Exhibit: Gabriela Gamboa: New Topographies, Mapping the Territory from Venezuela to Miami
November 11, 2022 - February 12, 2023
An outdoor photographic installation that builds a new topographic map connecting these two geographical points through the use of archives, memory, erosion and personal mythology.
The exhibition will be on display daily, November 11, 2022 – February 12, 2023.
Gamboa’s most recent multi-site installation, “New Topographies: 25.7617° N, 80.1918 W°,” on-view at Bakehouse Art Complex and The Deering Estate. The installation is a grouping of digital prints on aluminum panels of varying dimensions that depict el Cerro Bolívar, a mountainous mining zone in the southern state of Bolívar in Venezuela. Gamboa’s father was a metallurgical engineer specializing in the extraction and transformation of metals and her early years were spent in Cuidad Guayana in close proximity to the mine.
The prints are a combination of digitized negatives, drawings on found paper, and metallurgical formulas from mining textbooks scanned, processed, and reprinted many times. Close looking reveals that the source material has been compromised and that the accompanying decomposition and residue captured in the scanning process has become part of the image. The overlapping transparency and layered texture of the prints suggest that memory is something opaque and complex; something, that like the photographs, is shaped and conditioned by the passage of time. For Gamboa, this material disintegration mirrors the transformation of the landscape – the erosion of a mountain violently infringed upon and the inevitable degradation of structures and communities resulting from ecological and environmental devastation.
In “bringing the mountain” of her childhood to Miami, Gamboa prompts viewers to consider her work as an embodiment of the physical (i.e. the size of the panels, the surrounding environment, and their relationship to our bodies), but also as an expression of the intangible (i.e. beauty and our intrinsic appreciation of nature). The metallic sheen of the aluminum starkly contrasts with the diffused greens of the surrounding trees, creating an enticing visual effect that simultaneously elevates and subverts the work. Depending on the time of day, when the sun hits the panels directly, the glare renders the images nearly invisible; at other moments, the leaves and branches above and around cast shadows, adding their own layer to their surface.
Gamboa has explored this subtle reversal of nature imposing itself on the man-made throughout her practice. The series Industry from 2015 features post-industrial buildings, specifically steel plants and factories, as the main subjects of the work. In Turbine A, for example, corrosive red and orange streaks make the turbine look like a discarded carcass, standing stolid against the gray sky. In New Topographies, Gamboa captures the transformation of the urban landscape not through the erosion of post-industrial infrastructure, as in the earlier series, but through the erosion of the land itself.
The prints in Gamboa’s installation were created in response to and inspired by “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” a seminal exhibition of contemporary landscape photography at the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, in 1975. It presented an alternative photographic approach that shied away from romanticized imagery and prioritized the everyday built environment.
In the introduction of the catalog to “New Topographics,” Assistant Curator of 20th Century Photography William Jenkins claims that the aesthetic framework connecting the work in the exhibition was the sense of impartiality and the minimal influence of the artist on the subject matter:
The pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion. Regardless of the subject matter the appearance of neutrality was strictly maintained. (emphasis added)
Contrary to Jenkins’ assertion, when presenting seemingly objective images of landscapes, the framing of an image – what the photographer chooses to include or exclude – is a subjective exercise not removed from “emotion and opinion.”
This tension is evident in the way Gamboa uses archival material and sepia-toned aerial views of el Cerro Bolívar to imbue her images with a sense of authority, accuracy, and assumed impartiality usually reserved for official documents or historical records. By appropriating and manipulating the visual tropes used by the state to organize and regulate territory, Gamboa undermines the institutional mechanisms of power and ideology she invokes and repositions herself, and by extension the viewer, within a context of her own making. “New Topographies” becomes a “composite of narratives and representations that shape the meanings associated with a particular territory ” in which the objective handling of the material is framed by the personal.
Jenkins goes on to say that there is a difference between “what a picture is of and what it is about” and it’s in this distinction that Gamboa’s work is best understood. It might be difficult to grasp why she chooses to portray a mine when so much violence has been wrought as a result of mining and resource extraction in Venezuela and the region. Is it possible for to separate the view of this place as an exploitable resource and move to consider it as a sublime scene? Landscape, as a “cultural and social construction,” allows for the co-existence of individual and collective experiences and realities. Undoubtedly, Gamboa’s images are of the mine; but, they are also about a space that can hold multiple, oftentimes disparate, narratives, conditioned by emotion and memory.
The landscape depicted in “New Topographies” is a direct encounter with the mine as a place, a specific location, but also with a space that accommodates the imaginary, in this case, Gamboa’s memories of the mine as it relates to family, childhood, and belonging. It is a symbolic repository for the complicated feelings that accompany displacement, loss, and nostalgia. “New Topographies” is an elegy; the work gives her an opportunity to mourn the death of her father and grieve the exile from her homeland.
Gamboa draws upon what she calls a “personal mythology,” an exercise in remembering a place that no longer exists as it once did. She rebuilds a landscape from an existing archive, constructing her own “map” of el Cerro Bolívar by imposing the features of an expansive mountainous area on the relatively flat, verdant landscape of South Florida, attempting to link two geographically and emotionally distant points that converge during a given moment in time. The subtitle, 25.7617° N, 80.1918 W°, Miami’s coordinates, grounds the installation in specificity, while also opening it up to the possibility of locating and determining more points on a future map.
A combination of the practical, emotional, political, and mythical gives form to Gamboa’s landscape. Her work is not only intimately tied to personal memory and experience, but also to the situation in Venezuela, the nationalization of several industries, including mining, and how political agendas have and continue to transform the landscape by exploiting bodies, both corporeal and planetary. Through “New Topographies,” Gamboa calls for more expansive notions of geography, nationhood, and personhood and uses “map-making” as a subjective strategy to shape and activate space. The landscape becomes a memorial to her father and country, a connection between archive and nature, a reconciliation of the political and the ecological, and a nod to the past in anticipation of an imagined future.
Blackmore, Lisa. “Nation Branding: From Covert Propaganda to Corporate Publicity.” In Spectacular Modernity: Dictatorship, Space, and Visuality in Venezuela, 1948 – 1958, 75 – 100. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017.
Jenkins, William. Introduction to New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Edited by Robert Adams. Rochester, NY: International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, 1975. https://library.nga.gov/discovery/fulldisplay/alma993325903504896/01NGA_INST:NGA.
Mitchell, W.J.T. Introduction to Landscape and Power, 1 – 4. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
– Laura Novoa, Exhibition Curator
The exhibition will be on display daily, November 11, 2022 – February 12, 2023.
COST: Free with General Admission, $15 for adults (ages 15+) and $7 for children (ages 4-14). Admission is free for Deering Estate Foundation Members and children under 4 years old. Non-Members can choose their date of visit / purchase General Admission tickets online here (November 11, 2022 – February 12). Members do not need to reserve to view exhibit; please show your membership card at the Ticket Booth on the day of your visit, 10am-4pm. Become a Member today!
About the artist
Gabriela Gamboa received her BFA in Art and Design from the University of Chicago and an MFA in Visual Art from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She has exhibited artwork both regionally and internationally at renowned institutions including Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas, Venezuela; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Lima, Peru; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Santiago, Chile; and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo del Zulia, Venezuela. In 2021, she was awarded an Ellies Creator Award by Oolite Arts, Miami’s visual arts awards. Gamboa has been an artist-in-residence at Bakehouse Art Complex since 2018.
About the curator
Laura Novoa is a curator and arts administrator based in Miami, FL. She works as Assistant Director of Programs + Community Engagement at the Bakehouse Art Complex, where she is responsible for managing the studio residency, organizing and implementing public and exhibition-related programming, and facilitating educational initiatives and community partnerships. She has previously held positions at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid, Spain), and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum (Miami, FL). She holds an MA in Curating from the University of Essex (Colchester, UK) and an undergraduate degree in Art History and Communications from Saint Louis University – Madrid.
Cultural Arts Programming at the Deering Estate is made possible with the support of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners, and The Deering Estate Foundation, Inc.