"Enamorados" (2004), Laura Belém (Foto: Eduardo Eckenfels / Cortesia da artista)
Residency Prize

With works in multiple platforms, artist Laura Belém talks about her experience at Delfina Foundation

Yasmin Abdalla
5 Dec 2018, 12:15 pm

Winner of the last SP-Arte Residence Award, which offered a three-month residency at Delfina Foundation in London, Minas Gerais native Laura Belém prepares to return to Brazil after concluding her program. She shares how this new experience will reverberate in her production, forever permeated by different platforms like installation, sculpture and photography.

“What interests me is not the investigation of a particular media or technique, but rather concepts that can be better explored in certain platforms, and this is why they vary in accordance with the intent of each work. I have considerable interest for works in the fields of sculpture and installation, as well as site-specific projects; by a practice that allows me to interact with the surrounding environment, the context, the culture and history of the place,” says Belém.

Read the complete interview:

"Anekdota" (2015), Laura Belém (Foto: Everton Ballardin / Cortesia da artista)
"Ilha restaurante" (2015), Laura Belém (Foto: Eduardo Eckenfels / Cortesia da artista)

"Anekdota" (2015), Laura Belém (Photo: Everton Ballardin)

"Ilha restaurante" (2015), Laura Belém (Photo: Eduardo Eckenfels)

"O templo dos mil sinos" (2010), Laura Belém (Foto: Alex Wolkwicz / Cortesia da artista)

"O templo dos mil sinos" (2010), Laura Belém (Photo: Alex Wolkwicz)

Your residency at Delfina Foundation finishes at the end of December. Can you already say how this experience will impact your work moving forward?

The experience at Delfina Foundation has been very enriching and I’m certain that everything I’m experiencing here will reverberate in my work for a very long time. The space for reflection, dialogue and exchange offered by the residency is incredible. The fact that this is not a residency targeted at production practice, but rather research, dialogue and networking, has given me the space and time to reflect on my production so far, to own with greater energy some aspects of my practice and to rethink others; take notes for future projects, visit exhibits, attended lectures, and live all this together with six other artists in residence.

On several occasions, we presented our works to critics, curators and other art professionals through small production samples. This led us to better articulate our research and also question certain aspects of production, understand other points of view (and their nuances in each culture), and to want to go beyond the structure of work developed so far, that is, to move out of the comfort zone and expand our artistic concepts and practice. As such, this has been a great learning ground and a highly motivating place. The experiences, notes and new perceptions acquired here will certainly disseminate and reverberate beyond this residency period.

The surrounding space tends to be an important aspect in your work. How was this immersion experience into a new city and new places?

Being in a non-familiar place, immersed in a different culture, discovering new places and people of different origins, is always a very enriching experience. Like I said before, this is not a residence targeted at artistic production, but my stay here has been very positive for me, as I have let myself be influenced by this context and learn from it. As such, even though I’m not producing new works, I frequently see things that trigger my creativity, so I register them on small notes, drawings or photographs.

I lived in London eighteen years ago when I received a scholarship for a post-graduate course at Central Saint Martins College (CSM). But the experience at Delfina has been quite different, in part because I’m more mature and able to explore the city with greater freedom, visit places I never visited before, revisit others and notice the changes over the years, access things that interest me, and seek to maximize my residency period. This is also a different time in my trajectory, because when I went to CSM, I didn’t yet have a highly developed body of work and I was still starting my career. At this current moment, I believe I can look at everything that I’ve already done and outline a few other paths I wish to pursue.

What element of the residency surprised you the most? Can you share a particular artist/exhibit that drew your attention during this period?

I can mention a few things that attracted my attention. One was Delfina Foundation’s “Public and Thematic Programme”, – a series of lectures, performances and conversations pertaining to artists Noor Afshan Mirza and Brad Butler, on exhibit at the gallery located in the residence basement. In parallel with the exhibit, Noor and Brad invited theater, visual arts and literature artists to dialogue with their work exposed and issues pertaining to gender, power and place. All guests were women and presented their research in a very creative, open and interdisciplinary manner, seeking to interact with the audience present. Inserted in the same public program, the scope of which is Public Domain, are also the practices of the seven artists in residence, including mine, and on other occasions we were invited to present our work and expose our understanding of “Public Domain” in our practices.

Other exhibits that drew my attention include: South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere at Marian Goodman Gallery, Anni Albers at Tate Modern, Mika Rottenberg at Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Arts and Doris Salcedo at White Cube.

What tips would you give an artist who is about to do a residency like yours at Delfina Foundation?

I have participated in several artistic residencies in other parts of the world, but the residency at Delfina Foundation is quite unique. I would say to come and be open and willing to present and rethink your work, learn how to better articulate it and, at the same time, move out of the comfort zone, deep dive in this cultural context and space of dialogue that the residency and city offer. There isn’t an art studio; each artist has its own room with a bed, closet and desk. So don’t come with the expectation of producing things that require a large space. Use the house and city as your own studio.

The shared kitchen frequently becomes an informal place for talks and exchanges, coupled with other more formal presentations of work between residents or to guest visitors. And even though it is a shared home, the individual bedroom offers the necessary space of privacy. There is no expectation on the Foundation’s part to produce something during the residency; your time here should be used to delve in research and the activities that the city has to offer, to network and reflect on things in general. Therefore, you are not required to produce a specific project, but Delfina offers all the support to facilitate the research an artist wishes to access or develop during its stay in the city.

Instalação "O jogador, as damas e acróstico" (2002), Laura Belém (Foto: Divulgação)
"Jardim secreto ou passagem do trópico" (2017), Laura Belém (Foto: Felipe Amaral / Cortesia da artista)

Installation "O jogador, as damas e acróstico" (2002), Laura Belém (Photo: Divulgation)

"Jardim secreto ou passagem do trópico" (2017), Laura Belém (Photo: Felipe Amaral)

In your work, you cross platforms. How did you arrive at this diversity? What interests you in this?

These different platforms occur and intercept in a very natural manner in my work. What interests me is not the investigation of a particular media or technique, but rather concepts that can be better explored in certain platforms and, therefore, they vary according to the intent of each work. I have considerable interest for works in the fields of sculpture and installation, as well as site-specific projects; by a practice that allows me to interact with the surrounding environment, the context, the culture and history of the place. In a world saturated by virtual images, I believe that the encounter with three-dimensional artwork provides unique experiences to immerse and activate senses other than vision, such as hearing and smelling, as well as the body’s involvement in the perception and apprehension of space.

The three-dimensional allows me to explore a dynamic relationship with the space and the audience. I feel that with installations and site-specific projects, I can work several layers of perception and meaning; explore the context of the place as a starting point and at the same time build new fictions over it, incorporate chance, project my imagination and emotion. I believe artists should be free to shift between different platforms, maintaining, of course, a constant self-questioning about their work. This interdisciplinary way of working was something I began to learn at Central Saint Martins College, in 1999-2000, and I continue to develop.

What is your creative process like?

In short, I would say that my process is dynamic and suffers the influence from the various areas and situations I experience – some more personal and others in the public realm – or things I see by chance that draw my attention.

I believe all this shapes my perception of the world and becomes my creation. Besides art, I have always been interested in dance and music. I do contemporary dancing as a means of self-awareness and fine-tuning space perception and contact with others, but I have never presented myself in public and for the time being have no intention of doing so. I do not have a deep background in music, even though I studied piano a bit when I was growing up, and have always been interested in music and sound art. I like to sing and this is something I’d like to study and develop more.

You recently traveled to Germany to research a future project. Can you share anything with us?

Yes, this project is still maturing but I can share that I’ve been invited to create a sculpture for a park in Bavaria. I was really happy to receive this invitation, since it will be my first permanent work for a public space.

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Yasmin Abdalla holds a degree in Journalism and Social Sciences from the University of São Paulo (USP), with a specialization in Cultural Management (SESC-SP). She has worked for several journalistic media outlets and, since 2016, focuses on communication and production of cultural projects.

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