The (S) Files is El Museo’s sixth biennial celebration of Latin American artists living and working in New York City. The (S) Files 2011 showcases seventy-five emerging artists; it “takes on a broad exploration of the visual energy, events, and aesthetics of the street” and “how the boundaries between public/private and personal/universal are blurred by urban culture, and examines the street as catalyst for change in mainstream culture.” In partnership with the Times Square Alliance, El Museo takes the exploration of those boundaries to an extreme by bringing The (S) Files downtown and showcasing the large-scale work of four artists as installations among the neon lights on July 14th from 4:00 to 8:00.
One of these artists, Ryan Roa, is bringing his Beach Truck project to the exhibition. In the back of huge Ford F-150, Roa has simulated a scene from the shore – sand, beach chair, umbrella. Passersby are encouraged to take a moment of repose by climbing up into the truck’s bed and having a picture taken of their urban sunbathing. This way, in both the installation and the record of a human interaction with it, art is created.
Can you tell us about your background – where’s your family from? How did you journey towards becoming a professional artist?
Ryan Roa: My mother was a nurse from northern New Jersey, and my father was a photographer from Bogota Colombia. He died when I was 3 months old and I was raised by my mother in New Jersey. Mother exposed me to art as a child by taking me to museums, and would always encourage me to draw and be creative. She had always said that I reminded her of my father due to my looks and temperament. I think that this caused her a combination of pain and joy. For me it caused the feeling in my life that something is missing. For years I bounced around working as a carpenter, a teacher, a stock broker, and a staff sergeant in the US Army. I have always been looking for something. About 10 years ago I promised myself I would live on my own terms, and commit to become an artist, since it was the one thing no matter what I have always came back to. Art to me is about the journey, my work is the exploration of that journey. It allows me to continuously, search for something greater than myself, always bring more questions than answers. I do not think that I really chose to be an artist but instead realized it was what I am.
You mention in your artist’s statement that you’re interested in the hustle and bustle of modern life and how saturated with information we are. Times Square is exemplary of that. How does your piece interact with those ideas?
RR: I am interested in cause and effect, in relationship between objects, actions and they spaces they exist in. Times Square is the epitome of the hyper-real, where fantasy and reality become intertwined. In my piece the Beach Truck I wish to provide participants a temporary moment of self-awareness.
What do you want Times Square passers-by to take away?
RR: I can only hope that passers-by will stop and think and questions the meaning of the things around them. My goal is to start conversations. After a conversation is started the ideas of people take on their own directions, acting as catalysts for change. I believe strongly in the basic principle of physics that things in motion stay in motion. My intent is never to direct people but instead question them.
Why do you describe yourself as a “sculptor?”
RR: A lot of contemporary artists work in a variety of mediums and it is becoming less and less apparent what disciplines one is apart of, and really, it does not matter as most classification don’t. I associate with being a sculpture due to what I make. Whether it is an object, image, video, or action, I always seem to build and construct things in a tactile manner placing an emphasis on the material at hand.
How do your public pieces interact with the spaces around them?
RR: I am interested in public art and the relationship it has to the community that it is in and the people that are exposed to it. In 2006 I started a body of work title Interactions with public sculpture, where I began to use public sculpture as functional objects to complete mundane rituals from in my daily life, such as shaving, showering and sleeping. The individual works are titled according to the day the actions occurred. The first was 10-18-06, where I used public sculpture located in Rockefeller center to shave. Recently I created a new work 06-03-11 that is currently on view at El Museo. In this work I hung a hammock from two steel plash trees in Fox Park, located in the south Bronx. In the past the actions I committed had been quick and abrupt to the nature of the tasks. In 06-3-11, I spent about two hours lying in the hammock reading my book as I was photographed. The additional time allowed for discussions with the public. One man came up to me and told me how he remembered the sculpture being built in the park and how the neighborhood has changed, and the effect that it has had on community, as the park has been reconstructed around it. To me this conversation brought many of the ideas I am exploring in this body of work. How does public art affect the space it resides in? What is the impact art can have on a community?
Are there any spaces you’d like to create art, given the chance?
RR: If afforded the opportunity I would like to work in less affluent communities. Places where people seem to be less considered due to their financial status. I am interested in finding the voices that exists within people where passion can evoke revolution.