Taina Meller can’t stop touching the art!  An interview with the Eastman Museum’s Conservator in Charge

Taina Meller can’t stop touching the art!  An interview with the Eastman Museum’s Conservator in Charge

Originally from Finland, Taina Meller arrived in the United States planning to stay for a couple of years to continue her education in photo conservation. Fifteen years later, she still lives and works in Rochester, New York. She has devoted her career to working with images that she admired in the photography books that she studied when she was in school, not knowing that one day she will hold them and preserve them for others to see and enjoy as well. Meller is the Conservator in Charge at the George Eastman Museum, home of one of the most important photography collections in the world. In this interview she talks about her career, shares a story about one of her most challenging projects as a conservator, and gives advice to those that, like her, can’t stop touching the art.

Claudia Pretelin: Taina, please talk about your background and what drew you to work in conservation?

TainaMeller_EastmanMuseum_1
Photo by Michael Shuter


Taina Meller
: I am originally from far away Finland. Early on, I was studying photography and the history and aesthetics of it. I was drawn to historic photographic processes and soon started to explore and experiment with them. It was both tremendously exciting and liberating not to be restricted to the selection of photographic papers available. Instead, I could now go to art supply stores, which I continue to love. I would spend hours looking at, feeling (yes, touching!) and learning about the amazingly beautiful papers and their qualities. I wanted my prints to last!

At that point I had barely heard the word conservation, not to mention photograph conservation. Then, I more or less accidentally attended a lecture given by the then only photograph conservator in Finland, Riitta Koskivirta. After that lecture, I knew exactly what I wanted to be and do! I applied to a conservation school, got in, and soon was interning with the inspiring photograph conservator at The Finnish Museum of Photography.

CP: How did you transition from far away Finland to Rochester, New York?

TM: My mentor, Riitta, had spent a few years studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology, interning at the George Eastman Museum (then Eastman House) and finally working at the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) in Rochester, New York. When I graduated, she strongly encouraged me to apply to the Andrew W. Mellon funded Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation at the Eastman Museum and IPI. The plan was for me to return to Finland after the two-year fellowship, but more than fifteen years later, which includes two amazing years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I am still here!

CP: What do you like the most about your job at the Eastman Museum?

TM: The museum’s amazing photography collection! When I was still studying photography, many of the textbooks had images of iconic photographs in the George Eastman Museum collection. Little did I know that one day I would have the privilege to work here and care for those very photographs! I am also blessed with wonderful colleagues, many of whom I greatly appreciate and enjoy both professionally and personally.

CP: What has been your most difficult assignment as a conservator?

TM: Not sure I can single out the most difficult assignment, but a couple of years ago my colleague Zach Long and I were working on a project that certainly was challenging. A panorama daguerreotype, photographed by William Southgate Porter in 1848 and depicting the Fairmount Water Works in Philadelphia, needed to be rehoused and reframed. The object consists of eight daguerreotypes under a decorative cardboard window mat. Seven of the daguerreotypes are placed next to each other composing the actual panorama, and one above them, showing the point where the panorama was photographed. Originally the daguerreotypes had been taped directly to the back of the window mat, and the window mat had been in contact with the glazing of the frame. The mounting and framing were upgraded in the late 1970s, but unfortunately were no longer providing sufficient protection.

The rehousing was challenging for a number of reasons. First, the daguerreotype plates are unevenly cut and do not have a single straight corner. Secondly, the panorama has two junctures where, for visual reasons, it is necessary to overlap the edges of the plates. For preservation reasons, our goal was to secure the plates in a primary housing that would be made of non-hygroscopic and chemically stable materials, and would allow only a minimal amount of air within it. The window mat would be placed on top of the primary housing and there would be a spacer to separate the mat from the secondary glazing, an anti-reflective acrylic. The 1970s frame was not original to the object. It was decided to replace it with one that would provide more structural support and would, style-wise, match the period of the object.

After some serious brainstorming and testing, we decided to use chemically inert plastic called polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG) to hold and secure the daguerreotypes in their correct positions. For the cover glass, we chose chemically strengthened glass, found, for example, in smartphones. To add rigidity to the plate package, we decided to place a thin sheet of aluminum behind the PETG plastic backing. Lastly, we chose pressure sensitive polyester film tape with acrylic adhesive as our binding material.

CP: What should be considered when taking on such an arduous task?

TM: Documentation is a key element in ethical conservation practice. Thus, in the course of the project, the daguerreotypes were thoroughly examined, their condition compared to the previous conservation reports and photographs, and new reports written and photographs taken. It was a lot of work over a lengthy period of time, but totally worth it. The panorama is now protected, hopefully for several decades to come, and it looks gorgeous!

CP: What is one thing about conservation that you think is important for people to understand?

TM: The ultimate goal of the field is to safeguard and preserve our tangible cultural heritage, to make it accessible for generations to come. All conservation activities, such as conservation treatments, are to respect the cultural significance and the physical properties of an object, and they should at all times be performed with the least possible intervention. So, the intention is not to make an object look like it is newly made, but rather stabilize it if needed, and perhaps most importantly, provide it with a housing and an environment that supports its optimal preservation.

CP: Besides patience, what are some particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?

TM: True interest and motivation, commitment to the profession. Wide knowledge of materials and technologies encountered in the creation of photographic objects. Willingness to continually learn. Good hand skills and an eye for detail.

CP: Do you have any advice for emerging conservators who are pursuing this career?

TM: Unfortunately the number of jobs available for photograph conservators is somewhat limited. However, if becoming a photograph conservator is your true calling, my advice is to follow your heart and go for it. That’s exactly what I did too, and I love it!

Taina Meller is the Conservator in Charge at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York. After graduating from the EVTEK Institute of Art and Design in Vantaa, Finland, she worked as a photograph conservator for a number of major institutions in Helsinki, Finland, including The Finnish Museum of Photography and the Finnish National Gallery. In 2003, Ms. Meller became an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow of the Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation at the George Eastman Museum and the Image Permanence Institute in Rochester, New York. In 2005, she became the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Sherman Fairchild Center for Works on Paper and Photographic Conservation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY. She returned to the George Eastman Museum in 2007 as Associate Conservator and has held her current position since 2009.

Soy deYalálag: Entrevista con Citlali Fabián

Soy deYalálag: Entrevista con Citlali Fabián

Una pregunta fundamental en la historia de la fotografía es cómo nos representamos ante el mundo. Citlali Fabián aborda temas de identidad cultural utilizando técnicas fotográficas clásicas. Ella forma parte de una joven generación de fotógrafos que exploran y aprovechan las posibilidades del medio, dispuestos a experimentar y producir imágenes únicas y originales. Conocí a la artista durante su estancia en Rochester, Nueva York, donde me invitó amablemente a escribir un texto introductorio para su exposición individual Mestiza en la ciudad de Oaxaca el pasado mes de marzo. Esta invitación inició la siguiente conversación y mi interés por aprender más sobre su proceso creativo y sus ideas sobre identidad y fotografía.

Citlali Fabian

Claudia Pretelin: Durante las últimas décadas, ha habido un renacimiento de la daguerrotipia y la producción de placas de colodión entre los fotógrafos más jóvenes interesados en hacer uso artístico de los procesos fotográficos antiguos. ¿Cómo surge tu interés por trabajar imágenes en procesos como el colodión húmedo, el daguerrotipo o incluso las polaroids?

Citlali Fabián: Algo vital para mí, es que mi trabajo sea distintivo. En la era de lo digital, quería ofrecer esa alternativa la cual creo brinda una conexión más cercana e íntima con mi trabajo. Este interés nació de la búsqueda, de la experimentación, de por supuesto pasar por la cámara digital y darme cuenta que no era parte de mi proceso creativo. Mi proceso es pausado, y este tipo de fotografía requiere precisamente de tomarse el tiempo para hacerla, de ser un poquito más selectivo al momento de ver detrás de la lente.

“Me interesa documentar la cultura con sus transformaciones hoy en día y no sólo en Yalálag, sino en otros lugares donde las comunidades de yalaltecos se han cimentado y replicado sus tradiciones. “

CP: En la serie Soy de Yalálag documentas el día a día en tu comunidad. En el mundo globalizado de hoy, cómo ha podido Yalálag mantener sus tradiciones y cómo escoges qué tradiciones documentar.

CF: Creo estos procesos son parte del día a día. Es imposible aislarnos del mundo exterior y estos cambios son inevitables. Sin embargo hemos asimilado y transformado estos cambios desde dentro de la misma localidad. Por ejemplo, tenemos la danza de “Santa Claus” o la de los “Superhéroes” [Danzas de los yalaltecos para celebrar las fiestas patronales en las que los danzantes se visten de superhéroes como el Capitán América, Wolverine y Santa Claus.] que son representaciones satíricas de figuras americanas en una celebración tradicional de Yalálag. Me interesa documentar la cultura con sus transformaciones hoy en día y no sólo en Yalálag, sino en otros lugares donde las comunidades de yalaltecos se han cimentado y replicado sus tradiciones. Este es un proyecto a largo plazo.

Yalálag, Oaxaca. Credit Citlali FabiánCP: Otras imágenes tomadas en Yalálag como las de Lola Álvarez Bravo son un referente en la historia de tu comunidad. ¿Consideras que este trabajo en particular ha sido una influencia en tu obra o crees que existe una mirada interna que brinda una perspectiva distinta como parte de la comunidad de Yalálag?

CF: Las imágenes de Lola Álvarez Bravo no son tan conocidas en la comunidad. Quizá la más conocida es “Entierro en Yalálag”. Mientras estudiaba fotografía se volvieron una referencia para mí. Pero quizá lo que más llamó mi atención de su viaje a Yalálag son los pequeños textos que he podido leer de su experiencia. Esas notas en las que describe lo que vio en Yalálag. Incluso con el intervalo de tiempo entre nuestras imágenes, lo que ella describe es completamente familiar a lo que recuerdo de Yalálag. Quizás las imágenes de Julio de la Fuente sean más familiares a los yalaltecos. Estas fotografías se tomaron antes que las de Lola con una visión más antropológica.

CP: ¿Cómo surge la idea de Mestiza?

CF: La idea de Mestiza surgió mientras vivía en la ciudad de México. En ese momento estudiaba mi maestría en la UNAM y estaba llevando mi proyecto de investigación en torno a mi producción en colodión húmedo. Me interesaba estudiar primeramente los aspectos técnicos e históricos de la técnica. Anteriormente había trabajado mucho autorretrato. Sin embargo, por cuestiones técnicas continuar con el autorretrato no era viable. Tenía la idea de hacer representaciones de antiguas deidades zapotecas, de representar elementos que formaran parte de mi identidad. Hice algunos intentos infructuosos de autorretratos. Pero también empecé a hacer retratos lo que inmediatamente implicó desarrollar una relación y obtener una respuesta o reacción inmediata de las personas que posaban frente a mi cámara.From the series Mestiza

CP: ¿Cómo fue evolucionando este proyecto conforme fuiste retratando a tus sujetos?

CF: Este proceso me permitió comenzar una conversación colaborativa. Platicaba mucho con mis modelos, amigas cercanos sobre cómo se sentían al verse en estas piezas. La respuesta era muy similar. Había cierto escepticismo a las imágenes. Algunos no se reconocieron en esas imágenes, pero sintieron cierto eco del pasado. Algo del pasado se conectaba con nosotros a través de estos retratos. Recuerdo la primera vez que le pedí a alguien que posara para este proyecto; fue mi amiga íntima y también artista, Gabriela Zubillaga. Anteriormente le había ayudado a documentar algunas piezas escultóricas. Habíamos establecido una estrecha amistad y una conexión fotográfica. En esa sesión aparece como una diosa, vestida con un peñacho de Totomostle [un tocado hecho de maíz]. Fue como ver a Mayahuel [La diosa azteca del maguey] frente a mí. El proyecto se estaba develando frente a mí, guiándome para continuar. Entonces comencé a trabajar más con el maíz como elemento clave en mis fotografías. Llamé a más amigas y familia cercana para ir desarrollando estas representaciones de nuestra identidad. Una que diera ese reconocimiento a nuestras raíces y que nos uniera.

 

CP: ¿Qué imagen has perdido en el camino? Algo que atestiguaste y no tuviste tu cámara contigo para capturarlo

CF: Más que no tener la cámara en mano, hay ciertos momentos en los que emocionalmente no he podido hacer una imagen. Para mí los momentos más presentes fueron cuando murieron mis abuelos. De esos momentos guardo imágenes y recuerdos grabados en mi mente.

Citlali Fabián es un artista visual de Yalálag, un pequeño pueblo en Oaxaca, al sur de México. Se graduó como Licenciada en Fotografía en la Universidad Veracruzana. Cuenta con una certificación en Preservación y Manejo de Colecciones Fotográficas otorgado por el George Eastman Museum. Su proyecto fotográfico Mestiza apareció recientemente en el Blog Lens del periódico The New York Times y su proyecto más reciente aborda la imagen de la bandera estadounidense en el paisaje de los barrios residenciales de los Estados Unidos.

Si quieres ver más de su trabajo síguela en Instagram y en su página web.

From Yalálag: An Interview with Citlali Fabián

From Yalálag: An Interview with Citlali Fabián

How to represent oneself to the world is a fundamental question in the history of photography. By analyzing her own traditions and through her distinctive images, Citlali Fabián addresses issues of cultural identity using classic photographic techniques. She is part of a young generation of photographers exploring and pushing on the possibilities of the medium, willing to experiment and to produce pictures that are unique and original. I met the artist during her time living in Rochester, New York where she kindly invited me to write an introductory text for her solo exhibition Mestiza at Centro Cultural San Pablo in Oaxaca City this past March. This invitation initiated the following conversation pursuing my interest to learn more about her creative process and her ideas about identity and photography.

Citlali FabianClaudia Pretelin: During the past few years, there has been a revival of the daguerreotype and the production of wet-collodion plates among younger photographers interested in making artistic use of early photographic processes. What led to your interest in daguerreotypes, wet-collodion plates, and even Polaroids?

Citlali Fabián: Something vital for me is for my work to be distinctive. In the digital era I wanted to offer this alternative that, I believe, creates a closer and more intimate connection with it. This interest was born from a personal search, from experimentation, from using a digital camera, and from realizing that it was not part of my creative process. My creative process is slower and this kind of photography requires me to take the time to make it, to be a little more selective when you see behind the lens.

 

“I’m interested in documenting any cultural transformation, not only in Yalálag, but also in other places where Yalaltecos have migrated and replicated their traditions.”

CP: In the series I am from Yalálag, you photograph the everyday life of your community. In today’s globalized world, how do Yalaltecos keep their local traditions and how do you choose which traditions to document?

CF: These traditions are part of everyday life. It is impossible to be isolated from the outside world and changes are inevitable. However, I think we’ve assimilated these changes and transformed them within our community. For example, we have “The Dance of Santa Claus” and “The Dance of Superheroes” [Performative dances by Yalaltecos to celebrate patron saint days in which performers embrace the image of superheroes such as Captain America, Wolverine and Santa Claus] which are satirical enactments of American figures in a traditional celebration from Yalálag. I’m interested in documenting any cultural transformation, not only in Yalálag, but also in other places where Yalaltecos have migrated and replicated their traditions. This is a long-term project.
Yalálag, Oaxaca. Credit Citlali FabiánCP: Other photographs taken in Yalálag, such as Lola Álvarez Bravo’s come to mind when thinking about your community. Does this work have influenced you or do you think that you have an inside look that gives a different perspective of Yalálag?

CF: Lola Álvarez Bravo’s images are not so well know in my community. The most well know is “Burial in Yalálag”. While I was studying photography they became a reference for me. Perhaps what interested me the most about her trip to Yalálag were the small texts I read about her experience. In those texts she describes what she saw in Yalálag. Even with the time gap between our images, what she describes is completely familiar to what I remember from Yalálag. Perhaps the images by Julio de la Fuente are more familiar to Yalaltecos. These photographs were taken before Lola’s with a more anthropological point of view.

CP: How did you come up with the idea of Mestiza?

CF: I came up with the idea of Mestiza while I was living in Mexico City. At the time, I was enrolled in the Master’s program at UNAM and I was directing my research project towards the production of wet-collodion plates. I was interested in studying the technical and historical aspects of this process. Prior to this, I had worked with self-portraiture. However, due to technical difficulties it was not possible to continue with self-portraits. I had this idea to make representations of Zapotec deities, to represent elements that were part of my identity. I also began to make portraits that allowed me to develop a relationship with and an immediate reaction from the people that posed in front of my camera.From the series Mestiza

CP: How did the project evolve as you created the portraits of your subjects?

CF: This process allowed me to start a collaborative conversation. I talked to my models, close friends of mine, about how they felt seeing themselves in these pieces. I got similar responses. There was certain skepticism about these images. Some did not recognize themselves in those images but felt a certain echo from the past. Something from the past was connecting with us through these portraits. I remember the first time I asked someone to pose for this project; it was my close friend and also an artist, Gabriela Zubillaga. I had previously helped her to document some sculptural and performance pieces. We had established a close friendship and a photographic connection. In that session she appears like a goddess, wearing a peñacho de Totomostle [a headdress made out of corn]. It was like seeing Mayahuel [The Aztec Goddess of the Maguey] in front of me. The project was developing in front of my eyes, guiding me to continue. Then I started to work more with corn as a key element in my photographs. I called my close friends and family and together we developed these representations of our identity as a way of acknowledging and unifying our roots.

CP: What images have you lost along the way? Maybe something that you’ve witnessed but you didn’t have your camera to capture it?

CF: More than not having the camera in my hand, there are certain moments in which emotionally I can’t make an image. The moments that I remember the most are when my grandparents died. From those moments I only keep images and memories in my mind.

Citlali Fabián is a visual artist from Yalálag, a small town in Oaxaca, southern Mexico. She holds a B.A. in Photography from the Universidad Veracruzana and a Certificate in Photographic Preservation and Collection Management from the George Eastman Museum. Her ongoing work Mestiza was featured on The New York Times’ Lens blog and her most recent project addresses the image of the American flag in the landscape of residential neighborhoods in the United States.

If you want to check out more of her work follow her on Instagram and/or her website.

 

 

 

153: Entrevista con Lodoe Laura

153: Entrevista con Lodoe Laura

“El acto de resistencia tiene dos caras. Es humano y también es el acto del arte.

Sólo el acto de resistencia resiste a la muerte, sea bajo la forma de obra de arte, sea bajo la forma de la lucha de los hombres.”

Gilles Deleuze

 El 27 febrero de 2009, el tercer día de Losar (palabra tibetana para designar el año nuevo), un joven monje de nombre Tapey se auto-inmoló. En forma de protesta contra las políticas del gobierno Chino en Tibet, Tapey corrió a la calle y encendió con fuego su túnica impregnada de gasolina. En llamas, levantó la bandera del Tibet con una fotografía del Dalai Lama al centro. En ese momento, la policía militar china le disparó.

153 es la exposición de la artista Lodoe Laura en el Ryerson Artspace, la cual aborda los hechos ocurridos ese día en febrero y las muertes subsecuentes de 150 tibetanos que han elegido el camino de la auto-inmolación, siguiendo los pasos de Tapey. Recopilando fotografías de aquellos que sacrificaron sus vidas en acto de protesta contra el violento dominio chino en el Tíbet, Laura hace estas muertes visibles para el público occidental a través de una serie de imágenes impresas en incienso. En esta obra la joven Tibetana-Canadiense e hija de un refugiado, nos previene de olvidarlos y hace hincapié en la importancia de la obra de arte como un acto de resistencia.

Me puse en contacto con Lodoe Laura para conocer más acerca de su trabajo y el proceso que siguió para crear 153. La siguiente conversación se llevó a cabo vía correo electrónico.

Claudia Pretelin: ¿Cuéntame cómo te interesaste por el arte? ¿Cómo comenzó todo?

Lodoe Laura: Inicialmente me interesé por la fotografía documental y el fotoperiodismo, pero por medio de mis estudios en la School of Image Arts de la Universidad Ryerson, mi trabajo dio un giro conceptual. Así que además de hacer fotografía, también trabajo video, instalación y escultura.

CP: ¿Cómo elijes los temas que quieres explorar?

LL: Exploro temas de cruces culturales, memoria colectiva y la intersección de prácticas políticas y culturales. Algunas veces mi obra es muy política y trato de trabajar a través de la representación de conflicto y comunidad. Otra veces, mi obra puede ser muy personal. Por ejemplo, el último proyecto que hice fue un video de mi padre enseñándome el alfabeto Tibetano. Escojo hacer obra sobre lo que estoy reflexionando y uso la práctica artística para comunicar esas reflexiones y temas que creo que son importantes.

process1
Cortesía de la artista Lodoe Laura

CP: ¿Qué tipo de proceso sigues para crear tu obra?

 LL: Comienzo con una idea, la cual por lo general inicia a partir de conversaciones, experiencias o de alguna lectura. Paso tiempo investigando aquello en lo que estoy interesada y busco otros artistas que hayan respondido de una forma similar a esos eventos o experiencias, ya sean poetas, escritores o artistas visuales. De esta manera, el proceso se va desarrollando, cambiando y la obra va tomando forma. Trabajo con varios medios, los cuales me permiten experimentar con libertad y utilizar el medio adecuado para el tema al que me dirijo. A menudo utilizo materiales poco convencionales o utilizo materiales de manera poco convencional. 153 son fotografías impresas a mano con incienso y antes he trabajo con otros materiales como arena coloreada y concreto.

 CP: ¿Cómo utilizas nuevas tecnologías y redes sociales en tu obra?

LL: Para la exposición 153 las imágenes provienen de distintos activistas y grupos de exiliados. Puede ser muy complicado encontrar fotografías o información de las auto-inmolaciones ocurridas en Tibet desde occidente. Esto debido en gran parte al bloqueo de información por parte del gobierno chino dentro de Tibet. Comentar o mostrar imágenes de la gente que se ha auto-inmolado en protesta del clima sociopolítico dentro de Tibet es en directa oposición a la narrativa que las autoridades intentan presentar: Shangri-la un paraíso del Himalaya; una idealizada tierra utópica y mítica. Lejos de esto, las acciones de los auto inmolados son sólo algunas de las muchas formas que los tibetanos están socavando esa narrativa desde dentro. Debo darle reconocimiento a Woeser, autora, activista, y blogger dentro de Tibet quien valientemente escribe sobre los auto-inmolados y tanto su blog como su más reciente libro Tibet on Fire, fueron fuentes primarias de información para obtener nombres, fechas e imágenes.

process2
Cortesía de la artista Lodoe Laura

CP: ¿Puedes contarnos específicamente sobre los materiales utilizados en el proceso de creación de 153?

LL: El carbón es utilizado en un ritual de oración budista tibetano llamado Sang, humo de ofrenda ritual similar al incienso. La primera parte del proyecto consistió en ir a varios monasterios y casas de la comunidad exiliada donde recolecté el carbón y las cenizas de incienso de la ofrenda Sang. Debido a su uso como ritual de oración, recopilar esto significó para mí una forma de recolectar las oraciones de la comunidad.Después, con mi padre molí, sequé y tamicé la mezcla hasta hacerla un fino polvo. Una vez que acumulé un archivo de fotografías de los auto inmolados en mi computadora, comencé a analizarlas. Debido a la falta de información desde dentro del Tibet, el número depende de acuerdo a la fuente, pero por medio de mi investigación, 153 fue la lista más completa que pude compilar.

process3
Cortesía de la artista Lodoe Laura
process4
Cortesía de la artista Lodoe Laura

La mayoría de las imágenes que los grupos activistas pudieron recuperar fueron de teléfonos celulares y con muy baja resolución, así que convertí cada imagen en archivos Bitmap –que lo que hacen es que convierten imágenes fotográficas a color en imágenes hechas sólo a puntos blanco y negro. Posteriormente las imprimí en acetato el cual utilicé para imprimir en las pantallas de serigrafía en el cuarto oscuro.

process7
Cortesía de la artista Lodoe Laura

Una vez que las pantallas quedaron listas, regresé al incienso que recolecté de la comunidad de exiliados. Mezclé el fino polvo del carbón con tinta tradicional haciendo goma para crear tinta hecha a mano. Utilizando la pantalla como negativo y presionando el carbón y la goma a través de la pantalla hice un positivo en papel. Esto creó las imágenes finales de los auto- inmolados las cuales están expuestas en el Artspace. Si miras de cerca cada imagen, especialmente las que muestran mucho más negro, puedes ver el granulado y la textura del carbón y las cenizas del incienso. Dado el uso como ritual de oración, para mí es una representación no sólo de la protesta de los inmolados, sino una representación de la oraciones de la comunidad de exiliados. Por esta razón, es importante que la textura quede aún visible en las impresiones finales.

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Cortesía de la artista Lodoe Laura

CP: Y también hay un video que acompaña las impresiones.

LL: El video que hice es una base de datos con las fechas de las auto-inmolaciones. La impresión de las imágenes a mano fue un proceso muy lento y de intensa labor, quería hacer algo que contrastara con la repetición lenta de las imágenes impresas. Este video muestra las fechas de cada auto-inmolación en sucesión rápida. Cambia rápidamente de luz extrema a oscuridad extrema. Debido a la rápida sucesión entre ambas, los ojos no tienen tiempo de ajustarse al cambio. Esto pretende crear el efecto perturbador de una imagen posterior, de esta manera las fechas son visibles incluso después de que el observador deja de mirar. Inicialmente me topé con esta idea después de ver la pieza de Alfredo Jaar, Geometry of Conscience en el Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos. El arte de protesta política será necesariamente insuficiente. Mi trabajo existe sólo como un hilo en una conversación más grande y compleja que se está llevando a cabo en la sociedad tibetana acerca de la auto-inmolación, las protestas y lo que significa que estas acciones se lleven a cabo.

CP: Leí que estás planeando graduarte este año. ¿Qué sigue para Lodoe Laura?

 LL: Una de mis metas ahora que tendré más tiempo es mejorar mi habilidad para aprender el lenguaje tibetano. Estoy asistiendo a uno de mis profesores favoritos, Clare Samuel, en algunas de sus clases y estoy interesada en enseñar en el futuro. Estoy buscando programas de posgrado en Canadá y en el extranjero. He estado en Toronto por siete años y aunque está comenzando a sentirse como mi hogar, tengo la esperanza de un cambio y un nuevo reto.

153

Lodoe Laura

Del 1 al 25 de septiembre de 2016

Ryerson Artspace

Gladstone Hotel 1214 Queen Street West, Toronto.

Lodoe Laura es una artista multidisciplinaria que vive y trabaja en Toronto, Canadá. En 2015, fue acreedora de una beca de fotografía de Magnum, actualmente está terminando el programa de fotografía en la Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts. Su trabajo ha sido reconocido con la beca AIMIA½AGO y este año fue ganadora del premio Flash Forward Award otorgado por la Fundación Magenta

Si quieres ver más de su trabajo síguela en Tumblr y/o en su website

Claudia Pretelin es una escritora de la ciudad de México que actualmente reside en Rochester, Nueva York. Terminó la carrera de comunicación y recibió un título de maestría y un doctorado en historia del arte en la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

153: Interview with Lodoe Laura

153: Interview with Lodoe Laura

“The act of resistance has two faces. It is human and it is also the act of art.

Only the act of resistance resists death, either as a work of art or as human struggle.”

Gilles Deleuze

On February 27, 2009, the third day of Losar (the Tibetan word for New Year), a young monk by the name of Tapey set himself on fire. In an act of protest against China’s Tibet policies, Tapey ran into the streets and lit his gasoline-soaked robes. While in flames, he raised a Tibetan flag with a photograph of the Dalai Lama. Then he was shot by Chinese military police.

153, Lodoe Laura’s solo show at the Ryerson Artspace, addresses the events that occurred that day in February and the subsequent deaths of more than 150 Tibetans that have chosen the path of self-immolation, following the steps of Tapey. Collecting images of those who sacrificed their lives as desperate acts of protest against the Chinese violent rule in Tibet, Laura makes them visible to Western audiences through a series of hand printed in incense images. In this body of work the young Tibetan-Canadian daughter of a refugee prevents us from forgetting them and stresses the importance of art as an act of resistance.

I reached out to Lodoe Laura to learn more about her work and the process she followed to create 153. The following is a conversation that took place over email.

Claudia Pretelin: What got you into art? How did it all start?

Lodoe Laura: Initially, I was interested in documentary photography and photojournalism, but through my studies at the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University, my work has shifted to be more conceptually based. So in addition to photography, I also work in video, installation, and sculpture.

CP: How do you choose the topics you want to explore?

LL: I explore themes of cultural crossover, collective memory, and the intersection of cultural and political practice. At times my work is highly political and I am trying to work through the representation of conflict and of community. Then, other times it can be highly personal. For example, the last work I made was a two-channel video piece of my dad teaching me the Tibetan alphabet. I choose to make work about what I’m thinking about, and I use my artistic practice to communicate my thoughts and things that I feel are important.

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Courtesy of artist Lodoe Laura

CP: What sort of processes do you use to create your work?

LL: It starts with an idea. Usually it comes from conversations, experiences, or from my reading. Then, I spend time researching whatever it is I’m interested in. I look at other artists of many media – poets, writers, visual artists, and performers – who may have responded to similar events or experiences. Then, the process develops and changes as the work starts to form. I work across many media, which allows me the freedom to experiment and to use the right method for the topic I am addressing. Oftentimes, I use unconventional materials or I use traditional materials unconventionally. 153 are photographs hand printed in incense, and I’ve worked before with colored sand and concrete as materials.

CP: How do you employ new technologies and social media for your work?

LL: For 153, the images are sourced from different activist and exile groups. It can be very difficult to find photographs or information on the Tibetan self-immolations in the West. This is due in large part to the Chinese government’s communications crackdown inside Tibet. Discussing or displaying images of the people that have set themselves on fire in protest of the sociopolitical climate inside Tibet is in direct opposition to the narrative authorities attempt to present – that is, as a Shangri-la paradise in the Himalayas; an idealized, mythical, utopian land. It is far from it, and the actions of the self-immolators are just one of many ways Tibetans inside Tibet are undermining that narrative. Therefore, activist and advocacy groups in exile collecting and publishing online the photographs, dates, and stories of the self-immolated, is an act of resistance to the presented narrative. I do want to recognize Woeser, who is an author, activist, and blogger inside Tibet. She bravely posts about the self-immolations and her blog and most recent book, Tibet on Fire, were primary sources for information – names, dates, and images.

CP: Can you tell us more specifically about the materials and the process to create 153?

LL: Charcoal is used in a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ritual called Sang – a smoke offering ritual similar to incense. The first part of my project involved going to several monasteries and homes of the exile community where I collected their charcoal and incense ash from the Sang offering. Because of its use in prayer ritual, collecting this was, for me, a way of

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Courtesy of artist Lodoe Laura

collecting the prayers of the community. Then, with my father, I milled, dried, and sifted the mixture so that it was a fine powder. Once I amassed an archive of photographs of the self-immolators on my computer, I started going through and looking at them. Because of the lack of free flowing information from inside Tibet, this number varies depending on your source, but through my research 153 was the most complete list I could compile.

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Courtesy of artist Lodoe Laura
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Courtesy of artist Lodoe Laura

Most of the images the activists were able to recover were from cell phones, and were of a very low resolution. So I turned each image into Bitmap files – what this did was turn the images from full color photographs into an image made only up of black or white dots. Then, I printed them onto transparency film, which was used to print onto silk-screens in the darkroom.

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Courtesy of artist Lodoe Laura

Once the silk-screens were made, I went back to the incense I collected from the exile community. I mixed the fine charcoal powder with traditional ink making gum medium to create handmade ink. Then, using the screen as a negative, the charcoal and gum were pushed through to make a positive image on paper. This created the final positive images of the self-immolated, which are displayed at the Artspace. If you look closely at each image, and especially one of the heavily black images, you can see the granules and texture of the charcoal and incense ash. Because of its use in prayer ritual it was, for me, a representation not only of the burning protest, it was also a representation of the prayers of the exile community. So for this reason it was important that the texture was still visible in the final prints.

      

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Courtesy of artist Lodoe Laura

CP: And there is also a video along with the prints.

LL: I made a video, which is a database of the dates of the self-immolations. The hand printing of the prints was a very slow, labor-intensive process, and I wanted to make something that contrasted the slow repetition of the hand printed images. This video displays the dates of each self-immolation in rapid succession. It flips quickly between extreme light and extreme dark. Because it switches so quickly between the two, your eyes don’t have time to adjust to either. This is intended to create the unsettling effect of an after-image, so the dates are visible even after you’ve stopped looking. I first came across the idea of an after-image after viewing Alfredo Jaar’s Geometry of Conscience at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. Art about political protest will necessarily be insufficient. My work exists only as one thread in a larger, complex conversation that is being held in Tibetan society about self-­immolation, protest, and what it means when these actions are taken.

CP: I read that you are planning to graduate this year. What’s next for Lodoe Laura?

LL: One of my goals now that I’ll have more time is to improve my Tibetan language skills. I’m assisting one of my favorite professors, Clare Samuel, in some of her undergraduate classes, and am interested in teaching in the future. I’m looking into graduate programs in Canada and abroad. I’ve been in Toronto for seven years, and even though it’s starting to feel like home, I’m hoping for a change and new challenge.

153

Lodoe Laura

Exhibition Run: September 1st- 25th, 2016

Ryerson Artspace

Gladstone Hotel 1214 Queen Street West, Toronto.

Lodoe Laura is a multidisciplinary artist living and working in Toronto, Canada. She was a recipient of a Magnum Photo scholarship in 2015, and is completing her BFA in Photography at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts. Her work has been recognized with the AIMIA AGO Scholarship Prize, and most recently was a winner of The Magenta Foundation’s 2016 Flash Forward Award.

If you want to check out more of her work follow her on Tumblr and/or her website

Claudia Pretelin is a writer from Mexico City and currently resides in Rochester, New York. She holds a B.A. in Communications and received her M.A. and a Ph.D. in Art History from The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).