We took some time to talk with Milagros, an art collective founded by Felici Asteinza and Joey Fillastre, as their month-long installation at Canal Place had just opened. Their work, which can be found all around the city, ‘works to reinforce individual strength through collaboration’ and radiates color, energy, playfulness, and hope.
Where are you both from, and how did you end up here?
We are both originally from Florida, Felici is from the panhandle and Joey is from Lakeland. We both went to college in Tallahassee at FSU, and that is where we met. We ended up here because a lot of our friends moved here and we wanted to become a part of the vibrant art community here. To us, New Orleans is the best and most inspiring city in the south, and being southerners at heart, it always seemed like the right place to be.
Can you tell us about your work and what motivates it, and how the wide array of media and surfaces you use helps to convey your unique message?
It's hard to say exactly what motivates our work. Some artists focus on a particular subject or breadth of work, but that is not exactly how we work. A lot of our paintings and sculptures are experiments in materiality. We are constantly trying to increase our visual vocabulary- often by using new materials or using materials in different ways. Through our processes, we feel like we get better at understanding ourselves, and others around us. As we create, we often think about how a new direction could be used to collaborate with someone else- or address a concern or feeling that we hadn't really understood before. The largest motivating factor of our work is probably the potential to make lasting and positive connections with other people.
How much does a sense of place inform your work?
A sense of place is one of the most important aspects of our work. The most important art to us always involves place. We create work that addresses place in different ways. We are known for creating large scale murals- which is kind of a straightforward interaction with place. Whenever we make these murals, we think about how they will exist- who will they affect? how will they affect those people? Often, we create murals that break away from the idea of the rectangular wall and interact organically with architecture. We also create installations that address space in a more intimate way. With our installations, we try to transform spaces intensely and intently. We like to create environments that allow spectators to feel as if they are in a completely new place- allowing them to suspend their disbelief and fully connect with the art. Immersion is the primary objective for our installations. We feel that once the space is completely immersive, the details become more impactful and the experience becomes more memorable.
What would you say the ideal location for an installation be, and why?
We would really like to be able to create an installation in a public institution of some sort. There has been kind of a divide in our work, where we mostly create murals in the public and create installations in art spaces. We really want to be able to create the full effect of our vision somewhere that is accessible and occupied by a large and diverse community of people.
What most inspires you these days?
We are constantly thinking about how to create larger connections with other people through our work, and the process of understanding that direction leads to new inspirations. We think about what our other potential collaborators might be going through in their lives and environments, and that mode of thinking forces us to consider our trajectory in the larger dialogue of progress and empathy. We are constantly listening to socially conscious podcasts and other media in an attempt to understand how we might be able to help dismantle the structures that are maintaining the status quo and keeping so many people in peril.
Another thing that is a big influence is water and our relationship to it. We live really close to the levee and spend a lot of time by the Mississippi River. It's been really wild to watch how things change, rapidly and sometimes more slowly.
Some podcasts we really love are: Latinos Who Lunch, Code Switch, Still Processing, Tea with Queen and J, De Colores Radio, The Art People Podcast. There are some really inspiring artists and activists that we follow on Instagram like: @shooglet, @queerappalachia, @decolonizethisplace, @lilnativeboy, @artstuffmatters, @assumevividastrofocus, @noirnnola, @jonahwelch, @chairbreaker, @akiyoshitaoka, @wizard.apprentice, @theunapologeticallybrownseries, @fatlibink, @alexdacorte (there's so many more we could name but this is a good start).
We also recently got a copy of Take ‘Em Down NOLA’s zine “Roots Rising” and it's really inspiring to be able to learn more about the organizers from this really amazing organization. Queer Appalachia also has a zine called “Electric Dirt” that is really incredible too.
What’s your experience living and working in New Orleans been like? What’s different here, in your eyes?
We feel like living in New Orleans has forced us to do a lot of observing and listening. Within our community of close friends we've noticed that people here enjoy cooking and sharing food a lot more than most places. People here are really tenacious and resourceful and we really hope that has rubbed off on us. One of the main differences about New Orleans and other places is that there is a long and rich culture that existed long before we were in the picture, we try to respect that by learning as much as we can about the history and trying to support as much local culture as we can. We feel like one of the things that differentiates New Orleans too is the celebratory attitude towards most things.
“One of the main differences about New Orleans and other places is that there is a long and rich culture that existed long before we were in the picture, we try to respect that by learning as much as we can about the history and trying to support as much local culture as we can.”
What’s it like to work in tandem so often, and how do you see that collaboration evolving your work?
It’s an interesting thing that forces us to be more considerate in a way because we are making decisions that affect the both of us. We're sure that it has a huge impact on our work but what immediately stands out is that it helps us work more effectively because we can share responsibilities and cover more ground. Our collaboration helps us stay motivated and ambitious while still being accountable to each other, our collaborators, and community.
Who are some groups, artists, or other leaders y’all look up to?
Artist we really look up to are: Nari Ward, Judy Pfaff, Yayoi Kusama, Katharina Grosse, Keith Haring, Shinique Smith, Pee Wee Herman, Mark Bradford, Helio Oiticica, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, Ana Mendieta, and Jasmine Masters. Other folks we look up to and admire are: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bree Newsome Bass, Sara Ahmed, Guy Fieri.