There are a few forms of geography that dazzle and bewilder us as we come upon them. A highway's descent into a canyon, for example, is a quickened journey of wonder for the old, hardened formations and the build-up of color and pattern on their surfaces. As each steep turn unfolds, it seems that the previous half-mile of rocks and flora were only a whisper of this, the real thing, as it, too, flies by. This incredible visible history could only appear as it does after an unfathomable passage of time. A cycle of anteing up repeats itself through each turn—the lines on the rock grow more vibrant, the desert plants more overgrown and alien—until finally the road's passenger feels compelled to marvel aloud. Or, to simply pause—to quickly find a place from which to remain still. We are hurdling back. We are diving through time.
Though this is an unlikely (and dramatic) analog for an artist's studio, it was the experience of visiting Luke Rocha's studio-home that brought it to mind. Many artists have a way of collecting odd or charming items—postcards, snapshots, art ephemera—and pinning them to their studio walls to establish some kind of authentic identity. It is an innocent, common way for an artist (or anyone with a space of their own) to reinforce their efforts by reminding themselves of who they are, and of where they come from. In Rocha's case, this process of collecting and combining the variously cast-off or outdated objects of pop culture is not relegated to a mere wall of inspiration. The act of finding and keeping is at the heart of Rocha's practice.
And so, it is a sustained level of obsession living beneath Rocha's collections that charges his home with the power of a canyon drive. Walking first through the doorway, past mixed signs, old photographs, and clumsily-made toys, past the living room—a charming box overfull of a dizzying number of strange and enigmatic old things that he and his wife have collected and arranged. And then, to the inner core, the studio itself, where alongside the production of various collages, books, and assemblages, there exists a higher concentration of Rocha's discretely selected stuff in this room apart. Old books for teens about magic and science, bizarre vinyl record covers, signs and ephemera from the hauntingly recent (but ever-distant) past, and of course, tracts warning of everything from gangs to suicide. Rocha is quiet and patient, allowing for the inevitable moment of overwhelm. Almost as if the place itself were formed by an unlikely force of nature, the build-up of cultural history in one place is impossible to take in at once. I had seen each item (or something like it) once or twice before in my life. In thirty minutes, thirty years of my own unconscious memory collecting had collided with the physical reality that all of those things went somewhere. This unassuming modern day mystic had been keeping them for me.
"There is more upstairs," Rocha said, quietly inviting me deeper still into his life of collection. One room has a narrow bed and hundreds of VHS tapes and DVDs, another room is packed to each corner with vinyl and sound equipment. It goes on and on. One can only marvel or be still.
Rocha is a 2012 Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Award Fellow, his work will be on display at the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute this October.