By SEBASTIAN MELTZ-COLLAZO|Apr 5 2020
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.
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.
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.
Meet the Artist: Daniel Lind-Ramos – Whitney Biennial 2019
Interview with Artist Daniel Lind-Ramos
The ability to reflect upon the past, embrace the present, and project into the future is intrinsic to the human experience. Daniel Lind-Ramos captures the complexity of time in his sculptures which layer lived memories, cultural histories, and hope for the next generation through an assemblage of found materials. Lind-Ramos’ work tells the story of his hometown, Loiza, Puerto Rico; a beach region to the North of the island situated thirty-two kilometers east of the capital, San Juan. While continuing to live and make work in his hometown, Lind-Ramos is drawn to gathering materials from his environment. Debris washed ashore and objects collected from the homes of neighbors supply his studio with materials that are later tied, sewn or integrated into each sculpture.
Fall 2017 marked a critical period for Lind-Ramos, as well as many Puerto Ricans, whose lives were permanently altered in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. With his beloved community impacted, Lind-Ramos began to question his relationship with the concept of Maria, the mother of Jesus depicted in the New Testament. Previously held as a symbol of protection and mercy, Maria now signified unimaginable destruction for the artist. “Maria, Maria”, Lind-Ramos’s sculpture featured in the 2019 Whitney Biennial demonstrates a questioning of adoration, origination, and dogma while honoring the memory of the ancestral community Lind-Ramos calls home. Arte Fuse had the opportunity to speak with Lind-Ramos about the cultural histories and personal memories present within the artist’s autobiographical sculptures.
Jamie Martinez: Your journey began as a painter in Loíza, Puerto Rico, which is where you still reside and work. What influenced you to pursue this dream and journey into art?
Daniel Lind-Ramos: This journey into art has been motivated by my personal and collective experiences in relation to my community, the Caribbean region and its connection with African ancestry. Working with my family as both a materials supplier for crafts and as a draftsman myself in the community of Colobo in Loiza, a stronghold of Afro culture in Puerto Rico, has afforded me the connection with materials, tools, and techniques that would later appear in my practice.
I remember that in my residence everybody was working in different disciplines. My grandmother, Encarnacion, who used to make dresses for the women and children in the community also cooked traditional plates to be sold in the neighborhood. My mother, Isabel, was a seamstress and made items out of natural fibers: she and I used to go around to collect plants where we could obtain those materials. I learned how to carve and paint masks with uncle Luis; I also worked with my other uncle Juan, who was a cabinet maker. All of this activity used to take place in the living room, balcony, and the yard; and I remember myself drawing on the cardboard walls in the house.
Among others, my aim as an artist is to use a diversity of experiences as a means of inspiring an expression which contributes to preserving a memory that has developed a strong sense of belonging and confront our communities with its own stories.
JM: The coconut is at the center of your work and it’s used in many ways in your sculptures. Can you elaborate on the importance of the coconut not only in your work but in Puerto Rican culture and its communities?
DLR: The coconut palm tree meant and still means a lot to many families in the Caribbean. In Loiza, Puerto Rico, the coconut palm tree used to be used to construct houses, shelters against hurricanes and is still used as material for an array of activities. Many families sustain themselves in labor and economical endeavors related with this tree: some people chop down and peel coconuts, others work in the coconut food industry using this important ingredient in the confection of traditional dishes, while others make diverse arts and crafts with the different parts of the Cocotero tree, giving members of the community the opportunity to develop skills as carvers and sculptors. It is also a symbol of identity: because of the abundance of palm trees, in my town, we used to be called Cocoteros and our baseball and basketball teams carry this name.
The vital experience that inspires my sculptural assemblages derives from our Afro-Puerto Rican communities and from the African diaspora as a whole. The goal of these works is to honor our ancestral communities with narratives, historical references, and tangible traces of their lifetimes. The idea is to appreciate and express their contribution with specific examples through an inclusive aesthetic that stimulates a range of readings and meanings.
JM: The city of Loíza has a lot of African heritage and culture. Can you tell me more about Los Cocoteros de Loíza and how they and the city influence your work?
DLR: One of my first loves was sports, specifically basketball and baseball. I was part of the first baseball team named Cocoteros in Loiza. And as I mentioned before, we identify ourselves with the palm tree and the symbol of the Cocotero tree is part of our identity.
JM: Your work has a lot of presence and demands space due to the energy it brings. You had mentioned during our walk-through that you start with an object and that object activates memory. How does this process develop from an object that activates memory into a final sculpture?
DLR: We all have a lot of memories related with experiences linked to, among other things, objects, materials, and techniques. I am interested in the capacity of an object to radiate different meanings through its intrinsic ambiguity. In my expressive practice, in terms of narrative, I could be addressing personal and historical facts as well as activating viewers’ personal memories. From this point of view, different narratives can be aligned starting from the way the material is chosen to the way the objects are placed and the composition is designed. In this vision, a specific object could be talking about “local color” and its relationship with geopolitics.
JM: My first physical encounter with your work was at last year’s Whitney Biennial’s press preview where you were one of the standout artists and got the main photo in The New York Times review. What is the story behind “Maria, Maria” and its journey to the Whitney Biennial?
DLR: In the case of Maria, Maria, I related the tarp with the relationship of Puerto Rico to the States as a territory and then I related the material of the tarp with another material the coconut. The palm trees were brought by the Spaniards during colonial times so I wanted to play with those two materials to talk about Maria, to talk about the history of Puerto Rico in general, to talk about the ambiguity of the narrative of Maria as nature that creates and destroys. From the first day after Hurricane Maria struck, I started picking up debris to create the sculptures related to that intense experience of that powerful force of nature. When the Whitney curators arrived at my studio, they saw two sculptures inspired by Hurricane Maria and chose the one presented in the Whitney Biennial.
JM: Unfortunately, while I was writing these questions, our world turned upside down with the COVID-19 virus. How do you feel about the current situation and will your work be there when Marlborough reopens?
DLR: We all are still experiencing this global situation where humanity is at great risk. I don’t yet think I have enough psychological distance to consider the creative possibilities of experiencing this Covid-19 phenomenon.
March 21, 2020
New York, New York.