ArtSlant's New York City Editor, Trong G. Nguyen, spent some time talking wih Diego Medina about his project currently on view at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (Construction of Cultures, May 29 - July 24, 2008). The following Q&A resulted from their correspondence.
Trong Gia Nguyen: Let's talk about your current show, Construction of Cultures, at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning. You were born in Mexico and have been living in New York City since 1995. How have the two cultures 'clashed' for you personally and in your work?
Diego Medina, Construction of Cultures, 2008; Courtesy of artist
Diego Medina: I think migration represents a very strong shock in the life of a person. To me migration can be from one part to another in the same city, state to state, or from one culture to another, and any move implies a moment of change that requires certain resolution, adaptation or integration. The constant presence of it in human history made me think of my own personal process as an opportunity for a positive outcome. You have the chance to question your cultural, national and personal identity from the base, and restructure it as you go along. The process of integrating oneself into a new culture and place is also an opportunity for transformation and change, doubling and multiplying identities, which I think is a good thing. It's a broader vision and understanding of life and its processes. I have been constantly interested in the way cities are built, in social terms. Moving from Mexico to New York made the search more interesting to consider in the cultural and artistic equation.
TGN: You've taken remnants of a Gordon Matta Clark appropriation and reconstruction of Open House and created a room of your own, with multiple views. The doors open in and out of one another as a metaphor for diverse routes and possibilities. Do they all lead to one destination for you?
DM: Happiness is the short answer. The long answer is that every door as any life situation offers you the chance to open yourself to changes with many ways to solve them, if you want, or not even solve them, just drag them around. What I liked of Matta-Clark’s Open House is that it gives you the chance to enter a space and experience it in a way that you can relate to your own life. By entering in a big container with multiple partitions and doors, you have the chance to explore yourself. I decided to work on the same idea of entering a space and experiencing it but with the piece conceived as a series of stages akin to the process of migration. It is a reciprocal passage like the one you might face with every stage in life. You go in, you go out, with no specific order, but once you enter, the outcome is something different than the beginning.
TGN: The anthropomorphic sculptures reconfigured from found wood and furniture are given the name 'slaves.' What has been the reaction to this connotation?
DM: Shock and surprise. It immediately sparks a conversation either on slavery or labor, which is my goal with the pieces and with any work of art, to start and maintain a dialogue, spectator-artist, spectator-spectator. Everybody has an opinion on the issue of labor and possibly slavery, be it racial, class or gender related, and the reactions are wide; from people who wish to have slaves to the ones that deny history and to the ones that keep silent, just thinking, maybe in their own labor conditions.
TGN: Your 'corner sculptures' - which are not in the show - are a way for you to further explore differences and similarities in east and west cultures, using geometry, mathematics, and architecture. They have the look of utility, but are not made for such purposes. Is this a way of indirectly addressing any political content, or does such not figure into your work at all?
Diego Medina, Fibonacci Variations, 2008; Courtesy of artist
DM: It is directly political. As with the slaves, one of my goals with the series of pieces Encounter Middle East–West is to start a dialogue with present world events, the current conflict, the economy, oil, terrorism, elections, ecology. The themes keep branching out of those four words. I like to use my sculptures as symbols. I try to make them as close and concise as possible in visual terms. In the case of these pieces, I am exploring the cultural connotations of certain geometric figures, like the 90 degree angle or square representing the West, and the eight pointed star or variations of cuts at 22.5 degrees representing Middle East, with different combinations of all those cuts and angles, resulting in very geometric pieces that resemble architectural details or absurd utilitarian objects.
TGN: You use a lot of found materials in your work. How do you think contemporary artists, including yourself, connect reclamation to the current green movement? Or have artists always been ahead of the curve?
DM: The current green movement to me stays short with the grade of inventiveness and conscience that has been present in art production. Although I would like to see less toxic and poisonous materials and more recycling, I think artists in general have always had a good understanding of “good” materials, not to mention the miraculous use of resources.
TGN: Not many people are familiar with Jaimaca Center for Arts and Learning. Tell us a little about your 11-month residency experience there. High points and low points.
DM: The workspace residency at Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning is a great chance to get acquainted with Jamaica Queens, to work closely with the local community and at the same time to focus on your own work at the studio. I divided my stay in several stages; being outside, recognizing the space and community, and working on what I saw later at the studio. One of the best things at JCAL is their high degree of involvement with the community, something that allowed me to develop a workshop and a commissioned public work, a mural, as part of my exhibition. To me the whole experience was a series of high points. Even the long commute from Brooklyn turned to be an excellent reading time.
Diego Medina, Sweeping Slave and Reflected Slave, 2008; Courtesy of artist
ArtSlant would like to thank Diego Medina for his assistance in making this interview possible.
- Trong G. Nguyen
(Image on top right: Diego Medina, Gordon Matta Clark's Open House (Recirpocal Passage), 2008; Courtesy of artist)