Speak with Aruba’s Laura de Vogel about her work for any length of time, and the word will come up: connection.
De Vogel is a recent graduate from ArtEZ University in the Netherlands. Although her installations, performances, videos and sculptures don’t often make direct reference to travel between Holland and Aruba, the distance between the two places is nearly always discernible in the earnest desire in her practice to connect to people, to surroundings.
Many of us at Caribbean Linked IV are spending, or have spent, the early years of our higher education working through dualities experienced in our movement between metropolitan and island spaces. De Vogel is conscious of the ways in which her strategies for making work are also strategies for resolving, or attempting to resolve, feelings of isolation and estrangement that those dualities can produce.
For work that accommodates possible readings of migratory anxieties, de Vogel’s is bright and open rather than dour and inward-looking. She says her practice has developed in Holland as a way of “doing things that make [her] happy.” Happiness for de Vogel lies in a tactile experience of her environment, improvisation and play, the warmth generated by dance and movement, intimate human interactions.
A comparison of the projects she has undertaken in Aruba and at art school in Holland gets to the heart of things.
A 2012 collaborative undertaking in Aruba titled “Ban Hunga Den Mondi (Let’s Go Play in the Wilderness)” manifested all of de Vogel’s aforementioned interests in a markedly natural way. The project involved the creation of a festival/playground/performance space in a rural section of her home island, and the act of populating it with artists and audience. For de Vogel, the processes of scavenging and building, dance and story-telling, and an egalitarian sense of self-expression and exchange were re-created from nostalgic impressions of an Aruban childhood. Although I was only able to experience this work through photographs, the dry roughness of its setting – the kind of scrubby, red-soiled and cacti-covered terrain that is often referred to as barren – accentuated for me the project’s organic, generative quality.
In a Dutch context, de Vogel’s work suggests more undetermined connections. The mixture of video, audio and sculpture that composes her graduation work is organized in such a way to choreograph movements, both her own and those of her audience, through the exhibition space. Although the rhythmic, dissonant audio track played within the space is made using an oil drum, it is not a clear reference to the steel-pan sounds conjured by many imaginings of the Caribbean. De Vogel says she is not interested in a literal way in peoples’ urge to place her relationship to such a symbol.
De Vogel arrived at the Caribbean Linked IV residency program with a sense of homecoming and a desire to reconcile ideas of art and art history experienced in Europe with a place that has an unsettled relationship with those ideas. During a studio visit with de Vogel, visiting curator María Elena Ortiz of the Pérez Art Museum Miami responded to this by introducing the artist to the idea of Antropofagico, or cultural cannibalism, theorized by Brazilian modernist Oswald de Andrade in the early 20th-century. The ensuing conversation, which encompassed ideas of uneven relationships with modernity, fluid definitions of Caribbean aesthetics, and the potential “cannibalizing” of Western ideals, highlighted the benefits of the interactions provided by Caribbean Linked.
For de Vogel, the white cube exhibition space is a persistent symbol of those ideals, one she plans to investigate in relationship to Aruba’s landscape in the future. Is the Aruban white cube masked as a dune, covered in sand? Is it incomplete, roofless, open to the sky and the heat of the sun? Building a structure that poses these questions, she acknowledges, is likely a project beyond the scope of the relatively short amount of time she will spend at Caribbean Linked IV. But the germinating of ideas about modernity, art exhibition and Caribbean landscapes will, I suspect, be one of the things that she will carry with her from this residency to future projects.