Fabric and paper collagist Diana Guerrero-Macia sees her art as a form of play. Five or six years ago she realized that her current work stems partly from something she did for fun with her mom as a preteen. After watching the movie Yellow Submarine, the two of them made a quilt: her mom embroidered “All You Need Is Love” on it and added an applique copied from Diana’s yellow submarine drawing. In college, before she’d heard the word “sampling” used in regard to music, Guerrero-Macia was putting phrases from songs, poems, and advertisements into paper collages. By the time she moved to Chicago in 1992, after receiving an MFA in painting, she was sewing together found fabrics–curtains, dresses, clothing. In about 1999 she began adding texts, and now teaches the history of sampling, among other subjects, at the School of the Art Institute. “Colonial schoolgirls stitched words onto pieces of linen, trying to show their piousness and their skill. They were called samplers. Sampling also fits into the 20th-century history of collage and appropriation, from Duchamp on.” Guerrero-Macia’s fragmented texts undercut any one meaning — her show at Bodybuilder & Sportsman is called “Words Make Wide Open Spaces.”

Guerrero-Macia sees language paradoxically and playfully in part, she thinks, because of the limited verbal skills of her severely retarded older brother: “He’s a great internal muse.” The texts on her collages can be hard to read because she breaks words oddly and/or combines them. In the paper collage There’s No Reason for It It’s Just Our Policy, which superimposes the text on a photograph of the Grand Canyon, there are no spaces between the words. Most of her phrases are appropriated: the text in Plan for Victory No. 1, which reads “The Lord tells me he can get me out of this mess but hes pretty sure youre fucked,” is taken from the film Braveheart. The piece’s wild mix of colors and fonts, each letter stitched on separately, makes it look like a ransom note. Guerrero-Macia has long taken an interest in unusual uses of language. In seventh grade she used an annotated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to work out how Lewis Carroll formed the words in “Jabberwocky.” At about age 12 she taught herself calligraphy, inspired by the lettering in Victorian engravings, late medieval paintings and manuscripts, and wedding invitations. In college she was drawn to E.E. Cummings and, taking a cue from Leonardo da Vinci, taught herself to write backward. And in grad school at Cranbrook she began painting slogans backward on her studio windows for passersby to read.

Guerrero-Macia’s parents–Cuban immigrants who arrived in this country in 1959 and 1960–were “curious about things,” she says. “My mother was a Spanish literature professor, but she also made quilts from discarded fabric. I watched her cook and sew, making our clothes. My father is an engineer, and we would look at a train trestle and study the structure of it. It wasn’t academic, more like, ‘Hey, look, this is amazing.’ He wanted to share with us how plastics melted in fire, or how oil and water separate.” She describes herself as “very physical” as a kid, “climbing trees, running around, riding my bicycle, playing tennis, swimming. I was interested in how I could hurl my body through space.” That exuberance shows in Color at the Speed of Black and White, which combines twisting ribbons of fabric in many colors with the words “Fresh Paint”–a joke on the fact her work can look like painting but is made of cloth. “I’ve always resisted having a shtick, doing only one thing,” Guerrero-Macia says. “Art should be both work and play–the world is full of things that can be investigated and celebrated.”

Diana Guerrero-Macia

When: Through Sat 3/18

Where: Bodybuilder & Sportsman, 119 N. Peoria, #2C

Info: 312-492-7261

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jimmy Fishbein.