A Conversation with Adeela Suleman, Bawwaba artist, 2019 Art Dubai, by James Scarborough
A Conversation with Reena Lath, Co-Founder of Akar Prakar Gallery, Kolkata and New Delhi, India, on the Occasion of Their Gallery’s Participation in 2019 Art Dubai, by James Scarborough

LA-Based Multimedia Artist Viviana Carlos’ Photographic Breadcrumbs: the Illusion of Arrival, by James Scarborough

Each piece a series of photographs. Visually, some photographs connect with one another. Others don’t. The ones that do. The base of a mountain in one lines up with the edge of a house’s roof in another. A road’s curve continues into the curve of another road. A billowing curtain bisects a window shade which sits next to a bathed-in-light chevron spaced nestled in the intersection of two ivy-covered concrete walls. If the body of work is a map, these as-yet unrealized photographs offer a prospect of place.

The ones that don’t. An overhead view of green plants with red flowers abuts a photograph of a pair of legs cut off at the thigh by a garage door juxtaposed with a sidewalk stain adjacent to a patch of dirt. A paring knife, a coffee cup, and a spoon next to a hat snagged on barbed wire. A shadow of a rock (between an actual rock and another rock shadow) offset to an image of a mound of dirt. Map-wise, these photographs offer a prospect of still-wandering.

The work rewards careful inspection, if not introspection. Though its subjects are everyday and recognizable, the work’s emotional coordinates are not obvious. What matters at first are the visual hints between each photograph. A path. That’s why the work doesn’t articulate things. It reveals the quest for a sense of place that the navigation of each set of images yields.

The work, a puzzle. Take disparate pieces. Assume they form a whole. Put them back together.  The final image is not apparent at any stage of the series, but it is part of an organic whole. Once assimilated, once adapted, one environmental element leads to another. One piece, in fact, is a puzzle. An arrangement of 4 images by 4 images. With effort, they can be rearranged to form a single whole image. Something new built up from fragments of what was there before. A great metaphor for life.

This synthesis and reconstruction of photographic moments happens automatically. In the flick of a synapse. On a conscious level, does anyone really process the huge number of things one sees each day? An immigrant does. Adaptation to a new environment requires conscious thought, reflection, and a piecing together. This focused awareness of site-specific subject matter - on native flora and fauna like plants, birds, rocks - describes these transitional moments. New things, new places, new situations - a new environment. The work allows the photographer to make sense of this new environment. It’s an ongoing process, this assimilation, these filters, this evaluation and reevaluation.

Though the works’ fragments map a new experience, the photographer decentralizes the process. She doesn’t present her adaptive experience, she offers the viewer the tools, the means, the process with which to do so as per one’s own itinerary. To each her separate Why. Each individual image, so stark, so bare, so denuded of context, functions like the fairy tale breadcrumbs with which a brother and sister made their way back home. The difference here - these photographic breadcrumbs lead the photographer, the immigrant - one and the same - to a provisional place to call home.

Below follows an interview with the artist (here and here).

JS: How were you first exposed to art? Family? Teachers? Friends?

VC: Curiosity has always been part of my creative process. This is the one that unleashed my introduction to art. Let’s say it was self-taught.

JS: When did your interest in photography begin? Why photography and not, say, painting?

VC: I can say it was a relation of different situations that awoke my interest. I migrated for the first time to the United States when I was 17 years old. I have never owned a camera before and I started taking photographs with what I had available - a cellphone. Finally I acquired my first digital camera. Later in school, I signed up for an analog photography class. I believe this autodidactic search for an expression was a response - in terms of observation and awareness - to  the transition of moving from one country to another.

JS: What do you like best about the medium of photography?

VC: I believe that one of the inherent and coarse things in photography - although it is not given its true value  - is the practicality with which you can compose and preserve a memory, an emotion or a thought. For me, the photographic medium is the relationship to  and the links that can be created with reality and how it can be transfigured into other worlds when you develop your own visual language.

JS: How would you compare the experience, process, and product of making analog versus digital photographs?

VC: Photography is a set of practices. Creative photographic development is not limited to shooting or composing scenarios. Bringing photographic records to a physicality is imperative so that photography can sustain a discourse or dialogue. Photography, whether analog or digital, generally has a tendency to be collectable. I can find myself in the dark room working with chemicals and limited light. Later I can walk and sketch urban scenes with a cell phone. At the end of the day I can cut paper to achieve a collage. Satisfaction exists on the same level, it depends more in how we spin and relate these practices to our personal discourse. Whether in film or in digital files, there is not really an expressive comparison between these media. Both have ample possibilities of being physically tangible and explored through the investigation of different media and materials.

JS: Did you study photography? If yes, where? What’s the most important thing you learned?

VC: My initial studies, as I mentioned before, were self-taught. This impetus led me to a degree in Visual Arts in the city of Guanajuato, Mexico. The program lasted 4 years and consisted in the exploration of several disciplines with the option of specializing at the end in only one. This opening to other disciplines - of which I had not had a previous approach - cultivated the way I approached photography.

JS: Your work and written statements seem to be about growth. Growth as a person. Growth as an artist. Do you use photography to navigate and make sense of life?

VC: Composing images serves as a documentation method of experiences through the abstraction of physical and emotional dimensions. I am always developing work from personal experiences. Photography and other disciplines function as a boat with which we navigate through the impermanence of our human condition and surroundings.

JS: Before we discuss the theme of adaptation, let’s begin with the related themes of mobility and contemplation. Why are they significant to your work? How do you reconcile the two?

VC: I carry something that I like to call an inherently adaptive skill that has been developed since I was young due to many family relocations. A lack of settlement and the apparent inability to build a sense of space has developed a transitional moment that triggers the necessity to be aware of my surroundings, to be aware is to practice listening, observation and movability, always in an intensively and contemplative way.

JS: First, a couple of definitions, please. With respect to your work, how, as a photographer, do you define adaptation? How about constants?

VC: Adaptation is an ability organisms or species develop in their function or structure against the constant flux of their surroundings in order to become better suited to its environment. This living process could be experienced not only in the human ecosystem  but also in the rest of the animal world. The ability to adapt could be developed when a constant communication with the surroundings is established by the receptor or agent. Communication requires awareness and consistency.

JS: Why did you decide to focus on the theme of adaptation, instead of letting it function on a subconscious, or nearly subconscious level?

VC: The interesting part of this ongoing research about adaptation is that it’s approached at a subconscious realm/level. The subconscious is defined as a powerful awareness. Adaptation is inherent in all living things. It could be detonated or not by the constant change of the environment but it's still a survival mechanism that allows us to restructure, and reevaluate our own nature, it’s part of our existence. But since it is almost imperceptible or intangible, our focus and perception towards it becomes minimal. I am fascinated by this process in which a living thing communicates to and exchange parts of its own structure with the characteristics of the ever changing environment in order to invent a new outcome to continue thriving in the constant flux.

JS: How is photography a tool for adaptation?

VC: With photography one can approach and recreate one’s own reality. That’s the beauty of the medium, to abstract emotions and physical dimensions.

JS: Why is adaptation, as you write, an ongoing absolute? Because we never stop adapting? If that’s the case, does one, immigrant or not, ever fully adapt to a particular place? Would that constitute the truth, upon arrival? If yes, then what happens?

VC: If there’s constant flux in the ecological niches we live in, then adaptation to it is also an ongoing alteration that an organism could experience. I do not think any person, whether immigrant or not, can fully adapt to a place If that would ever happen it would be a counter reaction to nature’s own inevitability. Arrival, therefore, is an illusion. It is the means of navigating through a new structure.

JS: What would you want a viewer to take away from an encounter with your work?

VC: To peel layers underneath their critical thinking. We as viewers are usually seeking from an encounter with an art piece an immediate knowledge that will position our understanding of what we are seeing or hearing in a secure place. We don’t drift. For a viewer to drift, an artist has to give the means through their own work, from the concept, to the way the piece is build and displayed. That is why lately I have been developing a body of work that intends to create a dynamic with the viewer through not just  seeing but also touching and hearing.

JS: Your work is framed as a series of juxtaposed places and things. How do you choose these places of things? Do these fragments speak to you?

I usually feel attracted to specific characteristics that constitutes a place. For example, the visual qualities that are part of the scenes that I record are found where the passage of time is evident and encrusted: the transition between day and night, the changing light that comes from this transition or the different tonalities that seasons bring to the environment.

JS: As you take pictures, is there an Aha moment? In other words, how do you know when a. the particular image is right and b. when the particular juxtaposition is right?

VC: The creative process I follow is completely dependent of being aware. Awareness brings an opportunity to perceive qualities around the environment that I would not ever consider before to see, hear or feel if I wasn’t fully present or paying attention while I navigate through a space. The recording of these scenes does not happen immediately. It usually requires a sort of monotonous navigation and familiarization through the space. It could take days, weeks or months before I encounter a scene or situation that I haven’t perceived or explored before. Through this visual information gathered at different times and seasons is how I find a relation between them, juxtaposing and linking their inner qualities. The connection between different images comes organically.

JS: Is the dynamic between a city and a migrant, or, as you put it, between a transmitter and a receptor, ever fully resolved?

VC: I would consider a familiar navigation through a space a dynamic, in that case the dynamic could be resolved between the transmitter and receptor. But as far as  of limiting the communication with the environment, I do not think that could be resolved because that is a constant process. It could only be interpreted and explored in different ways, with different tools, perhaps.

JS: Why are there no people in your work?

VC: I believe that there are people involved in the work, only that they have another role or function besides the figurative within the image, the work itself is an invitation for them to navigate an imaginary space. I do not figuratively involve people because one of my intentions is that they are reflected in the possibilities of the built space, or speculate if they consider to become one with space.

JS: What would your like your work to say to viewers?

VC: I see it as an open invitation. The only intention that I have is for the viewer to navigate and drift with me in these imaginary spaces without being able to see himself figuratively reflected in the scenes. It is an invitation for them to take a walk through a microcosm they may have witnessed but they do not know its exact nature or location.

JS: Where do the titles come from?

VC: They come  from the same vocabulary the environment is made of.

JS: What are you working on now?

VC: Right now I’m researching characteristics and behaviour of other local organisms that possess the ability to adapt, such as plants or birds that I see or hear around the city I live in. For example, for the last 6 months I’ve been photographing and recording sounds from peacocks, which are non-native species and originally they were brought to California from India as ornament. They can be found close to human habitation and they seem very confident in occupying  an urban space. This ongoing research has not take a specific shape yet but is has been broadening the project to a place I wouldn’t have expected. It is a constant surprise.



Arrival, 2015


03_Early Communication  2018

Early Communication, 2018


09_Dynamic for an Adaptative Exploration  2018

Dynamic for an Adaptive Exploration, 2018


02_Ordo Naturalis- It has been darker

Ordo Naturalis - it has been darker, 2018


04_Transitions  Seasons and Precipices  2018

Transitions, Seasons and Precipices, 2018


06_To know the territory  to find a channel. 2015-2016


To know the territory, to find a channel, 2015 - 2016


07_Different Grade  2015-2016

Different Grade, 2015 - 2016


05_Detonate  2017.

Detonate, 2017


08_Arrival Plain  2017

Arrival Plain, 2017