Place is often at the center of Edra Soto’s practice. Born in Puerto Rico and living in Chicago, she frequently incorporates references to both places in her artworks. In this way, her works often invite conversations around identity and site—frequently using these entry points as a chance to foster education, empathy, and discussion.
Soto’s work, Open 24 Hours, featured in State of the Art 2020 at the Momentary, perfectly melds these ideas together. Learn more about this artwork below, as well as opportunities to engage with Soto and her work as she visits Northwest Arkansas in early March.
During her daily walks in Garfield Park, she noticed the amount of litter scattered around. Soto began reflecting on how the streets become a kind of 24/7 living history of a place—always collecting detritus and always on view for all to see. Taken particularly by the plethora of liquor bottles, Soto began picking these up, taking them home, stripping them of their labels, and photographing each.
Soon to be displayed at the Momentary, over 500 bottles are meticulously arranged on shelves in three vitrines that recast litter as glinting green and clear gems. There is something powerful about the crisp, patterned, white towers that would likely lend an air of importance to almost anything she chose to display. But these vitrines are more than just elegant shop windows, they are sites of reverence and contemplation that enable deep, meaningful consideration of the items within.
While the first step to engaging with this work is likely to see it in person, it’s often the case that the most powerful works linger in our memories long after we exit the gallery. With this in mind, we wanted to invite readers to extend their engagement with Open 24 Hours in two additional ways.
The first is with the help of the scholar Naa Oyo A. Kwate, Ph.D., an Associate Professor at Rutgers. Kwate’s scholarship focuses on racial inequalities within urban environments and the effects of racism on African American health. Following more than a year of conversations with Edra Soto, Dr. Kwate wrote a brief essay in response to Open 24 Hours and is currently collaborating with the artist on an expanded publication related to the project. In Soto’s words, this essay “truly completes the work (to me) and allows for the work to exist beyond the gallery experience.”
We invite readers to read Dr. Kwate’s essay here.
Second, we would like to invite guests to add to Open 24 Hours themselves.
On Sunday, March 1, Edra Soto will be leading a free, drop-in family workshop at Crystal Bridges in which guests will be able to decorate bottles from the installation with different cast seashells. Soto will then incorporate a selection of these newly decorated bottles in one of the vitrines on view at the Momentary during the run of State of the Art 2020. More information on this event can be found here.
Soto will also be holding a similar drop-in artmaking event at the Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) Student Center on Monday, March 2. Guests are encouraged to join her at the college and beautify their own bottles. More information on this event can be found here.
This post was written by Alejo Benedetti, associate curator, contemporary art, Crystal Bridges.
[Cover photo credit: Edra Soto, Open 24 Hours, 2017, Found glass bottles of liquor, display cabinets, 8 × 2 × 2 ft. each, Display cabinets co-designed by Navillus Woodworks, Courtesy of the artist.]