By Deb A.
Astrolabes & Constellations is poet, writer, and artist Cristina Querrer's first full-length collection of poems. Published as part of the Agave Press Manuscript and Portfolio Series, the volume brings together questions of self, identity, travel, nostalgia, loss, and forgiveness, and examines what it is to be the product of circumstance. We spoke to Cristina about growing up in the Philippines, creative expression, and the meaning of home.
AGAVE: Navigation is a recurrent theme in the collection, and you say of yourself that you've "taken the scenic route in life": You were born and raised in the Philippines as an American military child, and you're a U.S. Army veteran with an MFA and an arsenal of tech skills. How do your poems support you in finding your path? How do they reflect that navigation?
CRISTINA QUERRER: Navigation and nautical imagery have been my recurring themes. Firstly, I come from a fisherman family in the Philippines, so water has been in my blood, so to speak. As far as nautical imagery, it mostly comes from my constant traveling since childhood as a U.S. military child and into adulthood. It’s about my seemingly “meandering” migration pattern and the need to map and document the routes and experiences that appear in my poetry. It reflects back life’s circumstances, all of what is within and beyond my reach.
What does the Philippines mean to you?
The Philippines is my starting point. It’s my birthplace. I explore identity, and I find that being of mixed race, I was blessed to have a fixed Filipino identity, thanks to my mother and her relatives for their inclusion, acceptance, and love.
While you're a writer and poet first, you seem to want to delve into as many creative avenues as possible: You're also an artist and a blogger, and you've recently started podcasting; you've got your eye on songwriting as well. What motivates you to explore so many ways of expressing yourself?
What motivates me to explore various ways of expression is the discovery process. I like to explore other possibilities because I find the many modes of expression are interconnected and quite possibly feeds each other. Just as a visual artist can switch and work on several pieces of paintings, is how I approach the many creative avenues. Right now, building my podcast channel is on my radar, but I have other projects I’d like to return to, like my visual art, my next poetry collection, and finishing up my novel, to name a few.
You mentioned on your first podcast that you wanted to investigate what creativity means to you. What have you discovered so far?
Since my interviewing other writers and poets about their creative process on my podcast, I find that mine is not that different from theirs. Staying creative means staying open to ideas, to explore the possibilities. In my podcast, the writers and poets are doing this, no matter what projects they have done or plan on doing. Continuing to be creative to me is more about mapping and planning as well as being open and being spontaneous.
What do you hope readers of By Astrolabes & Constellations will experience through your poems?
I hope my readers can feel a sense of travel through my collection because it is a result of some of my travels: from the Philippines, the U.S. (Connecticut/New Mexico/Florida), to the Federated of Micronesia, where I have lived and worked briefly, and back. My opening poem talks about a paper boat that traveled the world and came “back to this island.” “This island” can represent the Philippines or something as ubiquitous and essential as feeling home with oneself.
Cristina's podcast can be found at yourartsygirlpodcast.com.
By Deb A.
Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Inspired by her Tibetan Buddist practice, Hildy Maze uses her art to inquire into the nature of mind.
Her collages are made with environmentally friendly materials and rooted in a deep connection between mind and heart that allows her to begin her works from a pure uncertainty. Hildy's "an investigation of mind through art" is featured in Agave Magazine's upcoming 5-Year Anniversary Edition.
AGAVE: What does your collage-making process entail?
HILDY MAZE: All of these things, color, texture, tones are developed in various stages of the process. It begins with making drawings and paintings on paper using various colors and tools, like branches brushes, anything that will make a mark. There’s play involved, experiment, sometimes a specific image. I let the creative mind roam free, a state of uncontrived creativity where I step out of my own way. I call it making paper. Some of these drawings and paintings are put aside as complete. Others are strewn on the floor to begin a ripening process meaning the paper becomes a part of the existing tapestry of paper already spread across the floor. The haphazardly strewn paper reveals combinations I would not otherwise think of that attract me, and from this a collage begins, with pinning, ripping, cutting, folding, and so on. It’s a conversation without words or thoughts, preconceived ideas or attachment. The natural aging of the paper along with the wrinkling, stains, drips and casual handling of the already painted and drawn upon paper lends much of the texture. Out of this the colors, textures and tones arise. From this the image takes form. An instinctual energy seems to be doing it all. The images create and conclude themselves naturally. I have no idea what the finished piece will look like, its size or shape. I trust my instinctual knowing, the clarity of mind’s basic nature. I find the paper more beautiful and inspiring as it ages, adding texture and depth. then when it is freshly painted and drawn on. The aging paper reminds me of ancient ruins, old fabrics. There’s an earth quality to the paper that’s attractive to me. It displays impermanence and imperfection, which is part of life.
What techniques do you use to persuade the viewer to go beyond the image presented?
Touching on combining symbols and emotions that could possibly persuade the viewer to see in a personal way beyond the image. Also naming the work which evolves when I’ve arrived at that point of leaving the work right there without trying to improve or manipulate it. Once it’s completed I distance myself and quiet my mind to allow some kind of essence of the image to speak. The title may arise immediately, other times it may take a few days. I don’t make an effort to walk the viewers through their visual experience since I have no idea what that may be. I just point in a direction of possibility.
The titles of your works are often stark and provocative: her emptiness, unknowing the confusion, unrelenting, when coping strategies fail... what do you believe is the importance of a strong title?
Strong titles are important if there is something I want to share or discuss with the viewer. Titles help select what that discussion could revolve around. Of course this may not happen and I don’t consider audience reception in making the work. I have an abiding belief in the titles and the ability of oil, paint and paper crumpled, torn, aged or flat and the genre of abstraction to best communicate and possibly seduce the viewer to make their own journey into their humanness. It’s not a requirement, more like an invitation.
What can you achieve through collage that is more powerful than with other mediums, and when do you prefer to rely on another art form?
My relationship to collage is somewhat magical and indescribable. What I achieve through collage I don’t think I could achieve in any other way. It seems to be instinctual for me. An endless dialogue. Also the process involves painting and drawing so I don’t have to rely on any other art form since the process, covers it all. I do work with clay from time to time, but that’s a completely different story…..
What are you proudest of so far in your career as an artist?
I’m proudest of embracing the challenge of actually doing my work consistently with curiosity and enthusiasm everyday.
Agave Magazine's 5-Year Anniversary Edition is on presale now in the Agave Press shop.
By Deb A.
Do you know what Thingstaetten are? Agave Magazine: 5-Year Anniversary Edition contributor Daniel Mirer does. From Nazi-era amphitheaters to the American Southwest, Daniel's photography documents "architectural idealism and the interpretation of power and influence in political ideology." Firmly committed to the deadpan aesthetic, Daniel includes Lewis Baltz, Wim Wenders, Thomas Struth, Ed Burtynsky, and Candida Höfer amongst his greatest influences. We spoke to him about the American Southwest, architectural photography, and how his teaching informs his own work.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: You list architectural photography and portfolio photography as specialties; do you have a favourite type of subject?
DANIEL MIRER: My interest is and has always been in space, whether architectural or within a landscape. I am perpetually intrigued by architectural space and how we create these environments to navigate. I suppose it all stems from my father, who was a construction worker in New York City. I would often get dragged along to work with him and assigned some task to help out and stay out of trouble. Later when I was in college, I worked on large construction sites in Manhattan on weekends and in the summer to help pay for my tuition and film. It was during these years of working on skyscrapers, seeing the city from different perspectives and at different times of day, with light gleaming off the glass towers, that I began to have a different appreciation for architectural space and started to figure out new representational strategies that have set the course of my artwork.
The photographs in my architectural art portfolio ArchitorSpace display my specific interest in the banality of urban spaces. I seek locations that are dense with absence; forgotten, deserted non-sites are entirely familiar but reveal no history or functionality, and yet are commonplace within the redundancy of blandness within postindustrial space.
I recognize the individual makeup of the depicted environment, and its diverse intrinsic textures in open foreground and background collapse, reducing the structure to a flat and simplified arrangement of pure line and color. By highlighting form rather than function, I wish to challenge the essence of these non-places. By extracting spaces from their ambiguous nature, I am providing these sites with a new and subjective identity that is separate from pure functionality.
The pictures I create are of spaces in which a building’s facade, alley, or corridor is virtually indistinguishable from another. I enjoy the redundancy of surface materials when collapsed into an architectural singularity of banality. Within my images, the subjects who might otherwise occupy these spaces appear engulfed in the void of here-could-be-anywhere, in the monumental dissolution of space in contemporary architecture.
What drew you to document the American Southwest?
As a boy from the Bronx, Hollywood westerns were always influential to me. My imagination transported me out of my parents' small apartment to the romanticism of open spaces free from the confines of the city. I still enjoy Hollywood westerns, which I now view with a critical eye: They are full of kitsch, Americana nostalgia, and nationalistic self-reference. But growing up in a vast metropolis such as New York, the romanticism of freedom and bright sunlight in a big sky has always drawn me to look westward.
Traveling through the American West, I am an outsider, a tourist in my country seeing snippets of background stage scenes from Hollywood movies. The American West is itself a loaded signifier of Americanness, full of falsehoods and political and economic flux. What interests me as an artist is this loaded metaphorical space.
Indifferent West highlights a part of America that has, in a way, become a parody of itself. What do you think has been gained or lost through this recontextualization?
A parodic contradiction has always thwarted the American West; it continues to be a space of national identity and a site of exploited natural resources built around the mystique of a dangerous barren wasteland. My strategy is to be the tourist photographing topographical landscape and the Americana kitsch with visual sarcasm.
Indifferent West is the perfect vehicle for me to create visual criticism of the photographic process and deconstruct accepted romantic notions of landscape as a recontextualized, post-industrial space that exists in my images. This contradiction is intentional; structures are flattened, horizon lines are invisible, and found signage diverts attention away from the visual aspects of traditional landscape definition.
Do you enjoy teaching, or would you prefer to be taking photos yourself?
My teaching informs my artwork and my photography career informs my teaching, which has become an instinctive impulse. I think I would not have as successful or as satisfying an art career if it were not for the teaching responsibilities I have undertaken. It’s the community and camaraderie of my colleagues I seek.
Teaching in an art program is to approach every class and project with dedication and enthusiasm to inspire students and represent an industry I genuinely care for and have dedicated my life to. I am passionate about teaching and working within an academic environment because of the fulfillment and joy it brings me, but also because it enables me to help shape a new generation of artists and professionals in other areas who have an appreciation for and understanding of the complexity and powerful influence of media art.
What do you believe is the key to teaching photography well?
I believe there is no higher calling for artists than to give back to their community of artists. Dedication and genuine enthusiasm for the medium that you have chosen and that best represents your creativity will always be apparent to your students. Educators must have a willingness to learn and expand their skill sets and theoretical models in their artwork.
My pedagogical approach to a visual arts program is to enable and empower students to engage in theory, practical exploration, and artistic production. Theory and practice in art and photography are dynamic and ever-changing, and the challenge is to connect technical and visual skills with human experiences through individual interpretation, thus allowing for new creative possibilities. I believe it is essential for students to learn the theoretical, historical, and technical aspects of photography and the fine arts so that they can explore from a broad, well balanced, curriculum. I use digital technology and critical theory as hybrid platforms to expose students to their vast creative possibilities.
My aspiration and responsibilities are for students to emerge as skilled and eloquent professional artists and image-makers. For this to happen, I too must always improve my art skills to remain current within the industry. I received a teaching grant at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to continue my professional development and update my technical skills so I may better serve my students.
Agave Magazine's 5-Year Anniversary Edition is on presale now in the Agave Press shop.
By Deb A.
Argentine photographer and Agave Magazine contributor Ivi Tello has been curious about art since she was a child. Her endless list of influences spans film, music and literature; with photos like those from her series On the surface everything is beautiful she aims to counter our overstimulated sense of sight with soothing pastels. Ivi's images can be found in the 5-Year Anniversary Edition of Agave Magazine.
AGAVE: How did you get started in photography?
IVI TELLO: As an adolescent I started to teach myself to take pictures. I entered the Faculty of Fine Arts (Design in Visual Communication); dissatisfied with the content and after resolutions of my personal life I decided to finish there after two years. I did not cease to create images, so I decided to venture into the professional knowledge of photography while pursuing a new career, journalism. Within that framework, plus a few existential crises, always with fear but always walking, I discovered that my taste and vocation belonged to the light, the movement: photojournalism and the love of cinema. So now I'm dedicated to illustration and photography.
What kind of gear do you use for your photography?
I use Canon since I like its gamma more.
Is there a particular subject matter that interests you most?
Within my works, those that I personally highlight are those where I was traveling. Although I use post-production for those images I like the naturalness and sometimes the possibilities with which they were taken.
How would you describe your style?
From dirty realism to magical realism, I am now using softer and more pastel colours. Personally I think that the aesthetics and the content of a photo go hand in hand, and in the current times it is necessary, due to the massive and harmful excess of visual advertising pollution, as a countercultural tool, to soften the world, giving beauty to the viewer.
How do you want to affect the viewer with On the surface everything is beautiful?
Within this miniseries, I try to provoke the coexistence of the aesthetically correct and that which, like death, generates a contrast that people are inclined to reject.
Agave Magazine's 5-Year Anniversary Edition is on presale now in the Agave Press shop.
By Deb A.
Michael Onofrey's short story, Chardonnay, appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of Agave Magazine. This year he published his first novel, Bewilderment, a tale of a man returning home to Los Angeles after three decades abroad to care for his dying mother and come to terms with his memories. We took the opportunity to catch up with Michael and find out more about bringing Bewilderment to life.
AGAVE: You’ve written and published over 70 short stories, but this is your first novel. What was the most difficult aspect of moving from short fiction to a longer format, and what prompted you to make the leap?
MICHAEL ONOFREY: Actually, this is my first “published” novel. I wrote two others before Bewilderment, but they, thus far, haven’t been accepted for publication. But, regarding your question, the most difficult aspect in moving from short to long fiction is the investment of time. Bewilderment came off rather quickly, but the first novel I attempted didn’t. I thought it was done and I sent it out. But I understand now that it’s not done, and I want to return to it. Returning to that book represents a chunk of time. Returning to a short story doesn’t represent so much time.
I made the leap to that first novel because an agent had read a story of mine and sent me an email, asking if I had a novel going. A few weeks later a second agent sent me an email asking the same question. That agent, though, had read a different story. So I figured I should start writing a novel. But of course, like most fiction writers, a novel was something I wanted to try at some time. As a footnote, both those agencies turned down the novel (50 pages) that I sent them, which was the first novel I wrote.
One other thing: With short stories you have to keep thinking up new ideas, one after the other, as you move from one story to the next, which can be exhausting after a while. With a novel, once you got the idea you can start chewing on it without having to think up a new idea. In that sense a novel is kind of a relief. It’s not a bad policy to go back and forth between long and short fiction because it breaks up the monotony of one format going on and on and on.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing Bewilderment?
There were two big challenges. In the order that I dealt with them, the first was the handling of tense: past and present tense. Chapter 1 is present tense. Chapter 2 begins with past tense, but then switches to present tense at the story break on page 18. Chapter 3, a short chapter, is all past tense. So why did I go back and forth? The first reason was that it felt right, which is to say that it felt fresh. I thought it worked well, or at least worked well for me. In the first draft, I tried different approaches. I tried, for example, sticking with one tense throughout, present and then past, but in both cases the narration started to drag. Then I tried putting the Los Angeles scenes in present and India/Pakistan in past, but that was too pat, too formalistic, too mathematical. So I went with what felt right, which might appear random, but of course I went over this any number of times, so how could it have been random? At the same time, I liked the suggestion of random because it somehow served to enliven the narration in an organic way. And then, which leads to the second challenge, I thought that the play of tense would help bring memories into the present, kind of like how we have memories bubbling in our minds while we operate in the present.
The second challenge was how to suggest past and present coming close to one another, and in this regard the novel begins with the past (India) and the present (Los Angeles) far apart, but as the novel progresses the past and the present shift back and forth more rapidly, and so the distance between them narrows.
Many of the characters in Bewilderment deal with profound bouts of loneliness. Who do you feel deals best with the situation?
Evelyn. Evelyn is the most grounded, and in the end she is the one who moves beyond loneliness. Ironically, she is the one who has lost the most because she is the one who had the most. In addition, she worked for what she had, and then lost it.
What books did you learn from, and what lessons did you keep in mind while writing Bewilderment?
Like everyone else who writes (or wrote), I learned from a lot of books. But to name a few that I think were (and are) extremely pertinent, I’d single out How Fiction Works by James Wood and Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. Along the lines of fictional work, there were (are) Madame Bovary (Lydia Davis translation) and A Sentimental Education (Douglas Parmée translation) by Gustave Flaubert. And the thing that kicked this whole deal off with regards to Bewilderment there was In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (Penguin Classica Deluxe Edition, separate translators for each book, Lydia Davis doing Swann’s Way). Proust got me thinking about writing a novel that involved memory and memories. Another way of looking at it: Flaubert for realism, Proust for modernism.
Lessons I kept in mind? James Wood: narration, particularly free indirect style (moving between character’s eyes [or characters’ eyes] and author’s eyes, but I’m tempted to say narrator’s eyes and character’s eyes [characters’ eyes]), and then the arbitrary quality of memory which can yield the unexpected. Francine Prose: every rule regarding fiction has been broken at one time or another in a great work of fiction. But this doesn’t mean a free-for-all. It means doing what’s appropriate, which might mean breaking accepted rules. Flaubert: author ought to be careful in keeping his or her opinions out of the story. Proust: fiction is wide open; Proust wasn’t even sure if what he was writing was a novel.
Do you plan to write another novel?
I hope to.
Michael Onofrey's Bewilderment was published by Tailwinds Press. It is available in paperback and as an e-book.
Literary, art and photography publications, and publisher of fine books. For current book titles, or for more information on our services, visit us online:
Copyright © Agave Magazine + Press, 2019