Rebeca Romero, Semilla SAGRADA, Sacred Two/ video Still, 2023 / Courtesy the artist and Copperfield gallery, London
We had the chance to talk to the OGR Prize Winner of this year, Rebeca Romero. Peruvian artist based in London, she was recently awarded by Artissima and Fondazione per l’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea CRT with her project Semilla SAGRADA, an installation that became both physical in the spaces of the Duomo at OGR Torino and 3D in a virtual version hosted on the Spatial platform in the Metaverse usable free of charge over time.
The award is part of the METAmorphosis project, the second episode of the Beyond Production platform, promoted by Artissima and Fondazione per l’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea CRT and aims to reflect on the most innovative trends in contemporary art. Partners in the development of the project were Artshell, a software house for the art market, and LCA Studio Legale, in addition to REVIBE – Metaverse Experience Factory.
BEATRICE SACCO: What has drawn you at first to the pre-Columbian era as one of the main themes of your work? What is for you the connection with contemporary practices and how did you find it?
REBECA ROMERO: I grew up in Lima, it is a city full of ancient shrines, archeological structures are everywhere in the capital of the country and beyond. Learning about Pre-columbian and Inca cultures is a fundamental part of our education, of our life. I’ve always had an interest in Andean archaeology but how this ended up being one of the axis of my work is due to several reasons. I’ve been living in Europe almost half of my life, I moved here as a young adult and unfortunately I was never able to afford frequent trips back home. Some memories started to fade, it becomes tricky. You start coming up with ways to create bridges. It is a long process to embrace what some people define as ‘diasporic identity.’ This identity started slowly to become part of my art practice. I did my masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University of London, and the experience really made me question what European eyes consider art, beauty, knowledge and later, technology. I became interested in challenging these ideas through my work.
Rebeca Romero, The Gift and the Given, 2022 / Video Still
Rebeca Romero, Archeological Vestige I, 2020 / Photo Sophie Percival
In a text about your work I read that you “look into the intervention of the digital archive as a history-making technique.” Can you talk a bit more about it? Do you think that it is possible to recreate an inclusive history?
I explore the collaboration between makers and machines – whether old or new – through metamorphosed Andean artefacts: pixelated mechanically-knitted textiles, digital models, AI-generated films, and 3-D printed vessels, among others. Due to my distance from my source material it was a choice to start what I call a process of digital excavation, where the “digging” takes place in museum online collections. My work is deeply rooted in the possibility to imagine a world outside the modern colonial system, a world where many worlds fit. Distorting time in this sense, moving from the past to the future and vice versa, is quite an effective way to make you question “reality.” To shape-shift, to glitch, are in this context keys to freedom. I would say, my interest in the questioning of “the truth” is also very much linked to the Trump era, from “fake news” to history books, could be a way to describe that part of my thinking process. I’m not proud to say that I’m an avid consumer of social media, but who isn’t in 2023? Becoming aware of this link between technology and the manipulation of “the real” was a pivotal moment in my practice. I’m not a qualified historian, I’m an artist, a story-teller. My research includes the work of Ursula Leguin, Octavia Butler and Simon O’Sullivan to name a few. Thanks to their influence I started adopting fiction as a method, and it is from this space where I create my own.
Rebeca Romero, Intangible Totem, Dawn, 2022
Rebeca Romero, Voyager, 2020 / Video still
Your practice involves the use of many different materials and techniques, from textiles to 3D prints, and others. How do you choose the materials according to the project you are developing? Can you talk a little about your creative process?
I enter my workspace driven by curiosity. I can get lost in research the same way I can spend hours making in the studio. My way to approach the cultures I am interested in is through their art making, their textile work, their pottery, their architecture. So you could say I have opened a conversation between theirs and my own. There needs to be a coherence between medium and message and I would say that is the only strict rule I have in place. Anything else is fair game. I tend to refer to my practice as interdisciplinary but lately I’ve been thinking that maybe post disciplinary is a better term to describe it. There are not really hierarchies or boundaries in this space.
Rebeca Romero, From this point to the beginning, 2023
Rebeca Romero, Symbols of Power, The Tumi / Photo Sophie Percival
What is your connection with sound and music and when do you use them? I am thinking about Haptic Chant especially, but also about Now hear This: Sonar doesn’t Hurt Fish or New Worshipers, where I feel there is an element of sound and of poetry at the same time. Is it a common part of your practice or do you choose music as your media just in specific contexts?
I’ve been playing around with music since I was a kid. I am not a pro musician or anything, but I can play a few instruments and have performed individually and as a part of a group. I have also worked in several music venues to pay the bills through the years and have done my fair share of raving. I’m fascinated by the power music has to amplify emotions and create connections with a collective audience. That’s the reason why it is part of my toolkit. The idea of bringing poetry into my work was introduced to me by artist Jesse Darling, who I once had a studio visit with. Poetry helped me overcome the fear of expressing myself with words, and it opened doors for me to experiment with writing through longer pieces of fiction, which is the case in The New Worshipers. At this point, words and music are tools I often incorporate into my work. I enjoy moving freely between disciplines, the same way I do with digital and material realms. I allow myself to learn with every piece and have fun with what I do.
Rebeca Romero, Haptic Chant 2022 / Photo Matt Denham
Rebeca Romero, Haptic Chant 2022 / Photo Matt Denham
In the contemporary conversation about new technologies and AI they are more and more often seen as something negative and dangerous. It seems to me that for you their use has something positive and fair. Is that the case? Can you give us your thoughts concerning the harnessing of these technologies?
It is really impressive to witness the way advances in the area of AI are taking place. We live in an extremely fast-paced, globalised, inter-connected world, advanced technologies become more and more accessible, at the same time we often overlook the impact and consequences these newly acquired tools may have. In my case, research and practice unravel at the same time and feed from each other. I’m constantly reading papers and listening to interviews by experts in the field while I spend time experimenting with AI generators, using them in a collaborative way in my work. This is all to say that I am blown away by them but cautious at the same time. To me the most exciting thing about this AI revolution is the integration and acceptance of the possibility of a non-human kind of intelligence. Now how we’ll deal with and the real changes they will bring into our lives is yet to be seen.
Rebeca Romero, Huachuma 3000, 2022
Rebeca Romero, A sacred yes is uttered, 2023
Your work feels to me deeply rooted in spiritual practices from past civilizations. Do you think there is still place for spirituality in contemporary times? If so, how might they connect?
When you work with and through artefacts it is impossible not to wonder about the life they once had. The context in which they were made and how they were used. I explore their narrative and spiritual power, in the past and in contemporary times. I personally noticed a big change in western society during and after the pandemic. We are living in a world where ecological challenges are on the rise and our environment faces ongoing devastation, and it’s not surprising that many of us are yearning for a deeper spiritual connection with this planet we call home, just like the Incas and pre-Columbian civilisations did in the past and indigenous peoples of the Americas continue to do today.
Rebeca Romero, Semilla SAGRADA, Sacred One / video Still, 2023 / Courtesy the artist and Copperfield gallery, London
Rebeca Romero, Semilla SAGRADA, Sacred One / Render from Spatial.io by Revibe, 2023 / Courtesy the artist and Copperfield gallery, London
Can you talk a little about the process of making Semilla SAGRADA? How was it working with so many different realities and institutions?
It has been a long and multi-layered process. Formative meetings, proposal developments and constant communication with all the institutions and partners involved in the project. I’ve been very lucky to work with amazing curators and experts in the fields of game design, digital animation and textile fabrication that have supported me along the way. Many hours of research, manual labour and digital design were involved. I would say that fluidity between the digital and material realms was already one of the characteristics of my practice, so I enjoyed thoroughly bringing that flow, that dynamic into this project.
Rebeca Romero, Semilla SAGRADA / Installation View inside OGR Torino / Photo © Giorgio Perottino/ Artissima
What are you working on right now, and what plans do you have for the near future?
Right now I’m rehearsing for an upcoming performance, which will be part of a group show in London, a beautiful project curated by Mexican curator Sophia Sacals. Its been a while since the last time I performed for an audience but I’m looking forward to it. There is a possibility of coming back to Turin and showing my work later this year but that is still to be confirmed. I’m also preparing for a solo exhibition which should be taking place in the Autumn and working on a publication with Kate Morrell who runs Pleats, an independent arts publisher that you should definitely check out.