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Cognitive Archaeology

Posted in Dreams, Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on March 9th, 2010 by Angel Villanueva

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Late Summer in the countryside, a leisurely trek under the luminous twilight after sundown. The road was flanked by dense trees of a dark emerald, homes nesting between them with increasing frequency as we got closer to town. Glimpses of grassy hills beyond the forest led up to great purple mountains in the distance.

Striding confidently beside me was my delightful, longtime friend; cultured, intelligent, and congenial, a dashing presence not of our time. His fine, formal attire (pin-striped trousers, tail coat, top hat, immaculate white gloves) was as naturally becoming to his graceful, athletic frame as was his handsome face.1 We were talking about our plans for the rest of Summer when I stopped, in utter disbelief, before the house on our left. The shock turned my voice into a whisper.

“This is impossible… I lived in this house when I was a child!” 

Before us was an abandoned adobe building, a single-story row of doors and windows spanning half a block before turning the corner. The very first unit—one door, one window—had been my home, a place my mother rented for about a year when I was little. It was still the only part of the building painted a sickly pink, the color an incongruous touch on a facade of an otherwise uniform, dirty white.

I walked up to the heavy wooden door and pushed it. It was unlocked, its yielding open without effort or sound an unsettling “Come in…”. I stepped inside, surprised by how small the space seemed now. The two rooms, connected by a doorway, were empty. The dust and debris accumulated on the floor evidenced that no one had been here for many, many years. The door to the back patio was missing, and through its opening I could see what was once an outdoor kitchen, adobe forms long eroded by rain and neglect into shapes barely recognizable as a wood stove and bread oven.

My 18th century companion leaned on the doorway, observing me gravely. He had taken off his hat and was slowly twirling it in his gloved hands. Strands of wavy blond hair now framed his face. He looked uneasy. I was too, and I realized that, the moment I opened that door, it felt as if we were carrying out a desecration .

“These rooms are still haunted by that memory…” he said.

I nodded. They were. The setting was home to my earliest recollection of terror: my mother fell seriously ill for the first time while we lived here. I was six years old, and the place was said to be haunted then. It certainly was now. There was a strong, nauseating energy latent in it. The atmosphere felt dense, laden with something old and ill, something of death, an enduring, sad and immovable presence indifferent to our trespass but operating as powerfully as an eternal curse. I feared this unctuous malaise would permeate my clothes, my skin, my body… I feared it would cling to me like an invisible madness and pollute the rest of my life.

We had to leave.

Then, as if they had suddenly materialized, I saw the paintings.

Three framed oils on canvas, painted in the French realist style, hung on the walls of the first room. I had no conscious recollection of them until now. It all came flooding in, faster than I could process. The paintings had been there when we moved in, and were obviously far older than my memory of them. Whoever hung them had found it proper to place one by the entry, one on the wall that separated the two rooms, and one by the door leading to the backyard. We never touched them, and evidently, no one else had.

“I can’t believe this… Hanging, unseen, for decades…” I spoke quietly, absorbed. I turned to him. He held my gaze. We both knew, in that moment, that I would be taking the paintings with me.

The pigments had faded a great deal in each of the three canvases, but overall the images were well preserved. The frames were nailed directly to the stucco. A strange way of hanging paintings, I thought, as if the intent had been to crucify them.2

I carefully began to pull the first one off the wall. It was a bust decorated with an oval mat. The sitter was a pale woman in a white blouse, her red hair pulled up about her head. Her gentle expression barely managed to balance the otherwise somber tone of the painting. She must have been in her late twenties when the portrait was made. Who was she? I wondered. The frame felt flexible, soft almost. The nails gave up easily, shedding bits of rust as they came out. I leaned it against the wall.

The next work was a small view of an old city, a patchwork of roofs, walls and cobblestone pathways. The town looked deserted. The picture seemed to have been painted from life, and the composition was strict: were it not for its painterly atmospheric depth and the rich detailing of its surfaces, it would have come close to geometric abstraction. It came off the wall easily as well.

The largest of the three paintings—and oddly for my taste, the one that fascinated me most—was a countryside view painted in thick impasto. Its execution set it apart from the other two: a hint of expressionism had made its way into the brushwork, with paint volumes accentuating forms and adding a contained dynamism to the stillness. In it, the dark brown planks of a wooden fence contrasted with the faded olive green of a grassy field behind, leading to a dark tree line beyond. Part of the horizon was visible, and in it, the faintest suggestion of a town under cloud cover seemed to tremble with the murmur of distant events. The frame was broken in places, I feared it would fall apart in my hands, but it held together as I pulled it from the wall.3

In the awe of the discovery, numbed by the unsettling atmosphere of the space, and fighting off the rising pain of memories unvisited for ages, I sought to understand the origin of these images; I felt it was my duty to do so before taking them—I felt the trespass warranted it. Someone before me had understood and kept them together. It was my turn to do the same.

What did these pictures have in common? They were obviously contemporaries and related to each other: depictions of a town, its countryside, and perhaps one of its residents. Although varying in approach, the brushwork and color palette suggested the same hand. Who painted them? When? Where? No signatures. No dates. Beautiful, connected paintings equally marred by a lugubrious heaviness.

The silence of loss.

Loss… The realization swept my mind like a tidal wave: The paintings were made after the plague. The portrait of the woman was posthumous.

Narratives began weaving in my head. I could only imagine the countless stories of pain and horror behind these images. They made sense. Perfect sense. I couldn’t bear to think about it any longer, not there, not in that place that was now more than ever a tomb in my mind. I stacked the paintings on each other and put them all under my arm.

“The plague…” he said as I turned to him. “I think so…” I whispered back. Tears welled up in my eyes.

On the walls, white rectangles of emptiness punctuated by stigmata screamed of undead nightmares.

“Let’s go.”

It felt good to get back on the street, out the ill atmosphere of the abandoned house. We walked briskly, our steps in sync. Interrupted by the archaeological find, our carefree dynamic could not be resumed. Its place had been usurped by the silence of complicity and a nameless, insistent concern. I couldn’t wait to get to my car, to put the paintings in the trunk, to shut them in the dark. I feared them. I feared that it was they who created the horror I felt back in those rooms, rather than being mere witnesses to it. They were alive with that sick energy and I had begun to realize it was a force that could not be contained or escaped from. I didn’t know what I would do with them.

I wanted to thank him for being my accomplice in the theft, but then I thought: Is this really a theft? I wondered if anyone had seen us. I wondered, strangely, if there were cameras monitoring the area, if the removal of the paintings had been recorded. Stranger still, I wondered if my handsome friend would even show up in such a recording.

We walked on, past the gates, into the city.

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1. I often wonder who these characters are who visit me in my dreams. The man in this sequence was not dressed in costume; those were his usual clothes. He made me think of the high society of early America. In the dream’s internal logic, I remembered him; we talked as if we had known each another well for a very long time. Perhaps he has been a recurring character for a while and my memory of him is crossing into daylight for the first time. Who knows? I do not recall a name.

2. Hanging is also an execution. Like the limp body of a dead criminal hanging at the square, paintings on display are captures and examples at once.

3. The first thing I did after documenting this dream was to call my sister in Mexico. I asked her if she remembered that house, if there had been paintings in it. She remembers the place but can’t say whether there were any paintings. She was four years old when we lived there, her memory of the place is much dimmer than mine. She does, however, remember the stories about the haunting.

What is haunting to my mind is how vividly I remember the pictures. They have the distinct quality of an unearthed memory; it’s hard for me to think of them as an elaborate invention of the subconscious. I could reproduce them easily. Fear of awakening something I may not be readyor ableto deal with, and perhaps remaining figments of superstition in my otherwise empirical mind, prevent me from even trying.

It was at that house that I created a painting for the first time. I received a set of watercolors as a birthday present from my mother when I turned seven. It would make sense, if these paintings existed, that I would have been inspired by them somehow.

The building was demolished many years ago. My mother, the only person that would have been able to instantly demystify this dream, has not been with us for a long time.

Thank you for reading.


Never Mind the Fool

Posted in Impressions, Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on February 15th, 2010 by Angel Villanueva

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Senator Martin went in looking good. Her navy suit breathed power. She had put some starch on Gossage too.

Dr. Lecter sat alone in the middle of the room, in a stout oak armchair bolted to the floor. A blanket covered his straitjacket and leg restraints and concealed the fact that he was chained to the chair. But he still wore the hockey mask the kept him from biting.

Why? the Senator wondered. The idea had been to permit Dr. Lecter some dignity in an office setting. Senator Martin gave Chilton a look and turned to Gossage for papers.

Chilton went behind Dr. Lecter and, with a glance at the camera, undid the straps and removed the mask with a flourish.

“Senator Martin, meet Dr. Hannibal Lecter.”

Seeing what Dr. Chilton had done for showmanship frightened Senator Martin as much as anything that had happened since her daughter disappeared. Any confidence she might have had in Chilton’s judgment was replaced with the cold fear that he was a fool.

She’d have to wing it.

A lock of Dr. Lecter’s hair fell between his maroon eyes. He was as pale as the mask. Senator Martin and Hannibal Lecter considered each other: one extremely bright, the other not measurable by any means known to man.

The Silence of the Lambs

Thomas Harris, 1988

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Who hasn’t had a fool in their lives? In their desperate search for validation, these characters will command all they can, which on occasion will include our presence. But never mind the fool: in and of himself he is inconsequential. Sure they meddle and complicate things, and make no mistake, they can be destructive, but chaos is order ineffable: in facilitating encounters of all sorts they act as the catalyst for change. Much can be gained from being drawn from time to time to places where rules—particularly ours—are being broken. There, a great experiment is carried out both on our behalf and in spite of our efforts to stop it. The mistake most often made when wandering into a fool’s reach is attempting to draw conclusions from the experience before it’s time.

As for the fool himself, not much can be said other than everyone’s fares to the chaos are charged on his account. In The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris does us a sinister, yet amusing service, delivered perhaps more satisfyingly by the film than the novel. Chilton’s ultimate fate is our guilt and pleasure, leaning to the latter as it hints at a tantalizing possibility: a particular life form may experience a great deal of injustice during its existence, but the universe, in the end, balances itself out quite nicely.

With that thought, I leave you. I’m having an old friend for dinner…

Angel Villanueva

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Notes on a Vampire

Posted in Dreams, Writing and Poetry on January 24th, 2010 by Angel Villanueva

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There once lived a creature in the woodlandsome say a manwho lured children away from their adventures, and drowned them in a well. Hidden amidst the trees, it would watch as the villagers gathered for the mournful task of retrieving the lifeless little bodies from the cold darkness that claimed them, out into a sunlight cruel in its insistence on exposing every detail of the horror. It followed the trail of their grief to the cemetery, taking great pleasure in their rituals, in their attempts to cope with what couldn’t be coped with, the unjust passing of their innocent. For it was not the death of children that it sought, but the waking death of those who grieved them: its soul fed on the sorrows of the living.


You surface once again
But I have known you

You call your works the Children of the Spring
Children drowned
At the bottom of a well

Walk on
Spare me the vacuous inquiry of your stare
The treachery of your touch
The mimicry concealing rigor mortis
Of your signature approach

Spare me the tentacles of your deception
Spare me the righteousness of your reproach
The slithering dance of your tongue
Weaving a dazzling patchwork out of lies

Spare me the tedious record of your anguish
None for the better
The bait and switch
The concealed clockwork diligently ticking
Beneath the outward good of your intention

Spare me the horror
The murder of what’s good in those around you
You are a death heavier than any other
An end before the end

The only cross I can lift up against you
The charting of a path which won’t cross yours
Is held up high

I know the blood of pain you cannot do with
Your talent is but one
To live from agony
Now let
The agony you live from
Be your own

Spare me the silent aggravation
Of witnessing your plunge

Back I say, back!


No longer hiding in forests, swamplands, or caves, today these creatures live in our midst, roaming the land in search for the child in us. In them lives on a predatory hunger, an urge that saw its dawn in a time long before ours. The one incantation holding sway against their lurid powers is distance.

Stay away from them, children, stay away…



Posted in Journal Entry, Music, Photography on October 8th, 2009 by Angel Villanueva

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Los Terrícolas – Nostalgia

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Quiero emborrachar mi corazón
Para olvidar un loco amor
Que más que amor es un sufrir.

Y aquí vengo para eso,
A borrar antiguos besos
En los besos de otras bocas.

Si su amor fue flor de un día,
¿Por qué causa siempre es mía
esa cruel preocupación?

Quiero, por los dos, mi copa alzar
Para olvidar mi obstinación
Y más la vuelvo a recordar.

De escuchar su risa loca
Y sentir junto a mi boca
Como un fuego
Su respiración…

De sentirme abandonado
Y pensar que otro a su lado
Pronto, pronto
Le hablará de amor…

Yo no quiero rebajarme
Ni pedirle, ni llorarle
Ni decirle que no puedo más vivir…

Desde mi triste soledad veré caer las rosas muertas
De mi juventud.

Gime, bandoneón, tu tango gris
Quizás a ti te hiera igual
Algún amor sentimental.

Llora mi alma de fantoche
Sola y triste en esta noche
Noche negra y sin estrellas.

Si las copas traen consuelo,
Aquí estoy con mi desvelo
Para ahogarlo de una vez.

Quiero emborrachar al corazón
Para poder después brindar
Por los fracasos del amor.

De escuchar su risa loca
Y sentir junto a mi boca
Como un fuego
Su respiración…

De sentirme abandonado
Y pensar que otro a su lado
Pronto, pronto le hablará de amor…

Hermanos, yo… ¡yo no quiero rebajarme!
¡Ni pedirle, ni llorarle!
Ni decirle que no puedo más vivir…

Desde mi triste soledad veré caer las rosas muertas
De mi juventud…

Enrique Cadícamo
Argentina, 1936

25 Things About Me

Posted in Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on August 5th, 2009 by Angel Villanueva

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1. I was 11 years old when I understood, in its full magnitude, the burdensome paradox of having no foreseeable desire to listen to others yet always having to live in their world.

2. I am sometimes afraid of the places where my mind goes—self destruction lurks in the shadows. I’ve put measures in place to keep that in check but the knots slip at times. I fear madness may be in my future.

3. Ominous as that sounds, the mind ventures in the opposite direction just as frequently. I have moments of intense illumination that leave me absolutely breathless, to the point that it is difficult to reconnect with my immediate surroundings at will. I hope and pray something like that doesn’t catch me while driving a bus full of people.

4. Life as a flatline is not something I’m interested in. That doesn’t mean I’m committed to going out on a limb to provide myself with thrills at the expense of others (though I’ve been guilty of it, and I regret that, I truly do). What it means is that I strive to experience as much of the spectrum of human existence as my time and capacity will allow.

5. Yet I wish I never had to sleep, eat, talk, have sex… I wish I could exist as a disembodied mind with the ability to see and transform matter, so I could focus on what I’m here for.

6. I have an undying love for the beauty of the desert.

7. I wish I had discovered Ayn Rand as a teenager…

8. …because I understand reality as something that exists independently from the mind. Moreover, I think ultimate truth (the structure of things) is a multi-level, multi-dimensional affair, its reach spanning far beyond our perceptual and cognitive bandwidths. Short of the Einsteins of our kind—whom are/were limited in their own way—most of us can at most aspire to deal with aspects, dimensions, fragments of the whole, which is a recipe for eternal confusion, conflict, and suffering.

9. I am happiest when I’m thinking, alone, and figure something out.

10. I have more art projects in my sketchbooks and notes than I could possibly accomplish in a lifetime.

11. I am well aware of the fact that some (sometimes relevant) people find me troublesome and contradictory, as if undefined or not-quite present. I simply have no reliable way of sharing my internal structure, and fear that even if I could they wouldn’t understand.

12. My particular brand of wicked humor has connected me (personally) with more people than anything else about me.

13. I’ve explored self-perception issues by obsessively photographing myself nude in all sorts of settings… I’ve gotten some interesting results out of that but have yet to decide what to do with the images.

14. Because I think images, in that sense, are ultimately a cop-out.

15. I’ve internally declared war on various causes, systems, and people over time, but get bored halfway through the effort and never carry it out.

16. I think of knowledge as something to be consumed.

17. My hatred for television peaks anytime I’m exposed to Latin American telegarbage.

18. I find it easiest to be friends with people I admire in some way.

19. I find it easiest to love people who share their processes of self-discovery and self-creation with me.

20. My life unfolds in 11-year cycles. I took possession of myself at 11. It was like waking up. That’s how I divide my life now: pre-11, post-11. 22 was quite the year as well. I think I know exactly what will happen at 33.

21. When I was 12 years old, my mother fell ill and could no longer take care of us. This is how I learned to cook, iron my clothes, etc. Today I can iron a dress shirt in 90 seconds (I’ve timed myself!).

22. I used to create land art as a child, using rocks, twigs, and earth. I didn’t even know there was a term for it, or that anyone would care to see it. I just wanted to put my signature in the land, to bring an element of creative order to it in some way.

23. I grew up in rural Mexico, in the Baja California desert. We lived for years without electricity or running water. My grandmother had a water pump in the patio. Shoes were something we would only wear to school. In the summer I worked picking cotton or harvesting grapes in the fields, along with other kids from my school; I remember it was grueling work under a merciless sun, but also a great deal of fun. People bartered food and services all the time. We used to get citrus fruit, cucumbers and fresh milk from nearby farms. We always grew our own chickens and often harvested wild plants to eat. Life was a day-to-day survival process that required a direct connection with the land and the people around us. For all this, I am grateful. I cannot imagine what sort of dull creature I would have become had I grown in the urban conditions that are known to me today. I cannot imagine life as a child without that great open sky, nights ablaze with stars, the riverbank, and the creatures whose secret lives I came to know. To me, civilization was a set of human dwellings that could be traversed from end to end by foot in minutes… then there were the fields, and beyond, the vast expanse and mystery of the desert. I lived in an ideal world and was immensely happy.

24. This is not a ‘woe is me’ note, I’m actually quite content today. 🙂

25. And, as Frida Kahlo once said: “I hope the exit is joyful, and I hope never to return.”

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Angel Villanueva
August 5, 2009
Claremont, CA

Under the Midnight Sun

Posted in Journal Entry, Photography, Work Update on June 25th, 2009 by Angel Villanueva

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Click play. Scroll down. Enjoy.
Björk – New World

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My host, teacher, guide, and companion of wonders.
Thank you Max, now and always.


The City

Posted in Arts and Culture, Journal Entry, Photography, Writing and Poetry on April 25th, 2009 by Angel Villanueva

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The term urban grit, like most labels, functions as a kind of cognitive shorthand, a free admission pass to the claim of understanding what it describes. It has a faint ring of the inevitable, but it mostly conveys the notion of an evil that can be avoided through a careful routing of our experiences, should we be so fortunate.

The city resists this idea. From the loose debris unevenly coating the streets—a debris that includes human lives—to the steel and glass cages poised like great vessels in the sky, the city unfolds as a continuum, a tapestry with no clear edges. Urban grit as a realm is the result of a process, and it becomes integral to the world that cradles it. There will always be something occupying that space, and that something will always escape the boundaries of notion.

Like an interplanetary spacecraft, cutting across orbits, I traverse the city periodically and gather more data with each pass. Returning from each harvest, in the late hours of the night, I compare the readings in my memory with those captured by the lens. Rather than matching, they complement each other. A different picture emerges each time. It is like observing from the inside the ceaseless inner workings of a giant, undying organism, sprawled over the land. The city is far more than a structure: it is a living process… Its nature reveals the basic traits of the creatures that give rise to it and sustain it, and which it in turn sustains and consumes. The city is nature, in a different guise.

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I also find it useful to think of the city as a weather system. Here, currents meet and coalesce, sometimes becoming storms, sometimes merely dissipating in the night’s breeze. At any moment, a tenuous string may suggest itself between two entities, threading its way through the links between others.

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He’s following me, I think. Three blocks, four galleries, perusing some of the same artworks. Our eyes meet a few times. His are blue, intense or just cold I can’t say… No smile. Faces and voices around us become transparency and silence.

Strange alchemy.

I start to envision possible outcomes; including, why not, my lifeless remains in a body bag.

I recall a similar scenario, a lifetime ago it seems… It began in the desert , under a merciless sun, amidst a dense ocean of people. I think of that story and all that it meant.

I walk on.

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Bedtime Stories

Posted in Journal Entry, Photography on January 7th, 2009 by Angel Villanueva

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Photo taken November 30, 2008

The moon and companions over Orange County, California. The hazy air is the result of lingering smoke from the devastating fires of November 15th (my birthday…) which left so many without homes… It was strange to see these beautiful, distant, uncaring celestial bodies as a direct a backdrop to earthly dwellings in their atmospheric circumstance.

More to come,


Louise Bourgeois: A Retrospective

Posted in Arts and Culture, Impressions, Writing and Poetry on October 30th, 2008 by Angel Villanueva

By Angel Villanueva

Image: Brian Morris for The Curve.


Sensuality, pathos, self-reflection, and humor all find their way into Louise Bourgeois’ sculptural expressions. Born in Paris in 1911, and familiar from a young age with the arts and crafts of her region, Bourgeois’ work spans seven decades, with many of her most iconic and telling works present in the exhibition Louise Bourgeois at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

The installation, rather than attempting a chronological narrative, clusters the works according to their material commonalities. Greeting visitors is a large-scale sculpture, a giant metal spider embracing one of Bourgeois’ self-enclosed constructions, which she calls cells. The work immediately establishes the artist’s strong affinity for material processes and the poetic redeployment of the particular significances of found objects. While walking around it, and within its legs, the sculpture unfolds as a revelation: the spider—a spinster, a crafty wonder of nature—acts as a protector around the cell, as if holding onto a precious and fragile egg sac. In the cell, wire, keys, thread, and other symbols, speak of treasures held in an intangible space, a deep niche of self-reflection in the artist’s mind, a place where memories and hopes can believe themselves safe from the prying eye of the outer world.

Other work clusters reveal the artist’s astonishing array of capacities: Bourgeois’ sculptural hand delivers soft marble forms resembling shapes in nature: the clouds, living creatures, parts of the human body. In their ambiguity, these entities tease the mind with hidden meanings and thoughts, offering no more than a sensual hint at the existence of such ideas. Her cells, constructed with linked doors, effectively transform points of entry into barriers. The resulting enclosed spaces contain yet another fragment of the artist’s negotiations with her memories and dreams. In a more representational series of material explorations, Bourgeois presents us with human figures engaged in various identifiable yet mysterious—even disturbing—activities: hysteria, illness, sex, perhaps death.

Overall, the exhibition invites the viewer’s mind to connect with the artist’s past and psyche, using shared experience as a translator for what is ultimately an alien perspective on life, and the world it unfolds in.

On view at MOCA Grand Avenue, October 26, 2008 through January 25, 2009.
250 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012
For more information please visit .