Armando Miguélez, 30, is the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson's latest artist in residence. His newest project, Common Thread, will premiere sometime next year; Miguélez invites any male with both ears pierced to be a part of it. A Tucson native, Miguélez spent his high school years in India, received a bachelor's degree from Universidad de Las Américas in Mexico City, and went on to earn a master's degree at Stanford University. Hear him speak at 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29. For more information, visit www.moca-tucson.org, or call 624-5019.
Tell me about yourself and your art.
I was born in Tucson, but I grew up in Spain, and I've been educated in India, Italy and Mexico. I began my career in Mexico City, and I've been kind of back and forth between these different environments for the last couple of years. I got my master's ... at Stanford, so that brought me back into the United States. I consider that kind of a regression back into the first world, after 10 years in what would be considered developing countries. That was a very interesting experience. After I finished my degree, I did a residency in Mexicali, in Baja California. ... While I was there, I kind of re-engaged with what I consider a longtime commitment with this bizarre landscape out here. ... Arizona ... is a really interesting part of the world to be in right now. It's kind of a ... case study in global economics and global politics, and it's a very unique place in the sense of anthropology and sociology.
What do you mean by a "longtime commitment with the bizarre landscape"?
Inland places can feel distant from other places. I think that's one of the characteristics of cities along the U.S.-Mexico border, that they're far from everything else. And the only thing that they're close to is this wall.
How would you describe your artwork?
My artwork is not media-specific. Each project is unique in its medium. I've done anything from industrial embroidery to mass-produced plaster sculptures. I work on and off with photography. Photography is kind of at the core of most contemporary thinking. I work a lot with maps and cartography, with urban environments. The work is somewhat inevitably political, but not intentionally political. There's an element of poetry in it, self-discovery ... things like that.
How does Common Thread fit?
Common Thread is a project I've been developing very recently. In the '90s, there was this amazing artist who made posters about public displays of affection, which is a big issue in India, because there are moral police and things like that. So he made these posters of two men tied by the ear, by their earlobes. This image stayed with me, and this artist kind of disappeared into oblivion.
What does that poster mean?
The meaning of that poster is still a question even for me. ... My twist on the project is I'm taking individual photographs of men with thread coming out of both sides of their ears in such a way that when I line them up on the wall, the thread will seem (like it's all tied together). I'm going more for a group portrait. My take on it has to do with common responsibility, shared experience, community and the common narrative. I find it really important to quote this original artist. ... My own reading of it has to do with circles, with communication, with thread, with responsibility, with delicateness of the ear, and masculinity, by and large.
Talk a little more about how the project addresses masculinity.
In India, it's an interesting thing, because pieced ears are something that boys get when they're babies. ... I was very intrigued by that, comparing cultures. It would seem (in the U.S.) that men who have their ears pierced are a little bit transgressive, or trying to make a statement, and back in the day, pierced ears on men meant you were either riffraff or a homosexual. Now, though, David Beckham has his ears pierced; it seems like everyone does.
What has the response been for this project?
The response has been very enthusiastic. The people who have participated get so excited. ... That's the thing about a group portrait: You're trying to draw together people with very different circumstances. ... When I present it in one room, you'll have all these different men in one room who don't know each other, but this common thread is tying them together. I think that's how we have to think about things. You don't need to know other people to feel that you're sharing something with them.