All images courtesy the artist
In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. From yogis, to psychics, to witches, City of the Seekers examines how creative freedom enables LA-based artists to make spiritual work as part of their practices.
As a multidisciplinary artist, Ciriza relies on the senses to articulate what is usually left unsaid, creating and engaging in ritualistic performance with free-flowing currents of eroticism, horror, and fantasy. Her 8mm and 16mm film and video stills, as well as her soft sculptures and drawings, transcend the postmodern practice of deconstruction, advocating the use of the essential self as a collaborative tool to effect change on a communal level. Often fashioning herself as a type of beached sea monster that's evolved solely from our own molting, Ciriza has created a body of work that evokes the slow shedding of human hair and snake skin that continuously falls off bodies and becomes part of the earth, helping to build nests again.
Ciriza was raised in a big family of mystically-minded Cubans who emigrated to East Los Angeles and opened a bodega, where the budding artist spent a lot of time as a kid. As an art student in San Francisco, where she eventually earned a BA in sculpture, she found pleasure in creating rooms and environments before breaking down the confines of space and exploring the ether of the room itself. Her goal has always been to confidently disrupt reality, and she summons the materials for her work depending on her vision at the time. "There comes a need to convey something, and I translate it," she says. "That's all it is to me: distillation and translation."
One of the things that sets Ciriza apart is the fact that she loves using hair in her work, collecting bags of it from other people's haircuts. It is a raw, unlikely material, but somehow effective, simply because Ciriza's work is about discovering and harnessing uncontrolled, unrestrained pre-civilization nature, and the powers of human instinct and nonverbal communication. She's interested in transmogrification and transmutation: creating from the synthesis of unlikely and disparate elements while unveiling a hidden type of feral ideology.
Ciriza has no central vision in her right eye, which she ironically discovered while working at a library for the blind as a sighted reader of Playboy for editors translating columns into Braille. However, she says it's been both a loss and a gain in terms of sparking creativity: "At that point, I took very clear notice that loss of vision is quite interesting on many levels," she says.
Another interesting thing about Ciriza—and there are many—is that she's a practicing birth doula who makes her own placenta medicine. "It is my only way of dealing with the perpetuation of the human race," she explains. "To make it easier and a little less traumatic for souls to come to the planet as best I can, while we still have organic flesh bodies and the app for having babies has not been offered yet. Funerals are births, births are funerals."
A consummate visionary artist, Ciriza believes we should all figure out who we are and what we need to do, and make it work for us. But there are more subtly complicated facets to this relatively straightforward-sounding approach, particularly when breaking down and understanding the essences of things. It's really about reminding us of the primordial nature of the invisible forces capable of uniting the material world, and the power to move freely in the world itself.
Ciriza's art reflects this approach, because it's rooted in recognizing the incomprehensible unity of the universe as well as the nature of our ancestral heritage. Essentially, she feels strongly about giving oneself the freedom of endless expression and satisfactory self-examination while drawing on our natural talents with heightened awareness in order to hustle through life.
The tension between primeval instincts and the fast-paced demands of work and society is another theme Ciriza regularly explores. "I cannot believe how slow we are," she points out. "In urban environments, seemingly, time is speeding up, but actually, there are so many constructs of time that are actually webbed, and not linear at all. Some days, I feel the pull in my cells toward this other race we are becoming. It is very physical, and those days feel very slippery; the thread between being on the planet and not feels very thin. It's part of being a mammal, because we are still emotional mammals. I wonder when the day will come when compassion will be a downloadable drug for a sensation expired from our DNA."
One can tell Ciriza is an LA native because her first word was "bobcat," she loves earthquakes, and her dad read H.P. Lovecraft stories to her at bedtime. But for several years, Ciriza found the need to retreat to the desert, a place she describes as "the primordial reptilian grandmother of the abysmal ocean—literally the bottom of the sea." In the Mojave, she lived a monastic life, rarely interacting with others while exploring her fundamental self through creation, destruction, and recreation. Eventually, however, she made her way back to Los Angeles.
LA's longstanding history as the capital of the film industry has made it, quite literally, a land of make-believe, one that can often work to the disadvantage of many who place their full trust and faith in its smoke-and-mirrors machine. It also makes them ripe cult fodder, which can dangerously strip people of their agency and rob them of trusting their own visceral responses to life.
Ciriza has a strong awareness of the commodification of spiritual knowledge in LA, which she says caters to "a never-ending, starving, bottomless gullet," ironically weakening and dividing communities by calling attention to the ever-widening material gap between the haves and have-nots. Though cynical, Ciriza's is a necessary, refreshingly realistic view of spirituality in Los Angeles—one which comes from personal experience. "My mother, while I was growing up, had a moment in our lives where she practiced with Yogi Bhajan," Ciriza recalls. "From what I gathered from her tale, he is a misogynist prick. We don’t need him for a single answer."
Instead of adhering to an outside faith, Ciriza's creative and spiritual philosophy is all about discovering what works for the individual, and finding ways to creatively use built-in tools to an advantage. "Spike heels are can openers when you’re sitting with nothing," she says. "Conjure light into your body by use of the sirens of ambulances—they are rhythmic melodic frequencies when you concentrate: painful to the ear, though able to transform into musical fuel. Make it useful, otherwise it will break you down, because those damn sirens are never going to stop. They’re embedded with panic, and panic and pain are everywhere: it is infinitely part of being human. We have to transmute opposing forces as our fuel. Always. It is important to practice magic in a tangible, real life, on-the-ground way. That costs zero in dollars."
She continues: "We all have everything we need inside of us. It is a human birthright. We are the conscious bacteria of the earth. Just believe in it, and stop giving your power to a damn guru to puppet."
This Will Hurt Me More Than You: Work by Ciriza, Michael Dee, and Cynthia Herrera is on view at LAST Projects in Hollywood through July 2. Ciriza debuts her new performance with wearable hair sculptures, Yolk Drips From Kingdoms of Sleep, on Thursday, June 23. See more of Ciriza's work here.