#Revisit | Like Sound Before Words

Every week, we’ll be sharing a video, notes, or images from our past exhibitions in a series we’re calling #revisit. This week, we’re reading writer Raymond Ang’s essay on Bea Valdes’ exhibit FLUX (2019).

Bea Valdes is an internationally recognized accessory designer, known for her intricate and handcrafted clutch bags and jewelry. In the years since her exhibit Bedtime Stories (2008) at Silverlens, she has expanded her practice to large-scale installation and sculpture. Her exhibit, FLUX (2019), features a felt installation that that quietly evokes lightness and beauty. Accomplished writer, editor, and publisher Raymond Ang wrote about Bea Valdes’ exhibit in this piece below.

Like Sound Before Words
by Raymond Ang

The figures that comprise Bea Valdes’ FLUX are duplicitous. From afar, they appear strong and sculptural, suspended monuments crumbling elegantly to the ground. Closer inspection betrays that perceived denseness, revealing themselves to be thin and gauze-like, evanescent clouds held together by thread and a prayer. It’s a trick of the light, clouds gaining reassuring solidity as they catch more brightness. The revelation is unexpected not because of the work itself, but because of the artist behind it.

As a world-renowned accessories designer, Valdes has spent the better part of the last 15 years cultivating a body of work obsessed with the idea of permanence, of beadwork so refined, materials so battle-tested, and hands so accomplished that they dare claim immortality. On her second solo exhibition for Silverlens Galleries, the artist pulls back the curtain and in a gesture that betrays both confidence and vulnerability, exposes the fragility of her work and process.

Valdes calls the pieces that comprise the show “carcasses.” In the workshop for her accessories business, this is the point in the process the creators live with every day—systematically cut felt in place of the beads and precious stones that eventually make up her objects d’art, pieced together with thread before the expert handiwork of the community of women that comprise her workshop. Bodies constantly changing, work that’s never finished, a process forever in flux—one is tempted to call them the raw sketches that eventually provide the blueprint to her luxurious creations but the carcasses are not quite that. Having the whole lifecycle of each piece under one roof allows for a process that isn’t linear, of simultaneous creation and destruction. The ephemera is the artist’s constant, the part of the creation that is the creator’s before anyone else’s.

Certain shapes from her career as an accessories designer subconsciously recur in FLUX. These shapes form the vernacular of her studio, forms that appear in dreams, that the artist describes as almost embryonic. In certain corners of the exhibition, the figures block the light enough that shadows are cast on the wall, a kind of haunting by the predecessors of the shapes formed.

The ghosts of past works turn up in FLUX. And by allowing the process to lead her not just forward but also backwards, Valdes allows herself to be truly exposed. She lets it all hang—her aesthetic inclinations, the obsessions of her subconscious, the inescapable force of habit. She braves exposing her limitations—that as inventive and peerless as her design work has been, there are certain patterns she cannot escape from. Repetition allows for her fabled consistency but in FLUX, it allows for the vulnerability of admission, a confession.

FLUX is a meditation on the ephemera of things, a concession to mortality— that while the well-made pieces that come out of her workshop have a chance at eternity, the hands that create them don’t. It’s the ultimate subsuming of ego, of an artist admitting defeat to her own process. The artist has never been more exposed than in FLUX. But in confession, the artist has also never been more present.

In the same way that her fabled fashion objects are collected, FLUX is meant to be acquired—it is, after all, presented in the context of an art gallery. But there’s a crucial difference between the new jewelry and embroidered handbags that her workshop produces and the works here. The part that is the creator’s before anyone else’s—in FLUX, the artist allows herself to be emancipated from the parameters and hurdles that she so elegantly jumps as a designer. Early in the conceptualization of the exhibition, Valdes decided to let the work exist outside the frame, to let the work escape definition or an expression of finality. It’s as close as her public is going to get to understanding Bea Valdes at work, not the public face that greets them after the fact of work, but the flesh-and-blood human who sits on the door of her workshop, staring at the stitched-together pieces of felt in the air and wondering where they’re going. In other words, the artist’s mind mid leap. 

As an accessories designer, Bea Valdes is immersed in an industry forever in pursuit of buzz, perennially on the bound to capture beauty, going from creator to creator in pursuit of louder and louder noise. Valdes long ago found that quiet work would be the clearest path to self-preservation, of protecting the purity of process from an industry tormented by velocity, of having a community of enormously skilled women both as instrument and cocoon. In that way, FLUX is a sound not a song. Not notes on a scale but vibrations traveling through the air. The work goes on.