Interview with Gabriela Garcia-Luna
By Wayne Baerwaldt
Wayne Baerwaldt: Tell me how you began the elegant and deceptively simple series of photographs I saw in the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre recently. Does it have a title? Is it an ongoing series produced over a number of years?
Gabriela García–Luna: I started this project a few years ago. I had just arrived in Canada and was living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, so more or less it started in 2008. I was visiting Heather Smith and inspecting her major remodeling project in an old house she bought on Willow Street in Moose Jaw.
In my visit, Heather talked about the cleaning process, the original state of the house and the decisions she was taking in the redesigning and building of her house. Although there was evidence of a lot of cleaning work happening there, with partially ripped floors and walls most evident, it was hard for me to follow her description about the end result. In part because old wooden houses were new to me; and in part because the space was loaded with subtle information about its several previous lives and inhabitants. I saw amazing layers of ripped wall paper, left overs of old forms of decoration and a beautiful brick and iron fireplace. The many layers of material revealed something unusual to me.
The intermediate state in time that we attribute to things in flux really fascinated me. In the apparent ugliness of the process of re-inhabiting a house covered by dust there was a strange sort of beauty, a melancholy recalling secret voices to relate to.
I came back to the place to photograph those walls. I concentrated my attention on the interesting forms of wallpaper itself—the excessive scratches on various surfaces and the ripped wallpaper evoke a transient sense of time and space. This is what came to me and the way the project started.
I worked with the photographs I took and kept through this spring (2011), when the work, as an exhibition, took its actual shape. I titled the work and exhibition “New Territories & Old Walls.”
I cannot think about it as a planned ongoing project that may develop further over a number of years. I don’t consider myself in control of that. To me, the work responds to my interests and experiences in a specific period of time. While my interests are in the core pretty much constant, my experiences are often transitory and the combination of both give shape to the work. What I’m saying is that I won’t go hunting walls and other inputs. I’d rather be open to experiences that may mean something, that may reveal themselves over two or three years, or more.
WB: You describe the documentation of an old house as an exercise in capturing transitive materials in space and time. The muted colours and tarnished surfaces you depict remind me of a kind of carefully observed travelogue of a nameless place in transformation, perhaps undergoing renewal. There’s really no need to contextualize the photographs. The images are tightly framed to eliminate any information about the subject’s location. Are they simply carefully constructed to look so evocative and timeless?
GGL: I can say that those wall surfaces are beautiful found objects; the photographs are the material I gathered and used for the final images which have been digitally reconstructed and crafted to serve the purpose of the original evocation. I like thinking or denoting the evocation process itself as a mystery.
WB: From a certain vantage point I felt that photographs such as High Trek (1&2) and Southern Mail became
cross-representational for me. They were less about peeling wallpaper and began to allude to subjects such as mountain landscapes. You have done research in various mountain ranges from the Rockies to the Himalayas. Do you imagine the photographs reveal the same subjects to you, or am I dreaming?
GGL: Since I was photographing those walls, the evocations of landscapes were present, some of them inferred mountains to me and with that in mind the work developed in that direction.
I don’t know, but perhaps mountains are under my skin. They have been always in my experience, since I grew up in Mexico City where mountains surround the wide valley, and since I’ve been visiting and living in mountainous places such as the Rockies and Himalayas. Mountains are elements in nature that spontaneously lead to contemplation. It may be that the act of contemplation, induced by abstract marks on the walls and the old torn wallpaper itself, connected me to the images of mountains …
Anyway, it seems that this vision of a shifting, imagined landscape, in these images, is shared with a diversity of other subjects, from mountains to deserts, to canyons, rivers and trees.
The title Southern Mail was chosen from the novel by the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and I’d like to refer to a passage from page nine: “‘I am only a workman, delivering the African mail,’ he thinks. ‘Each day, for the workman who begins to build a world, the world begins.’”
And I suggest you investigate some extracts of his text by going to http://www.doyletics.com/arj/southern.htm. Other titles refer to places I have never been. But, beside the revelation of recognizable elements read as landscapes, what the images reveal to me is that possibility to look at a wall and the same time to find a land beyond.
WB: The Saint-Exupery text you quote is about imagining and building a world, beginning anew in the simple terms of a workman, perhaps a process of building repetitively, as if it is a compulsion. It would suggest an emotional intelligence has been engaged. I simultaneously think of Doris Lessing and her novel, Memoirs of a Survivor, her ghost story of the future. She describes a world of daily disintegration and evokes the mechanics of basic survival. It is a chilling portrait. Could a similar sense of disintegration and despair be at the core of your series of photographs?
GGL: I don’t particularly relate to despair in this series. Although disintegration is partly the point of departure of these photographs, and may be intimately recognized as part of our shared existence (which might be a good reason for despair!) the sense of it in this series is more neutral and from a different perspective than of the “survivor.” Disintegration exists in relation to the photographed walls, but it is not central when it is in relation to what is layered and merged with it. At the moment those walls are seen as something else, and the opposite of disintegration takes place. It may not be apparent of course but I am building my content and recontextualizing through collage/montage. The final work is then to me much more about what is being created in the very moment we are looking at.
WB: This idea of building and
becoming seems to be constant and allows you to keep the work “fresh” so to speak and spurs on your creative process. Does “New Territories & Old Walls” inform the next series of photographs for you? Do you work on more than one body of work simultaneously? Are there other literary sources that impact on your work and inform your command of a visual language?
GGL: I work simultaneously with several projects. There is a time to engage in one body of work in a concentrated way, but there is always more than one project nesting in a kind of silence. There is a constant overlap in the way they inform and affect each other. “New Territories & Old Walls” is certainly influencing the project I am working on now which is a project related to landscape and which I started while “New Territories & Old Walls” was in process. As for other literary sources I can’t say there are any more that have an immediate impact. Although, of course, there are some others on the periphery of my vision or consciousness but I don’t want to publicize all of them!
Gabriela García–Luna/ gabrielagarcialuna.com