Contemporary Puerto Rican art has been flourishing and expanding with exciting speed, in part thanks to the highly anticipated Santurce es Ley, an arts festival held in el pueblo of Santurce once a year. One of the most talented and most promising participating artists is Franco Frontera, a 23-year-old Puerto Rican who is currently doing his masters in Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
It comes as no surprise that being born and raised in the Island, Frontera’s art is greatly influenced, and even fueled, by Puerto Rico’s rich culture, as much as by its varied community. What sets him apart, however, is the way he takes what he likes to call ‘the tropical lifestyle’ and translates it into his work to ultimately create an intimate and brilliant conversation between artist and audience.
One of his latest projects ventured towards interactive art, where the audience had a more hands-on approach with that they saw; the work culminated in a more wholesome art experience. The idea stemmed from his childhood memories of vendors pushing ice cream carts through el barrio, ringing their bells while saying ¡helados, helados! (‘Ice cream! Ice cream!). He had always between intrigued by the dynamic between vendor and ice cream buyer, their exchange, the convenience. Frontera, who had been experimenting with sound art at the moment of the idea’s conception, came to the conclusion that sound would replace ice cream.
And so, Mantecados La Sonora, which translates to Ice Cream Sounds, was born. Frontera made three sounds based on salsa music from the 1960s and 70s, each representing a flavor; the classic coconut, pineapple and passion fruit. The sounds he chose were then recorded on small voice recorders and installed within three ice cream containers that had headphones coming out of tiny hole on their lids. It was this way that he roamed the streets of Santurce where the Santurce es Ley arts festivalwas being held. As soon as he and his unusual ice cream cart hit the streets, the public’s curiosity was sparked. Those who dared approach had to play a game: guess the flavors by listening.
Through this project, Franco Frontera was able to engage in the dynamic he appreciated as a youngster: vendor and buyer meeting in a flavorful encounter that culminated, just like a real ice cream vendor’s would, in complete satiation for both parties. What’s most interesting about the piece, and what Frontera was able to grasp, manipulate and portray with startling ease, is how a combination of sounds evokes the memory of a flavor so much that you can almost taste it in the back of your throat. It was quite the delicious sonar-art experience.
Keep your eye out for Franco Frontera and his art, ladies and gents.