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The Opening Response: Gavin Gamboa

The Opening Response titles a special series of interviews with artists, curators, writers, composers, mediators, and space-makers around the world. Dialoguing within and around the thematics which have rapidly emerged as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, we offer within this frame a differentiated, honest, and beautiful bid at understanding. Weekly, distinct doors are opened into the lives of the contributors; into their experiences dawning on pleasure, productivity, metaphysics, and paradigmatic shifts. Hopefully, these conversations can act as way-posts and lead to furthered empathy, unison, and co-creation. The Opening Response meets the need for weaving the autonomy of a web of conscious communications in times of extreme perplexity.

Gavin Gamboa is a Los Angeles-based composer, pianist, and video-artist interested in the intersections of improvised and premeditated composition, with new technologies forming the basis of a multifaceted stylistic praxis. Born in Mérida, Yucatán, he currently composes for a variety of concert ensembles, creates film music, and performs classical/new works internationally. He is one of the Creative Directors of The Teaching Machine, a media arts collective with a focus on installations, music, and live-cinema performance. He has given concerts of classical and contemporary music as a soloist in Los Angeles, at various music festivals held in Mexico (Festival de las Artes Otoño Cultural Mérida and Cultura Mazatlán), and has accompanied Erykah Badu with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and tenor León de Castillo in Vienna, Austria. His compositions have been performed for Pacific Standard Time LA/LA at the Kleefeld Contemporary California State University Long Beach, during Four Larks’ La Bibliothèque Fantastique at Basic Flowers in Los Angeles, for the Primavera Festival at Schikaneder Kino in Vienna, during the 2016 Miedzynardowe Spotkania Teatrów Tańca at the CK Lublin, Poland, and for David Lamelas’ exhibition V at Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland. His works for film have screened at Slamdance Film Festival 2019, The Getty in Los Angeles, and at Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), Argentina.

Josseline Black – In this phase of forced isolation, how are you articulating your response in a public discourse? What is your role in this larger conversation?

Gavin Gamboa – My most active point of entry into the public discourse during self-isolation has been on the fediverse, where I have a number of different Mastodon accounts, and consume a rather interesting international assortment of ideas emanating from a decentralized and therefore more liberated online space; a timeline that leans towards queer/poc/anarchist/leftist/artistic/environmental/FOSS-embracing/scientific perspectives. That being said, I would measure my contributions to the discourse as fairly minimal; passing personal thoughts and reflections (such as my own challenges of continued resistance against Amazon delivery purchases, as I have been boycotting Amazon for the last 7 months), as well as informational videos on COVID-19.

JB – Has your artistic practice changed through isolation?

GG – My practice has recently stagnated (or gone into a quasi-hibernation) partly due to self-isolation away from my studio and partly from the disruption of my routine and interaction with others. I’m starting to think a lot more about the types of creative work that are at hand wherever I happen to be, i.e. with a computer or w/o a computer, with or without internet, with or without a piano. Each scenario provides opportunities to explore different facets of creative endeavour. But the emphasis has revolved around the computer as the primary locus of work, and not so much in doing as in receiving, as I find myself continually thrust into an immersion within digital information spaces out of a need to discover, to learn, to familiarize myself with, and to understand what is happening on a global-level to the best of my ability, notwithstanding that such a broad scope of knowing is clearly outside of any one person’s ability to contextualize and fully grasp.

JB – How has your practical capacity to produce work been affected by the pandemic?

GG – As I currently navigate the pandemic while staying with someone I care for (essentially finding myself in another’s own personal living space) I discover that I am re-learning/re-negotiating what it is that I most require in order to produce honest work. Currently this means respecting people’s boundaries at home, recognizing that uninterrupted time is limited, and dealing with the reality that my own materials (books, instruments) are unavailable. Priorities have shifted.

JB – What is your approach to collaboration at the moment?

GG – I am open to collaborating, more than I have been, viewing even the most basic of interactions as in some way opening the potential for further co-creation. Even just in the sharing of these potentialities with one another do I find a real solace and excitement for what can come next, despite the dire situation that may creatives sense looming overhead.

JB – How would you define the present moment, metaphysically/literally/symbolically?

GG – I would describe it as an environmental cleanse; a metaphysical intrapersonal reset; a symbolic reckoning for the United States’ incestuous foregrounding of monopoly finance capital as *the* measure of economic prosperity. There is a feeling of recalibration that many of us who look at the world with deep empathy and compassion have innately felt was needed (but also recognizing that this recalibration should not have come at the expense of the real human suffering that will result from the spread of COVID-19). Just look around at the built environments in the United States and it becomes abundantly clear that this system is not set-up for resilience and survival, but for the cheap imitation of dreams that the individual has boundless potential for growth at the expense of everyone around them in society, and for the pornographic obsessions with instant gratification and wealth—precious resources be damned.

JB – Do you see the potential for renewed support for cultural production in spite of macro and micro economies which are currently rapidly restructuring?

GG – I do believe in people’s need to come together. Whether that ends up being physically in the Earth/City layer of The Stack or virtually in the Interface layer, it will nevertheless provide an overriding motivation and eventually factor into an overpowering collective drawing-together. We need each other and this containment situation is revealing to many of us the depths of those real needs for human connection and interaction and the ways in which we have taken IRL space for granted or downplayed its importance with the lure of ever new iterations of 2D interaction, all ultimately failing to provide the stimulus that our brains are biologically wired to accept. Transference is now occurring as economies of yesterday need to adapt. This includes re-evaluating our own roles within these very economies and determining where our own skills come into the most coherence with the world, or even what the shape of an economy should actually look like. That journey will be different for everyone, but the underlying connective tissue of cultural production will remain the unceasing driving force binding us to our work. We are already seeing radio-drive-thru events, proliferation of live-streams, and artistic pivoting to fans all aiming towards the micro-economic reconfiguration, and it seems promising but also overwhelming as well as incapable of providing enough support for everyone.

JB – E.M Cioran writes: “in major perplexities, try to live as history were done with and to react like a monster riddled by serenity”, how do you respond to this proposal?

GG – It seems a model way to live life actually. Indeed I am trying to shift my anxiety away from money, which can always be found again, and focus instead on my usage of  T – I – M – E, which can never be regained. That is where serenity can enter.

JB – How is this time influencing your perception of alterity in general?

GG – I am viewing the dread I was experiencing regarding my own impending death (a response to the trauma I am still recovering from due to the death of my best friend at the end of 2018) as having less to do with the death of my physical entity and more to do with the death of a former self. I am currently poised to give up a large part of what a majority of my work was previously centered around, namely the classical music repertory, and embark upon the pursuit of my own musical compositions and interests.

JB – How is your utilization of technology and virtuality evolving the paradigm within which you produce work?

GG – With the hypernormalization of virtual interaction, I am embracing isolation and viewing my previous self-imposed periods of withdrawal with less skepticism and doubt with regard to the accompanying feelings of social guilt around not being ‘present’, even though this being merely present would often take me out of integrity with the work I wanted to accomplish. Now it feels justified and a little liberating to maintain the threads of connection while also committing to one’s work in more intensive ways.

JB – What is your position on the relationship between catastrophe and solidarity?

GG – That we can be brought together via the calamitous, and even in such sweeping disruptions can the collective emerge stronger and more impervious to threats which we previously faced. Looking at the ways in which our environment has signaled to us the importance of disengaging (for example the air quality in Los Angeles becoming remarkably purified, the aerial pollution over industrial Wuhan clearing up due to halts in production, the images of clear water in the canals in Venice) gives me hope that we can find ways to subvert the disastrous habits of a poisonous way of life.

JB – What is your utopia now?

GG – My utopia now has been the washing of dishes in a loved-one’s apartment. It has been in the cooking of meals and in the giving of massages. It takes shape in the pleasures of conversation and of touch and intimacy. It is the long-distance care given to family and friends from afar. It is to the idea that a better future can be recognized and reached-for in disparate global togetherness.

Josseline Black-Barnett is a contemporary curator, writer, and researcher. She holds an M.A. in time-based media from the Kunst Universität Linz and a B.A. in Anthropology (specialization Cotsen Institute of Archaeology) from the University of California Los Angeles. She operated for five years as in-house curator of the international artistic residency program at the Atelierhaus Salzamt (Austria) wherein she had the privilege of working closely with a number of brilliant artists. Included in her duties within the institution she allocated and directed the Salzamt hosting of the E.U. CreArt mobility for artists program. As a writer, she has reviewed exhibitions and co-edited texts for Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado, Portugal, Madre Museum Naples, the Museums Quartier Vienna, MUMOK, Guimarães Gallery, Gallery Michaela Stock. She is regular theoretical contributor to the Contemporary Art Magazine Droste Effect. In addition, she has published with Interartive Malta, OnMaps Tirana, Albania, and L.A.C.E (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions). In tandem to her curatorial practice and writing, she has for the past decade used choreography as a research tool inquiring into the ontology of the performing body with a focus on embodied cartographies of public memory and space. She has held research residencies at the East Ugandan Arts Trust, the Centrum Kultury w Lublinie, the University of Arts Tirana Albania, and the Upper Austrian Architectural Forum. It is her privilege to continue developing her approach to curatorship which derives from an anthropological reading of art production and an ethnological dialectic in working with cultural content generated by art makers. Currently, she is developing the methodology which supports the foundation of a performance-based trans-disciplinary platform for a spectral critique on art production.

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