Important movements in art have always taken place where groups of artists can get together. Something happens. It’s some type of electricity. – Elaine de Kooning
During these pandemic times, I assumed all artist-in-residency programs had shut down. But I was wrong. Aida Lizalde, a multi-media artist based in California, is currently finishing up an artist-in-residency program at Casa Lü in Mexico City. She’s working on a paper-pulp based project called “Overwhelming Ground.” (Some, but not all, of Aida’s pieces incorporate ceramics. Her work can be seen on her website.)
Most importantly, in the middle of this pandemic, Aida is finding opportunities to connect with other artists, advance her career, and live an art-centered life.
Casa Lü’s website contains artist testimonials about their experiences during Covid-19. It also provides information on the 4-week and 6-week residency programs offered at the facility. Casa Lü posts virtual exhibitions on their site from participating artists.
Aida answered some questions I had about her experience at Casa Lü. She also went around the space and took some photographs to give me a better idea of the facility.
JW: What were your objectives in looking for a residency program?
AL: There are a few main things that I wanted to gain from attending a residency this year. The first one is to have some time away from my regular life so the shift in the environment can help me focus on producing work and gain inspiration from being immersed in a new place. I have been preparing to apply for an MFA program, so I wanted to come to Mexico to focus on a new series of work that I will be applying with.
My studio in California is outdoors so it worked out perfectly that I came when the heat of the summer and the fire season were at its peak. I wouldn’t have been able to make all this work if I had stayed home.
The second thing I wanted to do is to network and meet new artists so I can learn about art conversations that are greater than just California’s or even the United States,’ and to make connections with artists elsewhere so I can also expand my practice and professional opportunities.
When looking for residencies in Mexico City I also wanted to connect with my homeland and its arts environment. I’ve lived most of my adult life in California so I felt the need to be here as an artist, make and exhibit work here and start to have a presence here.
JW: Did you achieve those objectives?
AL: Yes, I am very happy with the progress I have made in my practice and with the connections with the people I’ve met. I thought being at Casa Lü during the pandemic was going to be challenging because of the closures, but it has been a good balance between the solitude and comfort of the beautiful studio space and also attending galleries and Museums by appointment following health guidelines. The fact that the art spaces that are open require a previous appointments, make the experience better because we got guided tours and have meet gallery owners and artists who would perhaps not be present if it was just a regular day.
There is currently only one other artist at Casa Lü, so we have really taken advantage of the studio space. During my residency, there have been two exhibitions in the main gallery, and there were private viewings where I got to talk to a few local artists and curators. Since there weren’t many of us here, the conversations were more intimate and in-depth.
Usually, this residency accommodates up to five artists, even though I didn’t get the experience of having a cohort, I definitely feel like Lupe and some local artists who were previously in residency here and still come around have been extremely welcoming including Lester Aguirre and Elmi Mata.
JW: How did you find your particular program?
AL: I usually look at residencies through Alliance of Artists Communities or sites like the California Arts Council in their opportunities section. But I actually found out about Casa Lü through Instagram surprisingly. There is an artist I know from UC Davis (my alma mater) who attended, and another one that knows a close friend of mine who also attended recently.
JW: What are the most important criteria to consider in selecting an artist-in-residence program?
AL: There are tons of criteria but I guess for me the two most important ones are the place and the price. Compared to many residencies, Casa Lü is quite affordable, and it is located in a huge, beautiful, and complex city. I attended Vermont Studio Center in 2017 and it was very different, there were tons of residents and it was in the middle of rural Vermont. Location-wise I prefer Mexico City because I have more freedom to move around and see tons of arts and culture without needing a car. When I went to VSC I was on a fellowship so I appreciated the fact that they had funding opportunities for up-and-coming artists and for BIPOC artists, I also liked that they included both writers and visual artists at VSC.
JW: In retrospect, are there any questions you would have asked prior to selecting the program you did?
AL: I actually emailed back and forth with Lupe before attending so all my questions about the space, the pandemic, the programming, etc. were answered by her. I felt ready and comfortable when I arrived.
JW: Was (is) Casa Lü a good program? What makes it so? Can you describe your experience there?
AL: Casa Lü is a great program, I would highly recommend it. Lupe is very professional and has all the house rules and programming on point, yet she is also personable, friendly, fun, and supportive. The house is a beautiful mid-century modern style five-bedroom, there are huge windows, lots of plants, the climate is great, and the neighborhood is safe, quiet, and close enough to Condesa, Roma (the hip neighborhoods), and Chapultepec Park.
My experience here has been relaxing and fun. According to Lupe most people who’ve been residents had been to Mexico City prior. I can see why someone would be hesitant to apply if they’ve never visited. I was in Mexico City two years ago for six weeks working on a project so I felt very comfortable visiting this time around. It is a huge city so it could be overwhelming for someone who isn’t used to that or someone who hasn’t traveled much.
JW: Did you gain or learn anything you did not expect?
AL: Aside from a whole new series of works, I’ve gained new friends. I also got a break from all the awful stuff going on in the US. I feel privileged to be able to step away from the fires, the protests, the threat of fascism etc. that seems to daunt us all at the moment. Having the chance to focus on my work for a few weeks and be in such a beautiful place has been healing for me and for my practice.