David Peña is a multidisciplinary artist and cultural organizer from the border region between Tijuana and San Diego. He uses the vocabulary of patterns as a way to contemplate personal and public occurrences and as a point of collaboration. He seeks to connect his visual practice with his commitment to people and place, exploring ways to bridge community and understand organizing as an art practice in itself. Liminality, transitioning across boundaries, has been a central focus within his practice. He investigates the many ways we enter into and through in-between spaces and the ways we are confronted with borders, geographical, internal, tangible and abstract.
His projects have been featured in Juxtapoz, LA Times, KCET and he has shown work at Centro Cultural Tijuana, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Northwestern University, University of California San Diego, University of Oregon, Un versidad Autónoma de Baja California Ensenada, among others.
As David Peña bends steel through the act of welding, the work of preserving memory is underway. Welding requires vast transfers of energy that reveal instabilities in the state of matter. Incredible quantities of energy are concentrated on the steel, melting it from solid to liquid, if only for a moment, so that the steel may be bent, distorted, dismantled impermanently to be reshaped again. A sinuous form emerges, one that has moved fluidly through the history of ornament. The Sankofa, an organic abstraction of a bird, is here turned into a web of tendrils. The sensual shape contrasts with steel’s solidity. Under heat and force, steel reveals itself to be surprisingly reactive to being touched. Underlying the material transformation of welding is a human body, soft and seeping. Welding’s corporeal nature leaves the traces of the body, including the stories and emotions it carries. In the welding pools, areas where molten metal builds up before it solidifies, memory, too, pours in.
In Peña’s work, the accumulation of all these physical and mental exertions are held, tenably, in the shape of a fence. Fences are often made to disrupt passage and create enclosure. Rather than dividing, Peña’s fence mediates connections across material forms and familial histories. It converses with an older fence, made generations earlier by Peña’s abuelo, Encarnación Montes. This older fence, made in the 1970s, surrounds the Montes family home located in Chula Vista, CA. Encarnación Montes worked as a welder and piping manager for National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO), which made ships used by the US Navy and for oil drilling.
Peña’s own fence complicates these histories by twisting and turning the central motif of Montes’ fence. The presence of the archive cannot be understated in Peña’s practice, which with every welded joint remembers, in form. Photos and letters are present in the memory work, but also the distances crossed, the time passed. It may seem counter-intuitive that a fence forges, rather than severs, connections. However, in this contradiction, like that between organic sensuality and steel’s solidity, undulating openings are constructed.
At the core is a practice of care sensitive to finding holes loose enough to stretch and let healing come through. Tenderness bulges through the impasse.
JOE SUSSI (PhD Candidate History of Art and Architecture)