By Rose Mary Salum
We had the opportunity to talk to Pablo Jimenez Zapiola in order to work on his article for Literal´s fall issue. We are pleased to share that conversation here with you. You can also visit Literal´s site to see his work
Your decision to become an artist is both, intriguing and admirable. What moved you to do what you do and why?
Ever since I can remember, I have enjoyed creating. As a kid I liked making tiny sculptures with matches and wires. Drawing was something that helped me understand form and scale, and in my teenage years, I approached photography, thanks to my brother who gave me an extended ìleaseî on his camera, complete with three lenses. Architecture opened a door for me, showing me how to see the world and how one relates to it in spatial and human terms. It also drove me to significantly improve my expression methods. I think an architect is essentially a sculptor, as he creates large scale ìobjectsî in which we can live, work, and do many other things. Then Graphic Design helped me learn how to communicate ideas and concepts. All of these disciplines taught me different skills and opened a variety of doors that helped me understand the world and life. As a consequence, my lifetime passion for art grew in an unlimited way, as I progressively acquired more and more freedom to create. I don't usually think on what project to do, and how to do it. I see something that intrigues or attracts me and then decide to experiment with it intensively. My interest in projections and words started when, during the 90s, I saw some British and Dutch designers that were applying those methods to their work. So my first experimentations were totally random, just choosing words from the dictionary and projecting them on the walls with slide projectors. I always felt these experiments had no specific purpose other than pure enjoyment. I showed these experiments for the first time in two photography exhibitions in Argentina (2000, 2001) that included multiple projections of images and words. Because of this initial attraction, it was very natural that when I came to the US in 2002, and saw the tremendously long trains that run through Houston, that I couldnít wait to see what might happen when I projected words and phrases on these lumbering Leviathans. Frankly, I was compelled to do it. I don't know why, but I knew it was going to be special. In 2004 I devised my first experiments by the rail lines in Houston's West End area. But the place was not comfortable to work in, so I did a couple of projections and stopped. The few pictures and videos I was able to project at that time, though, were enough for me to see the beauty of it and showed me I had only touched the tip of the iceberg. I saw immediately how much "terrain" I had in store, in artistic terms. In 2009, after losing my job due to the economic downturn, I decided to restart the project. I already had a place in mind, so I asked for permission to plug in my equipment by a warehouse located by the rail, in the Willowbend area. The place was absolutely perfect. During 2009 and 2010 I worked hard at it, learning by trial and error about the many aspects involved, like projection distances, angles, light, size of the text and my position in relation to the train - all in order to shoot the photos and the video. It helped me communicate with myself in that particular moment, a time in which I was out of a job and my self esteem needed a boost. It made me feel extremely happy.
The large-scale words or literary passages and poems that you project onto moving trains end up into a very poetic and exquisite work. With these images, the reflection does not only rely on how the passing train constitutes a metaphor of life, but on how the urban landscape can also become part of that poetic environment.
This is what interested me the most in the beginning; the idea of projecting onto moving objects. First it was the train. Then last year I started experimenting the opposite way, which is projecting from a moving car onto the environment; houses, trees, buildings, freeways, fences, etc. This is much more complicated to do, but it is really worth the effort. While the train is very powerful in itself, the environment becomes a very interesting alternative for the projections, as it is always changing and provides a different "moving screen"; trees, cars, houses, plants, poles, streetlights, illuminated windows, street signs, people, etc. And, unlike with the train, everything moves, so it acquires a different dynamic. With the train, everything but the train is still. So each way offers many different nuances, enriching the experimentation, enhancing the experience and providing more possibilities in artistic terms. The interaction of text over the train and the environment becomes something more like an ephemeral or "harmless" graffiti, which only exist for fractions of a second. The words literally "travel" over the projected surface, and the viewer travels along, in some degree becoming part of it, and to some extent; of its meaning. There is a dialogue between the viewer and the environment or the train. This dialogue is possible through the words.
Paul Recoeur used to say that each person reads their own novel. You are opening the gate for each observer to read his/her own life. Would you say that your oeuvre needs the spectator to become alive?
I think it is very easy to fall into a routine. Modern life, with consumerism, mass media and the internet weaves us a ìcontainment net.î So we wake up every day and follow some sort of path, which is almost the same day by day. We may think we are doing something different every day but as a whole, days go by with us being the same on and on. Art is the opportunity to break out of this net that makes us feel safe, disabling this routine, so when feeling, in some way, unprotected, we feel the urge to reassess ourselves. Art provides us with a chance for self-detachment, so after that process of taking distance from ourselves we return with a different point of view about our position in the world, our purpose in life, questioning; what are we doing? Where are we heading ? Are we satisfied? It is a possibility for a new reality, closer to or in real tune with our inner self, with our soul; making us more us.
You are also dealing with movement and a material so heavy, that only speed can make it ethereal, almost transparent. However, the only element of the image that seems to have a characteristic of permanence despite of its less stable meanings is the word. Can you elaborate on that?
I believe in the power of words as vehicles of communication, as pieces of a message. Words can mean different things depending on the other words that "live" in a statement. They have some kind of genetic meaning. They pulsate; they can make us feel things. You can kill someone with words, and you can cure someone with words, and in between both, you can provoke an infinity of emotions. When I project words onto these moving surfaces and see them move, mutate, disappear, fragment, multiply, and duplicate, I truly see them live, like I live, and they make me live, they add life to me. I think that if I can make the viewer feel a small part of this I will attain something important, since I believe art is a provider of answers, a provider of life. ( So the "living stillness" of the words over the moving things constitutes a whole, and that speed you mentioned, is a consequence of the passage of time, our own dynamic through life. Regarding the literary passages, many of the poems, etc., are from my great grandfather, Paul Groussac, who was French by birth and who emigrated to Argentina in his twenties. He was a writer, critic, poet, historian, director of the National Library for more that four decades, and an important personality in the culture of Argentina during the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and he is a huge influence for me. Other projected poems are from authors from many parts of the world and they add their rich experience as they provide different points of view. Each of them has a unique way to manage language and to express ideas. Three of them are from Argentina, one is from the Dominican Republic, one from France and the latest that's providing me with poems is from Russia and lives in Argentina. I project poems in English, Spanish, and Russian mixed with Spanish. Not all the poets I work with write in Spanish, so I also work with a translator from Argentina who helps me with this difficult task and also with a close friend from Houston who help me to adjust and gird the English to mean with precision what was originally wrote in Spanish in order to not lose a bit of the inflexion and nuances of the words, the sentences and the poem as a whole. It is very hard to translate from one language to another without affecting the meaning, and this process is a very rich experience too.
Have you projected onto other surfaces? What are the results and the idea behind other surfaces?
As I said in a previous question I like projecting mainly onto moving surfaces. In addition to what I mentioned Iím also projecting onto trees, plants and grass moved by the wind, onto water moved by the wind and by rain, onto moving people, crowds, traffic, etc.
What are your projects for the future?
I plan to elaborate this project to the limit. I think I still have a lot to learn from it. I feel I can work for years on this project. It may seem strange that I'm saying this, since nowadays art has become more a commodity, and art pieces are created and sold almost like products. So artists are asked to have new projects each season. I see art as a way to find meaning in life, and you never finish the process of understanding it. It is a lifelong process. That's why I think I will work on each of my projects my whole life. They are a means to understand myself and even life itself. How can I stop that? I want to understand, not in quantitative terms, but in qualitative terms, especially knowing that one day we die and everything is over all at once. I would like to narrow down all I learned through life to a point in which I don't need to think anymore. To a point in which I just feel things without the need to rationalize them. I would like to reach that point. At least I would like to get closer to this each day.
The other project I'm working on is called "Around the Infinite". This project consists of animations of photo sequences, and I feel this project has achieved the same level of maturity as "Meaning in Motion". It provides me with another field of experimentation, which is time, and the illusion of the infinite. These animations are built in a way that makes them seem endless. I experiment with the speed of them, some are very slow and some very fast, they all loop but, as I said, they seem to never end.
In the last nine years I have shot almost 100,000 photos (as of today 98944). Of course not all of them are good pictures, but many are good enough to create many bodies of work. Sometimes I think I can stop shooting and work with them for the rest of my life without the need to shoot anymore. But, how can I stop doing what gives me life? I like shooting streets, streetlights, trees, the sea, the sky, water, rain, leaves, shadows, reflections, raindrops, moving things, blurred things, among many others. I have at least ten other projects in process, but none are mature enough to be shown yet. All of them provide me with totally different fields for experimentation and I am certain that they will reach a satisfactory artistic level. I will need to work very, very hard for that, as I do now.