MARÍA MAGDALENA CAMPOS-PONSOne Thousand Ways to Say Goodbye / Mil maneras para decir adiós,
2003Henie Onstad Art Center
María Magdalena Campos-Pons, *1959 in Matanzas, Cuba,
lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee
© Audio Courtesy of Neil Leonard
12 available works
Dreaming in Cuban
If there are one thousand ways to say goodbye, depending on the language, mood and situation, there are equally as many ways that María Magdalena Campos-Pons expresses herself in her artwork.
Campos-Pons is perhaps best known for her large installation works where she unites various mediums in a unique way. Textiles, glass, photography and video are often presented together to express messages that resonate on a personal and universal level.
María Magdalena Campos-Pons’ work involves an ongoing investigation of identity. The inherited past of her Nigerian ancestors, the fragmented memory of Cuba, and daily life just outside Boston, all contribute to who she is and what she strives to convey as an artist. The issue of memory plays a vital role throughout her work, and reflects the feeling of displacement that Campos-Pons experiences as a Cuban expatriate. Her wide-ranging visual language echoes a life experience defined by hybridity. She constantly tests the boundaries of artistic practice, never allowing herself to be defined by any single medium. There is no creative hierarchy within her work; a silent performance, a “dressed” window, a dance, an embroidered cloth, a song, or a photograph are all of equal importance in the unified whole.Read more
The synthesis of video and polymer create a fascinating play between sculpture and film in her new work Mil maneras para decir adiós. With Cuban history and architecture as a direct source of inspiration, the work draws upon the typical iron constructions that decorate and protect windows all over Cuba. Conceived in five parts, Campos-Pons has recreated these window constructions in glass-like polymer. Behind each of these sculptural elements is a video projection, the two parts creating a unified whole. Campos-Pons’ intimate form of expression not only addresses Cuba and its postcolonial architecture; concepts such as the significance of seeing and being seen, the notion of presence and absence, the balance between past and present, dream and reality, architecture and art, history and personal experience are all aspects that inform the work.
Five parallel stories unfold behind the intricate polymer mosaic, the rich colors of the videos contrasting and complementing the blue, amber and purple polymer elements. Campos-Pons has an eye for beauty and visual contrast, leaving no detail to chance. The horizontal narrative plays out in contrast to the vertical constructions. Peeking through the intricate bars, we see the reflections of the video images in the translucent material. The fact that her dream world is reflected in the reconstructions of Cuba’s colonial past is completely mesmerizing. The juxtaposition of colors and fabrics, fruits and flowers, is part of a rich narrative that is easy to follow. From the simplicity of sculptural twists of cloth to the lavishness of bowls of fruit – the decadence of which echo Dutch vanitas paintings – to the quotidian beauty of peeling a pomegranate, she captures the magic in everyday life. As an astounding counterpart to such beauty, she also captures the gritty essence of urban America.
The combination of an intellectual message conveyed in a complex visual language characterizes Campos-Pons’ work. She clearly understands that even if the story is sad, the narrative can still be beautiful. This is clear in Windows of Opportunity, which she created for her participation in the group exhibition Art Through the Eye of the Needle in 2001. Campos-Pons chose to dress the windows with art to convey the notion of marginalization. Situated as they are between the inside and the outside, the windows raise the issue of the space in between, as well as the implied division between private and public, center and periphery.
The embroidered star-like pattern in Windows of Opportunity is its blood-red thread. The pattern is a specific reference to the tragic death of Amadou Diallo, who was shot and killed in 1999 by the New York police in the Bronx. Campos-Pons got the idea for the work when she saw a photograph of a window that was shattered by one of the 41 bullets. She transferred this image using silkscreen on fabric, highlighting the pattern by embroidering over it with hair extensions. The large landscape window overlooking the quiet Oslo fjord was a striking contrast to the gruesome event. Creating the work was her way of commenting the tragedy, and was also a way of dealing with it. With Windows of Opportunity she also touches on themes surrounding her own existence. The work symbolizes the threshold between here and
and there, asking “What is here and where is there”? For Campos-Pons here is now, and the past is a family history structured by memory and myth.
Campos-Pons picks up the thread where she leaves it in one work, to continue her investigation of life in another work. With Windows of Opportunity she defines the division between the inside and outside of the building. The fabric becomes a functional part of the room, and the artwork a subtle part of the surroundings. With Mil maneras para decir adiós she constructs imaginary windows as sculptural elements within the exhibition space. The viewer participates in the work and with the events that take place behind the windows, in the same way that a passer by on the street would. While Windows of Opportunity is about the public domain – a tragic event completely out of the ordinary that is changed into something personal and intimate, Mil maneras para decir adiós involves the private world of dreams and fantasy made public. Through the constructed windows, we peek into her interior world.
Both works emphasize the division between the internal and external world, while also showing just how our identity is shaped by a combination of history, collective consciousness and personal experience. The combination of various sources of inspiration that play against each other in unexpected ways is intrinsic to María Magdalena Campos-Pons’ work. Her artwork is like a complex quilt; each detail is important, but it is first when we consider the works as a whole that the subtle, various messages slowly emerge, complementing each other and creating complex layers of meaning. In Windows of Opportunity the fabric defines the boundary between the inside and outside world, the pattern is a specific reference to Amadou Diallo’s death, embroidery speaks of traditional women’s work, and the hair extensions are directly related to the Afro-American female experience. In Mil maneras para decir adiós the video clips represent a unique combination of time and place, filmed entirely outside of Cuba while still giving a strong sense of the Cuban experience. The work is a compelling metaphor for María Magdalena Campos-Pons’ personal experience with Cuba, representing various notions of the tropical island of her youth, an island that is somehow slowly disappearing from her everyday horizon. We sense a longing for the past, for what once was or what might have been in the visualization of Campos-Pons’ dream world coupled with sculptural reconstructions of colonial architecture and its obvious implications. It is a personal story told in the language of sculpture and video, which ultimately bridges the gap between past and present, memory and dream.
The choice of colonial Cuban architecture is both visually interesting and integral to the content of the work. The ornate, decorative constructions contribute to the visual appeal of the work, whereas the references to colonial times give the work depth. The windows echo detailed lacework or veils, and something is hiding behind the beautiful surface. Clearly, the work defines more than the boundary between private and public space, equally important is the division between past and present. Campos-Pons has the unique ability to change pain to creativity in her work, transforming the wounds of yesterday into compelling works of art. As she describes it, she attempts to change the potential tragedy of identity to a new vision and reality. Mil maneras para decir adiós is a beautiful visualization of the activity between the private and the public so characteristic of Cuban culture. In Cuba, the windows represent much more than something to look out of, or to open, they are a place to see and be seen. It is in the windows and doorways of Cuba, on the corner and in the streets that life unfolds in Cuba. Music heard from all directions spices daily life and functions as a unifying factor between strangers and friends alike. To wander around the back streets of Havana is to experience people engaged in animated conversations from opposite sides of the street, from balconies, windows and passageways. As a symbol, a window or door is much more than an architectural detail; it also signifies the boundary between encounter and separation.
Along with Windows of Opportunity and Mil maneras para decir adiós, Campos-Pons presents a new version of the work Interiority or Hillside Moon, her first permanent outdoor work created for La Marrana in Italy. Interiority also ties in with the relationship between the inner and outer world, taking the concept one step further as it deals more specifically with the relation- ship between the individual and the universe. With Interiority Campos-Pons’ was interested in creating a place for contemplation, a place that would remind us that we are at one with the universe. Campos-Pons emphasizes the tremendous contrast between human experience and the massive, unreachable, complex universe which we are part of. She wished to create a truly special place within nature that would remind us about the wonder of our existence despite daily human misery, injustice and feelings of despair. She captures the magic of nature, the transformative moment of spring flowers in bloom, placed into an entirely different perspective when presented with images of the galaxies and planets.
The juxtaposition of abstracted flowers against colorful images of the galaxies creates a tapestry of extreme opposites that unite as a new vision – somehow embodying a positive outlook, and hope for the future. When the galaxies appear floral-like and budding flowers echo the galaxies, the unity between all things couldn’t possibly be clearer. Campos-Pons was particularly interested in creating a dialogue between the luminosity of the starry night sky and the shimmering lights of the cities in the distant valley, a perfect metaphor for the relationship between man and nature. To emphasize this notion she created glowing, translucent semi spheres, which allude to the moon as if it had dropped down to earth and relocated as small levitating objects in a natural cocoon of trees. The embedded video images draw upon both natural and manmade light sources, inviting the viewer for exploration and discovery. Moving from sphere to sphere, each containing video or sound, the essence of the work unfolds. One must take the time to look at the video images, to listen to the soft voice reciting poetry and to hear the accompanying music composed by Neil Leonard to comprehend the full artistic vision. Once again, Campos Pons envelops the viewer in a constant dislocation from “here to there”, so that in the end our perception of both flowers and stars is abstracted and challenged.
The idea of creating a romantic site by juxtaposing disparate sources and realities is integral to Interiority. In the same way that Windows of Opportunity and Mil maneras para decir adiós reflect multiple concepts and sources of inspiration, Interiority is also inspired by more than first meets the eye. Everything from Italian and Japanese gardens to artists such as Mario Merz or Ana Mendieta, the poetry of Cesar Vallejo, and the significance of the moon symbolically and conceptually, as well as Yoruba beliefs and respect for nature all define the framework of this project. Campos-Pons summarizes the work as a love letter that ties many different things together.
As in all her work, María Magdalena Campos-Pons traces a line from the site of the here/now/before to the there/now/after, implementing delicate artistic gestures that inspire surprise, questions and a sense of dislocation. The scale and setting of her works is played out in ways that force the viewer into an active role as a dreamer or collaborator. Campos-Pons gives us full access to her artistic vision, so that instead of taking a passive look at an artwork we can take part in a romantic vision. Despite the serious messages, the underlying theme is always about affirmation and contemplation rather than protest and discontent. For Campos-Pons, this is one of many ways to say goodbye to the past and embrace the possibilities of the future.