Tag Archives: Desiree D’alessandro

JESSICA ROBBINS [on] MORIAH ASKENAIZER

Moriah Askenaizer. Photo by James Huang.

Moriah Askenaizer. Photo by James Huang.

{As I try and make things clear, I seem to obscure.

The already problematic context of the artist interview…

What would Moriah want an interview to look like? How will this inform their subject? As an artist do they build one? Don’t we all? How do they choose to display themselves in language? Dress, in description? What would it smell like? Oh, subjectivity! It’s a failure already. This intangibility forces a focus on the mechanisms inherent in the interview, ways of information gathering about a subject and their constructing restraints.

Yet without solution, we submit with a taste for subversion on our tongues. Perhaps the interview itself creates “a space where the problem of identification and its laws, in all their force and impossibility can be experienced,” and maybe even pulled apart (Roland Barthes).}

Jessica Robbins: Tell me about where you grew up?

Moriah Askenaizer: I grew up in a town called Hollis, New Hampshire. It’s in the woods. We had really really cold winters, Yea, small, old, apple town. It smells like apples there right about now.

JR: And then you went to the Cooper Union to study art…

MA: I graduated this year and mama was proud!

JR: Now that you’re done with Cooper what are you doing?

MA: I am working on staying alive, getting a job, and writing a manuscript. I’d like to write 100 pages by at least this time next year. I’m trying to paint too. Little paintings.

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

JR: Tell me about what you’ve been writing lately?

MA: Well most of the writing I’ve been doing lately is based off of this passage in Willa Cather’s novel O Pioneers!. It’s a passage where the protagonist Alexandra is lying in bed and she is fucking exhausted. The worst has happened, but it’s a moment, when she… It’s during Sunday. She’s isn’t working and her brother Emil is blacking his boots down in the kitchen and the wheat fields are growing up outside her window. Everything, all of the language up to that point is very matter of fact. And Alexandra is lying down in bed and all of a sudden starts to incant this dream in which an other worldly being comes in and sweeps down and lifts her up and carries her across her fields. The person or being that Alexandra dreams of is too big. They smell like corn fields and are full of light and like in that passage I think there’s a lot of queer potentiality. Alexandra can’t see him but she knows he is a man but unlike any that she has ever met. So what are they? They aren’t anything, maybe they’re everything. But this book, or manuscript at least, that I wanna write is from the perspective of this other worldly creature. Which is weird because… try to even fucking write about something that is basically imperceptible outside of a fictional character’s impressions of a daydream. But it’s interesting because, I think you have to talk about the body in exhaustion. So…

JR: Well that actually leads me to some of the questions I wanted to ask you. What do the characters that you make look like and how do you build them? And also considering pronouns, how do you choose to describe this person or how do they speak? How do you choose to narrate?

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

MA: In this passage Willa Cather uses “he” but the characteristics of that “he” imply that this being is beyond any pronoun that can be used to describe them. Sometimes when I sit down to write, it’s the most fucked up challenge, and so I’m trying to just tell myself to write. The reason I want to write this figure into a story is like… All the times I feel depressed, I think about them. A part of me needs this being to be real or a feel-able as active ulterior, just as much as perhaps Alexandra needs it in O Pioneers. But when you’re pulled by different extremities of your feelings it’s hard to will a specific idea or character.

JR: I feel this relates to the way Roland Barthes talks about “love” in A Lover’s Discourse. He seems to compromise with the idea of “love” in a way that feels like a submission or a constant submission. Would your character, similarly need to be contradictory and fragmented?

MA: Absolutely, and it’s cool that you bring up love too. I was reading bits, little bits, of Cruel Optimism and it’s about how optimism is a product of things we desire that are actually horrible for us, and I think about that when I think about exhaustion or disruption or paradoxes. (I am probably misreading or misinterpreting Lauren Berlant’s work but for the purposes of this interview…). This figure to me represents a capital W wanting that is met with something that is not reciprocated or mutually abiding. That is willing and wildly discursive. Fragmented, sure, or paradoxical. But that’s another thing that is hard about writing this; She’s asking this being to carry her in a lot of ways; emotionally and physically. She wants the being to carry the burden of her desire, too. She doesn’t want to want. But what I’m trying to write is a being into being. It feels like trying to reanimate a form of aggressive submission.

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

What is exciting to me is that the being possesses all of these characteristics that misalign with human life but within the intelligibility of a body that can lift. The most amazing part to me in the entire passage is not that this being is being dreamed, but when they lift her up! and how the moment of their contact with Alexandra is expressed; I mean, wow! To be touched in the way that your lover or your friends or your family or who ever is most closest to you can never ever touch you. I have a working theory that’s it’s like two interiors touching. And Alexandra’s inner life, from what I read, is fortified by constant resistance as well as an expressed inability (or fuck no!) to abide female gender expectations. So two interiors touching that are beside themselves in resistance. I think its trans-historical too (I am animating this figure now! This figure persuades me to miss its touches from decades away).

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

JR: Do you think the paintings and the writing talk to each other?

MA: Well the paintings I made with Alex for the exhibition If Less Than a Boy Were Fruit were secretly really about suicide, fatigue and exhaustion. Everyone thought they were about theater or performance or coyness or artifice. Which, they were, too. I suppose. But I mostly remember during that time not feeling like I could ever be a painter and then making paintings. I think those paintings and the character I want to write about were about negation in a similar way. Out of all circumstances that said no, something happened. Something keeps happening. I wanted to die but I am still here! That’s how I felt a lot when I was making those paintings. It was like everything I learned or talked about in my classes, in articles I read, was telling me that the ideas I was having about painting as a queer, dog, genderqueer thing, were constituted as not being valuable by “the painting canon.” Or those parts of me would only be valuable in really restricted fields that announced a “defect in painting”, that mouthed allegiance to “performance”, or were only appreciated in utter co-option. I just didn’t feel like I fit or that I could muster enough emotional strength to give a shit, but I kept making paintings. I align that with a *feeling* of my queerness and being inaugurated as a living being through the violent terms of Girl Lady Boy, whatever. It’s like most everywhere you’re denied. No, you’re not a body, you’re not human, no, no. And I think this fantasy character too comes out of the “no” or the flat, open landscape of Nebraska (where the novel is set), out of the cold winter, and the death, and perhaps too out of the “no” of human relatedness.

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

I think Willa Cather’s work holds a lot of sentimental resonance from me too, because I grew up in a rural area. I was pretty isolated and alone.

JR: Can you tell me more about where you think this violence comes from?

MA: Negligence, negligence that comes from progress, stasis, sublimated rage, love of not being, abuse, open space, winter.

JR: This stance of negligence in the face of progress which you tied to this violence, seems to relate very much to your paintings from your show, If Less Than A Boy Were Fruit with Alex Velozo?

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

MA: I think those are asshole paintings. Like I felt when I was painting that I was the ass that wouldn’t move with a carrot dangling in front of my face. I also felt like I was a self-condemning shithead for not moving. The carrot might have been “good, sensitive painting” or “passing”. I couldn’t move and I didn’t want to and because I didn’t want to, I couldn’t, and I think Alexandra and the daydreamed being don’t do what they ought to do.  Not happily though, or that’s the way Willa Cather writes it, I think. Cather writes that Alexandra punishes herself for her fantasies. The novel doesn’t glamorize or make that whole process of fantasy, punishment, and being a homesteader seem beautiful or easy or delusional or unbound, but it definitely doesn’t account fully for Alexandra’s fantasy figure. It feels like the whole brief scenario falls out of the sky. Its huge and impossibly opaque and lucid. It not a moment that reveals her weakness, that’s the spirit of her character and the character that Willa Cather writes and wills, taking priority of her bodies.

JR: It seems that that imagination comes from having a need to escape, from this exhaustion.

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

MA: Its escape but it’s also a failed escape. The figure that she imagines, and I guess, when I feel like I am painting into the magic window, I make these dumb ass works. I think about how there isn’t a trap door out of what is complicated or what you love or what hurts you. You’re in the thick of it. I think thats the way that the figure comes about in Willa Cather’s text. Alexandra is in the thick of it, and she is going to be in thick of it until she is cold and dead in the ground. But there is something about that too. She can’t actually escape. There is a desire to do that but you’re never going to escape. I think there is actually something exciting about knowing that there is no escape, but the desire to escape is still present.

It’s a lot about the rigors involved in maintaining the unmaintainable. Or not being able to name, or maintain the unnamable and committing oneself to those presences. And not falling for something thats easy, like something that only half describes itself and just goes on with its stupid little life.

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

JR: To always be at odds with oneself…

MA: Yea, it’s very hard. This paradox feels imminent and always.

*If Less Than A Boy Were Fruit is a title we adapted from a poem by poet Ari Banias entitled Solve for X.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

JESSICA ROBBINS: was born in 1988 and raised in Southern Virginia. After attending the Virginia Military Institute for two years she moved to New York City in 2007.  She attended Parsons’ the New School before transferring to The Cooper Union. She graduated in may of 2014 with a bachelors in fine arts. She is currently living and working in Brooklyn.

MORIAH ASKENAIZER: Moriah is a painter, writer, and occasional drag prince and dog from New Hampshire. They hold a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art and are currently working on writing a manuscript and becoming potty-trained.

JOSE JOAQUIN FIGUEROA [on] JESSICA ROBBINS

On Jessica Robbins

{I am for an art that drips out of the frame

That sneaks up behind you and tells you your name.

The trickster, the wizard, the hero, the artist

We created them all and they’ve grown beyond us…}

(J.R -fragment/work in progress about SIWOFT)

Jessica and I first met in 2010 when we both transferred to The Cooper Union to pursue a bachelor degree in Fine Arts.  Since then we have witnessed each other’s growth as young artists in NYC- a city that enabled us to freely explore and challenge our own subjecthoods. Although we never thought of our artistic endeavors melting together, we collaborated for our senior project STUCK IN WONDER OUT FOREVER TRYING.  I am happy to leave a record of our correspondence.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

JOSE JOAQUIN FIGUEROA was Born in 1986 in Caracas, Venezuela. Figueroa attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2009, and graduated from The Cooper Union in NYC in 2014. He will begin his graduate education in Art Practice this upcoming fall at UC Berkeley, CA.

JESSICA ROBBINS was born in 1988 and raised in Southern Virginia. After attending the Virginia Military Institute for two years she moved to New York City in 2007.  She attended Parsons’ the New School before transferring to The Cooper Union. She graduated in may of 2014 with a bachelors in fine arts. She is currently living and working in Brooklyn.

SANTIAGO ECHEVERRY [on] JOSE JOAQUIN FIGUEROA

JOSE JOAQUIN FIGUEROA: Cute Transgressor

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Muñecos de Loza 02. Courtesy of Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

Santiago Echeverry (intro as aside): Back in March of 2014, I was invited to participate in a collective show curated by Manu Mojito and Paulo Alvarez at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, in Bogotá, Colombia. Having lived outside my country for over 10 years, it was a strike of luck that I was in the city for the show opening. And believe me, it was a breath of fresh air.  The talent and the reflection in every single one of the pieces was breathtaking, especially knowing I was already considered a veteran within the group. With the curators both being in their 20’s, the exhibit entitled Muñecos de Loza 02 ( Porcelain Dolls 02) presented works related to the ambiguity of the body by established and emerging national and international artists. I shared the space with former students of mine (Santiago Forero), colleagues (Ana Patricia Palacios), friends (Juan Pablo Echeverri) and masters (Clemencia Poveda) emerging young artists such as Paloma Castello and Pablo Adarme, and international guests Abel Azcona (Spain), and José Joaquín Figueroa from Venezuela.

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José Joaquín Figueroa. Bogotá, Colombia {March 2014} Manu Mojito.

I was fascinated with all of the works, and I could write a book about the entire exhibition, but I felt particularly attracted to the work of Figueroa, who was living and studying in NY, at Cooper Union, at the time of the show. He represented this new generation of artists that consider themselves Queer, moving beyond gender barriers and stereotypes, with very strong political and satirical approaches to exploring the realities in their countries and the invasion of American culture in Latin America. M having experienced the harshness of growing in a difficult country myself, and having lived and worked in New York too, gave Figueroa and I starting ground for a fertile round of conversations, culminating in this short but insightful interview, that we performed a little after his art college graduation. Figueroa incarnates the passion of his generation for freedom and alternative methods of expression, with an invigorating, uncompromising and irreverent attitude that redefines the stereotypical views of Latin American art.

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El Pitiyanqui: American Quilt, photo-performance, {2009} Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

SE: I am almost twice your age and yet I notice that there are no big differences between our generations; there are a lot of ideas and concepts that we share. Do you think that that happens because we are both Latinos or is it because we belong to this kind of global culture?

Jose Joaquin Figueroa: I think it is hard to pinpoint why these similarities arise but I feel there are two constants in life for me: change and repetition. As artists we have a constant struggle between these two, and if I have to respond I would say that our shared background has a lot to do with that. I feel in America artists react differently to globalization, especially to Americanism or Americana invading some other spaces that are supposed to have other values. We react and we observe those realities under a different lens and therefore we can arrive at the same ideas and concepts at the end because we are in a middle ground. It is interesting for me to now be in America (USA) and have this new door to a way of producing art and then going back home and also having that door open, but finding myself in the middle because I am neither here nor there.

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Playboy, photo-performance, {2010} Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

SE: I am particularly fascinated with the work that you have done regarding gender and politics, especially the work entitled Playboy where you are appearing nude in the same position as Marilyn Monroe but you are smoking Fidel Castro’s cigar and wearing Mao Zedung’s hat. I am also interested in the photo-performance entitled From Left to Right, where you morph from the Fidel Castro into Marilyn again. Where is this work coming from?

JF: These works are autobiographical and it is interesting to remark that From Left to Right was produced while I was still living in Venezuela, in the period of time when Hugo Chávez had been in power for around 10 years. The work was a digestion of his discourse in my country because he was always antagonizing the American ideal with the socialist/communist notion that capitalism was bad and communism was good, but he never got deeper into the ideology behind both systems, and why one was working and the other one wasn’t. So I think I grabbed those ideas and thought about the advertising images of both Castro and Monroe, especially because of their gender attributes,  and I obviously grabbed on to Fidel as some iconic image of the masculine intellectual communist, as well as Marilyn, as the icon of feminine beauty and desire.

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From Left to Right. photo-performance, {2009} Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

Their images are very powerful in what they stand for. I also took those two images as an excuse to play with my concern with  gender in Venezuela: if you are a gay male and you are masculine it is good, but if you are effeminate it is bad. There is a paradox that if you are into capitalism and you are feminine that is bad, but if you are into communism and you are masculine it is good, and if you are of the opposition, or the other side of the coin, then there is a short circuiting that happens. That is hard for me to grasp. I have never believed in radical positions, I believe in the transition or the transit–sometimes we are in one position or the other but we are never in the same place. There are two sides where the work comes from, one being the political body that processes all binary information, and the other being the position from which I can enact or develop myself in a society with social constructs limiting the body already. In Venezuela, there are no other (or not enough) male body artists doing what I am doing, just female artists, which is interesting to me because I am appropriating the idea of the feminine body attitude used as an artificial object of desire, because those poses are not only artificially constructed but also exclusive to the female gender.

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Studies on plastic bags / Shopping Heads. photo-performance, {2009} Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

SE: I studied the work you did with the plastic bags, and these plastic bags have a double connotation: suffocation and suicide. It is as if you were walking on a cliff, on one side it is extreme pleasure, on the other side you die.  Are you playing that game, trying to reflect your own angst?

JF: I feel that my work has a lot to do with angst in many ways, like that moment when I do not know what is it that my body can do to make a difference, with the struggle constantly present. The plastic bags project took three years to develop, it started with me collecting all of my consumer bags and then putting them on my head. Initially they were not necessarily plastic, they were paper too, all with consumer culture brands and logos. The process of collecting all of these traces of consumption started to be more systematic, and I focused later only on plastic bags. Every human being in a city has to interact with this object. Wherever you buy something, they always give you one of those, in the pharmacy, the supermarket, working equally for both the low and high culture consumer, easily accessible as an object.

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Martyrs. photo-performance, {2009-2011} Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

After repeating this gesture of portraying myself with a bag on my head, finding a place between pain and pleasure,   I “saw the light” – it sounds corny, I know – and I started doing double exposures, shifting the initial scope of the project. I would combine the portrait of my face with and without a bag, so you could see the face and the bag at the same time. It ceased hiding my identity (where the bag would behave as a mask) to allow the fusion between the branding identity and my face, allowing it to become a very religious experiment. This is why I ultimately called it Martyrs, because martyrs are these catholic people that after being either tortured or immolated (for the good of their religion) they start seeing the light, they get access to the other side, they can see other planes, like some sort of redemption or clairvoyance.

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Dialécticas al cubo (about Venezuela’s politics). photo/video-performance, {2012} Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

SE: Do you  think that if you had stayed in Venezuela you would be doing the same type of work?

JF: I probably would be doing directly political work or even refuse the political aspect altogether. I do not know. I call Venezuela the land of Magical Realism, because of all its absurd situations. It is the land of endless paradoxes. There is so much contrast, but still people find ways of achieving happiness or not caring at all. I think for the creative mind it is a very fertile territory because it just highlights a sort of absurdity, some place where logic or common sense doesn’t really work. Anything could happen when you play with/around absurdity and irony.

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Still Life. photography/installation, {2012} Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

SE: You are in New York which is also full of paradox and magical realism that comes from everywhere in the world…

Yes it is, but in a different way because it is also a concrete jungle. I am now doing the same work I would be doing at home too, but I am now reacting to America and this city of cultural divergence and convergence, in a way where I try to think about my roots in my country almost like my own debt to the land where I am from. Wherever we go we are going to be Colombian or Venezuelan anyway, and we bring that with us, like the reaction to nature, vernacular culture, music, the body, religion. When I was working at home, I was working with the illusion or fantasy of America (USA), and here I am working with the illusion of South America. I do not like calling it Venezuela, because it feels too much like the nation-state, whereas I am trying to see it from the perspective of the natives that used to be aligned with nature, a free land where generosity and freedom were aligned with what the world needs, without taboos. Colonization brought a lot of change to us.

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Out of Order. Installation/Intervention, {2013} Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

Another one of your pieces I had the chance to see was a series of urinal covers. What was it about?

JF: This project is called Out of Order and it is a series of custom made, fabric covers for public restroom urinals. I call it a project because I see it as an ongoing work of public art that could be installed anywhere, inspired by the covers that grandmothers sew for their appliances in the kitchen, the toaster, the teapot, or even computers. I have seen those and they are very funny. I use the term grandmother because that is my own direct personal experience. I purposely chose fabrics with floral patterns, very colorful prints with feminine attributes, to cover these urinals which are always white, clean and shiny. It is obviously a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s urinal in art history. But in this case it is trying to highlight the issues of gender identity, questioning the stereotype of masculinity as very rational and unemotional, and how these distinctions are set in social gender constructs, because I do not think that is how it works at all. It is a project that brings back different memories not only with gender but also with gay cruising in public bathrooms, emphasizing the visual place where the sex is aligned, because once you place these covers, these urinals start looking like bulges or speedos. Desire works in a very interesting way, where you fantasize more with someone you haven’t seen naked or you’ve just seen in a speedo: the sky is the limit – which is fetishism -  and sometimes to see a naked body might not be as erotic as the fantasy or with the ornament that covers the sex.

SE: Instead of covering it in leather or black latex or rough materials which are masculine, you fetishize it and turn the most masculine element, which is the urinal…into a type of feminine aggression.

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Out of Order. Installation/Intervention, {2013} Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

JF: The work is sort of “punky,” or “cute transgressive” and it is regenerative too, telling the boys that we are also feminine, without the need to deny the other side. I have a problem with things that are depicted as being very radical or one-sided, because there are always different sides to each story.

SE: Is this also related to the fact that there is now a generation that no longer needs to have casual and forbidden sex in a public restroom?

JF: Yes, but it still hides itself in different masks and personas. Even straight people are using apps to skim through other people’s profiles to see if they want them or not. It is interesting for me to understand how cruising worked in the past, where the social engagements happened in real life, in flesh and blood. For my generation it is different, I lost my virginity through the internet. It is a different set of interactions, because you could hide yourself, you do not have to put your body into a possible situation of denial,  or danger, or where people would physically say that they did not want to have sex with you or that they were not gay; you no longer have to be a daredevil, and through the lens of technology it is easier to be very straightforward and say things as you want to because there is nothing at stake anymore.

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Stuck In Wonder Out Forever Trying. happening/performance/intervention, {2014} Jessica Robbins and José Joaquin Figueroa.

SE: You are ready to start your Graduate Program in San Francisco: what are your goals there?

JF: I applied to UC Berkeley for Art Practice, and I chose it because most of the programs out there are too specifically focused on traditional arts such as photography, painting or sculpture. I was interested in a program that is already talking about all the intersections in art. Just like in my Left to Right project, when it comes to making work, I mix mediums. I could make a painting, but I also mix installation and photography too. I do not think of these terms as being static at all. Another reason why I am moving there is because it is a program that offers me significant financial aid, which is very important. It is great that I am following my career path through this institution,  but it is true that once I graduate there will be no $60k/year job for me. I know it is hard, so why would I want to get into student debt? I don’t see how necessary that debt is, because artists are still going to do their thing, regardless of whether they go to school or not.  It is a basic need for us.

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Untitled (Suicide). video-installation {2013} Jose Joaquin Figueroa.

I am also very happy, after studying in NY for 4 years, and observing how the art world / system works, I am excited to go somewhere else where it might not be the same at all, so that I have to re-establish  what my goals are as an artist and a visual communicator.  I put myself in a position where I do not really care about making commercialized objects that can be sold. Obviously I would love to make a living out of what I do and I am aiming towards that goal, but I am more happy in communicating or leaving statements or documents of problems that are happening or paradoxes that no one talks about. I have used the word paradox a lot and I wish I had the language to be more specific with that. That’s why visual language and non-verbal communication are such good tools for me in pinpointing all these problems. If you think about being a studious artist and the platform of the art world, it is already sort of ridiculous to begin with. It is again a different performance, a different mask, you have to create this characteristic persona in order to play around in the game. I guess that San Francisco is going to give me an opportunity to be in my studio a lot more and to not think about that game for awhile, or think about it in a different way. New York is called the capital of the art world, but I guess that’s true just because there is so much money there and it is where galleries sell the most. This is where a sort of fetishisation towards the art object can happen. And let’s not be naïve, because it is not only the fetishisation of the art object that counts,  it is about the value that is created  through the art object, and therefore the investment for people who are in the finance world. It is still about status, and I think it is very  important to remember that because I want to be aligned with the people–to something else, I cannot be aligned with that other world.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

SANTIAGO ECHEVERRY: is a Colombian New Media and Digital Artist with a background in Film and Television production. Thanks to a Fulbright Grant, he received his Master’s degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. He moved to the USA in 2003 to teach Interactivity at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He then relocated to Florida in the Fall of 2005 to teach Digital Arts and Interactive Media at the University of Tampa. He started exhibiting internationally in 1992, and his research interests include non-linear narration, video-art, performance art, interactive design, creative code and web experimentation, while never forgetting his commitment to Gay and Lesbian Human Rights.

JOSE JOAQUIN FIGUEROA: Born in 1986 in Caracas, Venezuela. Figueroa attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2009, and graduated from The Cooper Union in NYC in 2014. He will begin his graduate education in Art Practice in the fall at UC Berkeley, CA.

DESIREE D’ALESSANDRO [on] SANTIAGO ECHEVERRY

{The Saints are not supermen and neither are they perfect. They lived normal lives marked by sadness and joy, hardships and hopes [. . .] being saints is not a privilege of the few but everyone’s vocation.}

Pope Francis

Desiree D’Alessandro (aside as intro): The invitation to write for Uncompromising Tang has been burning at the back of my mind as I prepare for the upcoming semester at the University of Tampa. Recently, my thoughts and research have been dedicated to the development of a brand new communications and public relations hybrid course titled Digital Citizenship. As I’ve contemplated the integration of our everyday lives with digital technologies, my thoughts wandered to a colleague’s solo exhibition that I had the privilege of seeing back in October, titled Modern Saints by Santiago Echeverry. On display at the Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor City School of Visual and Performing Arts Gallery, it consisted of alternative video and digital prints of de/re-contextualized portraits. It is my hope that this interview with the artist and the corresponding review of the displayed works contributes to present and future discussions regarding art and technology.

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Modern Saints Exhibition Invite {2013} Santiago Echeverry

Desiree D’Alessandro: As a contemporary artist, Associate Professor at the University of Tampa, and director of the New Media Production Major there, what did your Modern Saints exhibition mean to you?

Santiago Echeverry: A lot. This was my first solo show in the United States and my second solo show since the year 2000. As an immigrant, as someone who will hopefully become American very soon, it was quite an honor and opportunity to see that there are doors or openings in educational spaces and experimental spaces for people like me. The show benefited me and all the people who participated. I am extremely grateful to Carolyn Kossar, Stephen Crompton, Corey George, Carl Cowden, and my students, who trusted me as their professor and their torturer (laughs.) Ask them, my students don’t sleep at all and had absolutely no time for a social life.

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Santiago at the Modern Saints exhibition talk {2013} Santiago Echeverry

DD: Tell me about your relationship with your students and how they ended up as models in the Modern Saints series.

SE: I have a very close relationship with my students. Through smaller class sizes and intimate conversations, I get to know their potential, their strengths and weaknesses. I believe that part of being an artist is exploring ones inner-self and background in order to make unique expressions. Behind every portrait there is an individual’s very personal story. This series was a teaching experiment; a teaching lab. In the process of creating these portraits, their personal stories and their fears were visually projected onto their faces. As they worked to overcome these fears, many expressed that they felt empowered. This was my main goal.

Modern Saints_Jeff Chamblees_2013_16x14_2  Modern Saints_Candice Smith_2013_16x14  Modern Saints_Stephen Long_2013_16x14

Modern Saints (l-r) Jeff Chamblees, Candice Smith, Stephen Long. {2013}

DD: How does this set up a juxtaposition with your digitized Self E-Portraits? Do you ever think about how capturing and digitizing a moment suspends its further deterioration in the physical world?

SE: In these works I’m exploring the fragmentation of myself into spheres and cubes, an exploding grid of sorts, de-contextualizing my own image. As a man who is now in his 40s, I can see that I’m getting older. I look at my physical state and realize I’m facing numerous challenges while simultaneously continuing to discover newness in the world. I call these photos AUTOSCOPIES, because you get a sense of looking at yourself when you are not yourself. You become unafraid of embracing your own flaws, your mistakes, age, etc. I used a lo-fi webcam in the process.  I was revealing and extrapolating on who I am, while also fragmenting myself into a luminescent representation along the z-axis, as opposed to a 3-dimensional representation. The colors were influenced by the temperature of light and playing with tungsten and LED lamps. The mathematical process behind the works is a really complicated one, but which allowed me to also create some of the Apocalypse of Eden video.

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2A, Processing webcam. From the Self-E portrait series {2013}

Self E-Portrait Series 2_B_2013_Processing_Webcam

2B, Processing webcam. From the Self-E portrait series {2013} Santiago Echeverry

DD: Regarding the Apocalypse of Eden video, please explain the execution and concept for us.

SE: I come from a video background, and exploring 3-dimensionsal video capturing is one of my latest passions. All of these images that you see were captured using the Xbox’s Kinect Sensor. From my perspective, this is the future of film, where you can literally place the camera anywhere you want and you can play from any perspective. Like the experiments that Edison was doing in the 1890s with the basic film strips, now we’re able to experiment with this technology in turn. Obviously though, having a conceptual underpinning behind technical exploration is important to me. This is why I teach at UT and not MIT (laughs.).  Apocalypse of Eden is set to an accompaniment by Travis Damato and is inspired by the Book of Revelations and the visions of John writing warning letters to the seven churches of Asia, while he is on a prison island called Patmos. In my video John is overwhelmed by these chaotic visions of an almost certain future–one that we can only experience as layered pixelated images of angels and humans. In the exhibition, it’s positioned as the bridge between the Modern Saints work and my Self-E Portraits.

Apocalypse of Eden_2013_Video Art_Live Performance

Still from Apocalypse of Eden, Video and live performance (click to see video) {2013} Santiago Echeverry

DD: And what of your last work in the exhibition, Buccaneer Bruce?

SE:  Buccaneer Bruce was originally created for the 2013 Gasparilla Arts Festival’s Piracy Redux, an exhibition curated by Tracy Midulla and Kurt Piazza. It won “Best Satirical Arrrrrtwork” from Creative Loafing, which was really cool. Each Hillsborough county mugshot represents the sins that the individuals were committing, their fears or demons. The idea came to me when a former student was arrested for DUI and her image appeared in Google when she looked up her name. Her future will be forever altered. Here in Tampa, people party and drink, and in a lot of ways mirror the image of the old Buccaneer logo. I used this logo without permission, which is interesting in the context of the mugshots themselves and  a society that is increasingly more pirated in terms of copyright infringement.

Buccaneer Bruce_2013_Digital Moasic

Buccaneer Bruce. Digital Mosaic {2013} Santiago Echeverry

DD: Since the show has concluded and you’ve had time to meditate on the exhibition, what realizations or wisdom have you gained?

SE: The entire show, and several of my works previously and since, have been inspired and influenced by the grid. Since our realities are increasingly digital, we begin to transform our existence from molecules and atoms to pixels. The entire collection of pieces tried to emphasize this dimension with the actual installation and positioning of the pieces, mirroring, echoing and creating reflections throughout the space. In several of the works, I’m exploding the pixelation to help the viewer realize it IS fake – that this is the matrix. But imagine the possibilities of a future with unlimited resolution, with vector video, where the binary behind the scenes can lead to unlimited possibilities…

DD: Lastly, what goals did you achieve with the Modern Saints exhibition?

SE: As a political activist and artist, it was very important for me that the work provided an opportunity for transformation. My student models and those who witnessed the exhibition were receptive to its social impact. I was proud to aesthetically honor their stories and their essence, and not in accordance with the standards of beauty set forth in Vogue or GQ magazine. The context of each portrait was different. The Saints shared their stories willingly , but in the case of the Buccaneer mugshots, optional participation and communication were removed. The way I see it, the grid is everywhere. Identity is inescapable. Everything is connected.

Modern Saints Panoramic

Modern Saints panoramic installation view {2013} Santiago Echeverry

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

DESIREE D’ALESSANDRO is a Tampa-based artist and educator specializing in traditional and digital media. Her works and writing have been exhibited/published internationally and she has presented and chaired sessions at a diverse array of conferences.

SANTIAGO ECHEVERRY is a Colombian New Media and Digital Artist with a background in Film and Television production. Thanks to a Fulbright Grant, he received his Master’s degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. He moved to the USA in 2003 to teach Interactivity at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He then relocated to Florida in the Fall of 2005 to teach Digital Arts and Interactive Media at the University of Tampa. He started exhibiting internationally in 1992, and his research interests include non-linear narration, video-art, performance art, interactive design, creative code and web experimentation, while never forgetting his commitment to Gay and Lesbian Human Rights.