See Rafael Soldi’s ‘Cargamontón’ at BAF Gallery, 258 East 1st Avenue until March 23rd. On Saturday, March 2nd, join us for an artist talk and panel discussion featuring Rafael Soldi alongside Birthe Piontek.
In Conversation: Rafael Soldi
Identity, memory, and sexuality are just some of the overarching themes explored in Rafael Soldi’s current show at the Burrard Arts Foundation. The show comprises two new bodies of work: in one, ‘Cargamontón’, Soldi delved into the near-forgotten hazing rituals he experienced growing up in Peru; the other, ‘Imagined Futures’, he contemplates the paths his life could have taken had he not immigrated from that country. Below, we speak with Soldi about his practice, this show, and his future projects.
What prompted you to look back into the childhood memories that Cargamontón investigates?RS
A little over a year ago I received a message from a childhood classmate. I didn’t have any negative memories of him, but he reached out saying he had been thinking about me for years—he wanted to apologize for some awful things he, and some other boys, had done to me when we were younger. He was carrying a lot of guilt, which I thought was interesting because I didn’t have any ill feelings towards him. I remember being teased and bullied for being gay, but it wasn’t necessarily something that ruined my life. I had, as a means of survival, blocked out this behavior from my memory. I kept thinking about that message for a year—about my school and playground politics—and I started talking to some friends. What did they remember? What happened to us? What did they observe? I also did research around playground hazing games in Peru. That’s when I began to remember how twisted they were. The one that kept coming up was a particular game named Cargamontón. I recently found out that the translation of the word—directly from this sort of Peruvian Spanish vernacular—means “the harassment of one by many.”
Creatively, you identify as a photographer, but these two series take unconventional approaches to image-making. Cargamontón presents stills from videos found on the internet, and Imagined Futures portraits made in photo booths. How do these two methods fit into your practice of photography?RS
I have worked with photography for a long time, though I don’t necessarily define myself as a photographer—it is simply the medium I am most comfortable with. I was trained as a photographer in a traditional sense, but I don’t always feel the urge to make photographs. Lately, some of my new work has involved bronze casting, and within my photographic practice, many of my works have an installation element to them: multiple panels, unique configurations, repetition. I realized at a certain point that I did not have to say it all in the subject matter, that there was a great deal you could communicate to the viewer by the medium you choose, the type of image you make, and how you present it. Nearly every body of work I’ve created in my lifetime has used different techniques, equipment, substrates, presentation methods, and dimensions. I believe the formal choices we make should always be intentional and rooted in the conceptual framework of the work.
What other artists and photographers influence your work?RS
My favorite photographer of all time is Harry Callahan. I also love Peter Hujar, Mark Morrisroe, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Many of my biggest influences are not explicitly photographers: Felix Gonzales-Torres, Sophie Calle, and Louise Bourgeois.
How did the two bodies of work in this show evolve out of your existing practice?RS
Both of these series felt like a natural progression from past work. In fact, though I consider these to be two different bodies of work, I think of them as intricately connected, so I feel comfortable showing them together. All of the work I’ve created over the last five years has explored questions of identity, memory, and immigration. In the near past, I was exploring more general ideas of identity and selfhood, perhaps turning a blind eye to some subjects that were specific and difficult. Over time I’ve gained the strength to address it, and these two bodies of work are examples of that.
The show deals with your emigration from Peru to the United States. Although you made this transition partially in pursuit of greater artistic opportunity, what are some challenges you faced in this major life shift?RS
Immigration can be traumatic for many, but not for all. Although every experience is unique, there are some universal questions that I think haunt most immigrants. One of my challenges, which I address in the work on view, is related to grief. I left in pursuit of a better life, but I always felt a certain amount of accountability toward the life I left behind. I felt I owed something to the life I was dealt, which I abandoned. And it haunted me—I wondered what my life would have been like if I had never left. I continued to imagine futures that were never lived, and wondered if that life was simply waiting for me to return. It occurred to me that perhaps it needed a proper mourning, that if I grieved it then it might be free to go find someone else to live it. So I created a grieving ritual for myself. In this way I felt I was able to put it to rest.
What other projects do you have coming up that you’d like to share with BAF’s audience?RS
Concurrently, I have two other solo exhibitions on view, one at Filter Space in Chicago, and one at The Print Center in Philadelphia. The Strange Fire Collective, which I helped co-found, is having a major exhibition at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in October. I am also working on a book, more on that soon! And lastly, I am teaching a workshop at the San Francisco Art Institute this March.