Material Matters

September 21 — November

Participating in The 5th SUR:biennial (2019)

Material Matters features works by Cruz Castillo, Elisa Ortega Montilla, Ruben Ochoa, and Tessie Salcido Whitmore. These four artists gather together the materials of urban life, here in Southern California – plastics, steel, concrete, fabrics, detritus –  and manipulate them in order to address themes of identity, memory, political positions, and the poetics of the urban environment. The artists make discoveries with these gathered materials and reassemble them in new ways to bring a fresh insight into what it might mean to be urban within our massive contemporary metropolis.

SUR: biennial features independently-curated exhibitions that showcase recent and newly-commissioned works by local and international artists who have been influenced by the cultures and artistic traditions of Mexico, Central & South America, and the Caribbean. Joining Torrance Art Museum as participants in the 5th SUR:biennial (2019) are: Cerritos College Art Gallery, Cypress College Art Gallery, Eastside International (ESXLA), Long Beach City College Art Gallery, Rio Hondo College Art Gallery, [and] SPARC: The Social & Public Art Resource Center.

Cruz Castillo goes on walks around the city as part of his practice. While on these travels throughout the city’s streets, he examines the sculptural landscape the public sphere has to offer and begins to see the repetition of objects that make up the urban space. He gravitates toward the objects that are constitutive of the public realm of each neighborhood he navigates through in order to find the poetics within the subtle gestures each object holds within the fabric of the environment.


Cruz Castillo
A Monument to Liberty

Cement, synthetic American Flag, rubber band
22.5 x 14 x 16 inches

Elisa Ortega Montilla’s work explores three fundamental parts of who she is: her experience of being a woman and her feminist values; her feelings of acculturation from living in the US as an immigrant while maintaining her Spanish identity; and her opposition to consumerism and commitment to environmental sustainability. Her practice uses installation, wood sculptures, and reclaimed and overlooked textiles, addressing themes of memory, transformation, adaptation, and identity through materials that have been discarded, deconstructed, and reconstructed. She mixes the found and the made, the new and the old; tradition and experimentation; the mass-produced and the handmade; her Spanish values and American experience; and the present and the past.


Elisa Ortega Montilla
Descartes (detail)
Pine, metal and fiber
168 x 92 x 60 inches

Ruben Ochoa’s dramatic sculptural installations invite the viewer to re-think the existing environment and question their surroundings. His works are re-evaluations of objects and materials that can easily be glossed over as mundane or merely pragmatic: concrete freeway walls, wooden ladders, ficus trees. He transforms these materials into large-scale installations through which he considers issues of social class and identity.

Ruben Ochoa
Ever since I was little it looked like fun
Concrete and steel
Dimensions variable

Tessie Salcido Whitmore
Krazy Kat Peeking (detail)
2018 - ongoing
Collected figurines
Dimensions variable

Tessie Salcido Whitmore’s work is about identity, hidden and discovered. Her aesthetic choices are influenced by her time on the road following the Grateful Dead; California counter-culture; her childhood spent in a matriarchal household of New Age holistic health, philosophies, and religion; and being mixed race. She explores this through the act of collecting and letting materials come together in odd ways.

Using quotidian materials, such as found objects, 99-cent store colorful seasonal items, and common household goods, She is interested in finding a mystical sense in the mundane. She creates installations, sculptures, and photographs that use a lens of pop and counter-culture to investigate representations of women, domesticity, the other, and New Age religion.