“Trauma-interview with Alondra Ruiz-Hernandez”

Q is Qianlin Wang, A is Alondra Ruiz-Hernandez

Q: Hello, can you introduce yourself first as an artist and your background?

A: Sure. My name is Alondra Ruiz-Hernandez. I’m a cross-disciplinary artist, so I like to work with a lot of different mediums. And a little bit about my artistic background, for very long time, I was, well actually it’s kinda quite interesting, coz I was working about some quite intense issues of experiences that was psychological, that I’ve seen friends of mine injure. So there was, I guess a sense of trauma there. And my work actually somehow correlate with your work where I was working about, um, identity, and being Mexican, being Canadian, not really feeling fully Mexican or fully Canadian, um, and questioning identity. And now that’s gone kind of full circle back to the notion of trauma. 

Q: So what’s the difference between Mexican and Canadian culture? Where do you feel you belong to?

A: Oh my god, I think it’s an ambiguous thing you know. I don’t really believe I belong in either, coz every time I go to Mexico I feel far more Canadian. And when I go to Canada I constantly feel much more Mexican. I think um, in terms of especially the artwork, you have Mexican, they have extremely colourful pieces. It’s really vibrant. And I think um, the Canadian, especially the art history in Canada, the work that is very famous, was this kind of, it’s very reminiscent to the landscape, there was a lot of blues, snowy landscapes, this whites, they’re much more um, beautiful paintings, but much more calmer you know. 

But I think culturally it is very different. Because although Canada is this kind of multitude of various cultures, kind of colliding, there is this um, I would say politeness, but I think also in some senses is more austere, like um, at least personally. It isn’t that the people, people there in Canada are extremely kind, but I find culturally it’s different in the sense that there is a little bit more separation, at least that I experienced personally. Where in Mexico people are more involved with each other’s life, and know each other in a deeper way. But I do think that um, can be a positive and a negative. You know I think when you are going through difficult times and you have culture around you, it helps. But I think when you are trying to develop and change what we have talked about, how people see you, sometimes people can label you as one kind of person, so that then might be more difficult, you might have more freedom in Canada to change, because there is not as many necessarily labels. Because there is a little bit more separation. 

Q: Your past work was all very colourful, but your most recent work is black and white. What made you change the style?

A: I had mentioned, you know it was really, I think the last year in my life is actually one of the most difficult years in my life. But I did have to, I think it was just that one year, where it’s just like, so much growth happened, and that’s wonderful but it also comes with pain, And it’s only once it’s almost finished where you’re like, oh you fool, you didn’t have to be so dramatic, and you didn’t have to feel like this would last forever. But I never thought about colour until you wrote it in the email. And interesting, coz I think especially the paintings I have that are really vivid, tons of colour, and colour for me I think it has this very visceral affect on my body, like really moves me. But um, you know before Covid, this period of time, where I was craving more in my life, exactly what we were talking about before as well, about being enough. And I felt I lost that, and it was unattainable to retrieve, simultaneously it became more and more desirable to gain what I had lost. And I think what I have lost is feeling connected to other people, but also, it was almost impossible because I hadn’t really defined myself yet, or I was going through a process of change so it’s hard to connect with human beings when you were changing so drastically, so fast. So it wasn’t really a conscious decision that my work started to be more black and white or into monotones, but I actually think reflecting on that, is actually um, really represents me the reality I had for the past year.

“The Two Alondras”, Dual Identity Series, digital print on canvas, 40” x 60”, 2019

“Duality II”, Dual Identity Series, oil paint on canvas, 48” x 49”, 2019 

“Lacrimosa”, digital video, 2 mins 19 seconds, 2020

Q: So what’s the reason or inspiration for you to make “Lacrimosa”? 

A: Well, I think you know, I was going through a difficult time as anybody does, I try to sit with the pain, as well as I knew how to, but I also try to look and analyse, ok well what is it in my reality that is making me unhappy and how can I change that, and that made me think a wider social context. So um there is a philosopher that I really like, and his name is Marshall McLuhan, and he envisioned the world as an interconnected nerve system, so basically with the development of the technology, especially, you know, it started off his analysis with the television, and we were like, you could be watching the same show, that I was watching, and we were both internalising the same information and therefore acting perhaps tin he same way and being more connected than what we would have been in the past. But now, with how technology has developed certainly, with Instagram, we could really consume much more the same information and have dialogue with each other, even we are in different parts of the world. So the world has become smaller, especially if you consider globalisation, but then what I started to think was actually a lot of the systems I think that we set up, are actually traumatising that consciousness. Because we accept that it is connected, and the consciousness, then it could be argued that we traumatise that consciousness just as any other conscious being can be traumatised. 

And I think um, I think that I started to realise is when I start to have conversations, especially about crises, especially like the climate crises, or migrant crises, it seems to me that there was this dystopic societal acceptance of death, and to me that seem like a freeze mode, or there was utopic, notion that someone else is going to save us. So you know, technology will develop enough, I don’t have to care, someone else is going to save me, and that seem like flight from the problem. Or you know, you see these kind of extremist movements, that I think was a flight to return to the distraught vision of past, you know even those slogans “Make America great again” is a distorted vision of the past, because people don’t really know how to deal with the trauma in the present. 

So when I started to make this piece, it was um, all of these um, like moments from different songs, where I felt that the artists were mourning, you know it’s like they’re crying, something coming out of their bodies, and it felt like they’re mourning the trauma, so I collected multiple different of artists, and I cut it all up, and I organised it differently to create this song, where multiple people, multiple generations. I also read this, um no sorry I listened to this podcast, from this man Francis Weller, and he said something that really touched my heart. He said when you start to, um, what he was saying was when you start to share your grief, when you don’t grieve alone, then you’re like sharing from the communal cup of grief, and you start to realise we’re not, you know, grief can be dealt with when we’re not just like doing it completely alone. It’s a mutually entangled experience. And he said, if you care at all about the world, your heart is breaking and it should be, it is the broken heart that can fall back and love with the world. So this is really the kind of idea in my mind while I was creating that piece.

Q: So would you think the sound is more important in this piece? 

A: Yeah, I don’t usually work with sound, but for this piece yes. 

Q: And why do you choose the circle?

A: Yeah, that came more intuitively, but the circle, you know, I did imagine the idea of the entanglement from different generations, it’s really interesting especially when I think about things like mythologies, some stories that make so much sense to today’s life even though life is completely radically different than it was in the past 100 years ago. But the story still can teach you something, so I thought of a circle as you know, it’s never ending. So it’s this constant movement, constantly connected, that has no edges right, but then it’s contained within the square, so it’s the rectangle of the actual video. So that is interesting because if you look at the reality like in the natural world, there is no such thing as square, there is no such thing as those hard edges, it’s only human that created it, so the structure, and within that structure is the containment of everything, the circle. 

Q: In the video you have some very bright and colourful flashes, what do you want to show there?

A: Yeah well I kind of want to create the movement, like thinking like a heartbeat you know, so kind of started off more slow and it gets intense, and I think that’s also the human reaction to trauma, when you’re going through stressful times, your heart starts to pump. So that was the visual I was thinking, and then there are moments that you have like um, more pixelated ones, you know, and I think to me, I was thinking about that um, I guess that art life has radically changed because of digital right, and that can be wonderful that we’re having these conversations now, which we wouldn’t be able to, especially consider the COVID. But also there is no way to say that it doesn’t change our lives radically. So I kind of thought that um, I’m not exactly sure how really, but I felt to connect parts of those pixelated images, because that’s part of our day-to-day realities, and part of our psyche. 

Q: How do you feel about the differences of working with digital media and painting? Because your former work is all like paintings, how do you feel the difference?

A: Right. Um so actually like my former works, I did a little bit of collaborations of painting and digital pieces. So what I did would be, either I would paint multiple paintings and photograph them, and make a digital composition, and then create a painting based on the digital composition. Or I would um, you know I would have a painting, and I would rip the painting, and then scan it, and then scan the rip and photograph the rips, and then bring that into my paintings, so I would photograph them, print it, and remove the ink from the paper, and then put that onto the canvas, and then paint on it. So I kind of like, I always like bringing in the digital into my work, because even if it doesn’t look fully digital, even if it’s presented as paintings, I like to mess with the idea of space, so that the viewer doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t real. Some of it is physical space, that is really ripped in the canvas, some of it is painted space, the illusionary space, some of them is digital space. So the analogue, and the digital. But definitely it was my first time doing fully, just the video piece.

Left: “Flight”, Collective Psyche Series, 36” x 108”, oil paint and matte medium on canvas triptych, 2019

Right: “Fight”, Collective Psyche Series, oil paint and matte medium on canvas triptych, 2019

Q: What do you think is art?

A: Oh, haha such a difficult question, what do you think is art, art is every-, so much. I think art, um, I don’t think art is really definable, because part of art is constantly questioning what is art, and can I cross the boundaries. But I think to me the essential part of art is what it is, does it make me contemplate something, does it make me question a part of my life, does it make me think and perceive life in a different way, even it’s for a momentary time. That is what I think is important in an artwork. 

Q: Your work is about trauma, is this trauma is the prototype of emotions, you know, a kind of collective emotions like in Rothko’s paintings, or if it’s more individual trauma, a more personal thing? 

A: Yeah, a great question. Um originally when I started to make my work about trauma, it has nothing to do with my personal trauma. Nothing. Um I was just really curious, I just began to be kind of obsessed about the brain and I thought it was fascinating. And I was very interested in how people work with trauma, because you know, I love the idea of neuroplasticity, that you can change. And then as I was in the process of working, I actually rediscovered memories that I had forgotten. So originally it was a conceptual idea, and then it became extremely emotional, and then I think that’s also why it was such a difficult year because it took me a year, to grieve those processes. Like I feel kind of, you know, in the quarantine that I had in London, I think it was the first time that I kind of felt , ok now I feel free, from this memory. 

Q: Hmm yeah.

A: But originally it was completely conceptual, it was strange because then I had those memories, and I was like ok, intellectually I know what I should be doing, I know what’s gonna help with the trauma, but then it was so much more difficult, it was so much more difficult to actually live it and feel it. Um so I think my work is still more based on the conceptual part, in the sense that, um, my idea is about society being traumatised, by the system that we have in place, um but I have definitely lived the experience of trauma. I think actually because of that, I know the pain, and I know I’m not as afraid of talking about the pain, because I think it’s actually really important to talk about that. 

Q: So do you think this would still be your interest for your future work or you will change to a different theme? 

A: Um I think I just started you know, I just started off working about trauma so, I think it will definitely be the future of my work.