Carla Hernandez: Embracing the Self by Mary Danisi

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In our era of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there is an incessant demand to share where we are, what we are doing, and where we are going in a desire to feel connected to those around us. In our attempts to become wholly interconnected, we sometimes become disconnected from our own selves. Because our lives are divided into categories and subcategories – biological, emotional, mental, and psychological states, we lose sight of complete pictures of our identities. This is one of the reasons why the work of Carla Hernandez is so moving: her art confronts us with a presentation of the human self in its entirety.

In her Washington Heights studio in NYC, Hernandez uses EKG readings of her family, friends, and even those of her own body as templates for the wave patterns that appear in many of her drawings, paintings, and multimedia works. Although she compares her pieces to seismic and topographical maps, Hernandez’s work is shaped by much more than scientific exactness. For Carla, the depth of what it is to be human is bolstered, not limited by, its representation in art. Across the surfaces of her works, Hernandez uses cursive handwriting to encode intimate thoughts, like journal entries, that radiate outward, visually referring to the patterns of her EKG readings, while obscuring the content of her language. She claims that, “words are more focused than heartbeats”.

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In the past, Hernandez often elected to do without a brush or stylus altogether and instead aimed to “fuse finger writing with heartbeats,” claiming that “..by drawing from my body and from my thoughts, writing became visceral”. This orchestration of EKG readings, journal entries, and manual paint application produces a unique rhythm of its own: the biological, mental, emotional, and sentient aspects of Hernandez’s being, which we are accustomed to distinguish so quickly, became indistinguishable on paper. Hernandez’s artistic practice became a meditative act through which she came to know herself more fully. She explains that her particular mode of artistic production permits her to express thoughts that couldn’t be said. Hernandez reminds us that heartbeats and emotive thoughts are just pieces of a much larger picture of our identities. She states: “By cutting and pasting, mixing, and rearranging, and by repeating the shape of the words, one thing transforms into something else.” In so doing, she quietly asks us to contemplate how much we really know ourselves.

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Yet, Hernandez prefers “to keep [her] own thoughts unread”. The mapping and re-tracing of her linear forms causes her text to become hidden and illegible. The “real” Carla Hernandez may never be completely known to others, and her thoughts and heartbeat will forever remain her own. Nevertheless, Hernandez is thoroughly invested in the world around her. She works full time at a museum, and, like many of us, has had friends and family members who have suffered with heart conditions. Far from detracting from her art practice, Hernandez’s active existence in this world is precisely the center of power in her work. Coming straight from her fingertips, her art is not a reflection, but rather a manifestation, of her very human empathy.

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As I sit in front of her computer monitor listening to the heartbeat of her young niece, Veronica, among the drawings and mixed media collages that immortalize its cadences, I feel the tension between the deeply personal and universal implications of the work. While engaging with this particular piece, I feel the ethereal presence of this other person, a stranger to me, yet to whom I am immediately close. Hernandez chose this ephemeral moment of Veronica’s development as the liminal space between childhood and adolescence. Hernandez fondly muses: “She was able just to be in her body, spontaneously and without self-consciousness.” Through this we can see that what Hernandez is really after is the moment when we are simultaneously one with world and one with ourselves.

All photos courtesy of Mary Danisi

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