For our exhibition Know South / No South, on view until July 14, APG's Esther Griffin will be talking with the participating artists about their entries to the show and the idea of Southern identity. Next up is Jennifer Garza-Cuen.
Garza-Cuen’s work can be found in public collections such as Light Work, The Do Good Fund, and the New Mexico History Museum. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and published in contemporary photographic journals such as Dear Dave, Musée, Blink, PDN, Der Greif, The Photo Review, and Conveyor, as well as on-line journals such as i-D, Feature Shoot, Aint-Bad, Fubiz, iGNANT, Dazed, and Juxtapoz. Garza-Cuen was chosen by juror Richard McCabe as one of seven artists to be included in Know South / No South.
You have traveled in Central and South America, Europe and North-Africa, did your undergraduate in Cairo and your MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design. What did all this traveling mean for your work as a photographer?
As a little girl I was obsessed with rearranging the furniture, somehow it felt as though I could make my world new by moving the sofa from one side of the room to another. I came to recognize that impulse as a need for consistent change. Constant flux and persistent transformation is an integral part of life as a traveler, where looking is naturally accompanied by a state of wonder and active questioning. So yes, I think being a traveler has greatly influenced both the way I see and the way I photograph.
Your main focus on photography - in short - is 'place' or the memory of it. You have been working on a series of Imag[in]ing America. Can you tell a bit about that and how this interest of 'place' relates to the theme of the exhibition Know South / No South?
My initial relationship to America as ‘place’ comes from the fact the I have felt ‘placeless’ for the majority of my adult life. My question was simple, “What makes me American?” and by extension, “What makes us of place?” I believe the themes I am exploring in my work relate directly to the issues brought up in the Know South / No South exhibition. Contemporary American life is tinged with familiar modern conditions, the consistent movement of people and a corporate stranglehold on commerce so that everywhere is also anywhere or nowhere. So much of America has become culturally placeless. My current project, Imag[in]ing America, explores the myths of America as a kind of cultural inheritance. My search therefore is for regional specificity. I’m looking for what remains of place-based distinctions while also trying to capture an essential Americanness.
How do you pick your 'places?'
Many of the places I photograph are places that either I or my family have at some point called home, but I’m also interested in places that are more loosely tied to both my ancestral history, and what I refer to as my cultural inheritance. The goal of this project is to examine America as both home and mythology, in other words I am looking for what makes each place home for every American. I am looking for the myths of place that belong to all of us.
Born in Seattle, WA, and having traveled a lot, what does the south mean to you?
I have lived in a couple different parts of the South at various times throughout my life but I’m not sure I can explain why the region has always had a tremendous pull for me. What I will say is that there are very potent myths in the South and I believe many of those myths are inherited by all Americans.
Are there places you would like to re-visit yourself and if so, why?
Yes, many. One consistent downside about being someone who moves and travels a lot is that you are always missing somewhere. I am hoping to get back to north Georgia for a couple weeks this winter and to Wyoming next summer.
You are teaching as well, what is the most valuable lesson you think you offer your students?
My goal is to inspire them to take chances, to motivate them to work hard and to encourage them to be persistent. Being a creative is a difficult and very rewarding path, and I try to be honest with my students about that.
Who do you collect, who do you have on your wall?
I collect antique photographs as well as the work of friends, colleagues, and other artists that inspire me. On my walls there are images by Jordan Baumgarten, Amy Stevens, Gwen Walstrand, Louie Palu, and I’m hoping to add Odette England, Rodrigo Valenzuela and Greta Pratt to those. I also have cherished pieces by Joe DeLappe, Roxana Alger-Geffen, Jack-Arthur Wood, Sulton Rogers, Joe Peña, and Manami Ishimura, among others.
See more of Jennifer Garza-Cuen's work at garza-cuen.com