“I wanted to play with the place, to inhabit it, to give a new identity to this place.” INTERVIEW with Laura Ribero

Who is she? Where is she? What is she doing, and where does she go, the young woman in her strikingly beautiful dresses? She is wandering in run down rooms, some nearly ruin-like, while in others the splendor of bygone days can still be felt. She appears strangely out of place and time, yet at once she seems to belong just there. A photos develop a puzzling, surreal and yet strangely aesthetic atmosphere.

Transitory Places I (Metro Cinema, Vienna), 2013

Transitory Places I (Metro Cinema, Vienna), 2013

Laura Ribero’s most recent series Transitory Places plays with opposites, the photos irritate with the surprising contrast of beauty and (near)demolition. What’s this? In fact, the shots were taken in old cinemas in Vienna, in which the photo artist staged herself.

Key themes of Colombian artist’s work circle around transformation and transitoriness – she plays with places and their identity. Repeatedly she has staged imaginary situations in a real place, thus creating surreal sceneries of irritation, of breaks in the visual narrative – a mixture of reality and fiction, of beauty and chaos.

Her focus doesn’t stop with the transformation of spaces, but also and especially expands on the transformations that affects people when they (have to) change their spatial conditions – moving and migration, loss of identity, social roles and its consequences for women in particular – an interest which is certainly inspired by her personal experiences, having left her native country of Colombia to study in Spain. Since then she has been living in several places abroad in Europe.

Catch Tales, 2006

Catch Tales, 2006

Currently her series Catch Tales is part of a group show in Madrid, Críticas de la Razón Migrante, about immigration during the last 2 decades in Spain through the critical view of really interesting several artists (La Casa Encendida, Madrid, 29.05 – 07.09. 2014, curated by Carolina Bustamante Gutierrez & Francisco Godoy Vega).

Catch Tales are shots from shop windows, staging a Cinderella-like cleaning lady, dreaming, who is caught up between her desires, dreams and the harsh reality of her everyday life, between public and private space. 

In our deconarch.com interview, Laura Ribero tells us about her inspiration for Transitory Places, reveals her fascination for “Non-Places” in a Marc Augé sense and discloses the advantages of working with a photo camera.

all illus. (c) Laura Ribero


Transitory Places is your most recent series – how did it come about?

Transitory Places II (Filmcasino Cinema, Vienna), 2013

Transitory Places II (Filmcasino Cinema, Vienna), 2013

In 2013 I started to develop a project around the main themes of transitoriness, transience, impermanence. I developed it in two different ways – one of this two ways is the series Transitory Places. I took these photos in old Viennese cinemas, and I am the model in the images.

Why old cinemas?

There are different reasons for choosing cinemas for this series: first because of the theatrical character of the spaces. Vienna has its own character, a mixture between an old imperial city and contemporary life, and the old cinemas looked like “stopped in the time”, in the middle of this transition.

The second reason is because cinemas represent this idea of Marc Augé’s temporary places. These are place where people don’t stay for a longer time, where life is temporary, a kind of “Non-Places” like Augé defined. It is a confrontation of the body with forgotten, abandoned and transitory spaces.

In these old, often run down interiors, there’s a woman – yourself – in beautifully coloured dresses. She appears strangely out of place and time, yet at once she seems to belong just there …

I did one shot at the “Metro-Kino” (cf. Transitory Place I), a very antique cinema in downtown Vienna. When I arrived there the building was under construction, I found a nearly destroyed place.

My idea with the dresses was working with opposites: the ruins mixed with fairy tale dresses. I wanted to play with the place, to inhabit it, to give a new identity to this place. I wanted to do something that was not real or not possible in this space, I wanted to create imaginary situations in a real place. It was the mixture between reality and fiction, fairy tales and destruction, beauty and chaos.

You create staged sceneries in most of your works, for example in Electro-doméstica where you put yourself into TV sets of a typical South-American telenovela: a young housekeeper dreaming of her Prince Charming (a basic “ingredient” of such TV romances). What fascinates you about creating sceneries?

electro-doméstica, 2003/04

Electro-doméstica, 2003/04

I don’t create sceneries, I find sceneries. I like this mix between real places with imaginary situations. For example, Electro-doméstica was shot at TV sets: I visited different TV shows before I found the set where I took the photos. Also in Transitory Places I visited a lot of cinemas at the city before I chose the final cinemas for the photos.

I think the fascination arises because I define photography as a construction: the photographer always decides what he wants to photograph and there is a personal point of view; he takes care of composition, light and subjects, even in documental photography. I want to make evident this construction, I want to make photos in a “middle point” where you don’t know exactly if it is a documental or is a fictional image.

Let me “return” to Vienna for a moment. You mentioned that you developed the project in Vienna in two different ways, one was the series Transitory Places. What was the other one?

One approach is about transitory places and the second is about transitory circumstances. For this second project I am working together with two writers who are political refugees in Vienna. They are a married couple, she is from India and he is from Pakistan, both are poets who are exiled in Austria. My project is working about this other kind of impermanence, when one’s own existence becomes transient. It is a more documental project mixed with a poetic view through their poems.

What fascinates you about non-places, transitory places?

Transitory Places I (Metro Cinema, Vienna), 2013

Transitory Places I (Metro Cinema, Vienna), 2013

I am really interested in movements – migrations of people. What happens when we leave from places, or when we arrive in a new one? How do we define our identity and roles in these movements? I took photos in cinemas, hotels, shop windows or abandoned districts, and every place is a symbol of the loneliness of our contemporary time.

I am from Colombia, but for 13 years I have been living far from my home, thus I am carrying this condition of impermanence with me. But it is also a common condition of our time: people leave their countries – because they want to or because they have to. We are constantly in movement.

How is your working process? How do you develop your photo settings and narratives?

My working process is a relation between concepts and a specific place. From the beginning of my artistic work I have been interested in migration, female gender, roles and identities, and I always try to move forward in this direction. I try to find places related with these ideas and when I have found one, I start to develop the project around these places: dresses, objects, models and posses are thinking for these specific places. When the stage is chosen I bring the camera and doing a photo performance, only for the camera, to inhabit this place.

Transitory Places II (Filmcasino Cinema, Vienna), 2013

Transitory Places II (Filmcasino Cinema, Vienna), 2013

When I use myself as a model, most of the times I use auto-timer, only sometimes I have a friend or assistant to help me. Normally I try to leave things as they are, playing with objects and with the architecture of the place itself. It’s a mix between fiction and reality: the photos document a specific place, but the model and the dresses are totally fictitious, they don’t correspond to the reality of this place.

Why art – and why photography in particular?

During the last years of studying Fine Arts at the university, I became really interested in the history of photography and I wanted to focus on it. Two years after my graduation I moved to Europe and photography provided me with two important possibilities: a way to see the world, looking outside, looking on this new continent – photography was a way to capture it. On the other hand photography was an easy and light way to travel: I moved a lot during the last decade and I wanted to carry only few things with me – and as a photographer you only need the camera.

Do you consider yourself a photographer or more of an „installative“ or „performative“ artist?

I consider my work as photo performance: most of the times I explore the relation of the body with a place.

I don’t consider myself as a photographer. I think I am a visual artist first, and only later a photographer. I am much more interested in the history and theory of photography than in technical details. Nearly a year ago I finished a PhD about photography: I researched on how we construct images, the fight between documental photography and fictional photography, and also the incidence of photography in our contemporary society. All these aspects are the main reason why I continue using artistic photography.

Where do you find inspiration, are there role-models for you? In earlier interviews you mentioned Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall as major references.

Looking for Wonderland, 2005

Looking for Wonderland, 2005

Inspirations come from different ways: artists and photographers like Cindy Sherman or Jeff Wall; writers like John Berger or Tzvetan Todorov; and also from newspapers and current people. For example, Electro-domésticaLooking for Wonderland or Catch Tales were a result of speaking with immigrants: about their situation, their desires and their life. I made Looking for Wonderland in the immigrant district of Essen-Katernberg, Germany. My project starts talking to immigrant women of the district about why they are in Germany, and the difference between their desires and their reality. The artistic work was a construction based on relation with these women.

Are you – or were you – working with other media, too?

At the beginning of my artistic career I was working with video, but later I focused on photography. But right now I want to work with video again. I work around narratives and stages, and video could be interesting for developing another perspectives.

Laura, thank you so much for sharing, gracias!

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