Untitled Final Friday logo and photo of a woman blacking out a tooth from Tooth or Dare by Esther Fernandez

Q&A with Esther Hernandez

I use performance, video, installation, sculpture, and people as my mediums. I love poking at social norms, exploring relationship, remaking ritual, and then watching what unfolds.

– Esther Hernandez

Esther Hernandez is the featured artist for Untitled Final Friday: We All Start off as Strangers at the Denver Art Museum on April 26. Read our Q&A below to learn more about her and her artistic practice, and then join us at Untitled! (You can see the program of events here.) Untitled is included with general admission, which is free for members.

1. What do you want visitors/viewers to know about your creative practice?

My creative practice revolves around constructing experiences that make me feel alive and doing things outside of my comfort zone, such as curating events that involve the exchange of personal, vulnerable information with strangers to inspire transformation of some kind. I use performance, video, installation, sculpture, and people as my mediums. I love poking at social norms, exploring relationship, remaking ritual, and then watching what unfolds. Sometimes it is especially sad or absurd and sometimes incredible coincidences occur.

2. Why do you do what you do / what motivates you?

I’m interested in what makes an experience or an idea transformative. What do we need as a collective or as individuals that we are not getting in our daily lives and how do I address that and play with it? I'm also very interested in creating modern ritual and rites of passage. I think there is a great need for us as humans to play, interact, explore, and ask questions within a safe, healthy, and unprejudiced space or context. Our daily grind just doesn’t allow for that, but we have the ability to experience it through the arts.

I’m really inspired by Jordan Casteel's process, and how a lot of what comes to us in life is about taking a risk; we all start off as strangers.

– Esther Hernandez

3. What is a museum?

A place of wonder, culture, and breakthroughs, a place where the past meets the present!

4. How would you define a creative?

I think everybody is creative in some way but a creative is someone who just can’t help themselves and has to continuously experiment with some idea or material or original way of doing things just because it brings them joy.

5. What artworks are you connecting to for this event, and how are they inspiring you?

I am taking inspiration from the exhibition Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze. Casteel talks about having to step out of her comfort zone in order to produce this body of work, by talking to people in the streets who she wanted to paint. She says the greatest gift of all has been the relationships she has gained in the process. I’m really inspired by her process and how a lot of what comes to us in life is about taking a risk; we all start off as strangers.

6. What are some highlights of your Untitled event that you are most excited about?

I’m excited for, Opening Up to People is Opening Up to Life, a performance piece about speaking your truth especially when it’s hard, because what else could be more freeing? I’m also excited about the visitors writing one long exquisite corpse poem together. It’s quite a simple thing but I always wanted to stand out in front of a grocery store, looking like a canvasser, asking people to write a line of poetry for an exquisite corpse. I love off-the-cuff improvisation from strangers.

I hope people walk away feeling like they saw or experienced something that is invigorating or inspiring to them.

I hope that we can all come together as a community, have fun, and conjure up our inner child.

7. If you could collaborate with anyone (past or present), who would it be?

Ultimately, I enjoy collaborating with almost anyone. One of my favorite artists is Nathan Fielder from Nathan For You. I appreciate the great lengths he undertakes to realize each absurd endeavor and how his humor pokes fun at our everyday realities.

8. What’s your favorite place in Denver?

I spent a lot of time working and hanging out at the Mercury Café, and Marilyn [the owner and operator] continues to keep the spirit of creativity and community alive. I love the diversity of vibrant people it attracts. The food is also the most ethically sourced of any other restaurant in Denver, all the way down to the homemade ketchup.

9. Who are some of your favorite Colorado creatives? What makes them interesting to you?

There’s so many. I’m specifically inspired by the women in my community whose work is socially engaging or performative and speaks to relationships and sometimes healing processes. Women like Tara Rynders, Sarah Bowling, Tracy Tomko, and Kate Speer have especially drawn my attention.

10. What’s up next?

I’ll be performing at GEORGIA in May for a show curated by Megan Gafford and then I’ll be at Leon Gallery for their upcoming week of performance art on June 1.

Image: Esther Hernandez, Tooth or Dare, 2018. Photo by Jake Holschuh

Sarah Rockett is the artist programs coordinator in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum.

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