TREE ANALOGUE - STUDY FOR MYTH MAKING
LA BIENAL: FROM HERE WE JUMP / MUSEO DEL BARRIO
A collaboration between Dominika Ksel and Patricia Dominguez
There is one specific tree that has become a hybrid during the years. It merged into the fence, creating a new morphology between urbanization and organic growth. It is radiantly impure. This tree will contain a box with an audio recording unit. The recording device will be slightly camouflaged in a box. People will be able to access this box from the periphery of the park, as it is part of the fence. The storytellers can stand beneath the tree and press record when they are ready to share personal experiences, love songs, messages to deceased loved ones, dirty jokes, local gossips, commentaries on current events, weather predictions, marriage proposals, confessions, forgiveness, offerings, wishes, desires, frustrations and new myths. The tree will be also activated as temple, healing center, materia prima for essences and inspiration for wood cuts, weaving, as cabinet of curiosity and a new celestial body.
We are re-territorializing the park by activating the periphery with the installation, changing the park dynamics. This is an inversion of the panopticon, the non-monument, and a moment where the periphery absorbs from the center.
The formal arrangement of the installation refers to esoteric visual symbolism of the tree standing of the top of a hill; an axis mundi. A microcosmic version of monumental myths portrayed through a light hearted – Quixote style setting, pushing the imagination and the transformative and connective potential of storytelling and myths. Images of the sleeping Buddha dreaming of enlightenment, a fallen apple sparking theories of gravity or the search for the sacred Mount Analogue. Here, we put together a new cosmology. A ritual for recording the myths and stories in non-traditional ways. A new lore, removing hierarchies, where every story carries equal weight and voice. There is no authoritarian narrative in this fractitious and rhizomatic method of simultaneous (hi)story making.
The tree installation is not temporal, but permeating the environment and the community over time. Creating a life of its own through new interpretations, exchanges, transferences and becomings. The recording unit will be installed from August 1st to September 1st. An oral library will be put together to give further access to the recordings and will serve as an ongoing collection of stories for future visual investigations. There will be several events around the tree involving other artists too.
As extension of the project we will include some events that will manifest into printed imagery of the tree, healing essences from its leaves, new symbols and enactments of rituals that will include several surrounding institutions such as Mount Sinai Hospital and Casita Maria After School Program. We will invite to collaborating herbalists, artists and musicians.
Rocio Aranda-Alvarado: What is the most important thing about your process that you want people to know?
In my practice, I used naturalistic and invented operations, in the hope of forming a personal language. Historically, naturalism has been a language used to colonize and fix the identities of the territories of the new world. The colonizers named and classified the specimens that inhabited those territories, helping to construct ideas of the exotic, and the other that carry a lot of idealization and misunderstanding. I try to change the genealogies of those same territories, by using and inverting the same language that reduced them.
In 2010, I decided to learn the formal language used to represent specimens. I did a Natural Science and Botanical Illustration program at the Bronx Botanical Garden, and in 2011, I was a Visiting Artist at the Paleontology Department of the American Natural History Museum. I learned digital illustration of fossils and recreations of ancient landscapes through 3D digital software. I've never believed in Natural Science as the most acute way of acquiring knowledge about the world, as this discipline studies nature as nature. I quickly hit a wall, as I wanted to study culture as natural phenomena too, with all the anthropological, sociological, ethnological and historical concerns that that intrinsically carries. In this way, I use methods taken from the Natural Sciences such as recollection, classification, archaeological excavations, (static) explorations, archiving and organization but I permeate them with human subjectivities and social behaviors.
The reference for my invented, once-removed naturalist methods is the amateur archaeologist, ex hunter and architect Gonzalo Dominguez, my grandfather. For years, he has excavated a specific area of the Atacama Desert in Chile. He has discover mummies, new species of whales, 16 million year old sharks, indigenous devices and artifacts, old toys, colonial devices left by the Spanish, carved bones, the most southern colony of green turtles of the world, old flags, indigenous paintings on the rocks, bullets, and collect garbage coming from the other side of the ocean.
Along the years, I have seen him re-arrange his discoveries in cabinets made of fishnets discarded by the sea in a museum that combines the layered discoveries of that terrain; The Museum of the Seagulls. It is an archaeological excavation that is open to time and space. All those objects were found colliding into each other throughout and beneath the surface of the same place in the desert. Every new specimen that was found confirmed or disrupted formal ideas of that specific place, and helped putting together an alternative history of the place. The terrain acts as a possibility of both accessing history and re-arranging history at the same time.
He had invented a new genre; he has webbed and connected indigenous art, popular culture, historical events, contemporary art, and his own crafts. As Paraguayan anthropologist, writer and art curator Ticio Escobar said, "When someone modifies images and concepts of the Other, it is only when it is advantageous to their own stories. When the appropriation is made with the imagination, it produces results where new and old forms become reanimated with radiant impurity". My grandfather has invented a radiant, impure and contaminated new genre in the desert – an urgent and personal life-gesture.
His amateur methods of accessing a terrain have highly influenced my practice. Our research method does not end with a thesis or hypothesis. It is more of an inductive, artistic, open-ended method than a scientific and deductive one, so it properly suits the broader questions we pursue. I make an analogy of his processes by using the virtual terrain as my own piece of desert. The physical terrain where he establishes his inquiry is fixed to some square kilometers. Mine is flexible and abstract. My fossils and indigenous artifacts are found in the flatness of the excess of information that is pervasively accumulating in an archive constructed through diverse sources of information. Most of the time this information is subjective and informal, as it is found in the web: individual stories, cultural practices or random occurrences. Neither my grandfather nor I, make distinctions or judgments about the sources accepted as valid. Every active component found during our field studies could be included, it being from the future or the past, fiction or fact, replica or original, flat or three-dimensional. They all form part of the data set from which we gather information.
Rocio Aranda-Alvarado: In my opinion, there is no such thing as Latino Art, there are Latino artists who make art. But this remains a term that we have to deal with constantly. How can we reframe this idea (or boundary?) in an interesting or useful way?
I don´t make "Latinamerican Art". My work is not what is expected from a "Latino artist". My work doesn´t relate specifically to Chile either; but it is highly influenced by what I experienced while living there. Growing up in a place like Chile, gave me a specific context to relate to the world. The cultural, ethnical, environmental and political situation which I grew up allows me to see the NY context with a distance; with a distance from someone from a third world country. With a strange freedom that people from Sud and Central America have in relationship to the world. I guess you can say that from anyone coming from another country, but Sud-American and Central American artists share, in the core, a similar history of colonization and domination, a special relationship to nature, and a specific relationship to time, space and culture where everything is an hybrid; where everything is impure in its origins.
Raul Zamudio: Are there other things that inform your work besides art, and I mean this more so formally. Stated differently: if your medium of choice is painting, sculpture, photography, or performance, for example, is your work mostly informed by other painters, sculptors, photographers, and performance artists, or figuratively and respectively speaking outdoor billboards, trash heaps, mugshots, and Karaoke?
My work is about decolonizing the genealogy of proximities and contacts between the living in the 21st Century. By the living I mean a planetary whole that includes all living actors: humans, plants, animals, bacteria, rocks, minerals, as well as phenomena such as pathogens, natural disasters, weather, erosion and virtual viruses. By inspiration come from disciplines such as Anthropology, Ethnology, Ethnobotany, Natural Sciences, Visual Culture, Geology, the Internet, Biology, Art Theory, Philosophy, Fiction, Indigenous and Ancient Cultures, and of course, Visual Art.
As the entanglements between human and other living beings are so complex, I utilize various formal languages and processes – including video, installation, scientific drawing, 3D models, coding and site-interventions – depending on the specific relationships that are being investigated. I have used various materials such as weed tinctures, rocks and bricks, digital applications, found images, and interviews. My strategy is to invert the language of natural science by disrupting its original colonizing use to fix identities and definitions of living beings, and by working with alternative methods not contained by the hegemonic knowledge. Through those alternative methods, I find inspiration in any visual representation of living beings, whether it is made by a computer or painted by hand 300 years ago. Everything is valid and useful for me; fact or fiction, old or new, etc.
Raul Zamudio: Do you think the title of this edition of La Bienal, which is Here Is Where We Jump, has resonance with any part of your work and if so how?
The project Dominika and I are going to do at the 103 St Community Park intends to create a new myth in the neighborhood. A myth around its plants and their possibility of healing the people that circulates around it and of putting together the informal history of the neighborhood. This project hopefully will develop into a new local tradition and will get transformed and expanded as years go by.
Raul Zamudio: What kind of advice you would give artists that are starting out?
I still consider myself as an artist that is starting out. The best advice I heard when I was going through a difficult moment with my work was from a Korean Artist a few years ago. He told me to have the calm to stay in my studio and work, work, work for two years without showing anything. To take the time to experiment and make so many works so I can fill the Guggenheim two times. Then, after two years, invite somebody to my studio. If he or she cries with my work, I will be ready. If they don´t, I should keep working for two more years and stack my house and my studio with more work. He told me that art is like cooking rice, when it is almost ready, it starts smelling and people know that it is getting ready. But, if you open it before time, it will be hard and flavorless. I guess a good advice is to have patience and keep working, reading, researching and playing.