Artist’s Notebook:
Monica Canilao

June 2, 2014 | Marina Galperina

ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, Oakland-based artist Monica Canilao talks about her installation TOMB inspired by death, change and rebirth, created for the Resonance Show at The Headscapes warehouse in Long Island City.

I came to New York for a month to build an installation for the “Resonance” show in a big warehouse space in Long Island City that some friends were given access to. Previously a taxi repair shop, they had approached the real-estate agency that looked after the vacant warehouse and proposed the use of it as temporary art space. The resonance show is the second project/art show that has happened in the space. The first show was called Headscapes, and from thus stuck the building’s name. The future of that space is that it will be demolished and be built into huge condos.

I brought the fabric parts of the installation with me on the plane. I had constructed these large banners for an installation at Art Basel a few months earlier.  I decided to build my installation for the show organically, based on what I found when I got to New York. On my first day, I went to Materials For The Arts and acquired for a ton of different kinds of trim,  fabric remnants and other materials. The next day, I took a trip to Build It Green and found a bunch of diamond-shaped marble and porcelain tile and bought all of it. I also picked up a few sheets of plywood and decided to make some kind of mosaics with them on wooden cut outs.

I had previously made huge cut outs for part of a public installation  in DC and so wanted to go further with that idea somehow using more kinds of material.

Photo: Tod Seelie

I wanted to make another version of those for New York. I decided from the start to mirror everything and to work within a constricted color range.

As I was explaining to a friend what I wanted to do with the tiles and cut-outs, I came up with this idea to make a sort of tiered, faceted, cake-like structure that changed shape as it got smaller at each level. Of course, trying to explain an evolving thought being finished as I am talking mid-sentence is confusing for everyone, so I decided to draw out what I was talking about.

The sketches are what I followed as a guideline to built my ‘crystal coffin’ which when combined with all of the fabric elements is an installation called Tomb.

I also brought with me some parlor portraits I started painting into, which I had used in the past to make series with. My work with those old found images is based in the idea of taking these images from long forgotten lives and using decoration and enshrining them with remnants from my own travels to build  new stories/histories and give them new life.

I ended up embedding several of those portraits into the front face of the coffin, as well as built another into the weaving.

All of the following pictures are what went into building the many pieces of this installation…

I had never worked with tile, with clean angles and sculpted geometric wooden forms, or with large weaving. I had never used a pin finishing nailer, or black caulk…

…so all of this build was a myriad of experiments with unknown endings.

I wanted to do something with all of the huge spools of trim I got from Materials For The Arts, so I made a huge wall weaving in the tone/colors of the installation — black, ivory, gold, silver, tan and white.

A good friend of mine had died a few months before, and a four year long and intense relationship had also ended just before that… So I wanted to build a shrine to the lost that was  about death, change and rebirth. The tomb captures a darker chapter and reminds us that though life moves forward, moments can exist as crystallized memorials… and from them you can be reborn anew.


Photos: Ben Mortimer

Monica Canilao works out of her studio in Oakland and is currently in Los Angeles preparing for her show at Subliminal Projects opening June 7th.

Previous Artist’s Notebook selects:

Artist’s Notebook: Ramsey Nasser
Artist’s Notebook: Am Schmidt
Artist’s Notebook: Rhett Jones
Artist’s Notebook: Brenna Murphy
Artist’s Notebook: Andrew Ohanesian
Artist’s Notebook: Melissa F. Clarke
Artist’s Notebook: Tristan Perich
Artist’s Notebook: Jennifer Catron and Paul Outlaw
Artist’s Notebook: William Powhida
Artist’s Notebook: Don Hertzfeldt