The walls inside Comfort Station (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) are currently festooned with little plastic bags of dirt. And in each bag of dirt is a tiny bell.
“A bell to me is meant to gather, to call, to create moments of communion or raise an alarm,” said Natalia Villanueva Linares, the artist behind the exhibition, “Mina,” which has its final viewing April 23. “A bell is an instrument of sound, but by enveloping it with mud, it becomes an instrument of silence.”
Mina, which translates to “mine” in Spanish, is Comfort Station’s first art exhibition of 2022. It features the work of Villanueva Linares, a French-Peruvian artist who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and lived in Peoria, Illinois for nine years before moving to Chicago recently. She has been called a “sorceress” who transforms common materials into pure energy. Many of her past works have explored themes of multiplicity, abundance and excess.
For her piece “Poignée,’ which means both “handle” and “handful” in French, Villanueva Linares reduced a gold door handle to a tiny pile of golden powder. For a 2010 show at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Paris, she shredded every object in her bedroom — pillows, sheets, lamps, her mattress — and stuffed the remnants into 4,000 individual plastic bags, which she organized by color and material.
“I have an animistic relationship with a lot of materials,” Villanueva Linares said. “I can see they are charged with history, with a meaning that is overflowing with beauty.”
“Mina,” her latest work, began as a powerful dream Villanueva Linares had while studying in Paris. Its first iteration was an installation she created featuring a small room filled with mud and containing a large bell, barely visible, at the room’s center. Later, after moving to Peoria, she began creating bricks using rainwater mixed with the local, clay-heavy soil. Her piece “Brick of Mina,” a small mud brick with a bell lodged in it, appears in the current exhibition.
“’Mina,’ or mine, is an object with a treasure inside,” she said. “The treasure is silence” – valuable because it can impart a sense of meditative calm and also heightens our other senses, she said.
Villanueva Linares plans to eventually make “Mina” a tripartite installation. She has been collecting jars of rainwater for Part II, which will feature a “room filled with rain.” Part III will display bricks with golden bells hidden inside them and no longer visible at all. In the meantime, she said she is enjoying the current exhibition and people’s reactions to her art.
“My work gives me something that completes me,” Villanueva Linares said. “If someone takes time to look at it, they might connect in the same way. I feel that because I work with very simple materials, they can see it isn’t that complicated — to use very simple materials to tell a story, to give form to sensation.”
UPDATE: “Mina” has been extended, with viewings at Comfort Station April 23, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., and April 24, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. More information about Villanueva Linares and her past work can be found on her website or Instagram page.
Featured photo: Natalia Villanueva Linares