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Path and Patterns in Art, Spirit and the City

I saw Paz de la Calzada’s labyrinth installation at the de Young not that long ago and couldn’t keep her name or the art out of my mind. By chance we went to the same event hosted by Burning Man’s Black Rock Arts Foundation in San Francisco and had an opportunity to chat a bit about her work and life. She’s doing an artist residency in Crete and will be back in SF end of August. I’m looking forward to new installations by the artist.  We corresponded by email:

You have explored hair in your work. What does hair signify for you? 

For me hair is an icon and a reference of the human body. I have a special interest in patterns, both in nature and in the industrial world. Hair is an organic natural pattern that I have used to create a dialogue with the urban architecture, questioning sometimes the rigidity of its forms. In this sense I have used mostly feminine hair to cover a building or to playfully engage with it. I am interested in using the soft, organic and flexible qualities of hair to contrast the sometimes hard and rigid architecture of our cities.

Unless it’s not obvious in the work,people tend to avoid the fact that what we express in our art has a direct connection with our sexuality. Is your art an expression of your mental and emotional state or an expression of your femininity? 

My work is both an expression of my mental and emotional state as well as an expression of my femininity. I cannot disconnect my artwork from my personal life. They both grow together and feed each other. In some projects my femininity is more present than in others, like the hair murals. In these works I am using the hair as an icon of female beauty to draw attention to the use of advertisement in public spaces and buildings.

Can you talk about being a female artist and the things that inspire you to create a work of art?

As a woman and an artist I am sensitive with the male-thinking dominated world that we live in. We can see this in many aspects of our society, including architecture, social hierarchy, etc. I am mostly inspired by the environment I live in, the urban landscape, it’s inhabitants, and the mystery of rituals. My intention is to raise question around the use of public space and offer tools for spiritual growth. The Nomadic Labyrinth, a mobile public-interactive art project is a good example of it.

What is the significance of the labyrinth for you? 

The labyrinth is an ancient design common in many cultures around the world. There are many ways to describe it. It can be a metaphor of our own lives, a path of prayer or meditation, a place for healing, etc. Some say that walking the labyrinth allows you to quiet your mind and focus your intentions.

For me the labyrinth is a sacred container that can be used as a tool to connect with the Spirit. It has allowed me to offer a tool to engage with the public and to create a space for public ritual.

art de Young museum San Francisco

Where did you grow up and how?

I grew up in a town called Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia, south of Spain. I grew up in a large family in a traditional environment. My childhood was divided between a sort of progressive but Catholic education and the new political regime after Franco’s 40 years dictatorship: what is call “The Spanish Political Transition”. I am part of that first generation who grew up during this historical/political period where everything in Spain shifted dramatically. The late seventies/early eighties was a renaissance in cultural terms for Spain. Definitely a very exciting time to grow up witnessing the transformation into a post-modern society.

Do you have a sense of belonging to a place? What is it?

For me is more important to belong to a community than a place. My nomadic nature has pushed me to live in many different places and countries like Spain, Mexico or the US. San Francisco is a wonderful place to live and I’m attracted to live here because of the sense of community. The variety of people from different places and backgrounds is a big incentive to build community. However, due to the difficult circumstances around housing, displacement and economical inequity that affect the city of San Francisco right now, I am having a hard time to have a sense of home here. And this is affecting the way that I relate to the city and its community.

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Where do you get your inspiration from?

As I mentioned before my life and my art work are linked together. Therefore I get most of my inspiration from the immediate environment around me. The city, the urban landscape and certain spiritual rituals inspire me to create work that incorporates the public and invites a reflection for social change.

Would you say you are connected with people (ancestors) or a physical space (land, home)?

My connection with people is stronger than with the land, though both have a great impact in who I am. I’ve always had interest in knowing about my family and ancestors, and I specially valued the stories my grandparents or grandaunts used to tell me when I was growing up.

That said, I think sometimes it is hard to think about people and places as two separate realities. When I think about my family when I was growing up I immediately see and feel the container where we all related to each other, it means the house and the town. This is important to understand how much affection we can develop for certain spaces.

How does a viewer respond to your art? Anything you’d like to share from past exhibitions?

In the last years I have incorporated the public more and more into my artwork. I have created installations with the help of community members and other times the public has interacted with the work I created. I am interested in public engagement and the public is definitely interested in working with artists to understand and experience the creative process. Art is a tool that can be used for healing, to empower communities and for social transformation.

I use a lot of recycled/repurposed materials and discarded objects, like carpet, fabric, clothes, etc. In general the public responds very positively to the use of these kind of materials because they are very familiar and can easily identify with them.

What does an artist dream about?

I dream about creating art projects that will inspire people to grow and question the reality. I also dream about finding a sense of home.

I loved the video where you walk and wear different shoes. Tell me about this project/installation. 

This is a project I created when I moved to San Francisco in 2003. Back in Madrid I had been working with the idea of the city as a place of public interaction. I had been observing the relationship that citizens have with the physical space of their city, with the urban environment. I reflected this by collecting clothes, shoes and other personal belongings from the streets of Madrid and then using them to make sculptures with these recycled materials.

When I came to San Francisco in 2003, I was very surprised with the amount of objects that people throw away, specially shoes. I found and collected from the street almost 50 pairs of shoes in a couple of months and decided to make a performance with them. The title of the work is “All that glitters is not gold”. I painted the shoes with golden paint and placed them randomly in the sidewalks of the Mission District. I filmed myself finding the shoes and trying walking with them. Most of the shoes were not my size so it was quite difficult to walk with them or even putting them on. The video goes on until I find two shoes of the same pair. By walking with these shoes I wanted to feel the person who wore them. This work is a metaphor of everyone’s journey in life and the different stories we carry.  (Photos from

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