Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tamara Becerra Valdez

If you live in Austin, you probably know Tamara. She's the woman behind Botanicals Folklorica,an apothecary specializing in herbal-infused honeys, native Texas medicinals, salves and more. But Folklorica is much more than just those things, Tamara explains to me in her studio on an unusually chilly afternoon. She thinks of Folklorica as a 'she'. I begin to understand what she means as she pulls out her various projects. A field guide to the Chihuahua desert, a pile of leaves and bark used for a sound installation..a big drawing..the impression of a dead rattle snake on thin silky fabric. I see Folklorica as a she, too; and she looks like Tamara.

Photos and interview after the jump:

EC: Hi

TV: Hi..
Hi Emily! [laughing]

EC: I always start with the boring stuff..
It's not boring..but y'know. Where are you from..?

TV: I'm from Corpus Christi Texas. Born and raised.

EC: So is all of your family from Texas? Mexico?

TV: I don't know my father's side of the family..I didn't grow up with him..but I grew up in a pretty matriarchal home..with my great grandmother, my grandmother, my aunt, and my mother.

EC: Wow, all in one house, or..?

TV: At some times..at some points in our lives, yeah.

EC: That's a lot of estrogen.

TV: [laughs] And most of them are Scorpio women, too..

EC: Holy cow.

TV: I really grew up with passionate women. They're pretty passionate about the things they do and the ways they show engagement. But on my Mom's side..of her father's family..my grandfather's side our family.. has been in Texas ..for ten generations. So my family has been here for a long time. They had one route through..from the Canary Islands straight to Texas. I identify more with being a Texan..or a Texana..if you want to get real. [laughs]

EC: I don't know that I've ever heard the word Texana..

TV: I really love that description for myself. I as a Mexican-American..I'm not Mexican..in a way. I went down there always growing up calling myself Mexican..and to them I'm not Mexican. I'm a Gringa down there . So that is an interesting thing. Being between worlds.. in-between identifications. Most recently when I was doing a lot of genealogical research, I became so much more attuned to calling myself a Texana.. or a Texan. I love that so much more . So I have this big loyalty to Texas that I ..I almost kind of create my life around ..my identity..in a way. The things that I love , research, and find important in my creativity ..they're all in some way built around Texas..or being a Texana..or ..kind of creating a bridge..

EC: Most of the work I've seen from you is directly related to that. At least it gives me that sense.

TV: Absolutely ..

EC: That's cool. I see you as a sort of ..expert. You are an expert in your field ..which I would say is wildcrafting...and plant identification in a certain environment. That must be pretty comforting.

TV: Yeah..being able to identify your region. I hope eventually that I will be this kind of contact for other people that want to come to this area and identify plants. But also identify a culture, and be part of the heritage of Texas.But my perspective is totally different than it would be for an American texan, rather than a Mexican- American Texan. You know? 

A friend of mine..she's a folklorist in Mississippi.. she is one of the major folklorists of the state. I absolutely love that she is an expert of her state and of the folkways and heritage of her place. I really admire that. Most recently she started this kind of gathering for the Southwest ,getting people in contact with each other that maybe don't have the formal education behind what they're doing..but are doing rad shit and should know each other. We should all be engaging and helpful and if we wanna get a project across we should help that ..so I'm really excited and I'm always proud about saying "I'm from Texas". I want to represent Texas. 

EC: You should be proud of it!
Is west Texas more of an interest to you than closer to the gulf?
I just ask that because..I haven't known you for very long..but the work that I've seen from you has mainly been an exploration of west Texas. But..I don't know what you've done in the past, so..

TV: I think that that's been due to the projects with the jobs I've recently had. Heading out to west Texas to document the food-ways and traditions of the area..and I think from that project and then also how much activity was happening with our friends making music out there...it all just started to create this really good circle of interest. So I think my interest in west Texas was definitely situational.

Right now I'm trying to work on the east Texas field guide, because I want to do these kind of plant profiles and folklore and poetry and drawings and the ephemera of a place. Trying to make portraits of a place through this other language. And now with this show with Jesse..east Texas..the pines..these towering structures..

Lost Pines. Photo by Tamara
photo by Tamara
Photo by Tamara

EC: Oh yeah, you were in Lost Pines.

TV: Yeah. Now I'm really directed towards the east. 

EC: It's exciting that you have such a big canvas to work with.

TV: Haha, yeah literally... a huge canvas.

EC: Within even one community..there's infinity material to work from. That's what's so fun about what you're doing. You can explore so many avenues within just one community. It's limitless...

TV: Definitely. I love what's happening. And it's happened really naturally.
Doing the guide..it was for my plant walk. It was for the people who were going to take the class. Then people really loved it and so ..I was like.. I should screen print this..and give a little more attention to it. Now I love it..now I'm so interested in layout and design and fonts and the materiality of getting something across. 

I love that word right now. The materiality of something. Materiality of telling a story. And that's what I'm trying to do. Retelling and reworking stories that have been told to me. In a way that is very much my own. It's a little bit more delicate, or it's a little more ..there's something always feminine in the language that I try to create. But I don't know. I want to focus on that. On the materiality of a story and however I can do that..by grabbing these resources and different friends and allies that would be helpful. 

EC: Materiality. Your guide, for instance.
 I like that it's like a map that you can hold ..because no one really uses maps anymore. If you wanted to, in the middle of the desert, you could just get out your phone and look up a plant if you wanted to. It's all there for you. You wouldn't even really need a guide. But there's something so nice and simple about holding something..holding a map and walking around with it. Following along and reading.

TV: And reading! yeah.

EC: Without doing this [ making "enlargement" gesture with thumb and pointer finger ]

TV: Yeah. Reading something..and I feel like the..I don't know. I'm so particular. The paper..the depth of the ink..the relation of this font with the drawing.

EC: Creating a pleasing experience.

TV: Absolutely.

EC: And also connecting with you in a physical way. They're holding this field guide that you made. You chose everything that goes into it..you're connected in that way.
That's special.

TV:  After doing this..this was so inspiring to want to do more self-published work.

EC: Did you have a hard time laying it out, or had you done that kind of work before?

TV: Oh it was absolutely difficult. I had the layout in my head..I remember thinking about how I wanted it to fold, and how I wanted it to read. I didn't know the content yet. I knew the plant profiles were going to be part of it, and  I knew that I didn't want to hand write it..so I had to resolve that..find a typewriter..and then..oh and then I really wanted a poster to be on the other side. I really wanted some kind of imagery to be put on the other side ..to give this feeling of the Chihuahua desert and this kind of iconic Caballero..this cowboy..but he's not a cowboy. He's like a Vaquero more than a Caballero. 

EC: Whats a Vaquero?

TV: A vaquero is like a cowboy..he rides the horse.

EC: I thought cowboys ride horses?

TV: I know, and they do..but this guy ..this character felt so much different to me. I don't know if he's a cowboy or not. I don't know I just..maybe I'm thinking too much about it. He's something a little different...he is a working man, not a gentleman.

 I worked with my friend Joshua on the layout. I was like.."I have it in my head. And I don't know how to execute it because I'm not skilled in computer layouts".
But I was specific. I wanted the content to fit on the page a certain way, and I wanted it to fit a certain way..so I felt like I was leading a lot of the artistic direction on it, and Joshua was able to technically layout the guide. He was able to help me actualize my writing and research into an object I couldn't have done otherwise. I totally appreciated it, but at the same time the struggle for me was that I couldn't do that. I wanted to be able to know this skill.

So now I'm actually trying to learn Indesign.
Most recently, I was out in LA [
for a Texas Makers pop-up with Busy-Being that was alongside "Poison Valley" by LAND] .. and I went to the LA art book fair. I was so inspired. I haven't been that inspired in a long time. I was blown away with what people are doing. Self publishing their own work..their own layouts..being photographers, being writers..being poets..being artists. All of it. That was so empowering to me. I want that. Thats something I really want to do this year. I feel like it's hard to define me sometimes ..I do this and I dabble here and I like this, and now I'm here. I felt like this was the result. Doing self published work. So that I'm able to artistically direct what I'm trying to create. Because sometimes a product isn't really the result for me. Lately it's been feeling that way. It's not the product, it's what I'm writing on the product. The descriptions, and the language of that, too is really important. So I think I'm finally figuring out what kind of output I want. Now it's just learning those skills.

EC: I was going to ask you about..you were talking about combining writing and drawings and photographs and you know..ceramic work and..now you're collaborating with sound..its just sort of...everything. That's something I personally struggle with a lot. I went to art school..I'm trained in drawing and painting..thats a big part of my life, but I also make music and write..and make little sculptures..so how the fuck am I supposed to give someone this "brand" ? I don't want to limit myself, but at the same time how am I supposed to create a concise overall vision for someone to digest?

TV: Yeah that's a good question. I think I've been really frustrating for some stores. I'll make a run of something and then be like.."that's the end of that...what do you mean you want to re-order?"

EC: [laughter]
That's funny.

TV:  I have to try to stand my ground about certain things. That's why its special.  I find that talking to people about Folklorica..and about the work I'm doing.. is more insightful to me. Because they're putting the language together about how to describe what I'm doing and why they like it. It's helpful to me because sometimes I don't know how to explain what I'm doing other than telling people that I do a little this and that and..
It's finding a tool to be able to tell the story you're trying to tell.

EC: And every story warrants something different.

TV: For the terra cotta roses..that was something so um..that was an emotion that I couldn't say. It was like..going to buy these plastic flowers, and carrying them like a bouquet and they're fake. Some of them have printed Virgin Marys on them ...there was a little nostalgia in that..I missed my mom, or I missed my family or I missed carrying these things. Then terra cotta being this very cultural material to my heritage and then you know..cutting up all the flowers..all these fake flowers. The process of cutting fake flowers like they were real flowers. Then dipping all of them in this slip of terra cotta. And then moving them..moving the terra cotta so it's on all of the petals and then safety..not safety..paper..no..what is this called?

EC: A clothes pin.

TV: Clothes pin!! [laughs]

Then clothes pinning all of them on a twine. All of them hanging in rows..but the process was this caring for. There was so much caring for. I think I was seeking that..this carefulness and tenderness..and the process was nurturing. The act of dipping something in and coming back the next day and looking at them ..then going back and doing it like eight times. That activity was nurturing something..an emotion that I wasn't able to say..but I was able to have it be said through these numerous roses. The rose ..that, too, has become such an image and flower and symbol for me.
That's all I draw. I just draw all these roses now. I'm obsessed. I love it.
I don't know..I don't mind it.
My niece asked me to draw her a tiger.. and I was like, "I don't know how to draw a tiger."

EC: Here's a rose!

TV: [laughs]Yeah, don't you want to draw roses? Hah!

So theres this imagery that's also..y'know.. my language. This very feminine object. This rose.

EC: It strikes me as ..maybe it's because you were talking about your niece.. but there's this point in [usually] a girl's life..but of course it can happen in a boy's life too..where you're obsessed with drawing, and  you learn how to draw this one thing. You can't stop drawing it. Over and over and over and over and over..
It's such a childlike excitement.

TV: Childlike, yeah. I like collecting this stuff.  [showing me confetti glitter star stuff ]

EC: There's something about it.
I was in Michael's recently ..just wandering around. I was there to buy some thread. I ended up buying a whole pack of those little beads..they're like multi colored see-through triangle..type..

TV: They fit into each other..
They're kind of bulbous at the end..

EC: Yeah! I had to have those.  They were so appealing to me. I put them in a cup, and I'll just go touch them sometimes. Just put my hand in the cup and feel them.

TV: If I could have it my way, I would package everything with this stuff in there.
I love these little surprises. Gosh, I really would like to do that but I ..I could offend people if they don't like garbage, or..
I really just love celebratory little traces or elements to things. I even feel like my collection of petals is celebratory. They're like confetti but they're petals. I
 feel less guilty about dropping petals into a package. There's just a sincerity that gets lost. In businesses and how things are packaged..there's a big trend of minimalism right now..and ..I don't know. I hope that a trend of celebration happens.

EC: You can start it!

TV: I want to do that! That's why lately I've felt I'm doing better at maintaining my shop online rather than wholesaling at stores because they're not able to tell a story that I'm really trying to tell..

EC: Well they have a lot of things to manage.

TV: They cant tend to that.

EC: Yeah, that's not their priority. It's to stay open and sell...even if they do care. Thats not their priority.

TV: I'm probably a funny businessperson because..I don't care.
I don't care if it takes me ten minutes to package something up and send it out.

EC: Yeah. I sent a record 2 days ago and I was writing this postcard to go with it. When I was doing it I was thinking.."is this normal? Am I going to freak this person out because I'm writing a note to her? she just ordered a record and she's getting this note now.."

Then I think..well..would I like to get that? Would I appreciate this? If the answer is 'yes' then I'm fuckin' doing it.

TV: Totally!

EC: This is getting kind of long...

TV: That doesn't matter!

EC: Well..

TV: Oh, you mean.. hah! For your typing..

EC: Yeah, I'll be typing til' midnight!

TV: I thought you meant....yeah. hah!

EC: No it's fine. I just wanted to get this post out before Friday when your show is.

TV: Oh awesome!

EC: But there was one more thing I wanted to talk about.

Since I've known you ..any time I say your name, the person I'm talking to knows you. I swear. It's so impressive! You know so many people here. 

I've also been places with you and other people come up and talk about giving you something..that they have a gift for you. Thats sort of a weird thing to pick out, but I think that says a lot..that people want to give you stuff.
Do you notice that?
Your personality attracts people to you and makes people want to give you something. 

TV: That's a really good observation.

EC: Seriously!
Even me. After I met you, I found this skirt at Goodwill with all these different flowers on it..and I wanted to give it to you!

TV: Thats a really good observation. I was just talking at lunch today about ..I was thinking about the community that I have here. And its not even mine..but the community I get to exist around..and support. I feel really grateful. I think a few years back I was trying to find the right job ..going out to DC and then wanting to move to LA ..doing these museum jobs and wanting to do that kind of work, and then I moved back to TX and was able to rekindle and remember and see my friends who are now doing really exceptional work. 

I feel like I always want to support people's projects. If there's something you want to do, I feel like I know someone who can help you. I love that about me. I always want to be able to offer a solution to what you're trying to get done. And I do have a lot of little gifts from people. I think that was such ..an interesting thing that happened with my altar. When I was trying to break it down ..I was like...but there's this! and theres that!

I always try to make it a point to say goodbye to people cuz' that means a lot to me... and make sure to say hello to people, because that means a lot to me. I want them to know that I'm there to support whatever they're doing ..or just to know that I care about them. Yeah.

EC: It's so great to be that connected with people. I wonder, though ..sometimes I feel like I would like to know more people. ..but at the same time I feel so uncomfortable when I know people..in certain moods. I really love going somewhere and not knowing anyone. Not knowing what their deal is.

TV: I love that, too. I really love that.

EC: Yeah. I do love connecting with people. But it can drain you.

TV: I feel like a little hummingbird half the time. ( and I do love sweet stuff ) [laughs]

EC: You have a few closer relationships, obviously..but do you feel weird about being an acquaintance to so many people?

TV: Yeah, I think I am an acquaintance to a lot of people. I think that a lot of people don't know me very well..but they know me.

EC: Well it's impossible. To get to really know someone you have to spend a lot of time with them. A lot.
It's hard to find someone who's on your wavelength. It's easy to find people you get along with..but to really be comfortable hanging out and being yourself and chilling doing nothing..that's so specific. The relationship has to be so..its like chemical, in a way.

TV: I feel really excited..lately I've been the most alive that I've felt in a long time.

EC: You're in several circles of people in Austin, but the one that I'm in with you...it has a strong energy right now. Really good vibes happening. I've been feeling like that,too. 

TV: I feel like there's a lot of movement and a lot happening..partnerships and the willingness to help get these things happening. I think it's incredible . That's happening with other groups of friends..in a different way..
There's a different glue.

EC: One's Elmer's glue, ones Gorilla glue..

TV: Modge Podge..[laughs]

Thinking about me growing up... in High School..I was always an acquaintance with everybody. And then I was by myself, where I'm most comfortable. But I've always been like that. I've always been an acquaintance to everybody . I sat with anybody at lunch time. Pissed some people off..didn't care. I felt a lot of compassion for people that were shy or didn't know how to socialize as well. Just be real with them and be their friend ..

EC: It's just your personality.

TV: I guess it is my personality.

I love knowing where certain people want to take it.and what means a lot to them in a conversation . I like knowing that my friend gets nervous if there's too many people around. Then I  can mediate. I like knowing those things about even the acquaintances that I have. Being aware of that. Because i want to help be the..

EC: Elmer's glue.

TV: Elmers glue. [laughs]

Visit Tamara's WEBSITE for information about where to purchase her goods.

Also, don't miss Tamara and Jesse's opening this Friday February 27th at Lower Left!