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The First Latina AIGA Medal Winner Wants Us to Become Better Ancestors

Artist and designer Rebecca Méndez urges us to protect the environment and care less about nationality.

by Cailey Rizzo
May 2 2017, 5:19pm

Photo courtesy of Rebeca Mendez

Nature is not stagnant. Water not only moves, it can dance down a rock or plough through soil. Videos, accompanied by sculptures and installations of sand, take viewers on a tour of the world "at a molecular level." Designer and artist Rebeca Méndez makes installations so immerse, it's easy for viewers to forget that they're inside of a gallery. Nature scenes from all around the world take up large expanses of wall. The world is constantly in motion—even if imperceptible to the human eye.

By focusing on the cyclical nature of the natural world, Méndez hopes to ground people to the planet and make them more compassionate and understanding of not only the world, but other people. Méndez believes that human beings should not be defined by their nationalities. They are, first and foremost, members of the same species. "In the 13.8 billion-year history of the universe, humans have only existed for 200,000 years," she tells Creators. In the context of "big history," she argues that dividing people by nationality doesn't make sense.

Courtesy of Williamson Gallery

Méndez's viewpoints spring from life experience. Born in Mexico City, she moved to California in 1980 to study design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. She has lived in Los Angeles since. Her exploration of cross-cultural identity is rooted in the fact that she is "both and neither Mexican and American," she says.

Not only does Méndez exist in a cross-cultural space, she is a cross-platform worker. She does both graphic design and fine art. Her portfolio spans video, photography, sound, installation and design. Her sensibilities—and her way of viewing time as something other than linear—are taken straight from her Mexican heritage. "In Mexico, there's a saying that if you look too fast to your left, you see your own death," she says. She sees the past, present, and future as inseparable.

Photo courtesy of Rebeca Mendez

Her installations are so enthralling that, during a show at the Williamson gallery in California, viewers brought lunch so they could sit and experience the entire thing. Méndez hopes that, through her work, she can root people to the world and their fellow human beings while encouraging them to "become better ancestors."

She is especially interested in a designer's role as activist, specifically for the environment. One of her upcoming works will adorn the walls of a new Los Angeles subway station, due to open in 2019. The mosaic, whose tiles are being fabricated Mexico, is distilled from photographs of the Los Angeles sky, shot over the course of several days and nights in Winter 2015. She says the piece aims to bring the outdoors to the underground.

Many of her pieces are rooted in location. She has traveled to extreme climates like Svalbard, the Sahara, Patagonia, Iceland, and the Arctic. In all of these places, she has filmed some environmental process to bring back to her installations. Her series CircumSolar filmed birds on their journeys of long-distance migration. She projected one of her videos on a giant circular screen on Santa Monica Beach.

Photo courtesy of Rebeca Mendez

Over her career, Méndez has been presented with awards from the White House, the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the City of Los Angeles and the California Community Foundation. But her main interest in art and design lies in activism. She talks strongly against dividing people by countries (which she refers to as "clans") and tries to bring them back to the environment—which all humans share—with her nature-based work.

She urges fellow designers to think about their powers as storytellers and to tell "the story of the self in relation. But not only in relation to human scale and planetary scale but within the history of the universe."

Photo Courtesy of Rebeca Mendez

To see more of Rebecca Mendez's work, visit her graphic design and fine art websites.

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