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Bia Gayotto

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Oct 01, 2004
Location: USA
Topic: Interview with Bia Gayotto
Interviewer: Donna Conwell

LatinArt:  Much of your work involves an engagement with chance operations, both as a principle of creation and as an artistic methodology. Can you talk about why chance interests you?

Bia Gayotto:  I use chance as a way to bring greater diversity and complexity into my work. Similar to an experiment, I'm interested in setting up a structure and documenting whatever unfolds in front of my camera. I often combine chance and control by collaborating with my subject, who is always aware of the camera contributing to the image making process. Although I use serial repetition as a formal structure, the unpredictable actions of the subject usually affects the outcome of the work. In giving up control I want to break with the power relationship normally imposed by the camera while introducing a playful way of composing images not solely dictated by my own aesthetics.

LatinArt:  Could you give an example of your work that reflects this interest in chance?

Bia Gayotto:  For Composition for Piet Mondrian #1-28 I chose nine paintings from Piet Mondrian's Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow series, arranged a set of objects according to the color positions in these paintings and then took a photo of these nine arrangements. While Mondrian's color compositions were based on his intuition, for this piece I decided to further arrange the individual photos into configurations based on John Cage's system of chance operations. To do this I randomly shuffled the 9 photographs and arranged them on a grid. This act was repeated 27 different times to pay homage to Mondrian's life-long commitment to process by exploring variations of a theme.

LatinArt:  It's interesting that it is only through the repetition of the image that you start to notice subtle changes. Chance has to be understood relatively, in relation to our ability to recognize the structure.

Bia Gayotto:  In order to show slight changes from one image to another, I use a formal structure that includes frontal framing, consistent lighting and seriality. The serial repetition presents a formal structure in contrast to the unpredictable actions performed by me or by my participants. My work evokes the idea of process through the perception of sameness and difference of individual elements within the whole series. Composition for Piet Mondrian #1-28 could be compared with minimalist music, its about noticing what changes and what stays the same.

LatinArt:  You often collaborate with friends and colleagues as a way of heightening the degree of chance and randomness in your work. These collaborative systems make me think about the idea of play; play as free movement within a more rigid structure, generating emergent unpredictable results. Can you talk about this idea of collaboration and play in your work?

Bia Gayotto:  Chair Piece #1-5 is an early work in which I began to use a collaborative process. I photographed the four chairs in my studio, making a series of twenty-four different arrangements. I realized that the way I organized the chairs varied according to my mood. It was then that I decided to invite three other friends and colleagues to make their own twenty-four-part-series of chair arrangements. I used a 24-exposure roll of film to document the whole process. As with much of my work, I set up an event, document it, and then I present the results as a sequence of photographs. Later on, I invited a fifth colleague to collaborate with me on Chair Piece # 5. I asked her to help me select two images from each set. We created a system to classify our choices that was based on what the image evoked in us - a sociological response or an aesthetic response, and so on. I re-arranged the chairs and based on these choices re-photographed them with a medium format camera. In doing this, I re-appropriated my own images as well as others into a whole new piece.

LatinArt:  Another piece that explores this idea of collaborative systems and the idea of play is Thirteen Friends Jumping. Can you talk about that work?

Bia Gayotto:  At this time, I was creating photographs that were related to the instantaneous, to the snapshot. I created a series of myself jumping entitled Jump, which led to Thirteen Friends Jumping. I was thinking about the work of Bas Jan Ader who staged photographs of himself falling. But instead of falling I decided to jump, which has the opposite energy. I invited artists and friends to perform for me in a location and an outfit of their choice. With a frontal camera angle, I photographed each person twenty four times. Once again I used all 24 exposures of a roll of film, including the good and the bad, to document the process. In documenting a series of ephemeral body movements I wanted to explore the delicate balance between control and unpredictability, pose and absorption, theatricality and play.

LatinArt:  I like the way that the structure becomes personalized through the actions of the collaborators. By performing the structure, they reveal their agency though their individual interpretations of the rules.

Bia Gayotto:  I love to observe the numerous possibilities that emerge when different people perform a single action. In this piece the participant's choice of location, outfit and pattern of body movements - displayed in a linear sequence of 24 photographs - reveals something unique about each person. For example, David Wilson, one of my collaborators, chose to jump out of his trailer where he creates at the back of the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. Haruko Tanaka planned a set of choreographed movements which she chose to enact in San Pedro, California.

LatinArt:  More recently you have started collaborating with people beyond your circle of friends and colleagues. Could you talk about The Towers Apartments I-VII, Pasadena?

Bia Gayotto:  The idea for The Towers Apartments I-VII, Pasadena came from the installation of Composition for Piet Mondrian #1-28. The rhythm and patterns created by vivid colors from these series of 28 photographs evoked the grid of the urban space - as in Piet Mondrian's paintings. I was looking for a residential building that I could photograph frontally with large windows arranged on a grid structure. I invited the residents of the Towers Apartments to create window patterns by turning their lights off and on for a period of one week according to a pre-established schedule. The light patterns were created based on the resident's answers to a confidential survey, which included seven questions. During the shoot, an average of 12 out of 16 residents participated by turning their lights on and off, by placing objects on the window or by appearing in the picture.

LatinArt:  You have said that The Towers Apartments I-VII, Pasadena is a feminine approach to architecture. Could you elaborate on that idea?

Bia Gayotto:  Most architectural photography focuses on the formal and external qualities of a building. By collaborating with the residents my goal is to make an inside-out type of architectural photography, which portrays a personal interaction with the residents rather than the building's exterior facade. I don't feel that architecture is often represented by photographers in this way and I do feel it relates more to a feminine approach.

LatinArt:  Much of your collaborative work deals with this interplay between 'public' and 'private'.

Bia Gayotto:  Making The Towers Apartments was like an anthropological study. After 9/11, people seemed more reserved and private. By asking the residents to open their curtains and turn on their lights, I was asking them to make a private space public. This could be considered intrusive, except for the fact that my subjects were aware of the camera and contributed to the image making process. It took me a while, but it was only with the help of some residents that I was able to gain the trust of others. Those who did not want to participate were given the option to close their curtains or turn off their lights.

LatinArt:  I am interested in the fact that some of the questions you asked the participants were not yes/no questions. How did you translate those answers into light patterns?

Bia Gayotto:  My criteria for evaluating their answers was either objective or subjective based on the type of question asked. For example on day one I asked, "do you consider yourself happy?" For this type of binary question I gave the following instruction: light on equals "yes" and light off equals "no." On this day almost everyone said yes except for the individuals who didn't participate. For questions with more complex answers I created my own criteria to translate their responses. For example, in the case of day three, "what would you be willing to fight for?" many participants put down responses related to the very broad concept of 'freedom.' I wanted the participants to give very specific answers. Therefore, I interpreted specific responses as "yes" and more general responses as "no." In the case of people who wanted to participate but didn't want to complete the survey, I created random instructions for light patterns through shuffling (as with Composition for Piet Mondrian #1-28.).

LatinArt:  The criteria you employ are a hidden element in the work because you don't reveal that to the viewer.

Bia Gayotto:  The titles of the photographs are equivalent to the questions that I asked for a particular day. But there could be a mismatch between questions and light patterns. In many cases I don't know the participant's exact response at the instant when the picture was taken. I know some of them were participating, but I don't know how much and in what way. Since I didn't have control, they could have turned their lights on or off randomly. I think this is another level in which this work can be seen: although we tend to read things very literally, my criteria for organizing information was subjective. After all this is not a scientific survey, it's more about the gap between language, image and its translation into light patterns.

LatinArt:  You also explore this issue of translation and the gap that exists when something is translated from one thing into another in Ue Wo Muite Arukou//Só Daní§o Samba. Can you talk about this work?

Bia Gayotto:  Ue Wo Muite Arukou/Só Daní§o Samba has to do with issues of cultural dislocation that I am beginning to explore. I worked collaboratively with Haruko Tanaka to create a DVD. We chose music representative of Japan and Brazil (our respective native countries) and we invited a group of friends to sing a cappella. The video shows in a split screen two ethnically diverse groups: The right side sings Só Daní§o Samba, a Brazilian song, and the left side sings Ue Wo Muite Arukou, a Japanese song. The video is presented with subtitles in a karaoke style: the Japanese song has subtitles in Portuguese and the Brazilian song has subtitles in Japanese. To write the subtitles we had to translate each other's songs into English, our common language. This work deals with issues of cultural dislocation through a mismatch between language, rhythm and translation. Something gets lost, especially when one tries to sing Só Daní§o Samba in Japanese!

LatinArt:  What have you been working on recently?

Bia Gayotto:  502-514 is my most recent piece currently being exhibited in conjunction with the Sao Paulo Biennial. I was invited by curator Paula Alzugaray to participate on a site-specific show in an empty hotel in downtown Sao Paulo. I invited all members involved in the show to collaborate with me, by creating geometric compositions for the hotel windows. Each participant was instructed to fill, in any order, a total of eight squares (4 yellow and 4 red) on a grid of 40 squares proportional to the size of a window. My contact with all the participants was through email. As a result of this interaction I was able to get 13 different compositions including my own. They are made of color adhesive tape, displayed on a linear sequence on the 5th floor. These compositions propose a dialogue between internal and external landscapes: when seen individually from inside of the room, the compositions construct and de-construct the external landscape; when seen as a group from the street, they have a continuous linear effect following the building's architecture. It's a mix of the Kindergarten style of early childhood education developed by Friedrich Froebel with Arte Concreta Paulistana, Sao Paulo's concrete art of the 50's.

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