Culture Vulture: Ivan Gabaldon

As published in Issue 1_2019 of Mid-point Magazine

Ivan Gabaldon has lived in Mexico for 10 years and in Merida for the last five. During that time, he’s photographed whale sharks off the coast of Quintana Roo, exotic birds in Calakmul, led National Geographic photographers on the hunt for jaguars and, more recently, collaborated on several pieces for the Palacio de la Musica. We met up recently to discuss the direction his photography is taking, his love of Merida and her culture, and what he’s on the hunt for next.

What led to the shift from nature photography to capturing performance artists in Merida?

Shooting bands and musical and theatre performances is something I’ve done since I started as a young photographer. When I became a professional journalist, I was hired by magazines and newspapers to do the same, so you could say it’s second nature.

What were the first concerts you saw when you moved to Merida?

Salif Keita (Teatro José Peón Contreras) and Teresa Salgueiro, the amazing Fado singer from Portugal (Teatro Daniel Ayala), made us realize the level of international performers who were coming to Merida, and how accessible it was to see them. We decided immediately to start documenting these artists and to date, have captured over 40 performances.

How do you find out who’s coming and where they’re performing? There doesn’t seem to be a singular arts and culture portal with all the information.

This is where Rose comes in; she’s a producer with a background in radio, TV and film, so her research skills are invaluable. She has her antenna working all the time, and searches online for festivals and cultural programming. From there she curates the information to help us decide what to shoot. Some performances are more visually dynamic so our research helps us determine what best to document. Even then, events slip under the radar and many of the shows we see are sadly half empty.

Taking photographs of moving subjects, at night, under varied lighting and weather conditions must be hugely challenging. What do you do to prepare for these shoots?

Having great equipment and fast lenses help, while a new generation of LED stage lights can hinder, but the technical challenge is only one element in the equation. Framing and composing while working around the action, the audience and all the stuff on the stage is really where it gets interesting. My focus is simple—capture the emotional moment—if the artist and the audience are feeling it, then we’re feeling it, and that’s usually when I get my shot. To be invisible is also part of the challenge. We dress in black so as to not take away from the performance, we’re mindful and respectful of both audience and performers, and we move quietly to minimize our presence.

Ivan, that sounds not too dissimilar to photographing in nature!

You’re right! (laughs)

Tell me about one or two performances that really stood out for you.

One musician who was new to us, Ala.Ni, a jazz singer from the UK, is an incredibly unique performer, and was a real revelation for us as music enthusiasts. On a beautiful night at the outdoor stage in Parque Santa Ana, accompanied solely by a guitar and harp, Ala.Ni showed us all that night why she is a rising star in the world of jazz. And I just have to say—these beautiful outdoor plazas in centro historico are one of the great things about the cultural scene in Merida.

Another memorable performance we photographed was a contemporary dance company from South Korea. The K Arts Dance Company performed at Teatro José Peón Contreras during the Festival Yucatán Escénica, and for one magical evening, flew their bodies across the stage in choreographic splendor. It was exhilarating to watch and very challenging to capture in pixels.

Do you ever get to meet the artists you’ve photographed?

Artists are more accessible now than ever, but we prefer to stay in the background and just do what we love. Sometimes we get to hang out with the performers but it’s pretty organic when it happens. We had a great night with the uber talented Orquesta 24 Cuadros from Mexico City, and spent another evening with the musicians who performed with Dutch jazz trumpeter, Maite Hontelé. We also post our images to Instagram (@kinetropico), which has led to some new friendships.

What’s coming up for you in 2019?

We’re excited about rida Fest, which runs from January 5th to 27th. With 140 events showcasing 600 local, national and international artists from Canada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, China, Japan and Spain (among others), I think we’ll be busy! The Culture and Tourism Offices are doing an excellent job in bringing diverse world-class talent to Merida, and best of all? It’s very affordable or free!

On February 16th and 17th, I’ll be taking part in the 2019 Merida English Library Artist Studio Tour. Although this is my second year on the tour, I’ll be teaming up this time with fellow artist and collaborator Ric Kokotovich. With 40 artists in 32 studios, the 2-day self-guided tour will be a great opportunity for people to meet all kinds of artists in their own environments.

 

Meet the Artist: Liliane Karnouk

Artist Liliane Karnouk

When visitors first come to Merida, they often muse about what lies behind the ancient doorways and grand facades of this historic city. And yet—it is sometimes the most humble of facades that contain her greatest treasure—artists and their studios.

Behind one such façade, I discovered Egyptian artist Liliane Karnouk. Born in Cairo and further educated in Rome, Montreal and Vancouver, Liliane is herself discovering what it means to be an artist in the 4th quadrant of her life.

How did you come to be in Merida?

The first time I visited, I was driving by myself in the Yucatan. I loved it as it felt very close to my homeland in Egypt—the water, the sunshine, the pyramids; the dark-skinned, brown-haired people. So when I thought of moving from Vancouver to a warmer country in the winter, I looked to Merida as my new home. I saw this house on the internet and knew I had to buy it because the tile floor in the bedroom is the exact same tile that was in my grandparents house on their cotton plantation in Egypt.

Wow, I’m getting goosebumps! And what about the walls? It appears they have become a living canvas for you.

I come from an ancient land where everything has layers, so the first day I arrived to this house, I began to uncover the stories hidden in the walls. The original colours of turquoise, ochre and crimson were there, and in some places I found stencils and patterns that I enhanced. It’s been a privilege to have huge walls to play with instead of drawing on little pieces of paper.

Which brings me to your favored medium…paper.

I’m trained in the art of papermaking and have had several exhibitions of art created on handmade paper, some up to 2 metres wide. I brought my cotton pulp with me from Vancouver and make my paper in the garden, in the pool. It’s very physical as I have to beat, prepare, and stretch it, so I make paper when I’m feeling strong. This technique of papermaking is quite primitive because I don’t have a press, consequently, it’s very textural and sculptural, much like the walls.

Tell me about the sculptural books you’re making.

Making paper is compatible with countries that have forests. I had a studio on the Nile in a houseboat where I made papyrus paper; I taught the art of papermaking in Germany where I lived for a time, and I love walking the forests close to my home in Vancouver. I wanted to honor these forests and trees by re-using them in artworks where I incorporate a variety of materials and techniques. I’m particularly fascinated with the dark side of the forest—the bark, the foliage, the monochromatic nature of light in shadow. I call them Forest Books, a restitution of a sort of dignity and pride to trees that’s in opposition to the rendering of trees as cones and geometric shapes.

When I’m feeling strong I make art, when I’m feeling vulnerable, I write.

What influenced you in your development as an artist?

I was a sick child and spent a lot of time in bed drawing so the tactile side of my art comes from that. At the age of 11, I travelled with my parents to Europe for the first time, to see a doctor. While there, we went to all the museums and my world just exploded. When it was time to decide what to be when I grew up, there was no question I wanted to study art. That said, I never had a gallery nor made money as an artist. I taught art and art history to earn a living and was invited to make art for public spaces and museums.

I never looked at art as something for sale; I looked at art as something for me.

You’ve had almost 40 solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Canada and the US. Tell me about one that stands out the most.

I’m very content-oriented in my work and often used my art for political statement, such as the fires of Kuwait, the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, as well as many environmental issues. But, it was my installation at the British Museum Hall of Egyptian Antiquities called Time Machine that for me, was the pinnacle of that expression of my work. It was an exhibition of contemporary artists and our response to the Hall of Egyptian Antiquities, and I felt the pieces needed to be in their original burial grounds. Instead, I brought Egypt to the British Museum. Working for two months with a molecular biologist from the University of London, I learned how to clone palm trees from cells, and resurrected a palm grove inside test tubes I installed around the Egyptian sarcophagus. That experience led to an ongoing fascination with the interface between art and science.

You’ve explored your creativity as an artist, theatre designer, educator, journalist and author. What brought you back to the drawing table, so to speak?

In Modern Egyptian Art: 1910-2003, which took 10 years to write, artist and author Liliane Karnouk examines the work of over 70 artists from 1910 until the present day, tracing the parallel steps of modern Egyptian art and the social and political environment in which that art was and continues to be created.

Last year I got sick again, and after I recovered my strength, I went back to the studio to let it all out.

It’s fascinating to me that, as a young girl, you found your creative voice when you were ill, and at this point in your life, found a new voice after an extended illness.

Painting after my illness was a very cathartic experience, as well as a new form of expression for me. That said, there has always been the issue of the body in my work. Life has texture, a nervous system, an inner and an outer, so to explore the body more literally in this work seems a natural extension.

Liliane Karnouk is one of 41 intriguing artists opening their studios February 16 & 17 in Merida. Details and participating artists for the 2019 Merida English Library Artist Studio tour will be posted and profiled soon! Visit us on Facebook at MEL Artist Studio Tour 2019, on Instagram at meridaenglishlibrary and at www.meridaenglishlibrary.com.

Poetic Gladiators

My mother is deciding whether to sleep upstairs or down. 16 stairs up or 16 stairs down. It doesn’t really matter, as both are hard on her knees. She discovers the ‘T-Zone Vibration Technology ‘ 16 stairs down and that decides it. Stepping gingerly onto the footpads, she sets the display to ‘Fat Burn’ and hits ‘Start’. It rocks, low and slow, not what she expected but that’s why she stepped up. For the unexpected.

…“THIS FADED AIR, TORPID WIND, GENERATIONS OF BONES IN THE DIM LIGHT…” From another room at the front of the house, I can hear her… “THIS FADED MIRROR, PATTERNING THE EMBERS OF MY FACE…” As she rehearses for a spoken word performance, I’m reminded of the first time she cracked her soul open with the power of language…“I WILL DESCEND TO THE RIVER, TO THE BED OF STONES, THE SADNESS OF LEAVES, FLOATING…” There’s no one in the house but she and I and yet—I feel as if the whole world is watching.  My 80-year-old mother is flaying herself in the middle of my friend’s living room and all I can think is, “What if someone hears?”

“Don’t think too much, don’t second-guess, go with your gut.” We’re writing together in a cafe in Inglewood and she notices I’m uneasy. I make poems in the solitude of my own home, where there are no persons raising judgey eyebrows over their coffee cups. “Okay, I’ll start,” she offers. Her prose is intense, dark, frightening—as if daring me to be her counterpoint. Dipping my words into a well of honey, I parry her with an optimism honed from years of practice. We spar like poetic gladiators, she with the spear, I with the shield; I with the spear, she with the shield, and the metaphor of our relationship is not lost on me.

_

Art in the City

©Alberta Bañuelos

Art and culture are what bring cities and communities to life, and in 2017, Merida shone under her crown of ‘Cultural Capital of the Americas’. Thousands of international and national artists brought experiences to Merida never seen before, and although the pace of events may have slowed in 2018, the collective passion of curators, gallerists and artists here in Merida has not.”

The Yucatan Peninsula’s only museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art, the Fernando García Ponce-Macay, is under partial renovation to eventually bring more exhibition space to the city. Throughout the summer, visitors can see new work by 80-years-young Gabriel Ramirez, in Ramirez HOY!, encounter the stones by Spanish sculptor Alberto Bañuelos, and contemplate paintings by Michoacan artist Francisco Barajas. Across the square at Casa de Montejo, an oft-overlooked exhibition space is beautifully curated by Citybanamex.

©Flor Garduño

Photographer Flor Garduño’s “La construcción del instante” will be up until August 20, with an exhibition by Mexican painter Ricardo Martínez scheduled to open on August 28.

Merida’s museums, cultural centres and galleries have matured, with quality exhibition design becoming a top priority. Through August, the historic Palacio Canton will feature the exhibition “Ko’olel, transforming the way”, a journey through the history of women in Yucatan, while the highly anticipated Palacio de Musica is scheduled to open in July. In addition to the intimate concert hall, an interactive exhibition space will take up the entire lower level, enticing visitors with the story of music in Yucatan.

And that’s just the half of it.

Merida is so much more than cultural icons like Museo de la Ciudad and Gran Museo de Mundo Maya. Small commercial galleries, artist-run spaces, site-specific installations, cultural exchanges in restored haciendas, artist studio tours—these are the experiences that help to create a true cultural scene in any city and Merida is well on her way.”

©Andrea Pasos

Galería La Eskalera opened in Colonia Santiago in 2011, with a focus on local emerging artists. On July 20th, Andrea Pasos will showcase new work entitled “Transfiguraciones: a través del inconsciente”. Around the corner at El Zapote, artist Renato Chacon will open a small retrospective on July 6th of his grandfathers work, called “Apuntes de Viaje” by Manuel Chacon.

©Josegarcia.mx

Slightly farther afield in San Sebastián stands a small contemporary space that is entirely outdoors—a place of reflection rather than a respite from the heat. Josegarcia.mx is an experiential space featuring a contemplative exhibit by Pablo Dávila called ‘Sin Necesidad de Titúlo’ that is open through August.

The always surprising Centro Cultural la Cúpula will mount it’s 3rd summer exhibition on June 29th called “Peninsula 3”, featuring 18 artists working and living in the Yucatan Peninsula, who explore the theme of creating new memory.

Lux Perpetua in Itzimná, one of Merida’s newer galleries, has become known for their impressive roster of international artists. Lux will launch its summer season on June 21st with the work of Guillermo Olguín’s “Nuit Fauve II” followed by Carles “Bodas Místicas con la naturaleza domeñada”.

Another hidden gem, Noox Azcorra, features temporary and permanent exhibitions in a renovated 19th century hacienda, right in the heart of Merida. On July 14th, Noox will inaugurate the “Festival de Calor”, a celebration of film and live theatre, and on July 27th, sculptures by Alejandro Farías will occupy the spaces.

The expression of art has always been a way for people of all ages and demographics to meet, connect, and share a universal language, and this summer in Merida is no exception.

As published in Mid-Point Magazine Edition 11, July 2018

2018 Merida Artist Studio Tour

There are two different ways of looking at the world—you can walk on the path or you can walk through the hedge and I think that’s the beauty of art—that it just makes you step aside from the normal way of walking or looking.” – Andy Goldsworthy

Artists do have a unique way of viewing the world, and for one day every year, the Merida English Library (MEL) invites us to do just that—step off the path and into the studios of Merida’s artists.

On February 17th, over 450 art lovers, students, visitors and local Meridanos did just that—walked, cycled, and carpooled to studios as diverse as the art itself. With 35 painters, sculptors, photographers, glass, ceramic and wood artists to choose from, the hardest decision to make was whom to visit, what to buy and where to stop for that cerveza.

MEL has a long history of interacting with the burgeoning creative community here in Merida. More than 30 years ago, a printmaker, a painter and a photographer opened their own studios in what was to become the home of the Merida English Library. Since then, MEL had grown from being a lender of books to a community outreach of culture, exchange and learning. The Artist Studio Tour is one of the most successful fundraisers for MEL, generating much needed funds for ongoing and new programming, children’s books, computers and administrative expenses.

In a true symbiotic relationship of mutualism, both MEL and the artists benefit from combining their talents, their energy and their resources to create one of the best experiences you’ll find in Merida. A great big thanks to the tireless organizers, volunteers, artist helpers and especially, the artists—you just keep getting better!

 

 

 

 

Meet the Artist: Emilio Suárez Trejo

“Art is reality reshuffled.” Robert Rauschenberg

©Emilio Suárez Trejo

When you move around a canvas of Emilio Suárez Trejo, you can see how he’s re-imagining the world. In unskilled hands, an accumulation of text, photographs and found objects would simply be just that. In the hands of this young artist, the collection becomes an intersection of art and everyday life.

I met with Emilio at his new studio space just east of Centro Historico in Mérida. It’s here we looked at his work, discussed his influences and talked about his life as an artist.

How long have you been working as an artist?

From a young age I have always been drawing, and I knew that someday I wanted to have a career that involved drawing. I graduated from the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán in Mérida in 2010 with a degree in Visual Arts and have been working to find my own voice as an artist ever since.

©Emilio Suárez Trejo

A ‘career as an artist’ is often an oxymoron to many parents. How did your parents respond to your decision to follow this path?

Well, my father is a lawyer and so of course he wanted me to be a lawyer as well. Both he and my mother were skeptical of my choice, not understanding what ‘being an artist’ means. I believe that it’s important to do what you love, and I think they’ve come to see that doing what I love means a lot of hard work (smiles).

So at 28, are you able to support yourself as an artist?

For the first few years it was a bit of a struggle. After I graduated, I did residencies in Veracruz and Cuba that helped me develop, but more importantly, showed me that I could actually have a life as an artist. When I returned to Mérida I began teaching privately, and I now teach oil painting at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán. I feel I’m a very lucky man in that I have the freedom to work on my own pieces and the opportunity to teach others.

©Emilio Suárez Trejo

What do you love most about teaching?

When I teach, I’m as much a student as my students are, in that I’m always learning something… I find that very gratifying. For that reason, I ask them to call me ‘Emilio’ instead of ‘maestro’. Rather than teaching how to paint, I teach them how to feel, and give them the tools they need to express themselves.

How do you find time to work?

I’m always working. If I’m not working on a piece I’m thinking about a piece. Teaching is simply a complement to that. I paint everyday and my students know this. I try to teach the importance of establishing a painting practice because that is the only way you will find your true voice as an artist.

Who has influenced you as a painter?

Before I went to University, I hadn’t studied much art history. As a student, I learned to appreciate historical artists from my own culture but I became fascinated by contemporary artists like Marcel Duchamp, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the New York artists from the 50s, 60s and 70s like Robert Rauschenberg.

Have you ever been to New York?

No, but if I could travel anywhere right now, it would be to New York—to see the work of the artists I most admire. I saw Rauschenberg once in France and I realized then how important it is to see the art itself—not just in photographs—to see the paint on the canvas, the emotion in the work.

This is your first year on the Artist Studio Tour. What are you most looking forward to?

I’m a little nervous but also excited. This is the first time I’ve had a studio of my own and I think it’s a great opportunity to meet people who haven’t seen my work, and to hear their opinions. I am most interested in building relationships and hope that one day, this studio can become an ‘art lab’ of sorts—a place of learning, experimentation and inspiration for others, and of course, for myself.

Emilio is one of 36 artists in 29 studios participating in the Merida English Library annual Artist Studio Tour February 17th from 10 am to 5 pm. Information on the tour, the artists and where to buy tickets is available at meridaenglishlibrary.com

 

 

 

The 99 Steps

As published in FreeFall Magazine May 2017

The smell of gasoline
from his Peterborough
a wooden fishing boat
that loomed like
an oceanliner
but wasn’t much bigger
than a canoe, my dad said.
It had its own house
the boathouse
a place we weren’t allowed to go
but did anyway
just so we could taste the air, his air.

12 steps

The smell of leather
from his club chair
worn extra smooth
by flesh and bone
oxblood and oak
and big enough for two
in a wood paneled room
in a house on a lake.

20 steps

A tiny trailer sat
under the aspens
poplars and jack pines
as if it had grown there.
He was gone before I could
remember him
from drink
or despair.

28 steps

I like to think he took me
out in that boat
to tell me stories
about Lake Wabumun
and the Indians who used to live there
before cottages and loosestrife
grew along the shoreline.
Of how those Indians
made black licorice
from old rubber boots
and built the 99 steps
up through the berries
so they could pick their way
to heaven.
I like to think he took me
out in that boat
to the canal off the lake
where the water ebbed warm from
a power plant along the shore.
He’d lower me over the side
so I could swim next to the Handy Boy
weeds threatening
to pull me under but instead
the weeds took the lake
and the lake took him.

53 steps

His name was Harold
but everyone called him Alf.
His family came from Arkansas
a place I’ve never been
and likely never will although
my mother has
just to see if she could find
a trace of him.
His mother was part Indian
Toccoa
high cheekbones and fierce jaw.
I know
I’ve seen the pictures.
He had an immigrants face
heavy browed and full lipped
with skin that lined easily
despite its olive tone.
I know
I’ve seen the pictures
taken before he drove that face
under a semi on just another Christmas Eve.

74 steps

Was it his idea to name me
after a point of land?
Point Alison.
A punctuation
perhaps significant.
He’d head out to the point
when the cabin got too small
preferring the sound
of the Evinrude
to the voice in his head.

84 steps

Alf planted his feet
between the exposed ribs
of the boat,
hand on the throttle
a Spud Menthol neglected
on his lips.
Stands of bullrush
split by the prow
swept endlessly past,
a curtain
closing behind him.
I’ve never been back
and probably never will
but like Arkansas
we both have a trace of him.

99 steps

Los 99 pasos

El olor a gasolina
de su Peterborough,
un bote de madera
emergiendo como
un trasatlántico,
pero no mucho más grande
que una canoa, decía mi padre.
Tenía su propia casa
la casa del bote
lugar al que no se nos permitía ir,
y sin embargo íbamos
para saborear el aire, su aire.

12 pasos

El olor a piel
de su sillón
rojizo y de roble,
liso y desgastado
por los huesos y la piel
con lugar para dos
en un cuarto de madera
en una casa junto a un lago.

20 pasos

Un pequeño camper yacía
bajo los abedules,
álamos y pinos
como si hubiera crecido ahí.
Se fue antes de que pudiera
recordarlo,
por tomar
o por desesperación.

28 pasos

Me gusta pensar que me llevaba
a pasear en su bote
para contarme historias
del lago Wabumun
y de los Indios que ahí vivían,
antes de que en la orilla crecieran
casitas y hierba mala.
De cómo los Indios
hacían regaliz
con botas viejas de caucho,
y erigieron los 99 pasos
por entre las moras
para irlas escogiendo en su
camino al cielo.
Me gusta pensar que me
paseaba en ese bote
en el canal fuera del lago
donde brotaba agua tibia
desde una planta en la orilla.
Me bajaría a un lado
a nadar junto al ‘Handy Boy’
donde las algas amenazaban
con hundirme, pero más bien
las algas tomaron el lago
y el lago lo tomó a él.

53 pasos

Su nombre era Harold
pero lo llamaban Alf.
Su familia vino de Arkansas
lugar al que nunca fui
y tal vez nunca iré, aunque
mi madre fue
sólo para ver si encontraba
un rastro suyo.
Su madre tenía sangre India,
Toccoa,
pómulos altos y quijada pronunciada.
Lo sé,
he visto las fotografías.
Tenía cara de inmigrante
cejas pobladas y labios carnosos
su piel llena de líneas
a pesar de su tono olivo.
Lo sé,
he visto las fotografías
tomadas antes de que se estrellara de cara
bajo un trailer en una tarde más, de Noche Buena.

74 pasos

¿fue idea suya nombrarme
como un punto en la Tierra?
Punta Alison.
Puntuación,
tal vez significativa.
Se dirigiría hasta el punto
donde la cabina se hiciera muy pequeña
prefiriendo el sonido
del Evinrude
al de la voz en su cabeza.

84 pasos

Alf plantó sus pies
entre las costillas expuestas
del bote,
una mano en el acelerador
un Spud mentolado colgando
entre sus labios.
Manojos de junco
divididos por la proa
serpenteaban interminablemente,
una cortina cerrándose tras él.
Nunca he regresado,
y tal vez nunca regrese
pero tal como Arkansas,
ambos guardamos un rastro suyo.

99 pasos

I learned through the process of translating this poem that translation itself,  is an art form. Thank you. To those who contributed their thoughts and especially to a dear friend, mi amiga querida, who spent hours inside my head so that The 99 Steps could come to life in español. Gracias.