Bogotá from an Artist Perspective: An Interview with Leyla Cardenas

by Elena Scarpa
October 25, 2016
Elena Scarpa
Cardeans Leyla

On the occasion of ARTBO opening week, we asked artist Leyla Cardenas (born in 1975 in Colombia, living and working in Bogotá) to share with our readers her perspective on the city art scene.
Cárdenas installation, sculpture, mixed-media work delves into urban ruins and city landscapes as indications of social transformation, loss and historical memory.

Elena Scarpa: Could you tell us about yourself, your story and how was your path to become an artist?

Leyla Cardenas: I was born in Bogotá-Colombia. My family was very supportive of my early interest in art, all things manual and even from my fondness of breaking things apart. When I graduated from high school I knew I wanted to become an artist but had no clue of what that really meant. I had a difficult time in school and was very rebellious against rules in general, so I guess what drove me to art was that ideal of freedom and constant reinvention. It was enlightening to finally discover other ways of accessing knowledge.
After doing my BFA in Bogotá I decided to move to Los Angeles. And when I was there, I was accepted in the MFA for the sculpture program at UCLA which had a very interesting faculty at the moment. But I special liked the particularities and craziness of the city. It´s identity as a real border in so many aspects; political, social, cultural, geographical. It was the perfect complement to Bogotá which is also a multilayered city with many contradictions.

E.S.: Your practice concentrates upon architectural conditions that both reveal and conceal the detritus of the city, from where do you get your inspiration?

L.C.: I really don´t know. I have been always very drawn to places that were abandoned, destroyed or that failed as projects. As a good `Benjaminian´ I was trying to read this spaces and learn from them. All this traces of what is no longer present seemed like archives that I could dig into, in order to better understand questions about time, place, materiality. As a sculptor I believe everything is a ruin of what it used to be, there is no work or object that does not accelerate this irreversible process of ruination. So, like some author said, ruins are in a way monuments that memorialize the fleeting nature of all things and the limited powers of man; they become the negative image of history. Another side of history, but a very necessary aspect to visit and work with, I believe.
Also, aspects of erasure and destruction are associated inevitably with every city in the world. The city in itself is an act of eradication of a previous landscape. But architecture rises from the materials of that landscape and when it falls goes back to it. I love how a little fragment of a demolition can give you a glimpse in to this entropic cycle. I keep collecting them and they give me infinite material to work with.

E.S.: Can you tell us a bit more about your practice and which is the media that makes it easier for you to express your concepts?

L.C.: I understand the world in terms of layers. So every material I work with even if originally is apparently two dimensions, gets decomposed and subdivided. After peeling apart layers they become exploded stratigraphy of sites. Is an approach that is very sculptural and site specific. I work with what the space gives me in a particular setting. A process that unfolds in a “sculptural” way without making sculpted objects and that allows me to engage to a particular place and all the confluences and dimensions within. I work a lot with photography but it never stays quietly in a frame. Everything is subjected to a kind of microstratigraphic excavation. Is a procedure I use also conceptually to juxtapose ideas I´m dealing with.

E.S.: You were born in Bogotà and currently live and work there, is the city part of your artistic practice? Is it some sort of inspiration for you?

L.C.: As you can tell from my previous answer cities are important subjects in my work. And every time I visit a new one there is a methodology I have developed to try and understand them as the urban palimpsest they become.
I´ve done entire exhibitions around Bogotá and it´s ruins. Every place has it´s particular material accumulation and sedimentation process. Lately I´m going further away in my ´peeling´of layers and finding more exact data in geological stratification and archaeological studies of places. When you start digging into this layers incredible connections and temporalities start to appear and help make more sense of the tragedy of this place. For example, 19th century Bogotá keeps haunting me. If you focus in this particular moment in time, the architecture and literature it produced gives clues to understand the mess in which we are right now. Is a tragic temporal loop and if you look closely you can read it all around the city.

E.S.: Could you tell us your favorite places in Bogotà, the ones you would suggest to an art loves who’s visiting it for the first time?

L.C.: Definitely the hills are the most amazing feature. And there are many places where you can go up and hike and enjoy the view on top of this fabulous sedimentary rocks. Also, closer to my affections will be one particular intersection of streets that is very powerful symbolically. You can stand up in any corner of Carrera 7ma and Avenida Jiménez and use your imagination. Until not so long ago this was the limit of the city. There was a river originally called Vicachá along the Avenida Jimenez that was canalised and forgotten. But the shape of the street helps visualise it. There was a beautiful arch bridge that is also long gone. This cross street has been for centuries and in every corner the headquarters of a power: ecclesiastical, economical (now also the Gold Museum is located in the same corner), news and media (El Tiempo newspaper) and the ghost of the building where an important political figure was killed in 1948 generating massive riots (*Bogotazo) that would change the city and the country for ever (now a corner location for a Mcdonalds franchise).

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