I'm not trained in any particular medium, and I'm always doing things that are all over the place. I like to do performance, I like to do stop-motion, I like to make sculpture, I like to do costumes. I throw events a lot. Lately I've been trying to figure this out, what it is that I actually do. As far as I can tell, I like to create parameters for engagement between two people, or a group of people, or between my art and somebody else.

How does story-telling factor into your art?
It’s huge. I think I am a story-teller, in a lot of ways. Everything I do always starts with a concept or a story or an idea and grows out of that, I'm not a practicing artist in the way that I am honing my skills with a medium, it’s always conceptual, it’s always relationship based, or based on something that I'm going through or experiencing, or that I'm curious about experiencing. 

Do you have threads of thought that are carried through different projects?
Oh yeah. The project called I Want to Eat Your Face is about that feeling of being so in love with somebody that you just want to eat them, you want to bite them, it’s this weird compulsion that if you’ve never experienced it, I don’t really know how to describe it. But that project grew out of having feelings for someone and then I thought, what if you could actually eat somebody’s face? And I started thinking about ritual and acceptance and self-acceptance. That project went from two people engaging in this experience and accepting each other and eating each other’s tamale faces, to me thinking of self-acceptance and how do I rid myself of shame and guilt and non-acceptance. And then it evolved into me doing the ritual for myself and eating my own face. It also goes back to me being in church as a kid and eating the blood and body of Christ so I could be more Christ-like. I was like well I want to be more of who I am, who I'm supposed to be, so it evolved into this story of self-acceptance and self-love.

What is your process?
I have a lot of journals and I am constantly writing things down in them. And it can be anything, something really stupid, a thought that pops into my head that may or may not be true like “did you know whipped cream floats on a hot bath?”. For some reason, that thought is weird and exciting so I write it down and keep track of little anecdotal things that happen during the day and stow them away. Writing little inspirations down is a huge part of my process. I collect all of these things in this book and I sit down and say okay I'm going to conceive of something. It’s almost like a meditation. I write I write I write and then one sticks and you’re like ha that’s funny and that relates to this thing… how can I mesh sign language with gore and how can I mesh…

It’s almost a mystery to me how ideas form. I will sit around and do nothing and just think about the concept and what it means to me. A lot of it is thinking, writing, and being with myself. And being really playful. And not being super attached to coming up with an amazing idea but just being loose with everything. 

Do you feel uninhibited as an artist?
Kind of yeah. I just kind of don’t give a shit about a lot of things. I didn’t go to art school. I don’t make art because I'm trying to make money, so I don’t pay attention to those rules. I've had famous NY curators and well-known artists come to my studio and be really confused by me and by what I do and tell me without even asking if I give a shit or not, how I should really hone some particular part of my craft so I can create, they don’t say the word brand, but they mean it I think. Create something that can be consumed. I'm still figuring it out and in the meantime I can’t afford to give a shit about making money or making a brand or style.

What do you mean you can’t afford it, what’s at stake?
I would lose that inhibition and that creativity and that wildness that I'm running with. For me the most important thing is that I'm really excited about whatever it is I'm working on at the moment. And if I'm not excited and it’s boring then I won’t do it. To me making money can be really boring so I don’t. It’s hard to operate in the art world from that end.

Do you associate darkness with negativity?
I try not to because when you associate it with a negative spectrum then you push it away and you don’t get a chance to learn what you’re supposed to learn from it. If I am experiencing jealousy, then I have a lot to learn about myself. So I embrace darker topics. When you’re making statements, it’s important to be very succinct and to have a very clear message. 

Why is that important?
Because I think of artists as powerful, they have this power to kind of change the way society sees something, and it’s a very big responsibility.

What’s the greatest thing that art has ever done for you?
Kept me alive. 

I mean I don’t think I would be here. I would have no reason to live. I had a really rough upbringing and just always felt like an outsider. And with art there’s so much, I feel like there’s a deeper purpose and meaning to my life that I didn’t have. 

When did you start making art?
I always made art. But I didn’t accept myself as an artist until three years ago. I had been really sick, I had this mysterious illness. I lost everything and I thought I was dying but I probably just had mono or something. It was a really powerful wakeup call for me because I had been working a shitty job that I hated and realized that I had been working shitty jobs all my life just to pay rent and thought, this can’t fucking be it. This just can’t. So I decided to change the way I was living and I could feel a spark of being alive from drawing or making a puppet head. I was like I'm going to follow this bread-crumb trail to health because I don’t want to live my life the way I was living it before. I don't know what meaning is behind the desire to play with wax or play with hair or whatever. It didn’t matter, it just felt good and it evolved into bigger projects and I was like okay I think this is what I need to be doing. 

What is it that you think art can do for the world?
I think it offers different perspectives and awarenesses and stories, it makes life more beautiful and exciting and worthwhile. It adds beauty to the world. And that’s not just some extra thing that we should have on the side if we can afford to, I think that life should be beautiful, I think it’s really important.

Do you feel like you’re absorbing whatever energies are around you?
Well it depends. I was really depressed for a couple of weeks after I did this piece at Leon. It was a piece about grief and how grief can be a nurturing process. I had created these tear glasses that collected your tears and then they went through tubes and they watered these two plants. And these plants are halophytes which are plants that grow in salt-water conditions and dry soils. You can eat them also so there’s this whole cyclical idea of mourning as a nurturing process. I was going to cry into these glasses and water these plants and that’s all I was going to do but then I had this conversation with Rick Griffith and he was like, “Can I whisper my grievous story into your ear?” and it just hit me like oh my God this the way that I can get people to connect with what I'm doing. So the performance ended up being me standing over these two plants with these glasses and people were coming up to me and telling me all of these intense things that they had held on to, horrible horrible stuff. And I was this conduit for them to release, and I was just fucking bawling my eyes out. I remember feeling extremely open-hearted that night and having so much love for everyone in the room.

How did you come to a point that you saw grief as nurturing?
I was going through a breakup and I felt like it was really important for me to shed tears so it doesn’t become anger, so it doesn’t become bitterness, so I can have another relationship, so I can release that energy and create space for something new to come in. But also I had been thinking about heavier things on a social level. Like nuclear waste and how it takes a really long time to break down. I can’t even conceive of that amount of time. I was thinking about the grief of humans destroying the planet and how we’re not actually facing it. And maybe the more socially responsible thing to do is to acknowledge that we are destroying the planet and feel that grief and maybe once we let go we can actually have creative solutions to work with. We’re in denial. The government and our social economy keep us so distracted on purpose, it’s not easy to make space for that.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My own process is a mystery to me sometimes. I can’t just look at other artists and be like oh yeah I'm doing THAT. Because I feel like I'm kind of an outsider even in the art world, so it’s a struggle sometimes to understand my own process and what the fuck I'm trying to do. It would be so much easier if I was satisfied making paintings, but I have no idea how to paint…so I guess the world or social landscape is my painting.

You’re doing something new.
I don’t think it’s new I think it’s really old. It’s new in the sense that it doesn’t feel copied, it doesn’t feel like you’re in a tradition. It feels fresh and driven by curiosity. And it takes a lot of courage to be able to stand in that space of like, am I alone, here?


 

-Esther Hernandez