Interview with art:i:curate artist Gamaliel Rodriguez
17 feb 2014 by Ashton Chandler
Ashton Chandler interviews Puerto Rico-based artist Gamaliel Rodriguez and discusses his work in terms of his process, the complex theoretical and conceptual foundations behind his art, what influences him and what he is currently working on.
AC: You create drawings using a Ballpoint pen or more recently, a felt tip pen. Do you work free-hand or do you work from visual references?
GR: I use both. Sometimes I select images that are completely connected to the topic. My ideas help me to select the medium and the material. My works are two-dimensional but what changes is the material such as Ballpoint Pen, Sharpie, or acrylic. The idea of working in series comes from the image you intend to communicate as it is often quite literal in that it is direct with written information underneath or its an image in which nothing can be understood, such as with photographs of the 1950s that have elements of the future in them. Each series allows me to expand my ideas and not focus directly on a single style.
AC: How have your drawings themselves or your actual process of creating them revealed insights into Roland Barthes’ “Rhetoric of the Image”?
GR: I am inﬂuenced by Roland Barthes and the symbolisms he put forward [note from author: when he was deciphering the myth, he was talking about the link between the signiﬁer and the signiﬁed= sign] that is to say the symbolisms that are produced by an image and how they can be added to the text. The combination of image and text and how they interact are important in my work.
AC: You recently had a show at The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR) called “Fallout” which was a focus on a U.S. programme implemented in Puerto Rico to create a series of shelters intended to protect citizens in the eventuality of a military air attack or a possible nuclear explosion. Can you describe the works featured in the show and how they encompass themes of Social Realism and current events, such as consumerism, political warfare, psychological and social sciences?
GR: “Fallout” is part of a series of works titled "Dark thoughts", which is darker and more vague. The aerial images look like they are straight out of spy photos, but the different elements that make up the image such as buildings, industrial areas, cliffs, beaches, etc. are not entirely correct. It can not be determined whether the image is real or not or if the light of the work is natural or artiﬁcial, as I had created a model to portray and then recreate the picture. "Fallout" is the study of different angles of the word. On the one hand it is means adverse effects produced by a score or situation while on the other hand, it was the name awarded to the project that was formalised in the 1950's by the then President of the United States, John F. Kennedy called “Fallout Shelter Program”. It was the development of different rooms or bunkers that could be private or public in the US nation and in the US territories of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. This program was made largely by fear and uncertainty of the Cold War or the “Red Scare”. This project studied the reactions of the “adverse side effects” in society and the governments from the result of the decisions of protection to the very origins of it in the most primitive part of our consciousness.
I have been interested in the notion of security/insecurity produced by non-referential images. I produced a series of aerial views of industrials, military, or civilian areas that has a quality of printmaking but were drawings on canvas. Those areas are non-traditional places because the majority of them are created from my own inventions, studies, research, and memories from former industrial areas located in Puerto Rico. In the 1950s, our islands were granted to create a program called, “Operation Bootstrap” a project in which its ﬁrst main goal was to create an industrialised Puerto Rico in the mid-20th century. That program allowed thousands of Puerto Ricans to have a job and it was funded in conjunction with federal and our local government. Puerto Rico was then used as a “Guinea pig” for the industrialised capitalism and the implementation of it in South-American regions. It was a great example to present to South America to show how a small country was growing in development, infrastructures, and creating a solid economy with a collaboration from US and Latin america. But the adverse effects was the contamination which lead to many of the labor workers getting cancer, respiratory problems, and skin diseases without the right to demand actions against the government or those public-privates companies, and plus the real income went directly to private companies who beneﬁt from low exportation taxes, low salaries, and a free maritime trade.
There are certain elements that I play with in these works, such as the lost of identity in industrial location or sites in post-colonial environment such as the case of the islands of Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands or Guam, the illusion of surveillance of complex referring to military espionage, the old tradition of printmaking as a social engagement, as a political weapon, as a teaching principle and the notion of closure and disclosure witting the cartographic perspectives that I always try to achieve.
Figure 1707, painting.
AC: Which image(s) have resonated with you and influenced your work and study of semiotics and Barthes’ theories?
GR: It would be the old declassiﬁed images from the 50s and 60s, from the Cold War onwards, but recently, the use of non traditional images such as brain scans. For this particular series, I resume the utilisation of painting to produce a series of brain-scans. In this case, I select an ordinary selection of brain scan and blow them up on large canvases. Once the images are completely done, I start unconsciously creating dark blue spots, stains or marks on the brain with a non-conceiving idea. After the painting is done, I contact local neurosurgeons to perform a “diagnostic” of the brains, or in other words, the paintings. It is interesting how any dot in a brain scan could elaborate a disease, a tumor, cancer, blood clot, etc. The paintings work more like a new code, a hidden message that is perceived by the doctor as a case but not as a traditional painting.
AC: What project(s) are you working on currently and what are your plans artistically for this year?
GR: I will return back to NYC this february. I will be in the Bronx Museum AIM Program
2014, part of the Bronx Biennial. After that I will have my ﬁrst solo show at the Walter Otero Contemporary Art in autumn. For now, I would like to keep meeting and interviewing neurosurgeons and specialists of the chemical industries and have some ideas to create soon.
All images courtesy of Carmen Figaredo.