Adriana Salazar Portfolio
Adriana Salazar lives and works in Mexico City. Her work as an artist has focused on the boundaries between life and death, nature and artifice, and the human and non-human. She received a BFA Honors degree from the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University of Bogota, and a Magna cum Laude MFA degree in Philosophy, from the Javeriana University of Bogota. She is currently pursuing a PHD in Art Practice, under a fellowship granted by The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. She has participated in exhibitions such as Thingworld (Triennial of Media Art, National Art Museum, Beijing) 2014, the California-Pacific Triennial (Orange County Museum of Art, California), and the Manif d’art de Québec (Espace GM 840, Québec). Adriana has also received fellowships from international artistic residencies, such as Akiyoshidai International Art Village (Japan), Nordik Artists’ Center (Norway), and Grand Central Art Center (United States). Her work is part of public collections such as the Banc of the Republic of Colombia, and UCR ArtsBlock in the United States. Adriana has also worked as a Visiting Lecturer at the Javeriana University of Bogota, and at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University of Bogota.
Interview with Tyler Stallings (Artistic Director, Culver Center of the Arts & Director, Sweeney ArtGallery, UCR ARTSblock). Riverside, December 2014 TS: Do you feel that you use your work as a means to explore the meaning of life and death, that is, exploring whether or not we may transform into something else when our bodies stop working? AS: I try to blur the boundaries between life and death through my work, showing that things can have a a lifespan of their own, exceeding the definitions of life that common sense dictates. Also, I am interested in showing human life as something that is not alien to the process of decay and transformation that all matter undergoes. TS: In the two main installations in this show, Nothing Else Left and Moving Plant #30, you use objects from cemeteries, like dried, dead flowers left by loved ones at gravesites, or crematoriums, like the artificial metal parts from surgeries that did not burn. Could you discuss more your interest in familial rituals around death and the funeral industry? AS: The first objects belonging to the realm of human mortuary customs I found, were some fragments of graves from a Mexican Cemetery. These fragments were part of mortuary debris that is commonly found in Latin America. I found the fragments very interesting in the sense that they exposed human death as something that detonates other “deaths” and other processes of life around the death of humans. These fragments awoke an interest that took me to the crematorium, and then to other forms of mortuary debris such as the pieces that are part of both installations you just mentioned. Both projects, nothing Else Left, and Moving Plant #30, imply a certain process of “archaeology of the disposed fragment”, or a quest for what is overlooked in certain rituals around death. TS: The videos depict dead animals and dead plants moving by means of a filament connected to a mechanical gear. For me, or perhaps any viewer, I have to reconcile seeing a dead bird move, not seeing the string at first, and then the mechanical device. What I enjoy, is that despite seeing the machine, I still believe in the magic of the bird being alive again, at least for a moment.
Can you describe how other people have reacted to your works? AS: I have known about different reactions, for example, to the bird pieces. Some viewers are shocked by the sight of the taxidermy bird itself, focusing more on the ethical debate that implies the use of animals in a work of art. Other viewers find this piece to be uncanny and at the same time beautiful in its mechanical simplicity. Other viewers have pointed out the fact that the bird seems to be “tortured” by the tensions on the threads that make it move. I have also received comments on the way the bird moves, as it is constantly agonizing, an thus, dying over and over again. TS: The lay out of the artificial body parts after cremation appear like textbook anthropological images depicting the layout ancient human skeletons. Could you discuss your aesthetic choices behind the carefully arranged parts on the wood tables? AS: I realized that my knowledge of these pieces was a very limited one, so I opted for a display in the manner of ancient relics from an unknown culture, with unknown uses and purposes. I approached the installation process of the implants as if they were strange objects. This is why I decided to organize them according to their size and shape, from the largest one to the tiniest one, in a way that would allow all of them to be visible, side by side, without the hierarchy of usage mediating. In each table, I also decided to place an accumulation of moving particles that would “come alive”, suggesting that life is present in all metal parts around it as well. TS: When I see all these metal body parts all at once, it makes me realize just how much we are cyborgs already, that is, a combination of human and machine. We are not pure. What is the symbolic role of your machines? AS: The machines in the installation point out the becoming-machine of our bodies, both symbolically and physically. They also resemble the way the implants looked when they were new, thus working as a point of contrast: on one hand we have the shiny metal parts of the machines, and on the other hand we have the implants as objects that have been transformed through time and human interaction. These implants have been imprinted by our bodies, as much as our bodies have imprinted these objects. TS: One of the inspirations for presenting your work at UCR came from having a conversation with UCR professor John Fischer in the Philosophy Department. He received a $5M award from The Templeton Foundation to regrant to other researchers around the country who are studying immortality, whether empirically, such as with hydras, or culturally, such as with concepts
of uploading consciousness to machines. Or, in the difference between immortality and the afterlife, that is, immortality is about living forever now, while the afterlife is about immortality after oneâ€™s death. What are your thoughts about consciousness and immortality versus the afterlife? AS: I think the problem of differentiating both concepts, that is Afterlife and Immortality, begins when trying to define life. It seems to me that the border between that which is alive and that which is not alive, is a blurry one from every point of view. Even in Biology, this definition is something that is constantly debated and put to the test. Is a rock something that is alive? Is the process of death the same as the process of decay? Are we dying from the moment we are born? If all of the previous questions had a positive answer, then, we would be experiencing our afterlife throughout our lives. Immortality, on the other hand, suggests to me the idea of resisting to change and transformation, which is a strictly human idea. TS: Recently, you moved to Mexico City to pursue a Ph.D. Could you describe what you hope to be your eventual thesis and/or dissertation, and how you may think that it will affect your future work? AS: This PHD program I am undertaking is proposing a double challenge: the dissertation has to refer to my own art practice. I am exploring the possibilities of animism, that is, the possibility of life in the inanimate. I hope this to be both a process of finding new projects and ways to explore this subject aesthetically, and I also hope this can allow me to bind all projects and aesthetic findings together into a larger body of work, connecting this body of work with other disciplines.
Other Lives (Ongoing)
Cold Light 2014 Electricity is an invisible flow which can also be understood as live-giving force: Biology has acknowledged electricity as something essential to the function of cellular tissues, while other realms of knowledge have conceived it as a force that gives life to that which is inanimate. Thus, the boundaries between the living and the inanimate are blurred when it comes to electricity. As part of an ongoing research on the boundaries of life, this project puts electricity in action, rendering it visible through a simple, yet intricate system: I intend to present electrons as palpable entities, as physical things, rather than as an accessory or a tool used for the operation of devices. Is it possible to make something invisible present itself? Electricityâ€™s most common visual manifestations are luminal: lighting, for instance, lights up the sky, and with its glow gives us a glimpse of an everpresent electrical field. Cold Light brings together a series of ordinary and simple elements: fluorescent tubes falling into obsolescence are taken to a premature death as they receive constant electrical impulses, turning them on and off for fractions of a second. A series of mechanisms bring the two ends of a split live wire together periodically: electricity flows and then gets interrupted. When the ends of the wire touch, fluorescent tubes light up, manifesting the variations of the invisible electrical flow running through the wires. Through this system, the installation constantly dies and comes back to life. At the end of this system, an electric meter translates the mount of current flowing through the system, serving as a witness for its reanimation and decay. .
Cold Light / Installation (Mechanisms make the ends of an electrical live wire touch and separate; when touching, fluorescent tubes light up; a meter box keeps track of the electric flow) / 2014
Projects About Death 2012-2013
My past series of works have attempted to bring inanimate objects to life; crystalize human actions into mechanical devices; worked to blur the line that separates the natural and the artificial. Death has been an ever-present part of my work, understood in a broader sense: I want to address death as a dare to the certainties of knowledge, and as a challenge to deeply rooted traditions. Places, mores and rituals around human death have been the focus of this series of projects: how life and death meet in these places; how they become a threshold, an intermediate space; how death can be resignified through a series of findings within mortuary customs. The meaning of death is thus expanded beyond the realm of objects, into a much larger realm that embraces space and the way the human body passes through it.
Nothing Else Left Santa Ana, 2013 This project, created during a two-month residency at GCAC, Santa Ana, looks deep into the physical transition between life and death: there are techniques specifically designed for this transition, such as cremation, which have the purpose of dematerializing the body to replace it with an immaterial presence. In the crematory, a compartment ignites until the body is almost entirely dissolved. All that is left is bones, which are then reduced to the size grains of sand. In many cases, metal implants and other foreign objects, which were hosted inside the body, are left intact. These implants are the remains of our artificial self: they stand the high temperatures of cremation as well as bones do, but are later removed and tossed away. I decided to rescue these cremated artificial body parts: I gathered a collection of parts, which included everything from large femur replacements to small metallic â€œashâ€? particles. I laid all parts on wooden tables in the manner of an archeological display, organizing them by size and shape. I later introduced small accumulations of artificial metallic ash in each table: the ash was re-animated through magnetic mechanisms. The intersection between the stillness of the implants and the movement of the metallic particles embody the status of our physical existence. Looking at them, confusion can be created in our minds: Are these metallic objects part of our physical bodies? Is this what remains of us after we die?
Nothing Else Left / Installation (Metal implants rescued from crematory, metallic cremated dust, magnets, mechanisms, sensor) / 2013
Details of installation: cremated pacemakers and cremated metal dust
What Exists, What Doesn’t Exist Bogota, 2013 This project developed around the architectural decay of Central Cemetery in Bogota. More than a century ago, Colombian artist Alberto Urdaneta wrote a comprehensive guide to the Central Cemetery, pointing at how acknowledging its memorial function builds a city’s identity. According to Urdaneta, the memory of the dead serves as a reminder of the living. In the present, the cemetery’s memorial function has changed: it has been abandoned as historical site, and it has isolated itself from the city around it. Considering this disconnection between the inside and outside of the Central Cemetery, I worked on two components. The first component of the project reproduces the surface of its Historical Wing, grave by grave, through a series of rubbing drawings made from light parchment and lithographic pencil. These drawings capture each grave’s singularity and materiality, while remaining themselves immaterial and ethereal. All the drawings combined form a replica of the Cemetery’s surface, encapsulated in an exhibition space. The second component of the project is the result of a series of findings around and within the graves. I found small pieces of paper with written prayers and superstitious messages on them, which populate the Cemetery as an invisible inhabitant. I recovered one of these papers, and created a device with it: the device projects and transforms the prayer on the wall of the exhibition space, turning it into an uncanny extension of a found object.
Chain of Sacrifice / Installation (Found prayer on paper, mehcanism, LED lamp) / 2013
What Exists, What Doesnâ€™t Exist / Installation (Rubbing drawings of gravestones from the Central Cemetery of Bogota: lithographic pencil on parchemin) / 2013
The Life of Dead Things Mexico City, 2012 This project is the result of a residency which took place in Mexico City. It began with a series of visits to the Pantheon of Dolores. While in the Pantheon, I walked around its center and found polished mausoleums and green, freshy cut grass. Away from its center, I started to see gradually smaller tombs, with the spaces between them being progressively smaller. In between the tombs there were bags of chips and soda bottles, sometimes anchored over the tip of a cross. Close to the cemetery limits, trash began to confound with heaps of debris from gravestones, statues and exhumed tombs. As the tombs progressively disintegrate, the debris grew with the passing of time. I then discovered, in a place such as this, various life forms which are born and growing constantly. I saw, for instance, that with the passing of time, the gravestones and statues constructed over each grave began to fall apart, and that within the cracks, plants began to grow, as if the earth became more fertile when receiving a dead body. Nature in the Dolores Pantheon grew also with indifference: varieties of birds, trees and plants multiplied beyond the gardenersâ€™ control. Visiting families, on the other hand, filled the tombs with artificial flowers, photographs, objects and other testimonies that allowed the dead person to remain alive within them. â€œThe Life of Dead Thingsâ€? attempts to render this particular layout of the pantheon visible: it intends to unveil certain forms of life and other forces that traverse things that are considered dead, while saving funerary debris from being discarded. To achieve this, fragments of gravestones were obtained from the outskirts of the cemetery. They were later laid out on the floor of the exhibition space, while a system of mechanisms hung from the ceiling, right on top of each fragment. Each mechanism moved a leaf, which danced around the surface of the fragmented gravestone, as if moved by the wind.
The Life of Dead Things / Installation (Fragments of Gravestones from the Dolores Cemetery of Mexico City, immortalized leaves, nylon, motors) / 2012
Some Things Move, Others Donâ€™t / Single channel video / 2012
Artificial Life, Natural Death 2011-2013
This series of works started with a growing interest in certain relations between life, nature and artifice. Amongst these relations I noticed how living bodies of plants, animals and human beings become part of the realm of objects, without distinction from each other, the moment they die. These objects often turn into organic waste that disintegrates both physically and symbolically. Using artificial mechanisms, I have reanimated these formerly living bodies, leaving visible traces of their transformation into inanimate objects. The Bird installations, for instance, are composed by taxidermy birds which are set in motion through simple hand-crafted mechanisms. The bird’s movements re-create the bodily movements of the animal’s agony, revealing an uncanny and unnatural element. Equally unnatural, the Moving Plants series is composed by dead fragments of fallen plants emplaced in architecture, functioning as “moving bodies”: they are animated through external mechanisms, which are made from low-tech devices. Through this particular re-animation strategies, these series of works embody multiple relations between life, nature and artifice, thus challenging the traditional definitions of nature: re-animated plants and animals show how an object can be both inert and animated, and how it can be both natural and artificial.
Bird #1 / Installation (Stuffed bird, wood, nylon, motors, transformer) / 2011
Bird #2 / Installation (Stuffed bird, wood, nylon, motors, transformer) / 2011
Logs / Installation (Scraps of wood, artificially dyed feathers, nylon, motors) / 2011
Moving Plants (Japan) / Installation (Fallen plants, wood, nylon, motors) / 2011
Moving Plant #24 (New York) / Installation (Fallen plants, wood, nylon, motors) / 2011
Moving Plant #30 (Comisioned for the California-Pacific Triennial) / Installation (Flowers rescued from Orange County Cemeteries, wood, steel, motors) / 2013
Erased Branches / Intervened objects (Fragments of fallen branches) / 2011
Disappearing Excercises 2009-2011
These intervened objects and installations are ways of understanding how built objects reflect the way we inhabit the world, and at the same time force us to disappear in it. I have approached, for instance, the unstable material substance of objects, which is comparable to the physicality of the human body. In Broken Umbrella, a useless and disposed object can acquire the expressiveness of a suffering body. I have also been concerned with how us humans consider ourselves to be differentiated and unique bodily presences. In Skirt, an animated garment lifts to show a void inside, instead of a body. In Self-portrait, the clarity of oneâ€™s self-reflection becomes a blurry image on a glass. Finally, I have looked into the problem of how people and things become equal under the realm of capitalismâ€™s trade value. Money embodies this particular material exchange: in Erased Coins and Fifty Thousand, money is exhibited as an object that has been systematically traded and thus devaluated, up to the limit of its disappearance.
Broken Umbrella / Found object, iron, bronze, motor / 2010
Skirt / Installation (skirt, pulleys, thread, motor) / 2010
Samba / Installation (shoes, nylon threads, pulleys, sensor, iron, motors) / 2010
Self-portrait / Motor, electronic circuit, sensor, mirror, iron / 2009
Fifty thousand / Installation (50 one-thousand colombian pesos notes, motors, springs, sensor) / 2010
100 Kroner / 100 Kroner banknote, nylon, wood, motor, batteries / 2011
Erased coins / Modified objects (colombian peso coins) / 2010
Doing it Myself 2002-2008
Gesture-Machines, or the Catastrophe of Good Manners Fragment of curatorial text by Gustavo Chirolla When we face Adriana Salazar’s machines, we do not stop feeling perplexed: each device in its singularity challenges us with a series of questions. Above all, we are dealing with a thinking device, a questioning machine, or rather a machine that has become a question: “Here I am, it seems to say, repeating an anthropomorphic action, and yet ... What is happening? Why do I do this? “. Such as Beckett’s characters, which through repeating compulsive gestures and movements constantly turn over their own steps, the movement of these labile scaffolding turns over itself, revolving around absurdity. And as the Punishment Machine in Kafka’s Penitentiary Colony, or as Tinguely’s machines, there is nothing to interpret in them. There is no mystery, no hidden meaning waiting to be deciphered: the question has been raised in all its evidence, exposing its entire superficiality, which also requires to be answered. We say it is necessary that the machines work. However, Adriana Salazar’s machines are constantly failing, crashing, and their functions are dysfunctional. We observe an example of the latter in Machine that tries to thread a needle or in Machine that tries to tie a shoe. Dysfunctional functions belong to the logic of operation of such devices of thought; what needs work is the very exercise of thought, the becoming-question of the machine, the machinic question, in the words of Deleuze.
Impolite machines / Motors, electronic circuits, steel, glass, bottle, wine, napkin / 2008
Crying and consolation machines / Motors, resistor, glass, water, metal / 2007
Daring machines / Matches, matchboxes, plexiglas, motors, silver / 2008
Machine that tries to tie two shoelaces together / Motors, aluminium, shoe / 2006
Machine that tries to thread a needle / Motor, acrylic, thread, needle / 2005
Careless machines / Alluminum, motors, glasses, liquid / 2004
Smoking machine / Bronze, glass, motors, cigarette / 2003
More info at: adrianasalazar.net
Adriana Salazar is a visual artist based in Mexico City. She has participated in exhibitions such as the California-Pacific Triennial and th...