Influenced by theatricality and the illusion of the stage, LAURA JIMENEZ GALVIS begins her creative process in natural history and art museums. Initially, she photographs broken and eroded sculptures from antiquity and the fragmented bodies of taxidermied animals. Then, she cuts, folds and creases the prints by hand, transforming them into objects that become performers on her stage. Sometimes they are flattened back into a photographic surface, creating a perceptual illusion; other times they become elements in sculptural installations, revealing the mechanisms of illusion itself. Her practice combines digital and analog processes to transform and evolve decaying and dead fragments into new, living wholes. Laura received her BFA in 2002 from Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia and her MFA in 2015 from Hunter College, City University of New York. In 2015 her work was recently included in Artecámara, ArtBo at the Bogotá International Art Fair and New Work, New York: 1st biennial survey of work by New York City MFA students and recent graduates, and she was included in the Promising Emerging Artists Selection at Christie’s Education, New York. In 2015 she shot the cover for the inaugural issue of The Artist's Institute Magazine, working under the artistic direction of french artist Pierre Huyghe and curator Jenny Jaskey. Laura now lives and in Bogota, Colombia.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What speaks to you about natural history and art museums?
Laura Jimenez Galvis: My parents were professionally and personally involved with the world of theatre. Today, I find myself attracted to a variety of spaces that recall a sense of theatricality and the dramatic: the theatre itself, stage and backstage, the museum, the church, and other archetypal places of contemplation and reverence.
I first began taking photographs in natural history museums while working on projects related to alienation, estrangement and the uncanny. I came across these ideas while researching Melancholy, a term that has been approached from the clinical and mental to the philosophical and the theological. The dioramas found in natural history museums conflate that theatricality with the constant tension between opposing concepts like beauty/morbidity, nature/artifice, liveliness/anodyne or life/death.
Art museums, on the other hand, offer the opportunity to elaborate on the notions of loss, absence and original trauma derived from that initial research on the word melancholia. In art and history museums, one can richly connect the concepts of time and confinement with the material presence of broken parts, slices, chunks, the imprints of time—what I call the injury and the offense—while at the same time thinking of beauty, decay, generation and destruction.
These spaces give me solid and fertile ground to establish a formal and conceptual relationship between a theatrical and reverential universe and that which is inert, damaged or deconstructed, that which was once alive or complete. Transformation and recovery are also at play in this relationship.
OPP: How does the combination of photography with hands-on, sculptural manipulation feed into your conceptual interests?
LJG: I was initially trained in analog and film photography where I learned all the precepts of the camera, the optics and the chemistry. But later on, through the discovery of digital formats and the implementation of a digital work flow, I found myself in full control of the process from pre- to post-production. I was suddenly able to make a color print without relying on a laboratory. Since there are many stages and layers in my process, it has been helpful to have full control. Through hands-on experimentation and trial and error with different paper supports, I am able to play with scale and dimension in a very immediate process.
There is also a ludic element in the way I work. My mother used to be a puppeteer, so early childhood experiences of puppet-making and origami have been totally influential to my practice as an artist today. Cutting, creasing, folding, gluing lead me to transform the two-dimensional print into a sculptural object that later on will be used as a prop or a character—as it is seen in the series Cast of Characters I and II—on one of my stages.
All this process serves my intention to revive and mutate things, which is inherently illusionistic, just like in a theatre. Everything is possible on the stage, and that’s where the project of transformation finally occurs.
Could you talk about flattening and expanding dimensions in the various
parts of your process? It appears you go back and forth repeatedly.
LJG: Yes, that expanding takes place not only in the transformation of the flat photo print to a sculptural object, but also in shifts of scale. In the moment I start to fold the prints, they gain a new and autonomous physical presence. Trompe l’oeil and uncanny elements start to emerge. The prints themselves mark future paths for the project; they become a new starting point for what will happen later on, which is often unpredictable and unexpected.
Although the process is playful and ludic, my folding method is logical. I fold along the cracks in the stone, the folds in the drapery and the muscles of the animals and human figures. Then comes the moment when I stop, avoiding the point of exhaustion when the folded piece looses all connection to the initial flat image.
The shifts of size and scale reinforce the illusionistic and theatrical aspects I’m after. A small paper stone made of cracks or animal back muscles becomes a huge mountain. The rocks and natural elements that are small and manageable on my stage become immense in prints that can reach five feet in height. Size is a strict, physical measurement. Scale, however, deals with sense and perception.
OPP: I'd like to hear about the mountainous bodies in The Anatomy of M.: Sections (2013). What role does illusion play in this body of work in particular?
LJG: In this series illusion served my intention to address estrangement, alienation and the anodyne, connected to melancholy and the uncanny. The series renders a group of strange and timeless landscapes composed directly in the camera by framing fragments of backs of taxidermied animals in natural history museums. Against the museum diorama backdrops , these fragments are reminiscent of mountains, hills, odd and still landscapes. They are unsettling, neither completely familiar nor unfamiliar. The cropping in the camera opened an important path towards fragmentation and abstraction which are visual constants in my work while at the same time marked certain dynamics and strategies for my own further methodology of production, inside and outside the studio. The series title alludes to the homonymous book The Anatomy of Melancholy, a 14th century scholar treatise which rambled exhaustively around the melancholic condition, studying and defining patterns of behaviour even in animals and plants and their alleged experience of it. The abbreviated M. in my case alludes to Mountains, Mammals and of course, Melancholy.
Installation view (detail)
OPP: Could you talk about decay and fragmentation as transformation in your series Denial of Loss: The Romance of the Fragment (2014)? Is titular denial a refutation of loss or a turning-away from it, in the sense of a defense mechanism?
LJG: Ultimately, my fundamental subject matter is transformation and constant, perennial cycles of change. I see change as the passing of time, as generation versus destruction, as beauty or power in fall and decay. Headless and Crippled, in which I used a mobile phone to capture groups of sculptures with their heads or extremities missing, opened the direct path to the production of Denial. In this initial and pivotal exercise, I was drawn to the exact place where the sculpture was fragmented: the imprint of violence or time, the slice and the cut or breaking. It contained a past of completeness and a present that renders an odd, imposing and powerful beauty even in the presence of damage, loss and absence. The first part of the title comes from one of Julia Kristeva’s essays from Black Sun. She draws a parallel between the experience in the melancholic being and the self falling to pieces, a kind of dissociation. But as much as the word denial can make us think of avoidance or of course, negation, in this project it is precisely resilience which overcomes resistance and that self which falls into pieces finds a mechanism of regeneration that finally takes place in Revival of the Stone. All my projects are connected, conveying transition, flow, movement in time and the latent possibility of renewal and emergence into something else.
OPP: Tell us about your most recent body of photographs, Cast of Characters II (Denial // Revival).
LJG: I actively incorporate the language of theatre—conceptually, visually and verbally—while at the same time revealing some spare parts and elements of the ‘production’ that sustains the operation of constructing a final scene. Series such as Drama on Stage and Cast of Characters I and II are ongoing. I constantly revisit them, adding either new sets or more characters. In this sense, they will never be fully accomplished. My intention is to account for of some of the moments in the process and the elements that compose them, to invite the spectator behind the curtain while maintaining the mystery that surrounds the uncanny sets. Process—and its discussion—is really important in my practice. Presenting primary elements of what happens in my studio reveals how I think and how I operate. I began the series Cast of Characters II (Denial // Revival) at the very end of 2014, and it has just been complemented with additional deadpan views of figures that I’ve used in past projects and that may return in future projects. These recurrent characters and sets support my rendering of various processes of transformation and change.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.