As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Jiménez Galvis. Laura Jiménez Galvis was born in Bogotá, Colombia. She has a BFA from Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá and an MFA in Studio Arts with an emphasis in Photography from Hunter College in New York. She uses photography in both analog and digital formats as a primary tool in the design and making of scale scenographic models and props, artist’s books, and textile pieces to address notions of absence, legacy, and transformation. In 2015 she was a commissioned photographer of the inaugural edition of The Magazine of The Artist’s Institute, under the artistic direction of Pierre Huyghe, which obtained a Swiss Federal Award for the Most Beautiful Book of the Year (2015). In the same year, she was included in the annual listing “Artists of Promise” from Christie’s Education, New York. Her work has been seen and published in exhibitions, catalogs and books in the United States, France, Germany, Spain and Colombia. She currently lives and works in Bogotá, dividing her time between her artistic practice, her role as an art director and as an educator in the field of art and photography in its contemporary context.
(Photo by Laura Jiménez Galvis)
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up? I grew up in a very inspiring and stimulating environment, surrounded by books and lots of music records. I lived with both my father, who was a psychiatrist and my mother, who used to be a puppeteer. They both took active care of my artistic education and provided me with all the necessary materials and resources to express myself through art. On the other hand, I used to frequently visit my grandmother’s house, which was on the corner of that same street, so I shared my time between the two houses — which, by the way, were architecturally equal. I spent time with both her and my aunt, who also lived in that house and was a painter and a ceramist. She had a beautiful studio in the back part of the house. I still recall its smell, between turpentine and oil, and her collection of seashells and glass bottles. Although not officially, I feel I was, in a way, homeschooled. My father, mother, grandmother and aunt were crucial during my childhood and teenage years, and in the way I relate to the world since then, through art. I definitely owe them a lot. Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path? I think my career path was basically marked since my early childhood, as I was always driven to express myself through drawing and painting. In fact, during junior and high school, I was often in charge of doing cover designs for the yearbook or creating set designs for theatrical plays. I really never even thought of studying anything else besides Fine Arts. Although I was always interested — as I am still today — in areas like architecture, history, cinema and the world of theater, choosing Arts as my main career path was definitely the way to go, as it potentially combined many of those interests. That’s what I pursued after graduating from school. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career? I recall a vivid memory of something that happened before I graduated from university. Today, I see this as a turning point during my studies and a definite mark on my career path. There was a new photography teacher in the art department, who was very well reputed, an excellent photographer and also very strict. The first day of class, we were 20 students in her classroom. The following day, we were only eight. I was convinced she had a lot to give, and the syllabus of her class looked promising. Although she was very demanding since day one, I was totally interested in her class and was willing to follow her guidance, no matter how tough she appeared to be. Today, I consider her to be one of the best teachers I ever had. I got to learn from her not only about the photographic technique but also about work ethics and rigor in professional practice. After finishing the course, one day during vacation, my mother told me she had called home (this was at a time when there were no cell phones), asking if I could return her call. When I did, she said: “Laura, I’m looking for you because I’m in need of a photography assistant; would you be interested in working with me?” Not only was this flattering to me, but it was also proof that taking her class and accepting the challenge was beyond positive and transforming. I believe this event changed my path in the arts. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? I am currently working on a project related to the disappearance of my father’s library after his death, more than two decades ago. The project involves many of my interests in photography, sculpture, architecture and theatrical set design and is composed of different sections, which together conform The Daughter of the Great Library. This is both a direct reference to my personal life and the relationship I had with the collection, as well as a reference to the remnant of the Library of Alexandria, after its sack and destruction. It is based on the existence of a short remnant of books, composed of 140 volumes, some of them patrimonial which I still have with me and explores notions of absence, legacy and transformation. At the same time, I am really excited to be working with Blanca Pascual Baztán and Clara Andrade Pereira, founders of La Pera Projects, an innovative platform for emerging and mid-career contemporary artists and for young collectors who want to know more about the contemporary art world to start a collection. Their strategy moves in the realms of social media and Whatsapp. La Pera Projects has already proven to be a success; just six months after the launch, they have more than 3500 members. I am proud to say that two collectors have chosen a couple of my pieces from the collaboration we did with La Pera — mostly work inspired by my explorations of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories? In New York, while studying for my master’s degree, I got to meet two of the most fascinating and inspiring people: the first one was my teacher and mentor and the second reader of my thesis, Constance De Jong, who taught a class I was enrolled in. The class was about artist books. I recall her confidence and elegance, but most of all, I remember her eye-opening ideas and reflections on books. She viewed them from three different lenses: books as objects, books as images and books as texts. Today, these notions emerge and permeate my artistic practice in the project The Daughter of the Great Library, which I mentioned earlier. Right after finishing my MFA studies, I worked at the Peter Beard Studio, alongside the head archivist and the artist himself. The most memorable thing about this experience was Peter and the wildness of his character, and the way it was reflected in and through his work. The scale and dimensions, the materiality, the transgression of the photographic medium; all for the sake of creating work that was authentic. Peter personified the idea of creative impulse and artistic freedom, so getting to share time and experiences with him in his studio and in his archive was certainly a privilege of a lifetime. In brief, I remember them as bold, tough and inspiring. Those are qualities I highly admire in a teacher and mentor, as they both were for me. Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that? The world of theater has been a definitive source of visual, aesthetic and conceptual inspiration since my early childhood. Growing up in a household where both my father and mother were closely related to the world of theater and masks — my father from his practice as a psychiatrist who used psychodrama as a therapeutic tool with his patients; and my mother, who used to be a puppeteer. I was introduced to the world of drama and the stage early on in my life. Since I was around six or seven, visiting puppetry and marionettes theatribos meant the world to me, and it was something we did quite often with my mom. At the same time, the space and the idea of the museum (natural history, art and history collections) as well as the history of art have been crucial in my work. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? In addition to being an artist and a photographer, I am an educator — I teach photography at a university level. To me, teaching is an exercise that completes my creative relationship with the world. I like providing both the physical and mental space and the technical and conceptual tools to my students so that they can connect the dots themselves and find a way to pursue their creative drive. I always considered teaching as something I really wanted to do, so in part, I pursued a master’s degree in the field of the arts to be able to teach. I love connecting ideas, concepts and real cases from the history of art and photography in front of my students, and I love communication. Recently I ran into a book about Josef Albers mission as a teacher at Black Mountain College. The book is called “To Open Eyes.” That’s pretty much how I see myself in a classroom.
(Photo by Laura Jiménez Galvis)
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Never assume that talent guarantees success. This notion often forefronts the importance of having an active compromise with your practice: read, watch films, visit the places and spaces of art and history of all kinds, follow content-driven accounts on Instagram (there’s so much to see down there!). And, if I can say, practice meditation. Silence and pause are always necessary.
Understand your creative practice from intuition, which exists, and individuality, which has always been there and can always be nurtured. Listen to your gut — learn to listen and to believe in it.
Understand your creative practice from context and community. Our practices are nurtured by our specific surroundings, our past and our present. Therefore context is key: creativity is not an act of spontaneous combustion.
It is crucial to learn to deal with certainty and uncertainty. Successful moves, failure and mistakes move and oscillate in a perpetual and constant flow. By enduring them, we are led to the experience of perseverance, believing and understanding our own practice, process and rhythms.
Never underestimate your spectators and commentators. You never know how much they can bring to reflection and conversation.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-) I teach a class which I called Experimental Languages in Photography. More than anything, this is a class about ideas and concepts. The class is intended for students from first to last semester, from careers such as Architecture and Design, to Economy, Medicine and Law. I have found this exploitation through creative challenges of those cognitive abilities — visual, spatial, sometimes cynetic — has not only shown them they have (and have always had) a “secret” talent but also that through activating those abilities they have found their potential for resourcefulness, recursivity, creativity and problem-solving. Through the process, they open — let’s use the word stretch — their minds and gradually develop a growth/grown mindset. I truly believe artistic education should have a more of a protagonist role in all moments and models of the educational system. Apart from this, I would also say that the breaking of socio-economic boundaries is necessary to dissolve this abismal breach — of which I’m a witness everyday in my role as an educator — in access to high-quality education to every single person on this planet. We are clearly in debt in this aspect. We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this. I would definitely go with Krzysztof Warlikowski, the Polish theater and artistic director of Nowy Teatr in Warsaw. His aesthetic point of view, his visual language and the conceptual approach to theatrical direction and set design through the use of several different media (architectural design, video and photography projections, the use of color and the mastering of light) have always been very inspiring and eye-opening for me. What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media? I am quite active on Instagram (Laura Jiménez Galvis @lalavicta) where I periodically share images of my practice and process as well as visual material that interests me or informs my work. Although I like to keep my account private, anyone can follow me ;) This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Author/Interviewer: Edward Sylvan