Above: Ondine’s Gloves.
I met Aline Hunziker in Oaxaca, in 2013. Laurie Thompson, close friend, risk-taking photographer, and yoga instructor/healer, told me about Aline’s art. She said she admired Aline’s vision and her passion for working with children. “Ondine’s Gloves” was the first of Aline’s creations that I saw, hanging in Txalaparta (chah-la-par-ta), a popular nightclub and restaurant in downtown Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico. I was absorbed by the placement of the feathers, the embroidery, and I felt as if the gloves had the power to transport me to an ancient place, maybe even outside of time. I wanted to meet this artist, who was born in Switzerland, raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and who had settled on a creative life in southern Mexico.
Eventually we met, but we didn’t talk very much about the creative life. In 2014, I found myself, one of the artist, along with Aline, in the exhibition “Palabras.” Again, with five or six other artists, we planned and we dialogued, but I didn’t have the opportunity to have a conversation with her about her vision. As I began creating the integrated blog, with the new section, “The Call to Create,” there was no doubt in my mind who would be the focus of the first article. So on a late Tuesday afternoon in February, 2017, Aline and I sat down to have lunch and talk about art and creating.
When did you know that you were an artist?
In my mid 30’s I realized that I had always been one. I think this was because I gave up caring whether I was good enough, whether my work was worthwhile, and etc. I had been through a divorce, and diagnosed with mental illness and HIV so I really stopped giving a rat’s ass about a lot of things! Making art was a way of dealing with all of that turmoil and that was the most important aspect of the work. I spent a few years taking art classes at a local community college and toward the end I set up a bunch of work on a table for a group review. The pieces had all seemed unrelated, but as I looked at them all together I saw how they formed a cohesive series, and I tracked my internal development as I came to terms with that rocky period of my life. It was during that time that I became determined to continue working with sculpture, regardless of how it was received in the larger world. To be honest, I think all human beings are naturally artists, but for a myriad of reasons not everyone has the opportunity to develop their creativity–which is a great waste of potential both for the individual and for human society as a whole.
Did you come from a family who recognized your interest in art and who supported and encouraged your exploration?
Every member of my immediate family has an artistic practice. They have all shown their work at times but this was never emphasized as the primary reason for doing work. As a child, I spent time with my grandmother who taught me how to work with clay and also with my father who helped me with projects in his studio. In fact, the largest area in our house was my father’s studio, although our income did not come from the sale of his work. So I learned early on that some activities are worth pursuing for their intrinsic value, and that it is important to clear out time and space to practice them.
What was your first creation? At what age? And do you still have that creation?
I remember one afternoon when I was probably about 5, my father was building a garden wall in our back yard. He gave me some cement to play with and I made a “cake”. I remember that he helped me find a tube or something, which we stuck into the top so that I could later put a candle (or stick) on my cake. That cake was in our back yard for a long while, but I think eventually it just sort of crumbled away, like the statue of Ozymandius* in the desert!
What motivated and inspired you to work with children?
I have always enjoyed spending time with kids and worked with them throughout my youth in various odd jobs (babysitter, teaching assistant, amusement park ride operator and etc.). I tend to get along well with most kids and I have to say I often prefer their company to that of adults! At one point in my life I was looking for direction and a friend suggested I work as a kindergarten teacher in L.A., where I was living at the time. There was a teacher shortage–the district was recruiting teachers without credentials. I did that for a few years and got my primary teaching license, but honestly that teaching gig was not a good fit for me. Afterward, I moved back to my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico and began teaching with a non-profit arts organization that worked primarily in the public schools. This was a fantastic job with a dedicated and talented teaching team, and I stayed there for several years. Since that time, I have had occasional opportunities to teach but for the most part am focusing on my own work. Originally I decided that after 10 years of teaching I should spend 10 years on my own stuff, and then after I would be the PERFECT Teacher/Artist! I’ll let you know how that works out…
Most of your creations are found objects that serve as the canvas for embroidered messages. How did you arrive at this medium? Was it a vision that came like in flash? Or did it evolve over time?
It evolved over time. I started working with embroidery when I was teaching. My supervisor asked me to develop an embroidered portrait lesson, so I asked my mother to teach me some stitches. I became attracted by the thread. So many colors! So stringy and dangly! I began incorporating it into things. My mom also gave me a dremmel she had bought at a garage sale, and I was enjoying drilling tiny holes. So I suppose the next steps were inevitable: the first piece I made with embroidered text was with a large clam shell I found at lake when boating with my father. I embroidered the words “get” and “lost” on the mother-of pearl surface with a similar colored thread. Since then I guess I have become addicted to drilling tiny holes and filling them with thread.
Left: Rebozo de Jardinera
Rebozo de Jardinera out of Shadowtime Gardens, You Can’t Get There From Here, from Lost & Found, and Albatross, a sculpture in progress, appear to be as much environmental and social commentary as they are works of art. Is this intersectionality intentional?
Absolutely. Or rather, my work reflects the issues I am mulling over or what is bothering me or pricking at my consciousness. When I have tried to direct the focus of my work toward an attitude or idea that I “think” is proper it never works out. At one point I felt exhausted with thinking about Global Warming, etc., and tried to “get positive” and lighten up–and that is the exact moment when Rebozo came into being.
Above: You Can’t Get There From Here
What are some of the risks, if any, that you have experienced in creating art to raise environmental, and social justice awareness?
I would say the biggest risk is resisting the temptation to use the work as a justification of my own existence. That is, it would be easy to think that by confronting difficult issues through artwork you are somehow helping to alleviate them, but I am not confident that this is actually the case. My work is simply my personal response to the time in which I live.
Finally, what do you enjoy the most about the creative life?
I feel it is through my creative practice that I connect with my human potential. I make discoveries, I reflect, I struggle, I carry on, I learn, I fail. It fills up a void when words and thoughts fall short. My creative practice helps me to cope with the complexities of living and I feel this helps me to grow into a more complete person.
Aline’s full bio and more images of her work can be found on her web page: http://www.alinehunziker.com/about-3/
*Ozymandius is the title of P.B. Shelley’s most famous poem, published in 1817. The decline of all leaders and the empires they build is the central theme of this poem. Ozymandius is another name used for Ramesses, a great Egyptian Pharaoh.