Death and the meaning of life aren't necessarily, explicitly the central concern of Walla Walla artist Juventino Aranda's new work in his show In Dreams I Once Believed There Was a Future at Kucera Gallery, but language certainly is. Especially the language we encounter as kids; the quiet indoctrination about nation, citizenship, and belonging that we receive through children's books or characters like The Lone Ranger.
In this exhibition, Aranda blew up pages and covers from three real life, Little Golden Books: Our Flag, God, and The Lone Ranger. I remember as a child encountering and reading these books, often when I went to church with my grandparents in Kansas or at the dentist office. I loved their golden spines, the way they felt, how they cracked open.
Here, Aranda reimagines the stories these books tell—redacting words and adding imagery to select pages. He even worked with the Walla Walla Foundry to create those iconic gold spines out of bronze. I felt particularly drawn to "LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK - OUR FLAG, PAGE 2 (EL TAMBOR)." Erasing and redacting parts of the page, the words take on a new meaning.
"Every country has its xxx flag."
'I come from America.'
He intervenes in the line: "I am an American," using copyediting marks to turn the statement into a question— "Am I an American?" (I had to look up the marks as I haven't seen them used since junior high.) This erasure makes the line below take on a more sinister tone, "Today..." Aranda colors the red-haired girl's hair black and replaces the drum with "El Tambor." Anyone who has ever played Lotería—a Mexican game similar to, but way more fun than, Bingo—will recognize the imagery from the brightly colored cards that comprise the game.
These Lotería cards pop up in many of the other pieces from the show: a cactus (El Nopal), a star (La Estrella), a soldier (El Soldado), and my favorite, the moon (La Luna). All along with Aranda's corrections, erasures, and additions to these storybook pages. It's a reminder of the stories that are really being told, and have been told, from the days when we first learned to read.