Work in Progress 

Valeria Guillén, Columbia MFA '24

Valeria Guillén's process-based and permutative practice generates a series of auspicious symbols and conditions that playfully ask us to reconsider language hierarchies, materiality, and humor. These seemingly familiar forms presented comically and absurdly are authentic to the issue they reference. Whether it is toilet paper represented ad infinitum (demonstrating the fallacies of late capitalism production systems) or an irreverent figure of a public defecator, Guillén uses humor in the face of collapsing societies that have equated amassing toiletries as a sign of progress. Reminiscent of the aesthetics of rebusque in the tropics—a process of defining a problem (or the solution to a problem) in terms of (a simpler version of) itself—Guillén taps into plasticity as an expanded attitude where materials respond directly to environments of scarcity and uncertainty, encouraging us to question their physical and cognitive potentials. Guillén's practice exists then not just because of the language of art but despite it.

— Johann C. Muñoz


"cada quién hace de su trasero un florero" blooms joyously and optimistically towards the heavens, ascending above the viewer from a pair of gluteal ceramic cylinders. Our gaze is encouraged upwards from these bowels high onto a utility jacket which sits atop like a finial, a bud, a call for autonomy and a promise of transformation. "the belly button of the wall" doubles down on bodily excretions by foregrounding a defecating caganer, a peasant figure, commonly displayed (and displaced) within nativity scenes. It symbolizes abundance and mundanity squatting in contrast to the abstract divine order. The caganer becomes central to Guillén's almost documentative, historical painting as the sacred recedes in space. Alluding to Courbet's L'Origine du monde, Guillén consecrates the caganer's public defecation, the disregard for decorum, as a source of authenticity. The contracting sphincter hints towards a different origin of the world, one that rises from the ability to transmute debris into life—or, as Ben Okri affirms, "the universe loves debris, you see. it makes of it stars and constellations... to make art out of rubbish is a divine thing."

A sustainable ecosystem is only complete with composters. In "to extrude, to abject," the flies orbit an extruded coil embodying this role without hesitation. Their motivations are transparent, genuinely buzzing, encircling an orange spiral (a color that induces appetite against a pattern that produces nausea). Perhaps a reference to artists working in the emetic context of late capitalism (and tethering democracies), trying to churn meaning out of shit. "may you live a life of prosperity" rounds off this series of works by delving into simultaneity and time (as seven red noses correspond to the days of the week). These snotty pinned noses refuse to inhale the scent of putrefaction, but Guillén reminds us that things are always in motion in the presence of death.

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice or Bootleg Mickey makes escobas pa' limpiar" references Fantasia (1940), where a series of animated brooms are brought to life to complete the protagonist's cleaning assignment. Guillén's drawings echo each other proportionally, and the subject spawns in multiples as the series diminishes in size (the self-storage unit conundrum). The reference to bootleggedness is not accidental, and it tells us of a different type of Mickey, a copy of a copy, an unseen laborer. This unlicensed likeness exists free and outside of standardization and copyright, replicating and adapting itself—even deep in mercados and plazas in Tegucigalpa. Bootleg Mickey isn't necessarily the lazy chaser of instant gratification, a trying-to-cut-ahead-of-the-line figure who outsources his work to indentured animated brooms; instead, Mickey pirateado, mid-abjection, recognizes the autonomy of the tool and the system it operates within to provide clever solutions that transform his material conditions.

Guillén's thesis proposes an ecosystem of prosperity in the face of dejection. These works bestow good fortune onto anyone willing to immerse themselves in abjection as a means of emancipation.


Valeria (caganer)

masa dissolves atop the tip of a tongue

like clouds at 990m above sea level


misaligned teeth

panza pregonera tells of hunger

and 31 dead (after yesterday's failed coup)

metabolize the ancient, the sacred

savor that which reminds you of las manos de tu madre

ahora tus manos amasan otro tipo de formas

masa goes down smoothly

unlike swallowed gum

nothing goes to waste

you defecate at the feet of a Cerro on your way up north

¡eso! your public display of affection after witnessing the divine from the periphery

Courbet shows us a front

you remind us of the back

like a bootleg Mickey in Comayagüela