Interview with Verónica Puche

Interview with Verónica Puche

Verónica Puche combines history, politics, and personal anecdotes and creates imagery reminiscent of magical realism. We met her in her Long Island City studio a few days before Colombians were called to vote on a peace deal to end fifty-two years of internal conflict. (You can read more about this here and here.)

Groana Melendez
Please talk a little about your practice.

Verónica Puche
My practice is divided into two important moments: when I actually create the work and then when I develop the work. I usually create in a period of two to three months that are then divided in two parts: the end of the year and at the middle of the year. Then I develop the projects in the middle of these two spaces.

Martha Naranjo Sandoval
What do you mean by “create?”

Verónica
Place the ideas in the palpable reality. I shoot images if I’m making photographs. Right now the base of my artist practice is photo based. I can interact with the image in different ways but that’s part of the process of creating the artwork. I shoot about twice a year mainly.

Martha
It’s like the first part you just shoot and the second part is editing.

Verónica
It’s not only editing because it’s also how I’m going to show the image. Whether it will be a two dimensional or three dimensional piece or as a virtual piece. I would say I have two periods of time when I’m not actually thinking of how I’m going to share my work with the world… It’s that space when I’m shooting the image or thinking about when I’m going to shoot it. It’s a more a free space where I don’t have boundaries or anything. Then when I’m developing the work I establish boundaries around me to not go insane.

Groana
When you photograph, I imagine you out in the world, taking pictures as you please and then later going to the studio and editing them into a sequence you envision at that moment. Is that your process?

Veronica
“As I please?” What do you mean by that?

Groana
I imagine you shooting freely.

Verónica
Usually, before shooting, I inspect the place I want to shoot without a camera and then I go to the place early in the morning or at one specific moment. I guess it doesn’t have to only be early in the morning but usually, it’s a moment where the air is clean, if I can call it that. There is a process of investigation before I shoot. When I said “freely,” I meant that moment was very free because I am creating in an environment I can’t control. I shoot mostly with sunlight, so it’s a moment where I can walk around, where I can talk to people, and be with the person (if is the case) that comes with me to take pictures. That’s what I was talking about with freedom. The freedom of moving, of being anywhere but inside of a studio editing in front of a screen.

Groana
Can you explain what you meant by three-dimensional? Just from the going to school with you for two years, I imagine you mean actually intervening on the image with objects popping out of it. Is that what you mean?

Verónica
Yeah. It can be sculpture. I’m thinking a lot about making sculptures… I made some examples in art school but I never developed them very much. It can be implementing other materials that are not about playing with the surface of the paper but about playing with the volume of the paper or to interact with the paper.

Martha
Yeah. As paper, as an object, not as an image.

Veronica
Yeah. As an element.

Martha
Can you tell us about your project Such as my great uncle, eaten by a shark?

Verónica
It is a series of short stories that are reminders of family members, some of them with tragic backgrounds or fascinating backgrounds, as my father had. To continue with how I work, I began shooting pictures between Colombia and Nicaragua, some places in the Caribbean, and some here in New York.
When I go to Colombia or to Nicaragua I always ask my relatives to tell me stories about their past, their family stories, or about the past of the country. Therefore, the moments when I’m shooting are combined with a lot of the conversations that I actually try to record and take notes. Then they become these short stories that go with the pictures. In book form it’s very easy to merge them together. It’s much more difficult when it’s a matter of installation, like in a space to put the text together with the images. I haven’t developed that part very much yet. But yes, that work is a series of short stories with photographs.

puche_buzondesugerencias

Buzón de Sugerencias, Archival Pigment Print, 2016

Groana
Can you talk about the new iteration of your book Such as my great uncle, eaten by a shark? And about how you see it as something that can keep going.

Verónica
I have a problem putting an end to a project, so I had this fantastic idea of making the book of Such as my great uncle, eaten by a shark into a book divided into chapters. Every chapter will have a story with a spread of pictures. So far, I’ve divided the book into six chapters, inside a bag with the title of the work. At the New York Art Book Fair people were asking me if I only had six chapters inside the bag. I said, “Yes, but there will be more to come.” They said, “How come?” I said, “Yeah, I’m going to write at least 20 chapters.” I don’t know if I will be able to write 14 more stories with 14 more spreads of pictures by the end of this year but at least I’m opening the door to continue that work. I really enjoy doing it and I think it can live as a 6 story book or as a 20 story book. It depends on my talante.

Martha
When Groana and I were preparing for the interview, we were talking about how it reminded me of Russian novels. How they were sold serially and separated into little books.

Verónica
Russian novels like Tolstoy or…

Martha
Yeah, like War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment… They weren’t one book. They were like little books that were sold one by one. It would be equivalent of a series now in that every now and then you would get a new one and then at the end of it, you would have a story. And every chapter was its own book even though it was part of like a bigger one. When you told me about this project it reminded me of that and the process of producing a book in that way.

Verónica
I think they used to do that because it was probably cheaper to print. For me it’s a matter of being able to collect these stories so if somebody wants to collect 1,3 and 8… I have to still develop that part but it’s a matter of like collecting stories and mixing them the way you please. In the bag, it can be a story, or like numbers 3, 6, 9, 12 and 18 instead of I, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Martha
Like Rayuela [by Julio Cortázar]?

Veronica
Yeah, but in Rayuela what Cortázar does is that he connects them somehow with instructions or the natural order of the numbers and you get all the chapters in the book.

Martha
But you can read them in different orders.

Verónica
Yeah, you can read them in different orders. I think it’s just like a nice way to divide the work and not make it very dense. Because it is a dense piece.

Groana
That reminds me of actually your photography work. There was a point where we were trying to edit your images and you basically said you can arrange them in different ways and get different stories. It sounds like you are doing the same thing with your books where it’s like you have the separate entities that can be mixed together in different ways.

Verónica
Well, right now they are just one entity but in the future, I wish they could do that. Like if I get to make my books a little bit closer to the Russians or like Cortázar, I will be very pleased.

Martha
How do you feel when you show it in space as opposed to showing it in book form?

Verónica
When I show it in a space (last time that was my solo thesis show) it was a very fragmented work for me. I understood it and the people that read my stories understood it as well. But I felt people who had no idea what my work was about were missing the short stories. Maybe I should have them up on the wall next to the images or as a stack of sheets on the floor. I did that afterward, at Baxter St at the Camera Club of New Yolk and I think there the work felt more complete. It’s very difficult to separate the image from the text. Because the short stories kind of guide you to that visual story or to another story with a different end. The viewer is a silent participant of the story which can change with the visual part of the work.

frentealmar_veronica_puche

Frente al Mar, Archival Pigment Print, 2015

Martha
We were thinking of your practice as that of a storyteller… where not only the image or the writing is important, but the result of putting them together. I think of the tradition of family storytelling, passing family knowledge from one person to the other, is very interesting in your work.

Verónica
Well, that’s a human nature. The odyssey was passed like that, the Bible was passed like that, so it’s the principal way of passing information, to tell stories orally to other generations. That’s very great to hear, I would love to be a storyteller. I think that’s very …

Groana
You are a storyteller.

Verónica
Yeah, but I feel that to be a storyteller I need to be better. Writers are storytellers, I don’t consider myself a writer. Writing for me is a very difficult part of my practice. It takes me twice the time to develop a text than to develop a work of images. Because of that, I don’t think this work Such as my Great Uncle, Eaten by a Shark is a work that is not going to end today or tomorrow. I need more time to develop it, I think it’s a long-term project. I have about six stories… and some of them are still not very pulidas

Martha
Polished.

Verónica
… polished. In order to write a good story, it is necessary to spend time with it. It needs to be very polished, and especially a short story.

Martha
What do you feel is the difference between writing in English and Spanish for you?

Verónica
It’s a huge difference. I have the task now of translating all these stories that I have in English to Spanish. It ended up being like that because of the circumstances of me being here in an Anglo-speaking country. But it would make more sense to me to write them in Spanish now.
The main difference is that romanticism or that passion that I have with the Spanish language and I lack from the English language. They’re very different cultures and very different ways of communication so I try to reproduce the sentiment when I’m telling the story in Spanish and portray it in English. In some cases, I achieve it at one point but in other cases, I think I haven’t.
It’s fantastic to share these stories in two languages for now. I wish I could share it in more languages. I always try to keep the core of the sentiment that is released with each of these stories in both languages. It varies a little bit, the tone, but decorum, I always try to keep it the same.

Groana
I think you are a little hard on yourself. Do you see yourself striving to become a storyteller? Because, in a way you are very successful in not necessarily being a writer, but in combining image and text and then giving the viewer enough space to add to the story and make it their own or to fill in the gaps. I think that’s really successful and in that way, I think you are a storyteller.

Martha
I also don’t feel storytelling is exclusively about words. Filmmakers are storytellers. They are not necessarily about …

Veronica
They have scripts.

Martha
Yes, but there are filmmakers who don’t use scripts, Godard didn’t use scripts for some of his early films and they are still storytelling. It’s not about writing. It’s about telling a story. I don’t want to corner you into saying that you are a storyteller, but that’s what I think.

Verónica
It’s an honor that you would say that to me. What I’m trying to say is that as a child I was told stories before going to bed every night. From my first memory until I was in my early teen years, my father used to tell me stories before going to sleep and I always used to read before going to sleep. So I think that’s where the inspiration comes from.
There is nothing more fantastic when you are with somebody who is a good storyteller and they tell you a story, and you get that chispa, you know, that spark that happens when that story is told, it’s amazing. That’s what I want to do. But it’s not easy. It’s not an easy task. With photography, it can be helpful because sometimes images are really strong but to combine these two elements is not something simple to do.

Groana
It’s interesting just to hear you speak that way because it just reminds me that as artists we’re always constantly looking to reach that goal even though other people like really connect with your work, you as an artist you are like this is what I’m going for and every time you make a work of art it’s trying to get you closer to that thing that you envision. It’s just really nice to hear you explain it and speak about it.
Before we get even further, can you tell us a bit about your background. Because your work is very much influenced by current events and history.

puche_granada-copy

Granada, Archival Pigment Print, 2015

Verónica
My father is from Monteria, Colombia, a city near the Caribbean. And my mother is from Chinandega, Nicaragua, not Managua. (That’s funny to say.)
I was born and grew up in Bogota. I went to high school there and to undergrad. I studied industrial design at the Universidad de los Andes, that was five years of undergrad. I don’t know why I never went to art school. Maybe I was afraid since my immediate family had no artists. So I never had somebody to follow in that way.
I decided to study industrial design because it was a nice strategy to not go into business school or that kind of stuff. In those years photography came of course as photo product. But then I began to make like little stories. I began to go to the center of Bogota with a Minolta of a friend of mine and took photos of converse shoes. I remember there were converse shoes all over the center of Bogota. Like …

Martha
Like on the wires?

Verónica
No. As if they were invisible people wearing them.
I still have the negatives somewhere. I took plenty of rolls. After that I abandoned photography for a while until I graduated from industrial design and then I got a studio. In that period of my life when I finished undergrad, I had one year where I shared a studio with friends. In that space were mainly musicians and one artist that had his studio/ house there. It was a very nice time, I had the liberty of doing what I wanted to do. I used to paint in my space. I used to paint a lot before. The photos that I took at that time were for friends of mine that had music bands or jewelry designers pieces. For the people that have seen my work and don’t see much people in my photographs, I do have people in my photographs. Mainly drunk musicians or friends of mine with jewelry from my jewelry design friends.
Anyway, there my interest for photography began to become more important. Then I came to New York and I did the GS program [General Studies One-Year Certificate at the International Center of Photography] before doing my master in ICP [MFA in Advanced Studies in Photography at the International Center of Photography and Bard College]. In that year my work went more personal. I began to work with my father’s diaries. He has them since he was around 15 years old and he keeps writing. I took those diaries and I began to investigate them. It was very difficult to read them so I began to take photos of them and then paint on the photos of the diaries. I also recreated the women that were in the diaries.
It was a very beautiful process, probably being not near him helped me create that dialogue, I have a very close relationship with my father. It was a very painful process as well. I used to cry a lot when I was doing that work. Just thinking about… Because my father had a very rough adolescence alone by himself in Bogota in a different city, cold and strange, so the diary his best friend. Everything was there written, was a very emotional place to be for me. That series is called Divino Tesoro because of one poem of Rubén Darío that my mother used to recite me when I was small. For people that don’t know Rubén Darío he was a Nicaraguan poet. It’s the most important Nicaraguan poet. Very romantic.
After I realized my personal life was a huge source of inspiration. I think Such as my great uncle, eaten by a shark emanates from there somehow… Of course! The diaries are much more than words, inside are graphics of behavior, charts describing habits, cut outs from magazines with mostly blonde beauties from the sixties, you know dream girls! Maybe that storytelling doesn’t come from my early years, maybe it’s something that I inherited from my father because he writes a lot. He still has a diary. He doesn’t write on paper anymore but he still writes.

Martha
He still keeps a diary even now? How old is he?

Verónica
73.

Martha
Oh my God.

Verónica
Yeah. I wish I had his perseverance. I would be … I would be …

Martha
Yeah. That’s discipline.

Verónica
Yeah. That’s discipline. You need discipline to make art.

veronica_puche_3

Rojo, Archival Pigment Print, 2016

Groana
You know I grew up here and my parents are from the Dominican Republic, but I remember the first time you mentioned being Colombian and Nicaraguan and the different family dynamics. I was excited to hear you describe that because being in the US the dominant narrative is that of being “American” and something else. It was rare for me to hear about cultural mixing that didn’t involve the States especially mixing between Latin American countries. I’m interested in knowing more about that history and everything that’s happening now in Colombia. How do you see your work moving forward?

Verónica
My Nicaraguan family is my big family. When I was a child I went there at least once a year. I have a lot of childhood memories in Nicaragua. I have a bunch of cousins there. In Colombia, I don’t have many of cousins, only three. So all the fun part of growing up was in Nicaragua. Those were fun times; it was a very beautiful time. Looking at it now, every time I go to Nicaragua, I’m very critical about my Nicaraguan family because they live in a bubble. It’s a beautiful place, it’s a beautiful family, but to be honest I don’t feel very Nicaraguan. I do love all the things that are there.
My father went to Nicaragua for the revolution, he arrived after the revolution of the Sandinistas so he was part of that movement. My mother at that time was a phycologist student. They met and fall in love. There’s a 14 year age difference between them, so my father was in his late 30s when he met my mother who was in her early 20s. That’s the time of Nicaragua I feel I haven’t tasted the real Nicaragua because every time I go there I’m in the bubble and it’s a bubble I don’t want to be in.
They inspire me a lot but it’s a very complex place to be in for me. I’m very critical when I go there as I said before. I was very happy. I had very beautiful memories but nowadays when I go there I’m very critical.

Groana
Your work is informed by family stories and along with that it’s the conflicts that were happening in Colombia especially since your dad went to Nicaragua during the revolution. Now the news this week that’s happening in Colombia. How do you see your work moving forward?

Verónica
It’s like suddenly there’s a rain of ideas falling over me.
The war or intern conflict with the guerrilla of las FARC has last more then half a century, leaving millions of death and victims. We have others guerrillas, but las FARC is the oldest and biggest one. Now finally after six years of dialogue with the government, it’s ending with a peace treaty signed by the government and them. This Sunday, October 2nd there will be a referendum among the Colombian population, so it’s a very exciting moment. It’s a moment full of hope. Because there were many victims in this war and they deserve to be recognized, it’s very emotional for a Colombian to be aware and to be living in this moment.
Seriously, it’s like it’s a moment of huge expectations. I haven’t lived in a Colombia in peace. It’s a country full of diversity, music and colors but the violence has always been there covering everything with dead. Suddenly there’s peace that can come and we have to fight against social inequality, which is horrible in Colombia and heal deep wounds. We have to find a way to move on. We have a bright future. Let’s hope Colombians will think of the millions of victims of the armed conflict and will put an end to the war.

Groana
I’m excited. I’m also excited for the ways that it’s going to inspire you as well.

Martha
How does it feel being in New York while all of this is happening? I remember when the disappearance of 43 students happened in Mexico and everyone I knew was on the streets. It felt very weird for me to be here and not there. I feel like I somehow needed to be there but I was here.

Verónica
Well, of course, it’s weird, for example, when the government signed the peace treaty I went to Time Square, the place I most hate from New York. The Colombian consulate here in New York told us that they were going to screen the peace treaty but they only screened a few words, some text, a photo of Santos, and a white dove, and that was it. More important than being away I think it’s a moment that will live inside of you. I was there alone, my partner that is also Colombian was in Bogota so it was a very lonely moment for me, a moment of introspection. But I feel that’s how it has to be. It’s a moment of joy but it’s also sad to take in everything that has happened, to recognize it, to be ready to forgive! It is a moment of reconciliation between people. I bought a bottle of wine and saw the live screening on my iPad.

Groana
…not at Times Square.

Verónica
Not at Times Square. I tried but … it was very nice to see all the people there. However … I’m not the example of a Colombian patriotic being. Colombian people are very emotive and extremely social. They scream a lot and they say “Viva, Colombia!. Viva! Ahh Aaaah!” I don’t like that nationalism, the violent nationalism if I’m making myself understand. Colombians have this aggressiveness that probably I do have but I don’t show it in public like others. There was this group of Colombians there holding white balloons and flags screaming “Viva, Colombia! Aaah!” It was nice to see them. It was like a group of 100 people no more. I’m pretty sure there are more Colombians here in New York.

Groana
Oh, yes there are.

Verónica
They were not all of them in Times Square for sure.

puche_timiza

Timiza, Archival Pigment Print, 2015

Martha
That is very beautiful Vero. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Verónica
I don’t know…
It’s not easy to make work. I suffer a lot. I cry a lot. Then I create. The art of being an artist is working hard.
It’s like taking my heart out and giving it to you. It’s hard for me. I never shared so much before. But I already put all my work on my website. I feel free that I’m sharing that with everybody because I didn’t have a website until now.
I was against selling my work in the beginning. I used to gift my work. If I liked you, you would be able to have a piece of me. Otherwise, not. I think it’s a matter of maturing as an artist. Of being able to desprenderte, to detach from your artwork. I do that with my paintings. When I used to paint I didn’t sell my paintings, I gave them away. Now I kind of feel bad about that. Anyway, it’s gone.

Groana
How do you live?

Verónica
I try. I breathe every morning when I wake up, about three times.

Martha
I get it. Every time someone is interested in buying, I think, “but I won’t be able to look at it anymore.” It’s just this weird sense of belonging. It’s yours. It’s actually yours.

Verónica
It’s a piece of your soul. And more during the process, it’s more yours. I feel being an artist is sharing a piece of your inner being with the world because otherwise why would you be an artist?
It’s about sharing and inspire other people to share as well what you believe life is or is not.

Interview with Mario Navarro

Interview with Mario Navarro

Mario Navarro is a Mexican artist who uses the exhibition space as part of his practice. He was just part of the exhibition at Baxter Street at the Camera Club of New York, Polaris, curated by Joey Lico. Martha sat with him in his impeccable studio in Bushwick to have a conversation about space and art-making.

Martha Naranjo Sandoval
I want to start by talking about Aestetical Irregularities and its different iterations.

Mario Navarro
I think of Aesthetical Irregularities as an ongoing project focused on my interests around architecture and space and on how to use the space where you are showing the work. I like to take advantage of the exhibition space to generate site-specific architectural interventions. The first  time I executed this idea was in Mexico City, where I cut out the hardwood floor from the gallery. Then I lifted up those pieces and covered the holes below it with mirrors to generate a void, a kind of emptiness below the elevated floor. But I think about this void, not as a lack of something ,but more as a new space that’s generated by taking away the original elements of the space.
I will create another iteration soon in Tokyo at Komagome Soko, a project space that that is run by the gallery SCAI, The Bathhouse.  Right now I’m in the planning stage, but in the end, it’s going to be a site-specific installation using the expository space to generate this intervention. The idea is also to expand the space, to create new forms, new ideas, and new perceptions of the space itself.

Martha
It seems that the gallery itself is your material.

Mario
It’s p
robably the main material. It’s the same that is complemented by other materials but the idea is to mainly use the gallery’s basic elements.

Martha
The space itself.

Mario
Yes, the space itself to generate a new way of reading that specific architectural site.

Martha
It’s interesting how you perceive the empty spaces. I feel it’s like silence in music. It’s not nothing, it’s part of the composition. That gets lost when the space is not as important in the work. When a space is just a place to hang work. But in your work, the space is the work.

Mario
I like the way you compare it to music. That’s very accurate. I think an empty gallery has a lot of potential to create work without bringing anything from the outside. That’s the irregularity that I’m talking about. How to make it irregular aesthetically by using the floor, the walls, the structures, whatever you can find to transform any given space.

Martha
It’s also interesting how you think about mirrors as creating empty spaces. I think that it prolongs the space more than emptying it.

Mario
Well, as in the case of the Mexico City show Aesthetical Irregularities, I see mirrors as an emptiness because in the end, they reflected the white walls of the space and they read as holes. But I use mirrors often, and mirrors don’t work the same every time. In the piece The Original Accident, which consists of vertical and horizontal two-way mirrors, the space gets unfolded. Also, the material properties play with space as the light refracts into the mirror. Then you have the reflection of the other reflections and a shadow. Because in the end, it’s an object that’s occupying a space. I like the idea that one single material can have more than one reaction to an external factor. And then there is how I used them for Isodomun. I think that it unfolds some parts of the work, but then these cut the work into different sections. I see it as a new body, as a new element. Mirrors have all those possibilities.

 

Mario Navarro Frame of mind (Exercise 1), 2015 Polished steel, brick 22 x 45 x 10 cm

Mario Navarro, Frame of mind (Exercise 1,) 2015. Polished steel, brick. 22 x 45 x 10 cm.

 

Martha
Another thing that happens with how you use the space, intervening with it, is that it can’t quite return the same state. In a way, you scar the space.

Mario
It’s something that happens but I haven’t really explored. If you go to the gallery in Mexico City right now, you can see all the marks of my piece on the floor. The gallery owner loves it, but it is funny how even when you go to see another show you can see the traces of mine. Some other artist told me they don’t like to show on top of my traces.

Martha
It is as if wherever you present will always remember that you presented there.

Mario
Actually, I’m in the planning stages of a photography project. I want to go to different sites and make cut-outs on the floor, lift the pieces, and photograph them. Then I’d put them back and photograph it again. Making a comparison between how the space was originally, then when the floor was cut, and then after. I’m still working on it, but I enjoy the notion of how a work leaves a trace. It’s going to be there for as long as that floor remains the same.

Martha
Yeah, it’s reminiscent of Gordon Matta-Clark.

Mario
Yes, but I think that Matta-Clark was very incisive. He cut places and he wanted to show what was underneath. I think what I do is more like reorganizing. I want to make the space different by just changing a small thing and then putting it back in as it was. But of course, he is a big influence in my work.

Martha
Your work is obviously very tied to architecture, but how did you make the leap from architecture to art?

Mario
The process was very organic. When I was studying architecture I was interested in contemporary art, especially in sculpture and installation. I also had a teacher who is a great artist. I was very interested in ephemeral architecture but my school was very traditional. I wanted to explore ways of transforming architecture, not just in building  a house or a conventional space. I always had the feeling that I needed to do something different. I began working with a curator and then with an artist. This helped me understand many aspects of contemporary art. I realized that I could develop my own ideas through architecture and make something that would not necessarily be seen as architecture.
It all started because of a friend, who is a curator, that invited me to create work for a show he was organizing. Then someone invited me to participate in another show, and so on.
It was all very natural. That is also how my process is. When I am working on developing a new idea, if I get stuck, I leave it to rest and come back to it after, but that could be in a year. I don’t like to force things. So that’s how the transition happened. But in the end, everything I do is seen through architecture in a way. I work a lot like an architect with models, plans, etc.

Martha
I think it’s interesting how you say that you see a lot of things through the lens of an architect. I’m originally a filmmaker and I feel that every time I create a piece, even if it’s a book, I think about how would I edit it as if it were a film. All of my work is measured through film language. Maybe because it was the first art that I really understood how to control. It makes sense to me that you make things in an architectural way.

Mario
I don’t work like an architecture studio necessarily, but I do process ideas like that. I love starting my ideas on paper. Then I make it precise with software, even though I like if the final result is not necessarily what I planned. I end up with a lot of diagrams for each work. Even if the end result is just a print, I sketch if “it should be hung like this, at this height…” I like how detail-oriented the architectural process is.  I hate drawing floor plans, but for my works, it is the best way to plan them. I think that it gives me a lot of peace of mind because I know that for every piece there’s a history that backs it all up. All those plans, drawings, research, texts, etc; I think that is part of the work. You can see how it developed. hat includes models. If I am making a sculpture, I want to see the dimension of it. It’s very architectural.

Martha
It’s very interesting that there’s all of this work behind it, and yet it is so minimal.

Mario
Yes, that’s something that I like. You might see the work and think about its simplicity, but behind it is an idea that was developed step by step. I test a lot out before the final idea. And then it’s funny the original idea is always so different from the final piece I predicted.
But on the other hand, I’ve been making this work, the Stone Isodomums. I’m trying to lay off a bit of this carefully planned process. I go to this place where they sell masonry materials like marble, granite, and bricks and buy leftovers that I like. I take them to my studio and then begin working by arranging them and creating compositions. It’s freeing because you never know what you’re going to find. You never know what you’re going to use, how the compositions are going to end up. In the end, the result is a very architectural minimal work but nurtured by many different variables.

Martha
Now that you mention using this rearrangement of objects I want to talk about Future Islands. It’s interesting how you take away the chairness of a chair by taking away its ability to be sat on. But the chair remains as a thing, free of its use.

Mario
That’s a site-specific work that fits perfectly in Aesthetical Irregularities. The idea is to take away all the utilitarian values of the Thonet chair by imposing it on the space. It’s a domestic object that everyone uses, not to mention the historic values of its design. But how do you merge it with the space and remove all the utilitarian value of the object? And even when you merge them, the chairs are never touching the architecture or the columns, they’re just surrounding it. I like the idea of surrounding the architecture of the space.
I also have this version of the chair with a short concrete column. But that’s different and I like it for different reasons.  It’s almost like a pallet made out of concrete. That was the first work that I made. I took one or two pallets and I made a mold out of the wood. Then I poured concrete in and let it dry. In the end, it’s the same object formally speaking, but out of a different material. I thought about it as a way of transforming an object with its own material.

Martha
Like an indexical relationship.

Mario
Exactly. You’re using the same object to transform it into itself.  And by taking away its utilitarian value, the result can only be read as a sculptural object.

 

Mario Navarro Future Islands, 2016 Insitu intervention: Columns, Thonet Era chairs Variable dimensions

Mario Navarro, Future Islands, 2016. Insitu intervention: Columns, Thonet Era chairs. Variable dimensions.

 

Martha
I think this is good segway to talk about the piece that you showed at Baxter Street at the Camera Club of New York for the show Polaris.

Mario
For that show, I wanted to do something site-specific as well. I like that space a lot. It’s kind of a storefront and looks like a gallery. But then I began discovering the little hidden spaces and the space below. One of the things that caught my attention were the two cupboards, one above the entrance and another one above the window. It’s a very unusual thing but it’s another volume inside the showroom. It’s interesting because it’s not in use and in a way it’s taking space away from the gallery.
I wanted to make that space apparent by giving it value inside the gallery space. I took one of the holes and extruded it into a volume or body. I just wanted to unfold or to extend the size and shape of the hole into an architectural element. The structure came out of the cupboard and straight down to the floor. I chose to make it out of a mesh screen.

Martha
I think it’ very important that you chose to do it with the cupboard that is on top of the door and not the one on top of the window. It is the first thing you see when you enter the show, but you might not necessarily think it’s a piece in the exhibition because of how architectural it is. Maybe the materials give it away, but I kept wondering what a person that has never been to the space before thought about it.

Mario
It had to be the one by the entrance. The one by the window would be interesting but this way the piece is saying “Hey, I’m here.” It’s a new body in the entrance of the space, so you have to move around it. Its form comes directly from a shape in the building itself. It’s also imposing spatially but not visually since the mesh allows you to see through it. A lot of people didn’t notice the work and some bumped into it, even though it’s was a large scale piece.

Martha
It becomes important that a lot of people were bumping into it.

Mario
Yeah, it’s very fragile. During the opening, a lot of people were hitting it and its  shape got twisted. I’m very detailed oriented. Things have to be perfect. For this one, even though I went into a lot of details, I liked that it was very fragile. When the show began, it was in the perfect position, at the right angle. When the opening ended it was twisted. A friend told me, “Hey, this doesn’t look good. You should make it straight,” and I said, “No, I know that people have been moving it, but I like it.” The same material allows it to bend.

Martha
It makes it into living piece because the context is changing it constantly.

Mario
That’s right, I like at the end, how the work was behaving and how people were behaving around it. For me, it was an experiment and an exercise to free the perfectionism in the fabrication of the piece.

Martha
How long have you been in New York?

Mario
I’ve been here two years. I moved because my partner was moving here to do her master’s degree at the Pratt Institute, so I decided to move as well.

Martha
How do you feel it’s different being an artist here and being an artist in Mexico?

Mario
In New York, there is a huge artist community. There’s this feeling that I like that everyone is an artist. Artists here are usually engaging with other artists through studio visits. I think that in Mexico it’s harder to achieve that sense of community.

Martha
One of the things that happened to me when I moved here is that I realized there are tools for very specific things, where in Mexico, we will use the same tool for more than one purpose. That allows you to be more creative and not be tied to a specific tool. You can…

Mario
You work it out, but that’s the context that we grew up in. We probably don’t even have all the resources but you learn to solve problems with what you have around you.

Martha
How do you think, if at all, that being Mexican and from Guadalajara, affects the way you look at art? You are from Guadalajara, right?

Mario
I’m from Tijuana. A lot of people think I’m from Guadalajara because I studied architecture there, and my career as an artist developed in Guadalajara.

Martha
I’m really sorry about that. So how do you think being from where you are from affects your work? If at all.

Mario
It’s complicated. I’m not a person that thinks as a Latin American artist you produce Latin American art. I wouldn’t say that my work it’s only influenced by Latin American culture. Sometimes It is even hard to pin-down a Mexican identity.

 

Mario Navarro Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 2014 Found object in demolished house 140 x 115 x 15 cm

Mario Navarro, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 2014. Found object in demolished house. 140 x 115 x 15 cm.

 

Martha
I know what you mean. I don’t subscribe either to the idea that there is a Latin American-ness.

Mario
Exactly.

Martha
And of course your work is somehow influenced from where you’re from, but in another way, it’s not because you’re a particular person. No one expects American art to be all the same, but somehow people expect Latin American art to be similar.

Mario
I think that’s true, I identify a lot with Brazilian artists. I think that my line of work is very similar and even though they’re Latin American, I don’t really think that has anything to do with the reasons why I identify with them. For me, it’s more a personal interest.
But I do sometimes stop myself to think, “How does growing up in Tijuana influence me?” And it’s an influence, of course. I always disliked the architecture there. It’s just a copy of Californian style architecture but Mexicanized. There is a baroque reinterpretation. As an architect, it all starts with the house I grew up in. My house was this kind of a Californian style house if you can even call it a style. Ornamentation with no reason. Also being in Guadalajara affected the influence of modernist architecture. Architects like Luis Barragán were important factors in my work. Everything influences you, and then you start to define yourself depending on where you are, who you meet, etc. And of course, I am Latin American artists.

Martha
Yeah, but before that you were just an artist.

Mario
Exactly. I’m not sure my work really defines that aspect. Most of the artists I follow are Latin Americans. I love being Latin American, I love being Mexican and I’m proud of my heritage.

 

 

 

Interview with Joiri Minaya

Interview with Joiri Minaya

For #dominicanwomengooglesearch Joiri Minaya searched google images for the term “dominican women” and translated the results into physical objects. Minaya prints enlarged versions of the images, mounts them onto Sintra board and covers the backside with tropical patterned fabrics. She then cuts out everything but the flesh and hangs these shapes from the ceiling.

We sat down with Joiri at Wave Hill while she was presenting this piece in the project space.

Groana Melendez
What was your process in creating #dominicanwomengooglesearch?.

Joiri Minaya
I started with a Google search and I found these images. When I started cutting them up into pieces in Photoshop I was mimicking the dissection that my gaze was doing. I would look at their faces, their boobs, their arms, their hair. I was sectioning them or cutting them up into pieces with my eyes based on how these images are presented to me, and how I’ve been conditioned to read those images in that way. I was analyzing them in general. There’s more afros in our vision of ourselves to the outside than to ourselves. I think that’s changing now thankfully. I also noticed a lot of straight long hair.
That’s the front part, and then the backs are covered with designs that represented “tropical” spaces, which was something I was already working with from previous projects. I grew up in a clothing store, my mom had a clothing store since I was little. I’ve always been surrounded by fabric and patterns. It’s something that still influences what I notice visually. “Tropical” pattern design felt very familiar to me, but I was never really critically conscious of it until I was in undergrad. One time I was wearing this Hawaiian shirt that I found in a thrift store and a professor said, “Oooh, so tropical.” I was like, “What does this mean?” That’s when I started thinking about it more critically.
I started paying attention to what is depicted on these fabrics and how the plants are organized and are, once again, just catered to this [foreign, scientific] gaze. Plants in reality have nothing to do with how they’re presented in pattern design. As problematic as they are, I love scientific illustration. They’re extracted from reality, isolated on a white page where all of its parts are being analyzed, supposedly to be informative, but it’s a very particular gaze, which I then relate to the kind of gaze towards women and brown bodies and the objectification of women. I wanted to link that history of scientific illustration, how it later became interior, domestic design, and the representation of these women; mapping this whole system of representation around the tropics.

Groana
Were you here in the States when you were looking for these images?

Joiri
Originally yes, although it was during a trip to the DR that I first looked up Dominican women on Google searches. Results when I was there and when I continued with the process here were pretty similar. What makes a difference is that I’m Googling in English, and English is not our first language. I was consciously thinking about that, but I guess when I have conversations about that piece in the States that intentionality is not evident. That decision was definitely intentional for me, because I was thinking of how we present ourselves to this international audience as opposed to how we think about ourselves to ourselves, which I’m not sure is always that too apart but there’s definitely differences.

Groana
Do you see the images you’re finding as mujeres dominicanas showing themselves to the world?

Joiri
I think so, because they’re tagged in English. Also the photos themselves, they’re not selfies, they’re staged, there’s someone taking the photo. There is this whole apparatus around it that to me is deeply related how we internalize these demands which we subsequently performed for someone else.

Martha Naranjo Sandoval
What I really like about it is that it starts from a very digital space, but then it’s all about being there, because you can’t really access it unless you’re in the room.

Joiri
Yeah, I’m interested in that materialization. These photos exist online, they’re tiny, they’re made for your screen to 72 dpi or whatever. Then when you blow them up they become an object. You print them out, they’re tangible. They’re tangible in a very unnatural way, in a very artificial way. I like how that translates to a material because it’s funny how these women are supposedly selling you this “authentic” experience, but then they’re very artificially crafted. To print them out makes that obvious.

Martha
Yeah, because it makes it about the image and not about the person.

Joiri
It’s always about the image, but at the beginning, it’s meant to create this illusion that you are meeting this girl [a lot of the images found on the Google search link back to online catalogues “for men who want to date Dominican women on their vacation”]…but this girl could be any girl.

Martha
Yeah, but the fact that you can see the pixels interrupts the…

Joiri
the illusion, yeah. Also how they’re flat and spinning around, that makes you think of digital illusion, like animations. I like the material manifestation of it. Another aspect I was interested in is how they rearrange and recompose as you walk around them or even if you just stand there and see them spinning around. I think that’s at the same time liberating within this question of identity, how you’re taking these ingredients that already exist but you’re making your own combination, and also on a darker and more confrontational side they look just like a butchery, it’s a bunch of hanging body parts…

Groana
Then you add pretty flowers and stuff, jaja. And it is also a hand-made object…

Joiri
Yeah, it might not be immediately recognizable in this piece at first, but it’s a very crafty process, cutting out the images on photoshop, marking point by point with the pen tool, isolating individual parts, enlarging them, printing them and then cutting all over again, physically, out of the rectangular board into these independent pieces, following the pixels. And Sintra is so hard to cut by hand with an Exacto knife!…
I think after a lot of reading, writing, performance and video works at Parsons during my undergrad I really missed drawing and spending time “making stuff with my hands,” but the idea that hand-made techniques are more crafty and labor intensive than technologically mediated ones is another illusion. There’s the illusion that things like video or photography and other mediated forms of image making are supposedly faster and easier to materialize, with a click. Preparation time and thought process now take me way longer than it used to take when I was only drawing. So much of it is trying to decipher the idea and put it together in a way that communicates whatever I want to communicate before event starting to make anything. It still takes forever, but there’s this illusion that it’s more immediate, which is something I’m beginning to be aware now.

#dominicanwomengooglesearch (2016). digital print on sintra and fabric collage. aprox. 6 x 15 x 12 ft. Wave Hill Sunroom Project Space, Bronx, NY. Photos by Stefan Hagen

My art education has been very diverse and kind of fragmented. I got into the National School of Fine Arts in Santo Domingo when I was 14. They have a program that allows you to go that early. It’s fine arts in a very traditional way, it’s good to get that very formal training but they don’t necessarily push you a lot conceptually. Then I went to Belgium for a year, finished my last year in that art school when I came back, then I went to Altos de Chavon for 2 years and through Chavon I got a scholarship to go to Parsons. After going through these schools that teach you different tools to communicate and also have different philosophies, a lot of my work since graduating has been interested in balancing and juggling between all these different techniques and philosophies, navigating that world that wants to put a label on you and say, “You’re a painter and you should work like this.”
It should be more liberating now because after conceptual art, in theory, “nothing matters and you can do whatever,” but that’s not really true. People still want to categorize you often and I’m still asked frequently what kind of work I make and whether I have one favorite or main medium, which I don’t, really. If anything the idea of performing is very present, but a lot of my works don’t involve performance art.

Groana
How much does the location of the piece affect it?

Joiri
I think the context changes the perception of the piece a lot. I’ve shown this piece once before, in an exhibition space with blank walls. At Wave Hill the piece is inside a space that looks like a greenhouse (which is effectively used to house tropical plants during the winter). That space activated another part of the dialogue that I wanted to have with this piece. The history of greenhouses, collecting, exploring and the way that the specimens are historically categorized and presented in this kind of space gives the piece that layer of criticality that it didn’t have before. I’ve also been navigating this thing of showing work in the Dominican Republic and the US. I don’t know, I think #dominicanwomengooglesearch is one of the pieces that I’m more comfortable showing in both places, but for other works it’s kind of weird. For example, I was working on Siboney when I started doing the Google searches and roughly thinking about1 this piece. Siboney is a performance in which I spend about 5 weeks hand-painting the design from a found piece of fabric onto a museum wall. Once the mural is finished I pour water on myself and scrub my body against the wall while dancing to the beat of the song Siboney by Connie Francis, partially washing off the paint. (You can watch a trailer at joiriminaya.com/siboney).

Still from Siboney (2014) Performance in two parts and a mural painting.

I made that specifically for the DR. I’ve show the video documentation as documentation, but as live performance, I’ve had studio visits where people have asked me if I would redo something like that for their institution and I always say I wouldn’t repeat the same, maybe something related but it would have to be different because I feel doing the same thing here, I’d have to be careful about it because it could become one of these works in which brown artists perform for a mainly white audience. It could become mere entertainment, whereas there (in the DR) it’s more reflective of our own identity and how we cater to this outsider’s view. To me it’s different when shown in the Caribbean and shown here. Works like #dominicanwomengooglesearch adapt better, here I see it more like a mirror for the gaze that creates and perpetuates these images.

Groana
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? You were born here and grew up in DR, was there a lot of back and forth?

Joiri
Yeah, I grew up in DR. I’m very much Dominican, I was born here (NYC) and my Grandma was living here. I grew up in the DR and went to school there and my family is there. I have a bunch of relatives here, so I grew up visiting relatives and spending my summers here and in Florida sometimes, but mostly here.
Then I was an exchange student in Belgium when I was 17. That’s an experience that I go back to a lot these days, in works like this. I lived in this tiny little town where it’s weird because Dominican wasn’t even a thing, a lot of people didn’t even know where that was, they would vaguely place it “somewhere in South America.” It was so foreign that it was almost liberating. To my perception, they didn’t really have specific stereotypes attached to what I would represent, as opposed to Turkish or Moroccan people who have lived there for generations and who are their main immigrant groups. Dominicans weren’t a thing, at least not in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium.
Yet I was still reminded of my foreignness all the time. That was the first place where I was absolutely out of place. I didn’t understand anything around me and everything was examining me. I think that’s an experience that definitely informs my current work.

Martha
I understand what you mean. I’m Mexican and I never thought about being Mexican until I moved to the US.

Joiri
Yeah, me neither, about the States, I’m still deciphering this place, it’s so confusing, and also interesting. It’s a place where everyone comes from a different place, but everyone is American. There is this thing about homogenization and everyone has to be Americanized but everyone wants to cling to the memories and traditions of a place of origin. There is this ever-going dichotomy. Then you have the Americans that have been here for centuries: the Native Americans, the white colonizers and their descendants, black people and the past of slavery and erasure. There’s all these things going on at once. I never thought about being Dominican in this particular way until I got here. It’s funny, this curator asked me the other day, “I’m so curious why you’re so aware of your identity in such a cosmopolitan place like New York City.” I was like, “What does that even mean?”
Why is there an idea that people can be universal to begin with? I’m thinking about this European idea of universality, that’s still so prevalent in contemporary politics and the arts and even relates to who makes conceptual, minimalistic or “neutral” work, versus the people who make representational and “very specific” work and so on. There’s all these hierarchies. It’s just really annoying.

Martha
It happened the other way around for me, a curator was like “Your art is not Latin American enough.”

Joiri
Then there’s that too.

Martha
I was like”What does that mean?” I’m Latin American. Who decides what’s Latin American and what’s not and at what degree? I don’t feel like there is one, Latin American is a huge brush to paint over a lot of people who have some similarities but I also look at Groana and my experience is so different from hers…

Joiri
I know, it’s different. My sister was doing a university exchange in Chile for 6 months and I went to visit her when she was there. I couldn’t even understand what they say sometimes. It’s immensely different from someone who grew up in the Caribbean. I don’t know, in a way I’ve discovered a lot of Latin Americanness, and Caribbeanness, and even Dominicanness here in the States. Especially here in New York, because in the Caribbean itself you are not as interconnected with the other islands. I think everything has been done for us to not be connected at all in terms of flights, international relations, and commercial relations. It’s intentionally isolated, as opposed to here where you learn about all these other people from all of these other islands that, as one discovers after having had a very insular experience, are also in the Caribbean. We just speak different languages but in terms of culture there is so many overlaps and similarities. In a way I’ve have this expansive experience here, but in another way I’ve also had this reductive experience where I’ve been essentially told “you’re Caribbean so you’re supposed to be this” or “you’re Latin American, so you’re supposed to be this other way”…
I’m annoyed by the label identity. I use it a lot because I want to expand that label, my work is about identity but it’s not about identity in the way that the art world wants to see it here, as in “you’re illustrating this other place, this other experience.” I was talking about this with Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, curator of the Museo del Barrio. I was saying that someone who talks about them growing up loving a punk band is as much identity as it is to talk about where you come from. Even someone like Donald Judd, his minimalistic work says a lot about him and can be thought of as identity, in the same way that you making work about your homeland can. But that’s not how the art world operates.

#dominicanwomengooglesearch (2016) digital print on sintra and fabric collage. aprox. 6 x 15 x 12 ft Wave Hill Sunroom Project Space, Bronx, NY. Photo by Stefan Hagen

Groana
That’s so funny because Martha made a zine about how people think she looks Ecuadorian. She made a zine out of the results of searching for…

Martha
Ecuadorian women… It’s because every time people have to guess where I’m from they say I’m from Ecuador… that’s so inaccurate and so specific…

Joiri
What are “people from Ecuador” supposed to look like?

Martha
Right? What does that even mean? I’m always a little jaded that I don’t look Mexican, that people don’t say, “You’re Mexican.” I want to look what I am.

Joiri
There’s a lot of people going through all these similar experiences. Just again going back to America, it’s such a particular place. These things wouldn’t necessarily happen in our homelands, but then in our homelands we are part of the majority so people wouldn’t question us.

Groana
It’s not about you being Dominican, it’s about you being something else.

Joiri
Yeah it’s about your hair texture or your way of speaking or your way of moving through the world or your interests.

Martha
But also in the context of the outsider. In Mexico I’m not a minority, I’m white.

Joiri
Of course. Dominicans have all these stereotypes about Haitians, they need someone to create a hierarchy around, which is super disgusting but that’s the way it works. It’s the same everywhere. In Belgium they have the Moroccans and the Turks and other groups of immigrants. Not as many people from Congo as I initially thought there would be but then I realized the way that Europe dealt with their colonies is that their colonies were entirely absent in their homeland, they only got the resources they extracted. That’s another interesting thing about being in the Caribbean or even America where your colony was in your territory. The colonizer and the colonized were together. Then you go to Europe and you’re like, wait, so, oh yeah, you guys have all the gold, but why do other people …they’re just absent, because they were out of sight.

Groana
My experience is so much different from even yours because I spent my summers in DR where you spent your summers here. It’s really interesting.

Joiri
I’ve talked to people like you, they feel lost and alert when they go there, because they don’t really fit, but they’re Dominican. I think identity is such an interesting thing.

Groana
It’s funny that you say that because I always felt that way. Every time I went to DR I was “la Americana,” la “gringa.” But now that I’m married and my wife looks white and we go there then I’m the Dominican, I’m seen as pure Dominican in comparison to her.

Joiri
I like that contradiction too, because it translates a lot of feelings that I have, just navigating the world as a woman of color, all these labels. It’s true, you’re seen in a particular way. That’s another thing of New York, I started realizing that when people knew I was Dominican, they were thinking of particular things, they’d be, like “Oh you’re Dominican,” with a certain intonation. I was curious about what that intonation meant. That’s when I first started doing the Google search and thinking, oh, I guess this must inform what people think when they say that I’m Dominican.

Those We Leave Behind: Ryan Foerster’s Sculptures of Wasted Ducts at Abrons Arts Center

Those We Leave Behind: Ryan Foerster’s Sculptures of Wasted Ducts at Abrons Arts Center

Posted by on Oct 6, 2016 in Osman Can Yerebakan | No Comments
Ryan Foerster: Underwrought An De Re on view at Abrons Art Arts Center

Ryan Foerster: Underwrought An De Re on view at Abrons Art Arts Center

“Ill feel sad that after all these years were inside using these giant metal forms to bring us air at different temperatures to keep us comforatbel. I hate comfort its to easy.” expresses Ryan Foerster in his typo-laden letter accompanying his modest scale exhibition at the Abrons Arts Center of Lower East Side. Entitled Underwrought An De Re, the exhibition, on view at the center’s Project Space in the lobby, introduces Foerster’s sculptural assemblages made out of discarded air ducts alongside a group of c-print photographs.

Ryan Foerster: Underwrought An De Re at Abrons Arts Center

Ryan Foerster: Underwrought An De Re at Abrons Arts Center

The idea of utilizing air ducts for sculpture struck the Brooklyn-based artist as he was installing his last solo exhibition at C L E A R I N G. While the subject exhibition had included various used and found materials, Foerster—who started his career with exhibitions organized in his apartment showing found-material sculptures—was intrigued by the scraps of duct left by workers installing heat at the gallery. Although the heat failed to arrive due to technical problems during his exhibition, disposed ducts led the artist to create these works on view through October 23rd.

Ryan Foerster: Underwrought An De Re at Abrons Arts Center

Ryan Foerster: Underwrought An De Re at Abrons Arts Center

Foerster, whose early works included expired or discarded films he collected from the Camera Club of New York’s dark room, is no stranger to debris. His sculptural or photographic assemblages of waste piled around street corners, artist studios or galleries convey narratives from their past stages within aesthetically compelling dispositions. Their somehow futuristic postures contradict what they’re meant for and the past they belong to. No longer needed or considered functional, waste manifests a type of melancholy that is conveniently ignorable. “I was sick of waste and all this excess shit that was here.” adds Foerster in the same letter. Curved, bent, and unconventionally aestheticized, these aluminum sculptures, some of which are accentuated by oozing wax, move beyond sculpture to deliver commentary on consumerism, environmental debate (one of the photographs on view documents Climate March amidst Times Square, while others trace the artist’s backyard in his Brighton Beach residence), and excess daily life generates.

Ryan Foerster: Underwrought An De Re will remain on view at the Abrons Arts Center until October 26, 2016.