Train projecting: Pablo Gimenez Zapiola puts art in motion to get on a Houstonroll
Pablo Gimenez Zapiola’s alchemic art is rooted in his love of drawing, painting, architecture, photography, film and video. An exhibition of his works opens Friday at Spacetaker Artist Resource Center and includes works for a video that I first saw via Vimeo thanks to a tip from Labotanica gallery director Ayanna Jolivet McCloud.
For Friday’s opening, Zapiola will be performing with two projectors, casting words and lines of poetry onto moving trains as they roll by Winter Street Studios.
A recent recipient of an Individual Arts Grant Award, which is funded by the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Zapiola is gaining some well-deserved attention for his work. The day after the Spacetaker opening, he will be a part of a group show at Sicardi Gallery. He is the one video artist in that particular show.
Zapiola prefers to be simply called an "artist.” He understands the need gallery owners and critics have to package, market and sell. But he isn’t interested in boxing in his art.
Did I just refer to him a “video artist?” That’s a mistake. Zapiola prefers to be simply called an "artist.” He understands the need gallery owners and critics have to package, market and sell. But he isn’t interested in boxing in his art.
What follows is an edited transcription of a recent conversation with Zapiola:
CultureMap: Your background is in photography, painting and architecture?
Pablo Gimenez Zapiola: I did painting long ago. Lots of painting, oil, acrylic, also pencil, graphite …
CM: Did one medium lead to the next?
PGZ: No. I tried kind of everything and managed a way to learn it and to do it kind of … well? So I always had those methods whenever I needed to express something. But what I did the most was drawing. With pencil. Drawing all kinds of stuff — motorcycles, birds, house, and while studying architecture, I drew a LOT.
CM: What brought you to Houston?
PGZ: The economic crisis in Argentina. I had my own graphic design studio. I was working for a long time and then everything went very bad, and I decided to move here to try something different. A friend [in Houston] told me, “Come to my house and look for something.” So I came with my bicycle, a couple of dollars, and I started from scratch.
CM: The text, lines of poetry and words that you project on the trains — where do they come from?
PGZ: They are from different parts of the world. Some are from poets in Argentina. One poet is from France, one from Russia, but both live in Argentina.
The main idea is to project on a moving thing. I don’t like projecting on still things — I do that sometimes. But I think its much more interesting for me to project onto moving things. I don’t know why.
CM: It’s sort of … it transports you to someplace else very quickly. I’ve only seen this on video. But right off the bat I forgot I was watching words being projected on a passing train; that wasn’t the experience I was having. It’s almost like a gateway to another experience.
PGZ: That’s my purpose. When I do my projects, I never think about what I want to achieve or anything, I just have the idea and I start trying it. Since I know all of those different things, the video, architecture … they merge together and I just start trying things. And then I start to see meaning in what I’m doing. I don’t like explaining my work. I think it narrows down the meaning it could have for other people. I think that’s much more important than what it means to me.
You know all art has become like a commodity in a way. They always ask you to explain what you’re doing.
PGZ: And I think that’s a mistake. But because they have to sell it, they have to approach people with some kind of packaging. Art shouldn’t be a product. You can sell art, but you can’t treat it like that.
If I frame it and put it in a package … it can’t be more than that. I think art is less for the artist and more for the world.
CM: The words that you use — do you do any kind of editing when you get words from somebody?
PGZ: Two days ago, one of the poets sent me a poem that she just wrote when she woke up at 4:30 in the morning. She said, “This is for you,” and it was perfect! Except for the last line. So I said, you should take out that last line. if you take it off, the poem stays “open.” But with that sentence you're closing the poem. And she took it off.
CM: Are you just projecting words, or an image as well?
PGZ: Yes. There is another projection from another projector. It’s kind of complicated, because I don’t do this with a computer. And I don’t have all the material in one file. This work needs a lot of adjustment so everything comes within the frame and the words are straight, not tilted. I have to adjust everything, the focus [when the train comes].
CM: It really is a performance.
PGZ: Yeah. To me it’s kind of a mystic experience.