Dumont was made possible through the ability, incisiveness and good nature, determination, and patience of master craftsman and inventor John Biggs.



He has rebuilt the physical model of the wheel, recreated the original television, and in the B-car the essential automobile; a flying kayak preceded this fluttering airship; broken glasses became huge ships hung from the ceiling, maybe the waves’ memory congealed and preserved. All the submarines of the United States of America pretending to be a flock of birds in flight. Not objects, ideas one by one, at slow pace, took shape in one man’s mind, in a body anxious to know more than the mind, to physically think and touch realities we normally avoid: pain, fear and their sources.

“You can make your tombstone out of cardboard, but then the graveyard won’t look real, will it?”

“What’s real?“

“What does it cost to do that?”

“Art is not easy.”

“I do not eat, you are not eating me, but if you don’t have any relationship with me, I can die.”

Question and answer, all from Chris Burden’s mouth. Hung from his voice, I wrote them down while preparing the longest lecture I ever gave, — two days long — for The Museum of Modern Art in Bolzano, in Italy. Bill Viola was the artist representing the U.S. at the Venice Biennale in 1995. “Who lost?” Pierluigi Siena asked me, the museum’s director. “Chris Burden,” I replied. Both artists being mostly unknown in Italy, Siena asked me to present everything I could about their art and show all the images (slides at the time and videos) in two uninterrupted days. Siena immediately printed the lectures in a small book and personally brought a pile of books to the American Pavilion in Venice.

CHRIS BURDEN, The Big Wheel, 1979

CHRIS BURDEN, The Big Wheel, 1979

CHRIS BURDEN, The Ship- O-Cork, 1983

CHRIS BURDEN, The Ship- O-Cork, 1983

CHRIS BURDEN, All the Submarines of the United States of America, 1987

CHRIS BURDEN, All the Submarines of the United States of America, 1987

 (Still images from Chris Burden, A Video Portrait, by Peter Kirby and Dan Zimbaldi, 1989)

Early nineties, Dallas Airport. Coming from Italy, heading to Los Angeles. The few travelers sitting at the gate looked tired. We did not want to be there. The round head of a man turned, his eyes trapped in the airport’s anonymous waiting boredom. “Are you Chris Burden?” I asked. Surprised, “Yes, but…how do you know?” he answered. “I saw your face in a documentary made by Peter Kirby. Peter is my companion.”

Friendly meetings followed, with Peter and Nancy Rubins, Chris’ wife. And a lot of work, to prepare the Bolzano marathon. Chris offered to go through all his work with me, at my house. Beyond expectations! I accepted. The first day we were supposed to meet and work, I was very nervous. Instead of waiting at my desk, I started gardening. An odd feeling took me at a certain moment, but the bell hadn’t rung. I rushed to the door, Chris was mysteriously walking away. “Chris,” I called, quite upset. He turned back and walked to the door with no words, the work started. I always thought it was magic magnetism … do you know what I mean? Surprise like a lamp in his eyes, kindness, feline freedom, clear honesty. That’s why his art is hung on infinity, I can’t feel him dead.

“I thought: a few minutes of performance, that I will never redo… it becomes a myth.”

CHRIS BURDEN, Ode to Santos Dumont, 2015

CHRIS BURDEN, Ode to Santos Dumont, 2015          Photo: Peter Kirby


 Los Angeles — About MAD LOVE by EILEEN COWIN 

Today Reading   by  Rosanna Albertini

The hard task, looking at a narrative art work, is to stop connecting to the déjà vu. And stop thinking that seeing — not the metaphor, the physical eye-sight — is such an isolated, unique gift that drives us through the day. Scientific stories tell us that our small brain — cerebellum— controls our involuntary and visceral reactions to the symphony of stimuli brought by the wind, the passing time, a sound of potatoes crackling in the oven, a truck’s brakes screeching, the cat jumping on the chair, the mailman slamming papers into the box. The small brain transfers his work to the large brain that gives inputs to move uncountable muscles, including the heart. Our whole body sees or not, if we care or not. How the brain regulates the engine is still unclear after centuries of questioning.

The marine layer was soft this morning, dulling the pain in my head. They both dissolved in a few hours. After talking to my plants in the garden, I kept looking at Eileen Cowin’s images. This is the way I saw them, only for today. Tomorrow might be different.

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from Mad Love, 2014,  5.5

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from Mad Love, 2014,   5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

glimpses of gestures and motions, instants, 

and life of stills asked to deal with a lack of light

black density of one kind on paper

and different on screen

a pond of ink filled with stories

written so many times that it’s better

to sink them, the infamous déjà vu, or

the black of the mulch full of promises and of

uncertain future

so that meanings I see in this art work are of today

mad love for life

the room of an undesirable end of the act

undeniable product of a black spot

a black page of time, unwritten story

that hides in flatness or ran away on spindly legs

ugliness is not to be transformed

in our greedy time of saved documents

separate from physicality — the skin is bruised

tactile pleasure is brushed away

and the major focus is in the eye

our cutting machine, close the eyelids

and the black will be there although not perfect

not as dense as the photographic black

not as defined as the vertical lines

forcing the image to restrain

or to grow hard as a metal box

only the eye is full

indifferent to the dinner’s leftovers

and reflecting the tiny image of something

maybe he didn’t care to see

(These are thoughts in vertical discontinuity, not a poem. RA)

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from, Mad Love, 2014,   5.5

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from Mad Love, 2014,    5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

A poet wrote that sensuality is what makes a work of art timeless, that the world of the artist is the domain ruled by senses. Unfortunately, those fingers crossed in the washing hands will remain the same over centuries only if some material support will allow their image to be visible. But, it’s a wonderful idealistic trick to believe that senses have the privilege of timelessness. The poet was captured by his inner beautiful flame. Accidentally, of male nature. He was writing in 1939, war time. He had to magnify the human ability to perpetuate life.

May 11 in Los Angeles. As my work uses words, I see them peeling off. Precarious brain slaves in a uniform. They creep silently toward Eileen Cowin’s images to push back tears and flashes of memories that are the major presence in my day. Time, or destiny? has stolen from life someone I admired immensely. My mind has wrapped him in black.

Good bye Chris Burden.

PS Mad Love is an ongoing project by Eileen Cowin. These are two of the many images from the project.