By Carolina Ponce de León
SOMOSON, a word of coined by the artist, combines the Spanish words for “we are” and “they are” into one word - an idealistic notion of inseparability. Somoson, Patrick "Pato" Hebert’s first solo exhibition, brings together three photographic series.
The first series, Tierratories is an impressive body of work consisting of large-format cityscapes shot in Los Angeles. Hebert has been photographing spaces within and between two notions: tierra [Earth, land] and territory. Tierratories is concerned with spaces peculiar to L.A., which are intelligent and evocative in their visual anarchy, and which seem to be quite Third World in their aesthetic sensibilities.
Tierratories too is a composite word whose definition blends the romantic concept of "tierra" - Spanish for "land," and "earth" with its implied meanings of cultural ancestry, belonging, and permanence - and "territory" as "a state-sanctioned demarcation of a geographical or conceptual space."(1)
These cityscapes speak at once of the timeless yet ever-changing nature of place as well as its relation to identity, individuals, and power by means of connection, appropriation, and negotiation. Yet they are also portraits: portraits of place defined by the unique confluence of color, light, street signs, graffiti, advertisements, and architecture. Each sign - whether an official city code or an anonymous inscription - is equally revealing, each integral to the whole.
Although shot in L.A., Hebert’s vistas are ambiguous and ubiquitous. They can suggest a contemporary correlation to the Chicano muralist movement or to the aesthetics of rasquachismo.(2) They can evoke the Southwest, Mexico, and border culture. The fact that they are representations of Los Angeles, however, adds another narrative tension to the amalgam of different aesthetics and temporalities so distinctive of so-called Third World cities.
Hebert’s second photographic series, Hay una vieja que está enamorada (there’s an old woman who is in love), includes landscapes from his mother’s native Panama paired with portraits of family members, whose varied geographies and races reflect the diasporic multiplicities that so fascinate the artist.
His No Haters Hereseries features elegant black and white portraits of California teens created for an anti-hate crime campaign in Los Angeles County. Using lenticular technology to create a “3D” effect, Hebert borrows from corporate presentation techniques to honor the youth he has worked with as a teacher, mentor, artist and friend. While the Tierratories sequence of photos shows desolate urban environments empty of any human presence, the second and third series are celebrations of individuals.
Hebert’s aesthetic universe offers a utopian environment where eclectic urban signs of economic and cultural disparity co-exist and coalesce seamlessly. In his artistic space, people —as he powerfully portrays them— reveal the intrinsic beauty and character of their choices, affections and singularity.
Whether he portrays individuals of color or the signs we/they inscribe in the ever-evolving urban-scenes, Hebert’s poetics of diversity is both visually arresting and delicately political. Each photo captures myriad visual and cultural nuances that are lit up with a sense of dignity and that speak eloquently of his notion of Somoson/. The beauty is there.
(1) Hebert, Patrick. "Untitled. From the series tierratories, 2000", in Metropolis, disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory. (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, no. 11, 2002)
(2) Rasquachismo is a rough, colorful, energetic home-made style adopted by some Chicano/Latino artists as a counter-aesthetic against the slick, sterile look favored in many galleries and museums.