by Vatsala SethiSep 08, 2022
GeoVanna Gonzalez’s most recent work How To: Oh, look at me pieces together a poignant modern-day mythos pertaining to how we connect, communicate, and perhaps engage with one another, not only on a personal level but also on a worldly scale through our physical environments. At a time when human interactions and our interaction with the physical world have undergone extreme restrictions, starving us of the engagement which we were used to and, in many ways, had come to depend on, the work is extremely pertinent and relevant in tone. “I think this is a really nice interpretation of the piece,” the artist says while adding that, “it is definitely about connection, communication, engagement and perception, both on and offline. This work is layered and constantly feeding back onto itself".
The installation How To: Oh, look at me, is the fifth iteration of Gonzalez’s ongoing How to series. She creates works of art to accompany poems from an online open-source poetry collection called Tutorials by Martin Jackson. The poems themselves have been created through a voice-to-text translation algorithm, written and shared in a cloud-based Google document. There is a sense of collaboration and participation in this work which comes through in certain elements, such as when readers are invited to comment and edit the poems on the Google document, these poems are visually translated by Gonazalez in what she calls her functional sculptures.
“It’s funny because I started off as a painter, primarily drawing with paint. When I was in college, a lot of my teachers would tell me that my paintings looked like they wanted to be sculptures. It wasn’t until after college that I started working in 3D. Initially I used coloured acrylic glass, that allowed me to continue to paint in a sense because it worked with light and shadow,” the artist explains. “People looking at the sculpture could see their own reflection in the work; I, myself was interested in manipulating material, in making it look like something it wasn’t. The material I suppose became an entry point for me to have conversations around perception and expectation as it related to gender and identity," she adds.
Gonzalez continues to be preoccupied with questions around gender and identity, her investigations into these topics extend into medium. In her work PLAY, LAY, AYE: Navigating Queerness, Where Space is always in Flux | Act I, made from welded steel and a translucent blue acrylic glass, the act of welding allows the artist to mould and shape her work with the same freedom she had whilst drawing and painting. It also begs one to consider if the process of creating the work through welding doesn’t also in some ways reflect on the moulding and shaping of our notions of gender, identity, and connection as impacted by our external environments – societal, political, mental and emotional.
Gonzalez’s idea of 'functional sculptures' stems from her transition into work that was no longer confined by a static spatiality. Instead, it was able to hold space for other people to join and participate in the conversation that the artist was sparking. “These functional sculptures allow for more collaborative partnerships. They allow me to merge my art practice and curatorial practice, something that until now I had to keep separate. I am making this work with the intention of opening it up to partnerships and collaboration through performance, because it allows other voices to be heard," continues the artist.
What is particularly interesting in Gonzalez’s practice is the attention and time given to investigating ideas and issues in the conceptualisation phase. Much of her work delves in the negotiations between the public and the private spheres – who dictates it, how does it affect our lives, and what it means to reclaim and occupy space. “A common thread pulling my body of work together is that I work towards strategies that prioritise holding space for women and people of colour. My most recent collaboration is in the form of performance which I find very powerful and visceral. Most of the time it’s ephemeral which I think makes this medium very special like a fleeting moment,” explains the artist.
Exotic Naps, which is a personal meditation on the quarantine experience, was created during the lockdown, in the first three months when we were collectively grappling and getting used to the impact of social isolation and disconnectedness. The video piece, which was commissioned by the ICA Miami, is eerily isolating with a desperate sense of fragmentation. “It was a moment where everything stopped and what that did was make me reflect on my past, present and future. The text that I am reading in the film is made up of notes and parts of quotes, ideas that I had written down in my sketchbooks throughout several years, that I compiled together as a stream of consciousness poem,” she says.
There has always been a strong sense of collaboration and engagement in the artist’s work which was obviously disrupted by the pandemic induced lockdown. The physicality of it, the experience of bringing people together, participating with the community, none of which could be translated through digital platforms like Zoom or Hangouts. Gonzalez instead embarked on a project with her partner Najja Moon, which over time became a form of response to the pandemic called the ‘Aesthetics of Mobility’ - a video conversation series in which the artist duo reflects on the work they were doing in a purely conceptual way. Exploring questions such as – why do we build things the way we do? What do we value? What makes certain things essential?
The artist observes: “With How To, a multi-layered, functional sculpture, we have a visual translation of the No Rothko [poem] by Martin Jackson. This poem was created through a series of errors developed from a voice to text algorithm. The errors which appear embody voices other than the white male voice, which clearly shows us who the algorithm is intended for. We find these in most algorithms today, suggesting there is no ‘space’ for other voices and perspectives. I wanted to build a visual algorithm that is by and exists for women, people of colour and queer folks".
The work reflects on our idea of perception, and what does it mean to be present in a space with ourselves and in the company of others. Whether we are online in a digital world or offline in real life, we experience our lives through or tangentially over a screen, images or videos. Does it count as having happened if it isn’t documented in a photograph or uploaded on social media? Are we able to really connect with others if their presence is not mediated by a screen? With the boost given to our digital presence and lives in this past year of upheaval that is continuing, it is important to understand and reflect on our idea of communication and connections in IRL and URL. It forces us to pause and reconsider our self-awareness and how we perceive the world around us. Take a moment and be present, it says.