List of ingredients
My mum measures soft boiled eggs with a prayer, ‘The Apostles’ Creed’, because it takes three minutes to recite. Then she pours the runny eggs into a cup, where she adds salt and lemon, to eat them with a teaspoon for breakfast.
Impossible ambiguities such as this riddle her recipes, which she stores in a pile held by a paper clip, that she inherited from my ‘abuelita’ (diminutive for grandmother) who was one of her two mothers, or in more objective terms, her aunt.
My abuelita had long white hair that reached below her hips, and she used to brush it for hours, wearing it as a mirror of her strong character. She raised my mother alone in a historic district, or barrio, where she also took care of colourful birds held in large cages, who sang to the sunrise. Something else—more ethereal and less beautiful—lived in the house: a poltergeist, who appeared in dreams. This was the spirit of an older woman, who explained that thieves killed her during a robbery but never found her money, because she buried it underneath the house—this is also why she cannot crossover, because greed is a deadly sin. Or so they have told me.
I visited this spectral abode once and felt fear, for that which I have never seen but have heard through others, stories about strange noises in the kitchen, corridors and rooms.
My mum’s biological mother was mami (diminutive for mother), a beautiful woman whose face became paralysed after cooking, because she attended a knock on the door, that let a cold gush of wind come in, hitting her warm body, and tragically freezing her face. This incident taught us to never open the door after cooking, or touch cold water, while our bodies are still warm.
Once I slept with someone in winter, and had to politely refuse to fill a cup of water until a half hour had passed—the equivalent to a rosary—because I feared the cold wind in the kitchen could paralyse my face. I do not know if I was expressing a boundary, a want, or a need, but I was firm.
Mixing & Handling
This notion of learning, inheriting and acting upon knowledge is central to Nadia Hernández’s Con la punta de los dedos (With the tips of your fingers), a poetic exhibition of textiles, paintings and collages, inspiredby a moving line in one of her mother’s recipes, where she instructs Nadia to use the tips of her fingers to flatten dough.
There is an idyllic and ominous tone to this command, which is evocative of activities that need precision and delicacy, such as deactivating a ticking bomb, or caressing a lover’s dry lips (when the kitchen iscold, and water is out of reach). Hernández reconciles this strange polarity, with the tips of her fingers, by creating a series of politically charged works that evoke the wondrous and innocent landscapes of childhood reverie.
Like most of her practice, she deploys a charming style, reminiscent of colourful paper cut-outs or crayon drawings, alongside lyrical texts in Spanish, to bring forth dislocated cultural scenes from her troubled homeland of Venezuela. However, rather than a journalistic portrait that captures the crude realities ofthe world, her pieces are closer to a mental image, that unfolds with her limbs. Like a familial recipe that leads to a feast, this act of making revitalises memories of place, shared and enjoyed by those who meet the objects that this process manifests.
Temperature & Time
Her oil painting Pesadilla #1 / Nightmare #1 exemplifies this method of recollection across time, where she appears to conjure images like a medium invoking a ghost in a séance— set up in the kitchen table, where fingers rest on a Ouija board—by depicting a nightmarish scene. This work sits somewhere in between post-cubism and a pre-Hispanic codex, for it shows an amorphous and vaporous figure, caught in a fog of vibrant squiggles. The artist inscribes a cryptic heart and a crown in this flat realm, found within a crooked composition of lines that destabilises the ‘modernist grid’, which art historian Rosalind Krauss speaks of as a demarcation between the past and the present.
Nadia Hernández, Pesadilla #1 / Nightmare #1, 2021, oil on linen, 102.0 x 84.0 cm. Courtesy the artist and STATION
Like a Latinx immigrant in so-called Australia, staring at the horizon of the Pacific Ocean, which demarcates the limits between the present here and past there, this phantasmagorical distortion of the grid collapses places, temporalities and selves. It is the same collision of planes that occurs when a psychic mediates ancient phantoms, or a child rescues lost memories, by cooking arcane familial recipes.
We may use our fingers to read and follow the marks in canvas, and threads in fabric, of Nadia Hernández’s show, and uncover these meditations at a distance, without contact. Like lines in the bible, or sentencesin a familial recipe, interpreted in the disorienting darkness of the kitchen floor with a candle—during a power outage, when the home resembles a monastery—we are bringing something remote, closer to our eyes.