Local artists collaborate in Day of the Dead installation

Amidst the uncertainty of COVID-19 and a presidential election year, Grand Rapids artists Alynn Guerra and Carlos Aceves have collaborated on a piece that celebrates their heritage and allows them to display their art to the world. Together they created a fabric art installation for Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, as part of October's Aleprize.

Alynn Guerra heads up Red Hydrant Press, a printmaking studio located in the Westside's Tanglefoot Building. Originally from Mexico City, Guerra has been living in Grand Rapids for 20 years, and chose a name for her studio that intentionally side-stepped race-based or gendered preconceptions. "We tend to create preconceptions of what our work of Mexican women should look like," says Guerra.

Guerra first registered Red Hydrant as an LLC in 2007, and began collaborating with fellow Mexican artist and former Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico classmate Carlos Aceves in 2011. "I work more with 3D," says Aceves, who experiments in wood and metal, and most recently mastered a technique for etching metal in a nontoxic process.

Guerra and Aceves have collaborated in the past on Day of the Dead altars at Tanglefoot Studios, installations designed to remember and honor loved ones who have died. Their altars, however, also seek to highlight social or economic issues about which they are passionate, such as negative impacts of the genetic modification of crops in the United States. "In a way we used that as an excuse to talk about some issue," says Guerra.Alynn Guerra and Carlos Aceves

For her, creating and displaying a Day of Dead altar is an important piece of her Mexican culture. "We're both from Mexico, she says. "My family was very traditional about having an altar every November 1 and 2 ... there was no year that we wouldn't put up an altar."

Together the two artists have completed altar installations for Donkey Taqueria in the past. This year, they were contacted by Founders Taproom Manager Molly Rent to create a piece for the inaugural Aleprize.

"Founders has been friends and fans of Carlos and Alynn for many years. We have gotten to know and love them and their artwork through many shows and events at Founders including Founders Fest, Día de los Muertos, and countless Cabildo shows in the Taproom," says Rent.

"When we became aware of AlePrize, we thought of Carlos and Alynn immediately; the quality of their work and presentation is consistently flawless, and they are such a joy to work with. Their piece that is currently hanging from the rafters in the Taproom is no exception."

AlePrize is a month-long art contest crafted by the Beer City Brewer's Guild that is designed to mimic — but not replace — this year's cancelled ArtPrize competition. Throughout the month of October, local artists partnered with local breweries to showcase their art and compete for a $1000 publicly juried cash prize.

"It was a no-brainer for Founders to participate in AlePrize," adds Rent. "We host the work of at least a dozen artists per year in our Taproom in addition to participating in every ArtPrize, hosting around 15 to 30 local art vendors every summer at Founders Fest, and began hosting quarterly Artist Markets in 2019. We are very fortunate to work with such a large array of talented artists within the Grand Rapids area network."

Guerra and Aceves' piece took approximately one week to design, and another week to trace, cut, and perfect. The fabric was dyed and re-dyed with paint, and was then stapled to Carlos' custom-built frame. The project totaled about two to two and a half weeks from start to finish. "It's not just drawing, it's figuring out where to cut," says Guerra. The two artists apply their unique skill sets to completing the piece, with Guerra imagining big ideas, and Aceves determining the project's execution.

"Carlos is the problem solver," says Guerra. "It's like a true collaboration."

With most public exhibitions and events cancelled due to COVID-19, this collaborative pair saw AlePrize as an opportunity to connect and share their craft, especially around the culturally significant Day of the Dead, which is rooted in solidarity and community. "It's a way to share with people," says Aceves.

"This year's been hard, I mean for everyone," says Guerra. "[As artists,] we depend on public spaces."

Understanding the limitations of working as an artist during COVID-19, Carlos says that he is drawing more with the hopes it will eventually lead to an exhibition of the work. With the 30th annual Tanglefoot Building Artists opening no longer occurring this month — resulting in the loss of revenue for not just Tanglefoot artists but for all of our creative community members, Carlos says, "We just try to do the best with what we have."

"I hope these types of events bring us together a little," says Guerra. And just as their dyed fabric installation requires careful consideration, real-time tweaking, and time-consuming installation, all before being taken down after the holiday, Guerra and Aceves are no strangers to adaptation.

“Our few and limited social experiences during the pandemic have also become stark; devoid of any source of entertainment, interactions, even smiles,” she says. “The pandemic has hurt artists and musicians especially hard because we need venues to sell and promote our work, therefore any opportunity is greatly appreciated. During this highly politicized and polarized time, I am making a point of creating art that is cheerful and can make us laugh or feel good together.”

"You adjust. That's the beauty."

Photos courtesy Founders and Alynn Guerra.
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