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Interview with Rosalia Bermudez
by J. Honoridez aka Joan of Art

June 2009 - ArtSlant's Juried Winner, Rosalia Bermudez, discusses the inspiration and process behind her work.

Joan Honoridez-Mocorro: Your work, The Weight of Things got me. It seems to evoke a feeling of lightness, like floating on air. What were you thinking when you conceptualized it?

Rosalia Bermudez: The work is an installation, consisting of 200+ individual pieces of "paper" that are suspended from the ceiling by thin fishing line, that is hardly detectable from a distance - so they really do appear to be floating, in a state of suspended animation. The intended effect is to make it look as if the paper is being swept away by the wind.

The work is directly based on the missing files and CIA archives documenting the interrogation, torture and disappearance of the victims of the dictatorships in Argentina and Uruguay. For the most part, a vast majority of the documents are missing, blotted out or left blank. There is no trace of the fate of the disappeared, almost as if these people, this time in history, the violence did not exist. The work therefore, references personal stories and collective histories, letters that were never sent, stories that were never written, histories that were never documented, fates that were never divulged. But the work also functions as a tabula rassa - a blank slate open to the viewer's own inscription and interpretation. So the blank paper then could hold any words, carry any meaning.

JHM: Can you reveal what material your sculpture is made of?

RB: For "The Weight of Things" I experimented for several months with different materials. It was important for me to work with a material that directly referenced the concept - some sort of paper. I wanted the paper to imitate the folds and movement caused by the wind. I finally discovered a material called Paperclay, which is like a super-fine papier-maché. It is soft and pliable, can be sanded and painted and when it dries it is fairly stiff and sturdy. This allowed me to sculpt each piece individually. In the end, after they had been sculpted, sanded, painted and sanded again - though it was a pretty labor-intensive process. I was able to achieve the desired result . In other sculptural works, I allow the concept to dictate the medium, materials and processes I use, but each time it is an experiment - sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

JHM: Have you had any major awards or recognitions in the past?

RB: In 2004 I was the Featured Artist at the Latino Art Forum at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University . The exhibition got favorable reviews in the Boston Globe.I also received a number of grants while completing my graduate and undergraduate studies and have been featured in the Pittsburgh Post and the Poughkeepsie Journal and some other local publications.

JHM: What does being a Juried Winner mean to you?

RB: Mainly it is an opportunity to get a greater public to view my work - to have exposure to an audience that otherwise might not see it. It is also interesting to be placed amongst a spectrum of other Juried Winners, and to see how our approaches vary in the ways in which we work and address our art.

JHM: I was also drawn by your name considering that I come from a country with a rich Spanish heritage. Can you tell me more about yourself?

RB: I was born in Montevideo, Uruguay - only 3 million of us, half Italian and half Spanish. In the mid ‘70's my immediate family left as a result of the dictatorship (an experience that informs much of my work). Since then, I have lived and travelled abroad extensively, so the migratory experience is also a major component in the conceptualization of my work. While I am very grounded in my Hispanic background I do not consider myself a "Latino Artist". I feel these labels impose a pre-conceived notion of what the art should be. Although the work is definitely informed by my personal experiences I strive to create work that can be interpreted by a larger audience, a public that need not have had the same experiences, the same cultural references to understand the work.

JHM: I saw your other works. Your profile says you're into sculpture, conceptual, installation, and mixed-media. How were you able to discover that this is the kind of art for you?

RB: When I started art school I was drawn to a broad spectrum of processes and techniques - painting, drawing, ceramics, photography, printmaking...etc. but none of these seemed like the right fit. All of these media would have meant that I would have to adapt or alter my concepts to the limitations of the process, which was always frustrating for me. It always seemed stifling to me - too rigid, too confining. It wasn't until I completed my graduate studies and embarked on my own studio practice that I began to incorporate these varied processes into my work, which was always conceptually-driven. I tend to work backwards, letting the idea dictate the form the work will take and selecting the processes, techniques and materials that will allow me to carry out my concept. So if an idea needs to be expressed on paper I use drawing, if it needs to be representational I use photography, if it needs to be tactile I use sculpture...etc., but I never know how a work will end up until I start it. Oddly, I usually begin with a title and allow the work to evolve from there.

JHM: I notice the deliberate choice of just a hint, or even a lack, of color in your works. Any particular reason?

RB: My choice of a monochromatic palette is not arbitrary. Color is a powerful signifier - it assigns meaning and imposes interpretation. By limiting my color palette to white it neutralizes the work, allowing the viewer to arrive at their own conclusions. I do use color in some of my work, but only when it is pre-existing - as in some of my photographic or sculptural works that incorporate found objects. Color, in those instances has a reason for being there. Otherwise, I feel that it is an unnecessary intervention on my part.

JHM: What artists have been most influential to your work?

RB: Felix Gonzalez-Torres has definitely had a profound influence on my work, both formally and conceptually. I've always been drawn to the minimalist elegance of his work, which is subtle and poetic while being powerful and tragic. His work is approachable, non-pretentious yet enduring. It's the sort of work that leaves an impression even though (and perhaps because) it is so ephemeral.
Ann Hamilton has also been informative particularly in her approaches to place and environment in her installation work. Artists like Juan Manuel Echevarria, Doris Salcedo and Luis Camnitzer, in their varied approaches to the topic of violence, have also been influential. Others like Janet Cardiff, Francis Alys, the early works of Bruce Nauman, Jane and Louise Wilson, Tara Donovan, William Kentridge, Gordon Matta-Clark, Trevor Paglen, (the list could go on) are also artists that I admire who have, in one way or another affected the way in which I work.

JHM: What inspires you to produce a specific piece?

RB: Although for me there is a major autobiographical component to my work, most of it is actually inspired by texts. Much of what I read is non-fiction, I translate the text into imagery. I do this for myself more than for any potential audience. I think for me it is a means of digesting information. Aleksandr Luria's writings on memory, Svetlana Boym's works on place identity, Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space, which has influenced much of the architecturally-inspired works, Michel DeCerteau's insights to collective and individual identities, Argentine poet Nestor Perlongher's "Hay Cadaveres" (There are Corpses) and Portuguese writer José Saramago (particularly in his book Blindness) - among others, all have, in some way informed my work. Otherwise, it is common, everyday experiences that inspire me - things that are so banal that they could be overlooked. So, it's really a combination of my impressions of the everyday combined with my readings that inspire a particular work.

ArtSlant would like to thank Rosalia Bermudez for her assistance in making this interview possible.

-Joan Honoridez-Mocorro aka Joan of Art

(All Images: Rosalia Bermudez, The Weight of Things, 2008-2009, paperclay, variable dimension installation; Courtesy Rosalia Bermudez.)

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