A patch of nicely manicured grass is mostly blocking the entryway to the Serva Pool Gallery, a garage-like structure behind the Holland Project’s main building. A section of freshly painted white picket fence, a clear symbol of domestic utopia stopped in its tracks, lies on the grass.
There’s no question that the grass patch is part of a sculpture installation. But the question each viewer needs to quickly answer is: “Do I step on it to enter the gallery?” It’d be hard to get in otherwise.
Inside, two “walls,” demarcated by lines of pink string, don’t take up much volume, but the planes that they make up block off most of the room, bringing up another question: “Should I walk right through them?” Normally, gallery rules say no, but there’s not much room to move around if you count those strings as barriers.
If over-examining simple choices about where to step leaves viewers feeling a little awkward, they’re in exactly the headspace the artist, Häsler R. Gómez, intended.
Gómez, who graduated from University of Nevada, Reno in 2017 with degrees in psychology and fire arts, is an immigrant. His mother has been deported back to Guatemala, and he lost his DACA status right around graduation time. For six months, until his status was restored, he worked under the table in construction.
Gómez said that, after Trump’s election, he felt compelled to address the politics that affected his life so directly.
“But I was always very trepidatious about it, because I didn’t want to make, you know, ‘angry liberal’ art,” he said. “I wanted it to speak in a different way, not just yelling at people or preaching to the choir.” He also brings in other timely topics.
“I’m really interested in gender,” he explained. In art school, he researched what he called “the dude-isms of minimalism,” the blunt, confrontational sense that the sculptural object you’re looking at “is what it is. There’s nothing else there.”
Just as he uses tightly edited arrangements of cinder blocks, drywall mud and tar to contextualize theoretical notions of gender constructs, he also uses those same materials to examine something more practical—gender relations within his family.
“I’ve always been interested in the idea of male silence—my relationship with my father, and his with his father,” Gómez said. “Especially in the Latino population, you don’t talk about your feelings. You don’t talk about what you’re going through.”
“This one is called ‘Unspoken Papa,'” he said, pointing to one of two 2D pieces in his show. “I blindfold myself, and I put earplugs in, and I place a writing utensil in my mouth, and I try and write.”
“I’m also a writer and poet,” he said. When writing, he runs into spots where language can’t quite capture something, and his artwork picks up where words leave off.
Gomez has a lot to say—and he takes his time distilling his observations about immigration and gender down into concise, refined expressions. His work reads like a long-labored-over poem that packs a lifetime into a line. But he hopes it’s not so resolved that it answers all of the questions it raises too neatly.
“I don’t want it to be this thing where you get it instantly, and then you can leave,” he said. “I want it to haunt you in a way.” He hopes that if you see it again in a year, you’ll notice something new.