Moments Here and There

by Beth Weimer

Natalia Villanueva Linares is a maker of moments—physical and emblematic gestures both immense and minute.

Above: Villanueva’s installation La Desmedida was part of the exhibition Devenir, curated by Sophie Monjaret with Cecile Welker.

“I build moments with monumental feel for color and volume,” she explains. “I also create very detail-oriented situations or smaller art pieces charged with an intense metaphorical spirit.” Many of her installations and performances (which often feature 20 or more participants) involve “the destruction of an object using repetitive gestures to produce transformations and open the object to others.”

Peoria has been the fortunate host to most of her work since becoming her home seven years ago. This year, the French-Peruvian artist had the opportunity to spend eight months in Paris, during which she added five performances to her library of gestures titled Soulutions (a series of related performances spanning years and continents) and participated in the exhibitions The Poetry of Gestures and Devenir.

For Devenir, she was one of 10 artists chosen for the residency and extended, collaborative exhibition through the College des Bernardins. Meaning “to become,” Devenir occupied the former monastery’s breathtaking sacristy in three distinct phases representing past, present and future. One of Villanueva's contributions for the second phase was the installation La Desmedida (the Immeasurable), an “immeasurable gesture” to complement the piece A3 by Alban Denuit, a close friend who died in the Parisian terrorist attack in 2015. 

Participants during Villanueva’s S0.s4 performance for the show l'envers d'une autre in Paris, while the simultaneous S0.s5 performance in Peoria was live streamed and projected on the wall. Photo courtesy of Heryte Tefery Tequame

Denuit’s work was inspired by the “norms and standards of measurement living at the heart of our daily life,” Villanueva explains, and his piece consisted of stacking hundreds of blueprints of rooms to form a structure unto itself. She assembled hundreds of used clothing patterns (collected from thrift stores in central Illinois) with straight pins over the course of a month, raising the 50’ by 20’ piece into the arches of the sacristy as she worked. The process inspired visitors to share memories evoked by the patterns and “transmitted the continuous potential of the material.”

One important aspect of Villanueva’s work seeks to connect Peoria with international arts communities. Her most recent performances occurred simultaneously, with the local event projected live on the wall of the venue in Paris. “I feel an instinctive need to create bridges,” Villanueva says. “Cultural exchanges are enriching, giving a stronger sense to humanity. They help us welcome and feel welcome.” 

Many of Villanueva's installations and performances feature 20 or more participants.

Although she plans to return to Europe for upcoming exhibitions, she’s committed to cultivating the arts here in Peoria. Villanueva co-founded the nonprofit Yaku Peoria in 2011 with her husband Earl Power Murphy to repurpose the historic Hale Memorial Church as a multicultural arts center. As Yaku’s artistic director, Villanueva is excited to promote their art magazine, UKAYZINE; support  program development and SNAX (Small Nomadic Artistic Experiences) events; and establish branches of the organization abroad.

For Villanueva, creating is an instinctive, evolutionary process. “Art envelops my everything; it is a state of constant becoming,” she explains. Sharing that energy with others is how she builds community and momentum for the arts. a&s

Follow Villanueva’s work at or on Instagram and @libraryofgestures. Check out UKAYZINE at