Sergio Vega’s installation “The Lost Steps (after Steichen, Oiticica and Derrida)” is being exhibited at the Orlando Museum of Art now through Aug. 14.
This project is part of a larger project Vega has been working on for over 20 years, which he has shown in over 30 countries. The larger project, called “Paradise in the New World,” has to do with the search for the Garden of Eden in Brazil.
Vega, a professor of Photography and Sculpture in the School of Art + Art History, found a theory from the 17th century that located utopia in South America. Vega decided to search for paradise, which was a location blessed by God with the beauty of nature. He found the location and decided to conceptualize how the idea of utopia related to the experience of this site. He looked here for paradise and also, the opposite of paradise, dystopia, to create a friction that explores the human desire to return to a pristine nature, prior to sin.
Vega drew inspiration for “The Lost Steps” art installation from Edward Steichen, Helio Oiticica and Jacques Derrida.
According to Vega, Steichen’s exhibit, called the “Family of Men” is the highest point of humanistic photography, which was developed after World War II. The photography focused on a hopeful perspective of humankind’s commonalities by capturing daily activities, such as love, marriage, children playing, men and women at work and eating. It was the first exhibition of photography that was conceived as an installation. Some works were hung from the ceiling; others were pasted into a collage. The exhibit had photographs in all sizes. Ultimately, the exhibition created a maze of photography, which Vega views as possibly the greatest photography exhibition of all time. This re-dimensioning of photography to display the promise of modernity is what interested Vega about Steichen's exhibition.
Vega is trying to show the failure of the promises that inspired the modernist project in the Americas. In the developing countries, Modernism promised the emancipation of the masses through technological progress and equal opportunity, but what came along with it was a power structure centralized in the big cities. People from the countryside, of tribal descent, or migrants working in agriculture moved to the city to find employment. Nonetheless, they had no housing. For that reason, they created improvised dwellings that became Shantytowns. Vega’s perception of South American shantytowns in his exhibit follows the logic of French philosopher, Jacques Derrida’s theory of deconstruction. Shantytowns are excentrically located in relation to the city's center, and in most cases are made out of debris and reused materials discarded by the city and its industries.
“A wall may be made with an advertising sign or a piece of cardboard or whatever you have on hand,” Vega said. “That kind of collage is what I am interested in. I could not just show these images as framed photographs,” Vega said. ”I have to show the in space as a collage, because if you think about it, a shantytown is a kind of perversion of collage since the collage-like structure of the shanties were not created to look visually appealing, they were created out of necessity."
In addition, Vega borrows his ideas of color from Helio Oiticica, who wanted to convey the notion of painting liberating itself from its canvas and the structure of the stretcher and instead, projecting itself into space. The project that inspired Vega was called “Nucleus,” which featured bright-yellow panels hanging from the ceiling in the form of a grid. Vega uses the yellow color as an active background to present photography as a sculptural experience.
The images in Vega's art installation are photographs he has taken in Brazil of domestic spaces, like men fixing a motorcycle or a child in the middle of a patio surrounded by chickens and a parabolic antenna. He also displays photos of improvised and primitive dwellings. In his exhibition, Vega recreates Steichen’s model of walking through a maze of photography to give viewers the impression that they are walking through a Shantytown.
Most photographs and paintings are seen from a single point of view. You stand in front of the painting or the photograph and you see it all from one perspective. What happens with installation art is that you are proposing an active viewer moving through the space and having multiple points of view that are personal, Vega said. “You feel surprised by what you encounter, and you explore spaces that are unpredictable because of the improvised architecture and marginal condition of the shanties,” Vega said.
Vega will next travel to Paris, France, to work on a different project, which is based on the history of the Paris Commune of 1871.