"On the Curve" Artist Spotlight: Laura Anderson Barbata

Born in Mexico City, Laura Anderson Barbata currently resides in Brooklyn. She studied sculpture and engraving at the School of Visual Arts at the University of Rio de Janeiro and architecture in Mexico City.

The following interview was conducted on December 16, 2016.

Ashley Casillas: How has Mexico City influenced you as an artist today?

Laura Anderson Barbata: Well, it continues to influence my entire life; I mean I grew up there. It’s what I know. So it is kind of hard to say it has influenced me in this way or that. It’s where I grew up and it’s my country, my culture, and my heritage. I am there all of the time – I go back and forth a lot. So it continues to be an important part of my life and in my work.

Now trying to analyze how it has influenced me…

I believe that there are many things that Mexico has given me and some of them are growing up and being born in a country that has in a living way, the presence of the pre colonial past, the indigenous past and present, the colonial ties now, so it has so many cultures coexisting and it seems to me like there are so many perceptions of time coexisting. So you have traditions and people practicing ways of life that have gone through slower change and others that are going through quick and very fast changes.

The sense of time, like layered time. You see it in the architecture if you go to Mexico City downtown to the temple mayor where the Zócalo is, you have archaeological sites that pre-date the Spanish and then you have colonial architecture that is about the conquest or directly related to the conquest and then you have modern architecture, for example.

On the human level and cultural level, those are all coexisting as well and finding their space. So that has been a great influence and it is also a country that is predominately Catholic and Catholic iconography is everywhere and that was a great impact in my life and still is because I am still fascinated by this iconography – I find it as disturbing as I did as a child.

And then the contradictions of the disparities, the wealth and the poverty, all of these realities, I never was able to be blind to them and take them without feeling something. You feel like you are always wearing your emotions all of the time because of all of the things that you are seeing. You can’t be blind to it or oblivious and ignore all of these tensions, beauty and reality.

AC: Whenever you moved to Brooklyn did you find that it was a place of many similarities or differences to what you had experienced previously?

LAB: I thought that there were a lot of similarities even though of course, New York history is different. When I first came here in the 90’s, I thought that there were a lot of similarities: the chaotic nature of it, the way the city has grown, the disparities, the amount of people that are Spanish speakers from Latin American countries and Caribbean countries. I felt like Mexico City and New York are sister cities. Kind of chaotic and so similar in so many ways.

AC: Did you always know that you were going to grow up to be an artist?

LAB: I don’t know if I thought about it that way but I was always creative. I was always thinking about making things. Whether it be making shelters as a child, where I was going to live, how I was going to live in the environment. Those where the thoughts as a child- my fantasies.

I don’t think I categorized myself as an artist. When I was living in Mazatlan, there were no museums there so I had very little exposure to art until I was about 10 years old. By then I had already felt that there was a way of experiencing life that was intense, that had no words, and that felt that within that experience that has no words is where art lived. I felt that that was important.

The first time I was in a museum at 10 years old I was moved to tears, the first time I heard classical music I was also 10 years old and I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “This is incredible, what is this?” It touches a part of you that is so deep and significant and I wanted to figure it out and thought that is how I would like to communicate.

AC: Can you talk to me a little bit about how you feel you have evolved as an artist?

LAB: To me the evolution has been natural- one thing leads to another. So when I work with different mediums it isn’t that I am looking for different mediums. I am working on a subject and choose the medium that feels like the correct one. If I went from drawing, it led me to sculpture, then to installations, then to being in the Amazon and starting a special project and working again with paper… one thing has led to another.

Some things too, they come full circle, when I was drawing at first, one of my motivations was to draw and to use the simplest mediums, charcoal and paper to communicate the most complex ideas. I felt like I had to do it in the most disciplined and vigorous manner meaning white paper, graphite and charcoal and figure it out and do it with these elements. I found that the simple materials could be very powerful conductors of ideas, so I believe in the rigor of using as few materials as possible.

But then you see today that I am working with lots of materials at once, maybe textiles and different elements of textiles and it has dance and it has music… but I am still working with what I have. In this case I have all of the materials and resources and amazing collaborators that are interested in participating so it becomes a lot more complex. But, that’s also been a constant, to just work with what you have around you.

AC: The upcoming show, “On the Curve,” is based on the circle and other curvilinear forms, so I was wondering what does a circle mean to you and how are you going to incorporate it into your work?

LAB: I am working on a piece that is made up of 3 elements, each one is a type of skirt or a type of dress that is circular at it´s bottom.  The idea is that these works must be worn to experience a cycle, or a circle as it is interpreted by the wearer.  The works hang on the wall directly on a type of a nail next to each other.  To me they look beautiful on the wall hanging, not just when they are worn.  They are simple in design and monochromatic. One is made of a sheer black organza with a wire on the hemline that creates circles, the second one is made with raffia, and the third is made from Japanese gampi paper.

Ideally I would like for each of them to be worn separately by someone working at the gallery during the opening for as long as the wearer feels that they have completed a cycle or circle of some sort: i.e. gone around the room and have ended where they began, or even to take a glass of wine, drink it or give it to someone and then return it from where they took it.  It can even be to say hello and then goodbye to someone or have a thought that goes through a full cycle.  This is in essence the concept behind these works.

The wearable works are also meant to be exhibited as works on the wall.  They are pieces that are not complicated to put on or take off on top of whatever they are wearing, I would ideally love for the persons who will ¨activate¨ them to be wearing black, they can easily be put on and removed and can be worn however the person chooses to wear them: for example on the waist, above the bodice, and or slipped over one shoulder.

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Interview conducted by Ashley Casillas, Ruiz-Healy Art’s Fall Intern.