The Visual and Sonic Language of Daniel Lind-Ramos' "Armario de la Memoria"
The Puerto Rican artist talks about his debut solo show at Marlborough in New York, now on view online.
Con-junto (The Ensemble), 2015, mixed media. Photo: Pierre Le Hors
It’s a rainy Friday the 13th on 25th Street in Chelsea. Most storefronts are closed as the news of a global pandemic’s arrival spreads around the city, but I am here at Marlborough to meet Daniel Lind-Ramos, whose first solo show in New York, Armario de la Memoria (Storage of Memory) has recently opened. He lives and works in Loiza, Puerto Rico, where he also grew up, and the community is intricately connected to his practice. Using objects he finds (or sometimes inherits), he creates large-scale assemblages that allude to events in Caribbean history, traditions, and rituals. After taking part in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, Lind-Ramos has since won the NADA Artadia Award, and Perez Art Museum Miami's Perez Prize. Amidst the pending outbreak in the city, we speak fondly about our memories of Puerto Rico, and the power that lies within remembering together.
(This interview was conducted in Spanish. Léala en Español aquí.)
I understand the materials you use in your work, come from your town, Loíza, but at the same time you are thinking about historical events and traditions. Which one do you pay attention to first?
Well, what moves this practice into motion is memory, past experiences that define us. I am speaking from a remote place in terms of my home, which would be autobiographical, and from the community with the collective memories and the history of the island in the Antillean context. Objects activate those memories and I start there. Objects may belong to my family's dynamics, economic trends, or cultural activities such as Loíza’s famous mask festivals. Those objects cause me to be inspired by an image or memory, they take me there.
Do you think of your early paintings as references even for your most recent work? I imagine that your sense of color took shape during this stage.
I was lucky to have a teacher like Félix Bonilla Norat, who delved into color theory. These elements would then have their place in my sculptures. There is always a key in color, from the formal to the symbolic. He spoke of psychological space through color, where you use color instead of linear perspective to create the illusion of deep spaces. I ponder on how the use of color affects the narrative and how I can refer to the local, the national, and even the global.
I find it curious that this work ["Piñones"] is named after a place, which differs from some of your other works.
Well, Piñones is an emblematic place, where there is cooking and there is music, and it is an important place in the history of Puerto Rico. [It's] like a border, all of that is there [points to the piece]. Orange is fire; I have the burén [a burén is a rudimentary clay stove] above, the firewood ... It is a song to that sector so identified in Puerto Rico. Because, wow, who on the island doesn't know Piñones? And for tourists it is also a point of reference. It is a fundamental place for the community in many ways.
You just described the piece as a song.
Yes, a visual song.
I was curious, considering your references and the nature of your work, do you think about how your sculptures sound?
Ah, very good question. When the theme warrants it, I seek to create the visual equivalence to the sonorous aspects. For example, if you look at the sides of the piece it has two little baths. Do you recognize them, the round containers?
Yes! My grandmother told me about how she would go up the river behind her house to fill them with water for bathing.
Exactly! [Laughing.] Well, I remember my mom giving me a bath in something like that. But when you see it from this side it evokes a musical instrument [used to play] Bomba. And with this sculpture I am thinking about rhythm. Notice the cut of each palm tree trunk I use, as the movement of the rope’s texture sounds like a güiro. But also note that there are variations within the repetition of materials.
Of course, as in the Bomba you have a constant, deep rhythm and a sharp rhythm that is played based on the movements of the person who dances. Improvisation
Well, being from Loíza, I spent a lot of my youth at Bomba dances. I was thinking about the memory of this and how memory lives through these rhythms that you mention.
And that creates an entry point for musicians…
Yes, and I do this with the intention of bringing in those who see this. Perhaps they might have knowledge of the medium like you. But another may have more experience with cooking, and connect with the kitchen elements. Or perhaps they see it as the form of an ancestor if they know about West Indian spirituality. All those references are here. I simply structure them and let the objections evoke meaning. And whoever is present participates with this according to their experiences.
I try to make the surface be felt, the memory of having touched something. I trust that the viewer will activate something in their memory. Because in the end we are human beings with certain essences in common. And those essences are always present, such as the sense of belonging, the familial experience, the feelings that objects carry for each person. I bet on that. I do not have a specific audience in mind because I am interested in exactly how the general public can share within the specificity of my work. In this way I aspire to know ourselves better as human beings. There are more reasons that unite us than the differences we may have. Look at what's going on with the coronavirus! You can be from any nation right now and you may be experimenting with the consequences of the virus. Because, in essence, there isn’t one person that could fight it more than others.
Your work also has performance and participatory actions as well, what other “materials” are you planning to use for upcoming projects?
I am always thinking of new objects. Whatever appears! I consider whatever I can use to carry a narrative. For “De Loíza a La Loíza” I shaped an assembly of movements as my objects. Something that would involve the community as elements of the composition. I invited musicians, poets, and cooks to perform their actions. Things that I try to present through the sculptures you already see here. And I called up the neighborhood where I have my studio to talk about the topic of food, and I went to interview the coconut supplier, the vendor, the cook… we began to remember together.
So you turned your process around. After bringing objects to your study to make the sculptures, you went out to look for people from the community to be part of the work itself.
Just like that, the same structure! So I summoned the artists and poets to perform their actions inside the house where I grew up and which I have bought to create a cultural space. In this house my interest is to be able to activate these memories, this knowledge in one way or another. I created an assembly with actions instead of objects. In fact, this is a project that I had had in mind for a long time, but the lack of budget and infrastructure on the island made it difficult until only recently.
Something that tends to happen a lot in Puerto Rico for various reasons.
Oh yes! [Both laugh.]
In a video for the Whitney Biennial, you said you didn't like getting rid of toys and other objects as a kid. When creating these pieces, do you think you are expressing a longing for your childhood?
I would say yes. I confess that regardless of whether we lived in material scarcity, we lived in the abundance of relationships, you know? So it is very possible..
Your wanting to use the objects around you, is it also a message about that material scarcity you just mentioned?
Yes, what I want to also propose is that there is no excuse. In whatever circumstances, you can create and use your imagination to take shape. In this eschatological stage of capitalism I see so much “buy, buy and buy” and then there is so much left over or thrown away. But within what is left over and thrown away I see possibilities, and that is what I propose. I say to people "Hey, relax! Let's use inventiveness in every sense of the word." You can work with your circumstances, but if we conform to the structures already imposed, we remain the same, believing the same things, not giving solutions to important problems, and the list goes on. But with my work I try to offer something different with the unity of all [the objects]. With my years of training I am already in a stage of always flowing… and I have done these things without thinking that I would be here, with an important exhibition, or in the Whitney Museum. It is simply that natural urge to express yourself; it is the certainty of being in this experience we call life. And I try, in my point of view, to create visual symbols that speak of that experience. That is what interests me, regardless of the rest. Being in Puerto Rico, I did not know that this would come out of my workshop, I just knew that I wanted to do it.
- Daniel Lind-Ramos