Dittmar exhibit explores nostalgia with art made from recycled materials


Jeffrey Wang/The Daily Northwestern

Dittmar Gallery’s newest exhibit features art made from recycled materials. Chicago-based artist Victoria Martinez created the display to explore the concept of nostalgia.

Amanda Svachula, A&E Editor


On a excursion to Mexico, Chicago-based artist Victoria Martinez explored Mexico City, where she climbed the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon at the ruins of Teotihuacan and was immediately inspired, she said.

Photographs of structures from her trip influenced the sculptures in her newest collection, “Wizard Can,” which is on display at Dittmar Gallery until April 30.

Using a mix of recycled textiles, bubble wrap, colorful paint and other materials, Martinez said she created the 16-piece exhibit as an exploration of the concept of nostalgia.

“Items or materials that are forgotten about — to me, that’s a treasure,” she said. “Because, one, there’s a mystery behind it and you don’t know the life it went through before or the energies of the object. What did they use it for? Why did they throw it away?”

The title of the exhibit,“Wizard Can,” combines different concepts from her life, Martinez said. She explained that her friends often call her a wizard because of the multitasking she accomplishes as both a working artist and teacher. One day a friend was reciting lines of the “Wizard of the Oz” and Martinez said she heard the fragmented sentence, “Wizard can.”

“I like that line,” she said. “Wizard can — you’re able to do whatever you want as a person.”

Communication sophomore and gallery curator Joy Kim said during the planning process for this year, Dittmar’s selection team chose to feature Martinez because it was looking for artists who worked with slightly irregular materials, such as Martinez’s use of bed sheets and scarves.

“I don’t think we’ve had anyone who works with fabric for a while,” Kim said. “Victoria’s aesthetic was really kind of different than all the other exhibits we’ve had in the past.”

Martinez said she acquired many of the materials for the exhibit in unexpected places. Some of the bed sheets were from thrift shops, and the scarves in the exhibit were gifts from friends.

“I love working with things that are given to me,” she said. “It’s a cool game of chance. There’s a prize at the bottom.”

Although Martinez makes some art out of objects with unknown pasts, she also holds a connection to some materials used in her general work as an artist, she said. Previously, she has incorporated her Latino heritage into her work by using leftover colorful streamers gathered after a Mexican parade, and she incorporated some of her own items into this exhibit as well.

“Some of the fabric that is incorporated is clothing from when I was in college, and I would wear sequins all the time,” she said. “I don’t have use for (the clothes) anymore, because I outgrew them emotionally. But I still have a connection to them and I still want to work with it.”

This exhibit differs from past Dittmar exhibits in that it focuses on an idea, rather than exploring a social issue, said Federico Arroyo, an art services graduate assistant at Norris University Center. Martinez’s work is more about the exploration of vibrant textiles and visuals, he said.

Kim said every artist the selection team picks to feature has a different message they seek to share with the Northwestern community. Part of Martinez’s message is the power of sustainability achieved by reusing materials and reenacting them in different ways, a topic that is relevant and often explored today on college campuses, Kim said.

“We try to represent and support underrepresented artists in the Chicagoland area,” Kim said. “Having different voices is a very valuable thing for people to witness and for students to witness.”

Martinez will give a speech about her exhibit at Dittmar on April 28.

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