Introducing contemporary artist Ruben Montoya, whose work transcends boundaries to explore themes of decay, resilience, and metamorphosis. Montoya's sculptures are a fusion of technological components, silicone, and animal parts, weaving a mythological narrative of survival and transformation. Reflecting the experiences of marginalized communities, his art challenges dominant tastes in Latinx art by embracing the abject and the fantastic. Montoya's imaginative creations breathe life into everyday objects, revealing the extraordinary stories hidden within the mundane.
N: Hi Ruben, it's a pleasure to speak with you. I'd love to catch up on your recent endeavors. How have you been, and what projects or concepts have you been exploring in your art lately?
R: I'm doing well. I go from making monthly pieces, but I'm just finishing the logistical part of my art practice. Currently, I'm thinking about jade and obsidian and how that shiny, reflective and ancient rock used by many ancient cultures can be thought of conceptually through pigmented silicone. Neither elements have expiration dates, but in a more mercurial way, I can twist, fold, and interact with silicone the same way that a polished mineral can.
N: Your sculptures often depict hybrid creatures inspired by ancient mythologies, seemingly caught mid-metamorphosis. This concept of shapeshifting in your work serves as a metaphor for the adaptation of "Othered" communities, such as those marginalized by race, sexuality, or economic power. Can you share more about how this theme relates to your personal experiences? Have you had instances in your life where you've had to "shapeshift" in order to adapt?
R: I grew up in a community of migrants less than 1,000 Grindr feet from the border to Mexico. Growing up in America, all of us, including myself, were assimilating to Western perceptions of being and looking. We had to shapeshift for survival, to blend in. That's something I'm always aware of. How do you survive in instances and places that were not built for you? You quiet down, subdue yourself. But other times, you have to be like the Seven of Swords from the tarot: become a trickster and find cunning ways to move about the world with different identities and skills to get where you want to go.
N: In a past interview, you've mentioned that "creating mythologies" from everyday life is a powerful way to appreciate beauty and magic in our surroundings. Can you delve deeper into this philosophy of life? How can storytelling and imagination help us to infuse our lives with a sense of magic and wonder?
R: Perhaps, sometimes, even when we relate things back to people, we stretch the truth so that it appears more fantastic. But also, mythologies derive from truth or painful experience. An embarrassing pimple on the side of one's head can be relieved of its cringe-worthiness if we merely say we're growing out horns.
Mythologies also fill in what our mind does not understand or forgets.
For example, today I saw a coyote when I reached the top of the foothills of a desert mountain. If I relay that story back to someone, instead of saying the coyote was 30 feet away, suddenly it's 10 feet. Or I could say that the coyote looked bigger than normal, when in truth, I don't know what a normal height for a coyote is. Or how others might interpret it in their depth perception, distance, or how they imagine coyotes to be. I've never seen a coyote in this area, which struck me as odd, and made me wonder why it was even there. I wondered if environmental changes made it come down so low into the foothills of the mountain, but it also made me think about it as a divine affirmation, or a guide for the things I was thinking about as I walked before I met it.
N: In your artistic practice, is there a specific characteristic, feature, or quality—whether abstract or physical—that consistently appears across your work? Is there a particular material or abstract element that you find captivating, which you consistently strive to incorporate in your sculptures?
R: Yeah, I'm always striving to incorporate an arch (U) in all my work, or an upside-down capital U. The arch is the basic building biological structural choice on this planet, at least.
All animals have some kind of arch in their bodies. When you look at a dog from the back, you can see a semicircle that starts in its tail, and the arch forms as the butt joins the legs. If you look at a dog sideways, the arch forms again. You can see the arch in jellyfish, moths, and even bacteria. Bodies in arched positions become portals, holes, wounds, places to enter or come out of.
N: Your artwork often combines natural or animal elements with artificial or technologically-inclined, futuristic components. Can you delve into the inspirations behind this fusion? What drives you to blend these contrasting elements in your creations?
R: It's really about necessity and the power of invention, about mixing what has always been around me in my environment.
I hike a lot in the desert along the Rio Grande River and tend to see detritus, most of it obsolete technology, like circuit boards or parts of things that have come out of fashion. Sometimes I encounter fresh roadkill, or animals in deep states of decomposition: storks, quail, owls, skunks, rattlesnakes, dogs, cats, insects, foxes, and even a javelina once. But what I mean is that my work, or the beings that I'm making, are a cultural mimesis of my environment. Their figuration, powers, and abilities come from anime, real animal adaptations, and the fantasy and sci-fi I've read, but then mixed with material and sentiment from all around me.
I'm not really that interested in the mechanics of how robotic things work, but more so in the way that tossed-away things can be reused to make something else. My propositions are all about the imaginary. When you don't have a direct path forward or the means, I think that's the best place to start.
N: As technological advancements increasingly permeate our collective consciousness, they reshape our understanding of the world, much like myths and religion did in the past. How do you envision the integration of technology into our psyche impacting the themes you explore in your storytelling, or the ancient mythologies you choose to reinterpret through your work?
R: I think I'm always looking at the dark side of what our Western perception of technology is. I grew up on the border where maquiladoras along both the U.S. and Mexico regions permeate factories of POC (mostly women) who assemble or make our technologies en masse. My father is a night shift manager in one of them. For all its innovation, new technology always fails in its utopian value. It always encroaches on land or destroys it, displaces people, or eradicates the biome of species it inhabits.
I'm interested in the failure of technology, in the failure of the idealized.