It’s like lucid dreaming: stepping slowly into the painted landscapes of Laura Noguera’s universe. You’re aware of the emotions you’re feeling, you can make choices and put action into motion, but there is still that soft comfort of chimera mists. Each creation is a “visual poem” and, like the tattoos she’s collected thus far, Laura developed these in order to know herself better...to transform through visible symbols that float on skin or canvas.
An important part of the young contemporary art scene in New York City, Laura talks about her tattoos, her poignant pieces of artwork, and hopes for the future.
You came from Colombia to New York to go to school. How has each location shaped you as an artist? How have your transitions back and forth been and why is it important to you to stay in NYC?
I lived in Bogotá for many years and that’s where I got my undergraduate in Visual Arts. In NY, I got an MFA in Painting. Because of the sensible and passionate way my culture is, I feel like Colombia shaped me to translate my emotionality and mental processes to the images the way I translate them, which is through symbolism, metaphors, and a search for visual poems. In NY, I was given the tools to better articulate this through technique and more criticism.
Going back and forth lately has become a way of nourishing my practice through opinions, conversations, and observing how the different audiences react. It makes me kind of either turn myself into a chameleon, or turn the spectators of my art in one. We all learn when we leave for some time from anywhere, and come back. It’s a way of refreshing our perspective. Right now, staying in New York feels like the right choice because it’s where the conversations I’m interested in are mostly happening.
Every time I go to events, openings, and the like at the New York Academy of Art I’m always in awe of the talent, but also the diversity, the school seems to foster. What was your experience like there, and how did your work evolve while there?
I always say that the academy is and will forever be one of my favorite places on earth. My experience there was magical and fulfilling. I was learning from the artists I studied back in Colombia in my undergrad classes. I was actually having conversations with them and laughing at their jokes and understanding that they were also human, and not just this untouchable superior figures, and there is something invaluable in that. Also, I made the best friendships that become almost like my roommates because we would be in that building from Sunday to Sunday, from morning to midnight, learning from what each one brought from their backgrounds. Most of the time, it felt more like home than the home I had in Brooklyn waiting for me every night.
I think my work evolved in huge quantities, technically and conceptually. It’s the right place to put your whole focus on the development of what has been waiting to go out for years and get very uncomfortable in the process. Having so many people around going through similar processes help a lot, and having the kind of teachers and staff they have, makes you know there is no way of wasting time there.
Can you talk about your tattoos? Which ones are your favorites, and what do they mean to you?
My tattoos marked a specific time of my life. I only have a few. I got them all in a period of time of 3 years, and these years changed everything I was and transformed me into what I am today. Looking at these tattoos is a reminder of that. I got most of them without giving them a particular meaning. The image would get my whole attention and after getting them, I would start discovering more and more meanings and symbologies.
Why were you interested in getting tattoos? Do you think they're another way you express yourself? Do you think you'll get more?
I definitely think they're another way for people to express themselves in a very committed way. I wanted to carry a few visual elements in my skin and I wanted these elements to just float there, following my movements around. I want to get more and I have a folder with ideas. I will as soon as it feels like the right moment.
Are there any art movements, theories or philosophies that you feel most connected to or inspired by? Have you formulated your own personal artists’ philosophy?
The first philosopher I was ever drawn to in relationship to my work was Foucault. His analysis and theories about institutions and mostly prison influenced the way I articulated my images in terms of elements I started using. It also gave me a better understanding in how things I was dealing with worked and “why” it was considered they needed to work that way.
Artist’s studios tend to reflect the work that goes on within them and each one is usually drastically different. How do you put together a space that induces and supports creativity?
I do believe that we should always be able to work, in spite of the conditions of the space, but whenever I get the privilege to choose and decide what goes on in a place as important as my studio, there are a few things I will always value. The one thing I desperately want and need in a studio is a window. I know light changes through the day and is never completely uniform and that can condition a few things on our works, but the feeling of having some contact with nature or everyday life through my sight while I’m in that space really connects me and grounds me. I also tend to keep things very organized and clean or I start feeling anxious while working. It’s a huge point of distraction. A good speaker and good music is also a must in my studio.
I think my studio tends to be the place I’m 100% free to treat as my absolutely own and is where my confrontations and healing happen through my processes to build images, so it feels like a sacred home.
Your work often gives me the sense that they are emotional realities brought to life in the physical realm...they seem surreal but are actually a sort of realism as well. How do you describe your aesthetic? Do your subjects live in dreams, or in alternate realities?
I like the different dimensions you’re driving my work through to place it somewhere. I would choose “alternate realities”. I always call my paintings and drawings: “windows to my universe”. The things that happen in these images are mostly directed by my intuition, imagination, and a few photographic references I choose. Of course, tons of emotional processes and impulses happen while I’m making each decision in the images, and they have always had everything to do with autobiographical references, family and emotional situations I’m going through at the moment (or the past), and spiritual processes. It’s been a few years since I understood this, so making images to me is a way to fully understand how I’m truly, deeply feeling. Even when the elements get dark and heavy, there’s healing going on, because as soon as I read them, I get closer to my truth.
People tend to find themselves in these windows too. They interpret depending on what is going on with them, and to me, that is another way of healing. I think that every reading and conversation about art is a conversation about ourselves that contains empathy at the artist, and oneself.
The shadows, the red string...time seems to be warped, standing still, and overlapped within your pieces. But am I misreading the symbolism of this particular aspects? What is the significance of the faceless people, dislocated body parts and the like?
In this universe I’ve been building each element has a meaning to me and a reason why they exist in it. They symbolize something and I don’t always know what as soon as I’m done. It can sometimes take months until I feel a connection within this element and my narrative, but they always belong, even if it takes time to understand why.
I think time moves there, but I do agree in that it overlaps because I sometimes go back and forth, either remembering or wondering. The red strings and the shadows tend to talk to me about the baggage I/we carry and the difficulty of letting go at times. These faceless beings that have been wandering around tend to represent a part of my emotional and mental state. There used to be lots of bruised knees at some point and to me, it had everything to do with the uncertainties I was (and still am) carrying about my future. I look at them and all I see is somebody that is carrying something very heavy, and fell. It also talks to me about the strength of being able to carry it.
As a younger artist living in a world with a very short attention span, can you talk about the changing landscape of the fine art world, and how you personally traverse it? Do you feel pressure to create content...has being female affected the way your work is perceived?
I’m aware of how apps like Instagram have shaped our new generations into thinking that we have to be constantly posting images in order to feel like we’re actually creating content and get lots of likes, and this same generation is also getting used to looking at images that are half the size of our phones, and then maybe throwing a like at the images, and move on. It’s hard to fight against this dynamic because I’m also a part of it, so the way I try to handle this is by using Instagram as a portfolio. If I have an image I want to show and stay there, I’ll take a high-quality picture of it, edit it until it looks the same as the original one, and then post it. I try to avoid feeling the urge of being 100% active all the time because that urge is just a slight addiction that it’s been growing inside us since social media that has everything to do with the immediate attention and approval we want towards our work and ourselves. To me, this can be very dangerous because it can lead us to start producing for the relief of the likes and the follows.
The type of pressure I feel has more to do with a fight I have with myself about avoiding feeling comfortable when it looks like I’ve found a formula that is making my images work without too much effort and too much exploration. What really excites me is the search we go through to make an image feel alive. This search goes beyond what we see in the piece itself. This search also has to be transparent.
Currently, you’re working on getting your Visa to come back to us in NYC. I’ve heard the process is incredibly stressful, very difficult, and extremely expensive….what can we do to support? Do you have any projects, openings, etc. coming up that you’d like to share?
The O-1 visa is what allows artists to stay in the US for three years, legally working. It’s an amazing opportunity to showcase your work and grow in invaluable ways, but it is a very long, incredibly stressful and exclusive process. It feels like all of your “worth” as an artist will be determined by the approval or denial of it, even though that could never truly define it (and deep inside I know it. I hope everyone who has gone through this knows). Right now, I’m waiting to hear back about mine and this uncertainty has taken many shapes in my images. Fortunately, while I’ve been waiting, Colombia has been very open and has given me so many opportunities that I’ve lost count.
The way to support artists that are going through this process is mostly by giving them the opportunity to be showcased in some way. If it’s somebody that has the following kind of platforms, It can be with stuff as big as media or press, group or solo shows, offering letters of recommendation or job offers. Also, the support can be just a gesture of empathy and solidarity if we’re feeling overwhelmed with this monster of a process. In my case, both kinds of help have been incredibly important and will be forever treasured with gratitude in my heart.