The Story Behind Strange Correspondence
It’s been ages since I’ve written a post. I wanted to write about the story behind Strange Correspondence; to share the joy and struggle behind my biggest, most ambitious project to date; a project that took almost 4 years in the making, from when I first started painting, to its exhibition in October 2017.
Strange Correspondence started in Bogota in late 2012 after just returning from living in France for four years. The chaos of my city overwhelmed me. I came back from a small, organized European city, and Bogota is the absolute opposite of this. Art came in handy at this point of my life –as it always has–, giving me a channel to express all those unsettling feelings I had.
This wasn’t a totally conscious process. I just felt the need to take pictures of chaotic places, disorganized places, in ruins and abandoned. After gathering hundreds of photos, I started to see all sorts of possibilities in terms of composition, color, geometry, light, to translate them into the canvas. Then came the feminine characters immersed in those spaces.
To be honest, at the beginning I had no real idea of what I was doing. This was an intuitive process, almost unconscious. I knew I was strongly drawn to all those forms of disorder but didn’t know why. Later ─much later─, I would realize I was actually in a deep quest for beauty in the most precarious and chaotic situations. Somehow, I was trying to embrace the instability I was facing at the time, and not just in the city but in myself. The instability which characterizes the life of every human being at one level or another.
When I identified the theme of the series through painting, I slowly started to envision how to go beyond the limits of the canvas in order to generate new metaphors and symbolisms. Searching for a connection between static and moving images, painted characters and spaces would later come to life through dance, music and video sequences.
By 2014, I had a solo exhibition of the paintings. Immediately after that I contacted musicians and dancers who would help me, over the course of two years, to give music and movement to the static images.
I chose the four most recurring elements in the paintings to make four videos: doors, ruins, chairs and crashed cars. These transitory elements hide an entire symbolic universe and they all talk about uncertainty and chance, as well as about an “interlude” between a moment of rupture and something else which is still not there, because it hasn’t been created yet.
Working with the musicians and dancers based on these four elements was a fascinating experience. All of the people I had the honor to work with are professionals in their fields with a lot of experience, but none of them had ever choreographed or composed based on two-dimensional images.
I first invited the musicians, Nicolas Diaz and Jorge Currea, to try and unveil possible sounds from the paintings. They did an amazing job translating the doors, ruins, chairs and crashed cars into actual musical pieces. Once we had the drafts for the music, came the dancers. I had the fortune to work with Cortocinesis, one of the most renowned Colombian contemporary dance companies, who choreographed and rehearsed for several months.
We worked together on and off for more than a year until the soundtrack and choreography were almost ready. I then had the chance to meet cinematographer Jose Antonio Lucio, who was excited about the project when I told him about it, and helped me conform a top-notch film crew. With him, art director Paula Thomas and wardrobe designer Claudia Rojas, I worked for several months in the quest for the locations, the design of the wardrobe, defining the angles and movements of the cameras… all to give life to the paintings on the screen.
The four chosen –and available– locations were a construction materials’ deposit in the North of Bogota, a truck garage in Bosa, an attic at Gimnasio Moderno School and a cement factory in Sibaté.
The videos were filmed in two weekends in May 2015. It was a very exciting experience for all of us because no one had really imagined how the filming scenarios would look like. Seeing all those doors and chairs and trucks, and the mountains of cement, and how everything registered in the cameras, was a magical, unforgettable experience. Like pieces finally falling into place after so much work and such a long wait.
I danced in one of the videos: “Chairs”. I would’ve loved to dance in all of them, but it was physically impossible to produce, direct and perform in all of them. And of course, I didn’t have the training that the guys from Cortocinesis had. So I picked the choreography I knew I could handle, while at the same time being in charge of the overall film operation. That day we had to move 100 chairs and desks up to and down a 3rd floor, through a very precarious scaffolding staircase. We also repeated the choreography like a thousand times. The dancers were total pros, keeping the energy level high throughout the entire process, like during the other 3 filming days. I was dead by the end of the day.
In 2016, the videos were finally ready. It took a lot longer than I expected mostly because this was a self-financed project. There were times I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish it. There were many sleepless nights and tears. I applied to grants and all sorts of financial support but never got any. This didn’t bring me down ─so many people were willing to participate in the project and help me bring it to life that I knew I had to find a way. So I used my paintings to finance the project, either exchanging them with the film crew, or selling them to pay the dancers and musicians, and to rent equipment. I also relied on the kindness and support of people who participated or let me use a location, or a rehearsal space, for free. I am so very grateful to so many people, without whom the creation of Strange Correspondence wouldn’t have been possible. Please see the Full Credit List.
Along this entire process, I was on an endless search for the perfect place to show the project in a large-scaled, multimedia exhibition with the paintings, the videos and even some of the props and documentation of the process. I can’t remember how many proposals I sent, or how many meetings I had. I was rejected by several spaces in Bogota and abroad. Or got accepted, but with the condition of having to pay for the entire production of the event myself, or showing for the duration of just a week or so. After such an enormous effort creating the project, I wanted to have the perfect exhibition…and so I kept searching.
Meanwhile, I sent the videos to several international video-dance festivals. To this day, I am happy to say that the Ruins video, the IV chapter of the video series, has received various awards and has been shown in video festivals around the world.
Just when I was about to give up searching for the exhibition space, in September 2017 I met with Diana Valbuena from Casa Cano Gallery in Bogota, who fell in love with the project. It turned out they had just had a cancellation and their space was free in October…and they wanted to show Strange Correspondence. She asked me if I was ready to show it in a month. I told her I had been ready for years.
VICE Colombia had been a big supporter of the project, and they had produced a behind-the-scenes video that was in the shelves, waiting to be released. Until the exhibition finally took place, opening in October 18th, 2017! We had so very little time to promote it, so very little press, that I couldn’t believe when people kept showing up to a full house the opening night, expressing their awe and amazement towards the project.
And so I felt that I had done a beautiful thing with that unsettling, almost painful feeling of uncertainty that overwhelmed me back in 2013, when I came back to Colombia.
But the most exciting aspect of all of this has been the people telling me that they understand, that they identify with that unsettling feeling and the need to find beauty in the most chaotic situations and feelings. After all, that’s what being alive is all about: finding purpose, no matter how disorganized, how crazy, how chaotic things can get.