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NMSU professor’s jewelry incorporates objects of I-10 in San Francisco exhibit

The stretch of highway between El Paso and Las Cruces sparked a conversation that led to a unique jewelry exhibition created by two borderland art professors. The show titled “CrossPASS” recently ran at the Velvet Da Vinci gallery in San Francisco.


Brooch with tarnished silver crosses and mesh twisted column.
“CrossPASS” brooch created from site # 1 in Las Cruces at the Rio Grande made of steel, enamel and silver. (Courtesy Photo)
Brooch with bars at the top colored yellow with tiles of green, blue and pink.
One of 100 “CrossPASS” brooches made of steel, brass, cement resin, pigment and fibers based on the casitas in Anapra, Mexico. (Courtesy photo)
Image of woman head and shoulders
Motoko Furuhashi, assistant professor of art at New Mexico State University teaches jewelry making and metalsmithing. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

New Mexico State University assistant professor of art Motoko Furuhashi and her collaborator Demi Thomloudis, a former art professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who is now at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia, used steel, sand, dry grass, acrylic, paint, silver and a land segment to create a series of brooches and necklaces for the exhibit based on locations along Interstate 10.

“A lot of people think of jewelry as something you see in Macy’s or something you use to decorate and adorn yourself with and nothing beyond that. We are including the stories and narratives of each individual object and we are treating it as a creative form of art,” Furuhashi said. “The show is not just jewelry itself but also the objects, photographs, videos and we also used the website so all the components together became one show.”

In the 2014-2015 academic year, the two brought together their ideas, their students and their art to create a collaborative exhibition that includes pieces they made together as well as solo works.

Furuhashi and Thomloudis wanted to take their research beyond the walls of a gallery. Through their jewelry they could provide a vehicle not only to connect with the viewer/wearer intimately but also to allow the work to travel, taking the stories of Interstate 10 to places like San Francisco. The next stop for the exhibit is Tokyo.

“One of the things we did at the gallery exhibition was have a QR code so people could use their cell phone to go into the website,” Furuhashi said. “Each location was a specific website so you can see the physical location, the object itself, map locations, pictures of the locations and videos to sense the whole experience.”

The interactive website is a key part of both the exhibit and the artists’ desire to share their experience. The objective of “CrossPASS” is to join the two professors on their journey collecting images, video and sound, which directly influenced the creation of the jewelry and objects in the exhibit.

“First we recognized for the difference of the people,” Furuhashi said. “Las Cruces has a true attachment to nature while El Paso has more of a city mentality.

“We took road trips a lot actually. We went with a camera, no camera, just for fun and going to all different locations. We looked for historical books, tourist books and attractions in Las Cruces and El Paso. Wherever we thought there was something unique or strong about the site, that’s what we picked.”

The exhibit is composed of pieces the two artists made together but also solo components. Thomloudis’ solo component consists of more than 100 brooches inspired by the colorful casitas in Mexico visible from UTEP, while Furuhashi actually incorporated pieces of the road itself into her art by using large strips of packing tape to grab what is on the road, creating jewelry and also larger wall hangings.

“My solo component has a lot to do with location itself so I use tape like packing tape you can find at hobby stores or the office stores,” Furuhashi said. “I put it on the road and then rewind it after capturing what is really on the surface of the road at the location and it becomes a piece of jewelry. What is an interest point for me is that people become a vehicle for carrying what’s on the road from one place to another place.”

While the title of the show, “CrossPASS,” is a blending of the meaning of the two cities -- Las Cruces is the city of the crosses and El Paso is literally the pass to the north -- it also reflects their physical journey as well as the border region and the connection between the two cities.

“CrossPASS” represents one of those junctures in an artist’s career where an complex series of ideas comes into fruition seamlessly,” said Julia Barello, NMSU art professor and department head. “Motoko is at the leading edge in the United States of artists committed to locating practices of body adornment into larger discussions of place, meaning and identity.

“Her students are challenged daily to move from the idea of adornment as a single object to understanding how we create meaning on a day to day basis by how we interact with our digital and physical worlds. She is such a great addition to the Department of Art at NMSU."

Visit the CrossPASS site at: http://crosspassexhibition.com.

The jewelry and metalsmith program, which Furuhashi teaches at NMSU, is among the art programs to be impacted by the upcoming bond election in November. If approved by voters, GO Bond C for higher education would provide $22.5 million to renovate D.W. Williams Hall, a 78-year-old former gymnasium, which currently houses NMSU’s Department of Art and University Art Gallery. There is no tax increase associated with this bond.