{ remnants } of a { ritual }

 

MFA thesis installation first exhibited at UC Santa Cruz in May 2019.

 

{ remnants } of a { ritual } is an immersive site-specific installation: both a sacred place outside of time, and a confluence of the past, present and future. It is my love letter to Venezuela, to my family, and those living in diaspora. A contemplative piece considering the boundaries of the sacred and the mundane.

This participatory installation offers an emergent, personal reflection on Venezuelan diaspora and memory crystallization. Seeded with media from my family’s personal archive, { remnants } of a { ritual } engages visitors with artifacts undergoing cultural and alchemical transformations. 

{ remnants } of a { ritual } invites visitors to write love letters to the future and other unknowns: creating a cycle of offering and social healing in these tense sociopolitical times.

To learn more about the process leading up to the installation check out my Behind the Curtain guest post or visit my blog, @the#.

Excerpts from my thesis paper & more about my ritual process below ↓

 
A gif showcasing the lighting and projection in  { remnants } of a { ritual }

A gif showcasing the lighting and projection in { remnants } of a { ritual }

 

 

The Experience

An encounter with an archive: a wunderkammer of memories, an altar to nostalgia and timelessness.

Figure 1 - photograph courtesy of David Pace (2019)

Figure 1 - photograph courtesy of David Pace (2019)

 

{ remnants } of a { ritual } is both a personal, intergenerational collection of artifacts, and an emerging curation of mementos generated by gallery visitors. The media in the piece draws directly from my family’s personal archive (Figure 1).

The photography projected on the walls are from my grandfather’s time as a photojournalist in Venezuela. This archive consists of landscapes of the city, the beaches, the mountains, and agricultural fields that I remixed using style transfer — a specific classification of machine learning (Figure 2).

Projected on the floor are stanzas from the poem, “A Guayana”, which was written by my great-grandfather in the mid-1950s (Figure 3). The chandelier that hangs in the center of the room is reminiscent of a mobile that hung in my grandmother’s home in Venezuela. All of the media was remixed, translated, and reimagined as part of my creative, alchemical process: the alchemy of {}

On the perimeter of the installation are four pedestals with unique prompts for writing love letters. They are provocations to consider themes of nostalgia and diaspora. Visitors are invited to inscribe their love letters on Venezuelan bolívares; a currency in flux in need of re-imagination. At the center of the space, hangs an 8-foot-tall chandelier comprised of crystallized vellum and Venezuelan currency. Underneath it sits a large bowl filled with a solution where participants can offer their love letters to become crystallized.

 
 
Visitors during the show opening

Visitors during the show opening

 

the Space

 
Close-up detail of the sculpture’s crystallize love letters

Close-up detail of the sculpture’s crystallize love letters

A mix of atmospheric projection, dynamic lighting, and ambient sound creates an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere — each scene altering the space and engaging spectators to linger and be lost in the experience. Read more about the technical details of { remnants } of a { ritual } → Behind the Curtain. Excerpt below:

Over the course of an hour, the space cycled through a series of curated scenes. Each comprised of a stanza from the “A Guayana” poem, a photograph that related to the poetry, two style transferred variations, and diegetic sound. The scenes would change every sixty seconds with individual parameters for the color of the lighting, placement of the DMX fixture, and choice of projection and sound

More than just individual parts, as a whole, the experience was designed transport visitors into a refraction of my dream-like memories of Venezuela, which exists in a sacred place outside of time. 

Photograph of the main sculpture, and detail shots from the installation’s pedestals

Photograph of the main sculpture, and detail shots from the installation’s pedestals

 

 

PLAy

Within { remnants } of a { ritual }, gallery visitors are both invited to participate in the authoring of love letters as well as sitting to experience an unfolding autotopographical landscape. This intermixing of archival media with objects of the present creates an intergenerational link between myself, my ancestors and gallery visitors.

Part of sharing my ritual process with others was creating an environment that represented the magical qualities of my nostalgia for Venezuela. These memories, filled with fleeting images of crystalline waters and quartz crystals, conjured a sense of the sacred that found its way into my installation. { remnants } of a { ritual } invokes the sacred as way to create a ritual space outside of ordinary time and place, and allows for play and actions that are not common in ordinary life.

A bowl filled with love letters sits at the center of  { remnants } of a { ritual }

A bowl filled with love letters sits at the center of { remnants } of a { ritual }

 

Alchemy

Photograph courtesy of David Pace (2019)

Photograph courtesy of David Pace (2019)

 

In a recent talk at Google, artificial intelligence researcher, Ali Rahimi serendipitously stated that machine learning has become a form of alchemy. The Wayúu tapestry provided an exciting first style model to try and understand the algorithm. I used it as the ‘artwork’ that was then applied as a model to my grandfather’s photograph (Figure 2). Resembling colorful pointillism, this new image was a vibrant: highlighting the circular features of the tapestry to create a provocative dream-like representation of Venezuela. The style transfer added a magical quality to my grandfather’s archive, and reflected my own nostalgia.

Figure 2 - A Wayúu tapestry, my grandfather’s photograph, and a style transferred image

Figure 2 - A Wayúu tapestry, my grandfather’s photograph, and a style transferred image

Cropped panorama of Venezuela photographed by Hector Sandoval, my grandfather

Cropped panorama of Venezuela photographed by Hector Sandoval, my grandfather

Style transferred panorama of Venezuela

Style transferred panorama of Venezuela

 

 

POETic transformations

Below is the original copy of my great-grandfather’s poem that was projected on the floor of the installation in individual stanzas of Spanish and English.

Figure 3 - “A Guayana” written by Isidro González Rodríguez

Figure 3 - “A Guayana” written by Isidro González Rodríguez

I could see through the crystals

Of your morning dawn, clean and pure,

The beautiful panorama of Angostura

And in the assorted paths, its minerals.


And in awe I admired the flow

Of your resolute Orinoco and in your plains

I bathed within the celestial lights

From your sky, an emporium of beauty


Prodigious land, I sing to thee

With the fervor of a sacred patriotism


In the history, through its annals

You stand out with your thriving impetus 

Like the Queen of the minerals

With your iron, your gold and your diamonds.

 
Close up photographs of the main sculpture - courtesy of Matthew Ragan

Close up photographs of the main sculpture - courtesy of Matthew Ragan

 

 

The Magic Circle

Figure 4 - Elevated floor plan of the installation

Figure 4 - Elevated floor plan of the installation

{ remnants } of a { ritual } was exhibited in the Light Lab, a studio space, in the Digital Arts Research Center on UC Santa Cruz’s campus. Visitors would enter the installation from an outdoor breezeway, through an open door with two-sets of floor length curtains. Upon entering they stand on the outskirts of the magic circle, and can see a pedestal with a prompt and writing instructions (Figure 4).

In the installation there are four pedestals to mimic the four-quartered segments of the ‘circle of magick,’ which are commonly used in ceremonial rituals [1]. At the center of the pedestals hung the chandelier sculpture, and the bowl where participants could deposit their offerings. This placement references the altar, which is commonly found at the center of ‘magick circle mandalas [2].’ The layout of the pedestals, bowl and additional floor projection together explicitly call on the magic circle to create a sacred atmosphere in the space.

[1] Zell-Ravenheart et al., “Book 1: The Magick Circle,”Creating Circles & Ceremonies: Rituals for All Seasons & Reasons, (Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2006), 15.

[2] Ibid., 18.

 
 

 

prompts

Figure 5 - A prompt from  { remnants } of a { ritual }

Figure 5 - A prompt from { remnants } of a { ritual }

 

Within { remnants } of a { ritual } there were four pedestals with different prompts to encourage visitors to reflect on core themes: longing, nostalgia, diaspora, and wonder.

Framed as love letters, the prompts mirrored my own romantic nostalgia for Venezuela, and the conversations I had with family members and Venezuelans navigating diaspora. The prompts were used to create intimacy, and an opportunity for others to envision a world that’s founded in an affection for the unknown. The pedestals had one of the following prompts (Figure 5):

  • Write a love letter to someone you haven’t met

  • Write a love letter to a place you can no longer return to

  • Write a love letter to the unknown

  • Escribe una carta de amor al futuro

Underneath each of the prompts was additional instruction that described the necessary steps to complete the ritual:

  • Fold your letter and place it in the water to become crystallized.

    • Inscribe, fold, submerge

  • Dobla la carta y sumérjala en el agua para que se cristalice.

    • Escribir, doblar, sumergir

 
A gallery visitor participating in the ritual of writing a love letter

A gallery visitor participating in the ritual of writing a love letter

bolívares

A visitor writing a love letter on a Venezuelan bolívar

A visitor writing a love letter on a Venezuelan bolívar

 

Venezuela is in crisis. Today, yesterday and likely tomorrow. Thousands will continue to flee the country due to violent crime, unsafe living conditions, a scarcity of resources, and escalating inflation rates. As of 2019, roughly 3.7 million or 1-in-10 Venezuelans have fled the country seeking refugee protection due to, “the worsening political, economic, human rights and humanitarian situation [1].” This state of crisis has been slowly escalating since the mid 1980s due to Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy. 

In the early 2000s, political corruption and the mismanagement of resources led to a series of destabilizing events: protests and strikes by oil workers, currency control, food shortages, media and power blackouts [2]. When I visited in 2004, my uncle expressed concern over the inability to find common goods like milk and cheese for us to have during our visit. I remember him saying that it took almost two weeks, and all he found was powdered milk. At the time, these shortages were shrugged off as being “strange” or que raro. However, it was this volatility of resources compounded with hyperinflation that led to the country’s economic collapse.

I give this brief summary of Venezuela’s socio-economic turmoil to contextualize its state of disaster, and to foreground my nostalgia for a different time. Although I never lived in Venezuela, I visited often in the 2000s while living in Florida. Like many Venezuelans who have fled, my family now lives outside of the country and is struggling to find solace and meaning in these uncertain times. Rather than determine their worth through the valueless currency they’ve brought them, they are healing through new interpersonal connections and rituals of diaspora.

[1] Liz Throssell, “Majority Fleeing Venezuela in Need of Refugee Protection,” UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, May 21, 2019, Accessed May 23, 2019.

[2] Peter Millard, et al., “A Timeline of Venezuela’s Economic Rise and Fall,” February 16, 2019, Accessed May 23, 2019,

 
 

 

crystallization

A love letter in the process of being crystallized

A love letter in the process of being crystallized

 

The aesthetic transmutation of currency in { remnants } of a { ritual } was material, conceptual and metaphysical. The bolívares – initially flat, flimsy, weightless and worthless – transformed into crystalline sculptures that were dimensional, solid, heavy and meaningful.

This alchemy helped reimagine the ‘currency’ not as monetary capital, but as value that’s constructed through communal process and interpersonal exchange. In this we see an alchemy of { capital }: a transformation from monetary economic rule to value that is determined through individual action and social engagement. { remnants } of a { ritual } harnesses this alchemy. It creates a space of magical transformations where currency is defined by its inscriptions of love and attention.

Crystallization is an act of solidifying; making tangible the fleeting refractions in our minds. Memory freezes the moments in our life – sometimes beautiful and sometimes bittersweet. Through crystal lattices we see these shifting images. Reflections of our experiences, our selves and others. The crystallization of our memories is a recovery of the past. A delicate interweaving of our most intimate recollections. A necessary practice in uncertain times.

 
 

Love Letters

A crystallized love letter written on vellum reads, “I’ve waited for you”

A crystallized love letter written on vellum reads, “I’ve waited for you”

 

We often author love letters as if they are permanent, as if our feelings carry weight, and are not ephemeral or fleeting. The subject of a love letter is often the pinnacle of our affection. What happens when the love letter is to an unknown? Does it matter that its intended reader does not exist? What is the meaning then of its future consumption?

The love letters from { remnants } of a { ritual } undergo cultural and alchemical transformations. This alchemy challenges the visitor to confront the impermanence and ephemerality of complex emotional experiences like love, nostalgia, and place-making. The diaspora of displaced love is a parallel to the diaspora of displaced communities and culture.

This is an imperfect comparison for an imperfect world, but we need touchstones like love letters in order to engage with complex, nuanced conversations about the present and the future…

 
 

 

RITUAL PROCESS

 

During the two weeks the show was open, I enacted a series of ritual performances to facilitate the alchemy of { } process I had begun with the conceptualization of the work.

 
Photographs courtesy of Matthew Ragan

Photographs courtesy of Matthew Ragan

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collecting the remnants

After the love letters soaked overnight, they became crystallized remnants. I would delicately remove them from the bowl, one by one, to be placed to dry,

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restarting the cycle

The bowl would be refilled with boiling water. I would mix in and dissolve the borax used for crystallization.

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the remnants

After the crystallized remnants were dry, I would suspend them off the perimeter of the central sculpture.

In total, 283 love letters were written and crystallized.

 

I’ve started an instagram to share the love letters ~ https://www.instagram.com/ritualremnants/

 
 

 
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dedicación

Para mis antepasados Margot González , Hector Sandoval, Isidro González Rodríguez, y todos los que no pude conocer. Para los Venezolanos que siguen luchando para su libertad y salud. Los que siguen viviendo en el país y los que ya no pueden regresar.

 

{ remnants } of a { ritual } emerged as collection of objects spanning physical, material, digital and ephemeral forms. The curation was informed by my nostalgia for Venezuela; a glimmering memory that stands in stark contrast to the present state of the country. The Venezuela I remember is ethereal, crystalline, and abundant with resources. Remembering Venezuela and collecting objects that reflected these fleeting imaginations, required a personal alchemy and interrogation of an expansive family archive. This piece is dedicated to my ancestors: Margot González, Hector Sandoval, Isidro González Rodríguez, and all those I could never meet. To Venezuelans who continue to fight for their liberation and wellbeing. For those who continue to live within the country and those who can no longer return.

A crystallized Venezuelan bolívar

A crystallized Venezuelan bolívar

 

Photograph courtesy of David Pace (2019)

Photograph courtesy of David Pace (2019)