Laura Camila Medina
in conversation with Kendall Jacob

December 3, 2020

Laura Camila Medina (b. 1995, she/her) is an interdisciplinary artist born in Bogotá, Colombia. Her work has been shown at the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, PLANETA New York, Wieden + Kennedy, and with Nat Turner Project. She was awarded the New Media Fellow at Open Signal, Artist in Residence at the Living School of Art, and most recently the IPRC Artists & Writers in Residence Program. She earned her BFA at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and is currently based in Portland, OR.

OM: As someone who does not speak Spanish, my immediate impulse was to use Google Translate to understand the title of this work. Recordar Es Construir... to remember is to build. But after doing so, I couldn’t help but think about the ways meaning can be lost or diluted in the process of translation, especially through technological means. A tension unfolded for me in that experience that feels in line with the handful of other dichotomies that I see in your work. To start, I’d really love to hear more about the title, how did you arrive there?

LCM: Though my intent is never to exclude someone, I want to evoke the questions around language and inclusivity. I think the lived experience of translating for my parents, of carrying a Spanish to English dictionary to ESL classes as a child, all influence the deliberate act of titling my work in Spanish. It only feels natural for a work so personal to exist within my mother tongue. I thought of this title very long ago, when I was contemplating the ways that the act of remembering changes or builds on itself to create the mental image of the past. I often get lost in thought about whether my memories are real or not, whether my current experiences and beliefs shape the memories in a different mold, and the ways stories and photographs reinforce certain memories. My practice consists of remembering, so I have allowed myself to validate my memories as real, they are as real as the memory landscapes I build in my work.

Dealing with the mechanisms of memory in your process, how do you relate to technology (often thought of as polished, exacting, an emblem of progress and perfection) as it intersects with more analogue modes of making and recording memories?

This question is very interesting actually, because despite my work existing within a virtual realm, I have left a lot of imperfections that occured in translation. For example, many of the 3D models in Recordar es Construir were made with polymer clay and then 3D scanned using an app called Qlone. While Qlone can scan a lot of information, it is still just a phone app so often there are discrepancies in the scan. Whether it’s muddled details, extra polygons, or just overall morphing of the object, there is a loss or distortion of information that happens in the process. I think this mimics our memory’s ability to transform, block, and reshape as we process our experiences. Even though there are similarities between memory processing in humans and computers, my work aims to evoke the handmade, the imperfect, the human hand and memory.

You lived in Colombia for the early half of your childhood before moving to Orlando, Florida. Now you’re based in Portland, Oregon. How do you remember that experience, and have you carried visual languages or modes of making with you from each place?

For me Colombia exists within my core, the very first layers of my existence. My roots are deep in the mountains and vast skies that witnessed my birth. A majority of my family still lives in Colombia so there is always a sense of longing associated with my homeland. From Colombia I carry with me: the landscapes, the colors, the history, and the crafts. Growing up in Orlando reinforced my cultural identity while simultaneously creating other identities within me. Adaptation and acculturation can exist hand in hand with microcosms and cultural reinforcement. From Orlando I take the animatronic, the fantasy, the fairy tale, the fall of the “American Dream”, and the memories of separation and confusion that are so synonymous with teenagehood. Portland was yet another separation, from my parents and the little Colombia that thrives in Central Florida. Moving here inspired the necessity of building a space for myself, within my memories, where my identity feels whole. The memories of these three landscapes engage in the conversation between tradition, culture, identity, and transformation within my work.

Architecture is commonly used as a tool of recollection through the practice of creating “memory palaces”. This method strengthens memorization by placing imagined objects within an imagined space. In Recordar es Construir, though, there’s a lack of traditional architectural elements and instead, what emerges is an entirely new landscape. What was your process in imagining and then building this environment?

Initially the work I created, inspired by memory palaces, consisted of more traditional room structures. These rooms were embedded and categorized by memories, similarly to the way ancient Greeks categorized rooms in palaces. However, with this project, I began to think of memory landscapes that were not restricted by architecture. I imagined my internal landscape to be vast and forever expanding. I wanted to create a landscape that felt intentional in its design while also not mirroring our “real physical world”. I feel a strong connection to mountains, this is demonstrated in the main landscape and the memory-scape that depicts my memories of Colombia. In the other environments, I focused on bringing video elements and cutouts to create the landscape. The process for building the environment consisted of creating preliminary drawings, painting textures with watercolor, scanning and editing the paintings, and then building the terrain on Unity. Unity is the software I used to build Recordar es Construir and it is one of the most prominent softwares in game design today. In Unity, I was able to layer these hand painted textures onto a pre existing texture map. Even though these tools allow for “realistic” grass and trees within their terrain tools, I wanted to showcase the brushstrokes and hand painted qualities within this digital realm.

You call some of the objects in Recordar es Construir memory containers. How do you go about making memory containers, and in what way do they signify what they hold?

The memory containers idea initiated with Clarita, a cow plush animal that my mom gifted me when I was 3. I remember the day I got her very well, it is one of my earliest memories. I took Clarita with me everywhere, she was with me when I moved to the US, and slept by my side all of those years. I am now 25, and she currently still resides next to my bed and I can’t help but feel that she holds all of those memories inside. I decided to recreate her as a sculpture using papier mache and then painted our story on her surface. The painting depicts the mountains of Bogota, my mother, Clarita, and I sharing a bed, a bird overhead foreshadowing migration. I was really inspired by Colombian artisans in this process, especially the crafts from Raquira, often decorated with sceneries and narratives in bright colors. These memory containers have provided me with tactile symbols of my memories, I see them almost as personal historical artifacts.

What are the different ways that you trigger your memories?

I am on an endless journey of remembering, so I frequently trigger memories through freeform writing, looking through photographs, listening to music, and cooking from family recipes. I use freeform writing as a way to connect with my subconscious and almost always, I am able to recall a forgotten memory. I sit down and write “I remember” and then just continue writing, usually one memory leads to the next, and it builds this web of an intertwined past. Looking through photographs also leads me down the path of remembering and it's something I’ve done since I moved to the States. The photos inside of my Minnie Mouse suitcase were the only way to visit my family before Facetime and legal documentation was available. The playlists and CDs I made from age 10 till present day, are auditory triggers for memories since music has always been very important and emotional to me. Food has both negative and positive connotations for me, however it is one of the strongest memory triggers for me. Both our taste and long term memory are connected to our hippocampus, meaning that we can feel as if we are teleported to a different place in time if a taste or smell has been previously associated with a past memory.

When one navigates through the landscape, time is expressed similarly to the patchworked and non-linear way our memory functions. Artifacts and artworks from different periods of your life exist within one space anachronistically. If not through linear time, how did you organize the different spaces and the objects that live within them?

I wanted the initial landscape to represent memory and therefore the memories could be visited in a non-linear way through the memory objects. However, the memories inside the memory objects have an association to time and space. For example, the Flying People which are two soft sculptures depicting figures with large wings, teleport you to a landscape that depicts my memories of growing up Colombian in Orlando, Florida. These memories span many years, but are situated in the same place. The different time periods are cited geographically and socially in my memory. For more abstract memories, for example the landscape within the mirror, I have used an archive of cutout self portraits and videos to explore the relationship with myself and the memories that live within these depictions.

Recordar Es Construir becomes a land not just of memories, but also a record or retrospective of your body of work throughout time. Do you find that these past works take on new meanings in this holistic context?

I definitely see a new, more complete meaning to many of the pieces that comprise this navigable archive I have created. As someone who has experience in curating and organizing exhibitions, I am constantly aware of the placement and relation that the pieces have with each other. I think the narrative and memories really unfold when these pieces become interconnected. You are no longer looking at a clay sculpture of a heart, it becomes alive through movement and becomes functional by teleporting you into a different environment. I now feel that the pieces are out of context if not within the landscape, or at least surrounded by the others. This is a method of thinking that began long before I began to experiment with virtual reality, when I started to describe my work as a “documentation of a fragmented history”. I almost feel that this fragmented history is being threaded together in this new way of making.

Do you find that your memory continues to change beyond your work’s completion, or does completing the work solidify and seal a memory within its container?

I don’t believe memory can ever be completely solid, I think my memory will continue to change and shift as time passes. However, I have created a practice around the embodiment of memory which reinforces and shifts what I remember. I see this as a way to have agency in my narrative, creating a meaningful chronicle of my existence. I think I find new memories every day, and if they relate to any of the memory containers I have created, in my mind’s eye I gently place the memory inside so I can keep it forever. This is almost an imaginary mnemonic action within a physical object.

You work largely with your own personal archive, including personal mementos such as photographs and notes, as well as cultural artifacts. Do you find that these traces of the past alter your current process of recollection in any way? Do you think that your current reality and shifting perspective influences your distant memories?

My personal archive of photographs, objects, and sounds have certainly influenced the work that I make and the way I remember. As a child I constantly said that I remembered my baptism, even though I was only two. I had looked at the photographs from that event so many times that I felt I remembered being there. There are also instances that I don’t remember at all, specifically the drawings and letters I wrote to my father when he was living in the US and we were in Colombia. However seeing the handwriting and drawings of my 5 year old self give me an extremely personal insight to my life during that time. As I mentioned previously, I do believe that my current reality can influence my distant memories but I don’t think that they are completely transformed, only shifted or reinformed.

You’ve invited the viewer to also search deeply inside themselves. This encouragement for personal healing and personal growth is quite important. The power of self-reflection is a tool that can help us transcend the personal and influence society at large. How do you approach the work of self-reflection in your life and in your creative process?

I approach self-reflection in a couple of different ways such as free writing, memory evaluation, therapy, self portraiture, and journaling. I have dealt with depression, dissociation, and post traumatic stress for many years and making the decision to understand and get to know myself has been a way to heal and process. I feel that the questions of my existence and the nuance of my personality help me value and relate to others as well. It helps me see how special we all are, how complex our experiences are, and how we relate to each other. Through books, films, social media, and in conversations with my own friends, I’ve witnessed a similarity in experience between people who immigrated as children and children of immigrants. The experiences of these individuals are complex, but there are similarities in the feelings of duality of identity, insecure ideas of home, difficulties with expression, bilinguality, and more. I have felt less alone since that realization and I only hope that my work can help others feel less alone in these experiences. I do not believe that my work represents the “immigrant experience”, because there is no singular experience. However, I do believe that it builds connection and community. I hope to encourage others to practice introspection, because when we learn about ourselves, learn to be patient with ourselves, it inspires us to be compassionate with those around us.