The landscape as a cathartic scene
The exploration of unknown territory has been an intrinsic part of human existence on this planet.This need to wander and discover activates in us a heightened sense of awareness and has always presented humankind with new possibilities. Through this millennial journey, a deeper connection to the landscape, as well as the fascination with the mystery of all existence is the outcome.
The north coast of the island of Aruba offers an encounter with this primeval landscape. Here, one can immerse oneself in an environment that has not been touched by humans and carries with it this aura of timelessness, whilst at the same time conveying a sense of raw natural forces playing off each other…waves pounding ceaselessly on rugged shores. This inhospitable landscape still allows one to appreciate the millennial beauty and ponder on the natural forces that allowed for its creation.
Island limitations (the liminal space)
When it comes to islands this need to wander is confronted with new boundaries and seemingly insurmountable limits that heighten the sense of exploration, commitment and inventiveness. To this day, islands offer numerous limits to be conquered in order to facilitate modern existence. Existential limits accentuated by the dramatic formative effects of colonization on the Caribbean region. This formative rupture with past narratives has left artist and thinkers with the task of picking up the pieces in an effort to try to form a cohesive whole.
Within the Caribbean context it has been the tourism industry that in recent decades brought economic possibilities on an industrialized scale. But it is also this same industry that has flattened out local culture and natural environment into a readily digestible and commercialized whole.
For contemporary artists working in this Caribbean island context it is the contrast with this fictitious fabricated landscape of the tranquil southern shores with its lush hotels, and the inhospitable ruggedness of the islands north coast that begs for reconsideration.It is within these two extremes that the artist Olga Gabrielle (Aruba, 1985) finds herself. Out of context, away from the big city centers of Colombia where she completed her academic education and away from the establishment and infrastructures the metropolis has to offer. Here she finds herself at the periphery, on an island where the absence of the familiar infrastructure forces her to explore new solutions in order to satisfy her artistic need to communicate and express and make sense of this island existence.
The introspective journey
It is within his this barren landscape that some of the most remarkable works of art by Olga Gabrielle has come into fruition in recent years. It is through her personal immersive experience into this north shore landscape that allowed for the release to take place of the drama and heaviness that can be the result of modern existence. Upon these shores, among the majestic rock formations, and caressed by the trade winds and ocean spray, she initiated a ceremony where the ritualized immersion into this landscape allowed for introspection, release and renewed sense of belonging.
Within this primeval landscape and facing the vastness of the open ocean she allowed her inner self to be manifest. It is this deeper connection induced by natural environment that forms the source of what she aims to express with her imagery. An imagery that encompasses contrasting elements such as primeval landscape and impermanence of human existence, Forces of nature and the fragility of the human body, immersion and refusal, as well as identity and anonymity.
The collective unconscious
To better understand these works of art and in order to delve deeper into their conceptual development it is also important to consider their allure due to the choice of subject matter and the way it relates to the fragile balance in the relationship of man and nature. What draws Olga Gabrielle to these shores is the same primeval need to explore and forge a deeper connection. This collective motif of the open ocean and primeval landscape such as Aruba’s north shore forms part according to Carl Gustav Jung of the archetypes found in the collective unconscious. In his work on “The Significance of Constitution of Heredity in Psychology” (November 1929) Jung states:
And the essential thing, psychologically, is that in dreams, fantasies, and other exceptional states of mind the most far-fetched mythological motifs and symbols can appear autochthonous at any time, often, apparently, as the result of particular influences, traditions, and excitations working on the individual, but more often without any sign of them. These "primordial images" or "archetypes," as I have called them belong to the basic stock of the unconscious psyche and cannot be explained as personal acquisitions. Together they make up that psychic stratum which has been called the collective unconscious.
The existence of the collective unconscious means that individual consciousness is anything but a tabula rasa and is not immune to predetermining influences. On the contrary, it is in the highest degree influenced by inherited presuppositions, quite apart from the unavoidable influences exerted upon it by the environment. The collective unconscious comprises in itself the psychic life of our ancestors right back to the earliest beginnings. It is the matrix of all conscious psychic occurrences, and hence it exerts an influence that compromises the freedom of consciousness in the highest degree, since it is continually striving to lead all conscious processes back into the old paths.
Olga Gabrielle’s academic formation at the University of Antioquia in dramatic arts defined her aesthetic gaze and the strong positioning of the human body within her artistic discourse. Throughout her oeuvre, it is the strong positioning of the human body and its movement in space that is utilized for dramatic effect. Furthermore it is also the multisensorial ritual with the body that opens up, as it were,” the doors of perception”. Her confrontational experience with extreme contrasts in Medellin Colombia, where she studied, further accentuated the human body as repository of experience and violence. The nineties were one of the bloodiest and most extreme periods in Colombia’s history due to the war on drugs…and the many battles fought against the cartels. The body thus becomes the landscape and vehicle for cathartic process; an essential component in her frame of mind, and essential to her aesthetic.
Of these influences it is the teachings of Consuelo Pabon with Construcciones de Cuerpo, that resonate to this day in the work of Olga Gabrielle. Teachings that illustrate the ability to utilize the human form (body)as a form that can assume multiple identities, not fixed, and able to reconstruct and transform itself. It is furthermore, the body’s ability to be affected and have an effect, and its ability to forget personal history in place of reconstructing its narrative that is relevant here. It is the ability to cleanse itself of the lived experience, allowing for a transmutation of selected details of our lives.
The theatrical frame of mind/ teatro de la crueldad
Another important influence in her work is the surrealist Antonin Artaud, who developed a language in theater freed from the logical narrative and where everything presented as a mis-en-scene could be seen and interpreted as a codified language, and where there was a minimal emphasis on spoken language. Encyclopedia Britannica describes Theater of cruelty as, “A primitive ceremonial experience intended to liberate the human unconscious and to reveal man to himself”.
Thus it is with these set of tools that Olga Gabrielle embarks onto the Aruban north shore, allowing for her subconscious mind to release her existential experiences via a cathartic ritual into the desolate Aruban landscape.
Constructing the image/Post medium
So it is in three recent works that this new aesthetic language has matured and reached its full fruition. It is in the collaboration with Cuban conceptual artist/poet Adonis Ferro in Rectangulo, the Terra Incognita series, and the video art piece Sotavento. In these above mentioned artistic works Olga Gabrielle allowed for what could best be described as a post-medium/postmodern approach where poetry, video, photography, mis -en-scene, and ritual were all put in place in order to construct her desired image. On the one hand reminiscent of cinematic imagery of Michelangelo Antonioni, especially in Avventura, with its use of open-ended narrative and psychologically evocative visual landscape of locations. As well as the cinematic photography of Jeff Wall, with its seemingly everyday scenes, suggestive of historical paintings, that turn out to be elaborate compositions.
In both of these examples, the visual image, being it a film sequence or photographic image, facilitates for different way into the narrative and conveys a deeper layer of meaning. In these above mentioned works it is in Rectangulo, that Olga Gabrielle confronts us with highly contrasting elements in the natural landscape. The unmoving limitations and solidity of the basalt rock formations juxtaposed with the anonymous human form seeking to find its place by moving within this rigid environment. Defiance and surrender are ideas that come to mind.With Terra Incognita, we are invited into the cathartic release of the artist within the liminal landscape of the North Shore. Each potent image, as a reflection of human resilience as well as fragility.
And in the case of Sotavento, we are confronted with a striking human form …lying seemingly motionless in the Aruban landscape. A form covered in dramatic red, evocative of the drama of human experience throughout the islands historic past—a historic past alluded to by the choice of Frenchman’s Pass/Spanish Lagoon as location for the shooting.
Throughout her artistic practice, Olga Gabrielle allowed for a more conceptual approach where ideas took center stage and utilized a varied assortment of support systems (post-medium) to convey her visual language. However, with Terra incognita these striking images conveyed an extraordinary pictorial approach and beauty that is reminiscent of a much earlier period in art history, the Sublime, thus in this manner, allowing for her oeuvre to be considered as post-modern.
The Sublime in art is described as a theory developed by Edmund Burke in the mid eighteenth century, where he defined sublime art as art that refers to greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. Edmund Burke, the philosopher, wrote the first major work on the sublime during this period, where he sought to scientifically investigate human passions. As a philosophical Empiricist, he thought that all knowledge was derived from sensorial experience, and thus grounded his argument through various feelings, including the pleasurable, the beautiful, and the sublime. For Burke, pleasure was not as strong a feeling as pain, and he proposed that the sublime, which he understood to be our strongest passion, was rooted in fear, particularly the terror brought on by the fear of death.
With Uncollectible, Olga Gabrielle takes another surprising turn in her post -medium approach by employing the industrial manufacture of an art printer (Arte Dos in Bogota, Colombia), thus repositioning Terra Incognita as a book/readymade (new work of art)…namely Uncollectible. In this work, the photographic series of Terra Incognita is presented in a large format book case allowing for the, one on one, ritual of unveiling its content. By doing so, one is able to intimately immerse and experience the haunting images of Terra incognita. Evocative images of human solitude and the incomprehensible vastness of nature. Furthermore, these images are interspaced with additional layers of information and meaning such as intaglio printing of key ideas of the void and silence, as well as, silkscreen details of the artist’s own hair and infused throughout with poetic texts by Olga Gabrielle.
The gatekeepers have stepped aside
My senses I feel them in my spine
I only see nothingness
The mythological space in between worlds unfolds
The dream world crashes into reality
Winds are roaring in my ear
I can hear their song amidst the void
The knots they are stronger around my body now
I dwell in the place of solitude
Uncollectible communicates the mysterious quality of art to connect with the unconscious mind as well as the ability to induce a cathartic process by Olga Gabrielle amongst the desolate emptiness of the Aruban north shore.
Terra incognita, as well as, Rectangulo and Sotavento, has allowed for the artistic voice of Olga Gabrielle to be developed, a voice and aesthetic that utilizes the Aruban landscape as escenario (backdrop), where her ritualistic actions take place and are documented. Her aesthetic, infused with theatricality, allows for a moving commentary on modern existence where chaos has become the norm: illustrated through her mis en scéne placing the female body within the barren landscape. Through her images of body rituals we can perceive ideas of transmutation, cathartic release as well as inner quest juxtaposed within the primeval Aruban landscape.
With the book Uncollectible, this mysterious message of the female body becomes front and central in her artistic discourse, while still being imbued with the delicacy of her feminine voice. Allowing the spectator a way into the subconscious depths, detached from the intellectual rationale and submerged within the somatic experience; in order to re envision the fragile balance of rational man and nature, as well as the complex relationship of man and his understanding of his place in nature, his body, and self.
Furthermore, her images represent the interplay amidst the haunting Aruban exterior, activated by the human psyche. It is this inverted landscape that her works alludes to; a temporal space in opposition to our modern existence full of excesses, where in the quiet solitude of nature, and especially within the confines of the human body, one can find this reflective space that allows for the human experience, awareness and limitless imagination of our inner voice.
OLGA GABRIELLE, SIRENA Y ANGEL
Sirena entre rocas, mar y arenas de Aruba, Olga Gabrielle seduce a los espectadores con el encanto indefinible de sus performances, sin dejar ver su rostro, como los seres mitológicos griegos. Siendo caribeña se siente atraída por la tragedia helénica. La atracción se convierte en una elaboración intercultural donde funde cuerpos y ritmos del Caribe con el impulso emocional en el performance Agon, basado en Antígona de Sófocles. No es la sola creación intercultural, ya que Olga Gabrielle celebra también en Tragoidia, versión de Medea de Eurípides, desde una dimensión catártica para que resuene, en escena y espectadores, “la experiencia de transformación en cuerpo, estados, ritmos y vibraciones”.
¿De dónde viene la magia de su presencia escénica?
Viene de una facultad innata, un don y de un insistente trabajo corpóreo y personal con experiencias integradas de las artes: corporales, auditivas, visuales. Olga Gabrielle sigue un método que incentiva a los performers más que a actuar, a ser en escena. Pero no todo depende del aprendizaje técnico cuando se trata de aprender a ser, puesto que implica algo indefinible.
El poeta y dramaturgo Federico García Lorca llamó ángel o duende a esa impresión que producen algunos cuerpos que brillan por sí mismos en el baile, en el cante, en un arte, más allá de las técnicas. Olga Gabrielle muestra, en sus acciones performáticas, la presencia del toque del duende lorquiano y de la sirena de una isla del Caribe. Tierra incógnita y Rectángulo, sin ser versiones de tragedias, encuentran el espacio trágico en el paisaje natural semejante al helénico: grandes rocas, tierras áridas y el mar.
Olga Gabrielle parece moverse mejor en el espacio del simbolismo natural agreste de sus raíces. El azul del traje y la soledad de la mujer ante el paisaje lanzan incógnitas al metaforizar un nacimiento en el misterio de una mujer saliendo de grietas entre rocas, áridas arenas y el mar. Todo pasa a ser percibido de manera espontánea, pero todo está pensado y construido entre la multisensorialidad performática y la integración de las artes, para producir ecos sensibles e interrogaciones en espectadores que conciernen las incógnitas entre la naturaleza y el rectángulo de la visión escénica. Los símbolos naturales y culturales se mezclan y hacen guiños a los espectadores. Así, el dibujo en la espalda de la mujer en Corpus Uncollectible, reconocemos una cita cultural. La asociación entre la forma de un cuerpo femenino y el dibujo de un instrumento musical que tiene su origen en la imagen de “El violín de Ingres” de Man Ray. El fotógrafo ha hecho posar a la modelo con la posición de “La bañista” del pintor francés Ingres, añadiéndole en su espalda, los dibujos del violín en tinta china. El uso de esa cita artística y fotográfica, proyectada en el cuerpo femenino, incita a la interpretación según las asociaciones que pueda hacer el espectador. Ese cuerpo, marcado con la metáfora musical y con el rostro tapado se convierte o inconscientemente, en una cita misteriosa cuyo contenido metafórico concierne el enigma de la mujer, de la musicalidad intrínseca del cuerpo femenino que atrae con las notas de sonidos de las míticas sirenas, pero atraídas a la contemporaneidad a través del cuerpo escénico y los símbolos vivientes del performance.
Dr. Víctor Fuenmayor Ruiz
Chevalier l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la République Française
Founder of the School of Performing Arts of the Faculty of Art of Universidad del Zulia