A Women's Thing /// How Tatiana Arocha Transforms Spaces with Nature’s Inspiration
by A Women's Thing January 24th, 2024 read article
TATIANA AROCHA. PHOTO COURTESY OF PETER ROSS. RIGHT: LO QUE EL PETRÓLEO SE LLEVÓ, 2018, ROCK, PAPER, WOOD, PAINT, 15 × 13 × 3 IN, FRAMED.
Tatiana Arocha approaches each space as a canvas, envisioning how to craft experiences that kindle curiosity and draw people in, reminiscent of the enchantment one feels when immersed in nature. Her artistic narrative is deeply rooted in her Colombian heritage, where lush landscapes, rainforests, and diverse plant life have been a constant source of inspiration.
Arocha’s relationship with the land is dynamic, continuously evolving through the memories and distinct characteristics each place offers, always reconnecting her to a sense of home. More than merely gathering natural materials, her process involves collecting memories and capturing the essence of the land through photography.
Arocha’s goal is to construct works that transcends visual appeal, immersing viewers in unique worlds and sparking cross-cultural dialogues and exchanges.
The artist’s work is currently on display in the group show “You Know What You Know.”
Your work is beautiful—intricate, graphic, and sometimes extensive. What was the curation process like for this show? Did curator Christina Massey approach you with her ideas, or did you make suggestions?
Tatiana Arocha: Thank you for your kind words. The majority of my work is site-specific and often on a large scale, so adapting to smaller spaces tends to be challenging for me. The curation process for this show was particularly interesting as it involved transforming the space by incorporating three-dimensional pieces from my past installations and giving them a new life.
WHEN I STEP INTO A SPACE, MY MIND IMMEDIATELY STARTS ENVISIONING HOW TO CREATE AN EXPERIENCE FOR PEOPLE. I THINK ABOUT WAYS IN WHICH I CAN EVOKE CURIOSITY AND ATTRACT PEOPLE TO APPROACH THE WORK, MUCH LIKE THE RESPONSE TO BEING IMMERSED IN NATURE.
Working with Christina was a very collaborative and enjoyable experience. The entire process involved a thoughtful dialogue to select works that balanced and effectively conveyed the conceptual thinking behind the work.
TATIANA AROCHA. BOSQUE DE NIEBLA, 2018, ARCHIVAL LATEX PRINT ON COTTON CANVAS, HAND-PAINTED WITH ACRYLIC AND HAND-EMBROIDED, 80 × 50 IN. RIGHT: DETAIL.
TATIANA AROCHA. BAILE DE ESPELETIAS, 2016, UV ARCHIVAL PRINT ON COTTON CANVAS HAND-PAINTED WITH GOLD ACRYLIC, 48 × 38 IN. RIGHT: DETAIL.
Can you share more about how you split the work between the two locations? Christina mentioned that you have a sizable mixed-media landscape showing at Space776 and smaller installations at KUNSTRAUM.
Tatiana Arocha: When I step into a space, my mind immediately starts envisioning how to create an experience for people. I think about ways in which I can evoke curiosity and attract people to approach the work, much like the response to being immersed in nature. Although there were many potential works for both locations, being at KUNSTRAUM and experiencing the space helped me in narrowing the choices.
It made perfect sense to create an installation at KUNSTRAUM that fostered intimacy, allowing people to be in close proximity to the art since the space was narrow and small. The dimensions of the spaces played a significant role in determining what would thrive best. So once the selection of artworks for KUNSTRAUM was decided, “Bosque de niebla” made perfect sense for Space776.
INSTALLATION VIEW OF AROCHA’S WORK. IMAGE COURTESY OF GARLAND QUEK.
Your home country, Colombia, the land, rainforests, and plant life inform your work. How has your relationship with the land changed over the years?
Tatiana Arocha: My connection with the land is an ever-evolving exploration. It shifts and transforms, influenced by each specific place and the memories that it offers, bringing me back to a sense of home.
Over time, I’ve come to understand that maintaining this relationship with the land requires a continuous quest to cultivate kinship and connection. It’s about observing what the land provides and listening to its constant dialogue to understand what it needs.
I DEDICATED OVER 15 YEARS TO WORKING AS A GRAPHIC DESIGNER. WHILE ENJOYABLE, IT DIDN’T COMPLETELY FULFILL ME. […] I’M EXCITED ABOUT THE POTENTIAL THIS SHIFT HOLDS FOR MAKING A POSITIVE IMPACT THROUGH MY WORK.
Navigating these conversations is more complicated in urban environments, where the noise and multitude of distractions can hide the subtle messages of the land. I’ve discovered that through careful observation and active listening, I can reconnect with the land and my roots.
Your background is in illustration and graphic design. What turned you to fine art as a profession?
Tatiana Arocha: I absolutely love this question. Being an artist was always something I wanted to be, and I was nurtured by the incredible artists around me. From my grandmother, who painted on porcelain, to the daughter of my dad’s lifelong colleague, who used to give me art classes during her college days, spending time at my cousin’s art studio was an integral part of my upbringing.
Choosing a career path was a thoughtful process, influenced by the awareness of the challenges artists face in sustaining a livelihood. I wanted a creative practice, but also sought economic independence. Consequently, I dedicated over 15 years to working as a graphic designer. While enjoyable, it didn’t completely fulfill me.
THE GATHERING IS NOT JUST ABOUT PICKING UP BRANCHES OR NATURAL MATERIALS BUT GATHERING AS AN ACT OF COLLECTING MEMORIES AND INTIMATELY PHOTOGRAPHING THE LAND TO DRAW INSPIRATION.
I felt a strong need to be more actively involved in addressing issues I cared deeply about, like the impact of the war on drugs and environmental issues. This realization led me to the decision to create art focused on these crucial matters and exhibit it in public spaces. The goal is to spark conversations that could lead to meaningful changes.
Transitioning from design to a more expressive and impactful form of art has been a significant journey for me. I’m excited about the potential this shift holds for making a positive impact through my work.
On your Instagram, you share much of the process that goes into your work. Can you pick a piece from the show and share what the creation process was like?
Tatiana Arocha: Each artwork I’m presenting at KUNSTRAUM and Space776 has its own process. But they all share a common thread—the act of collecting and experiencing the land through gathering. The gathering is not just about picking up branches or natural materials but gathering as an act of collecting memories and intimately photographing the land to draw inspiration.
In the three-dimensional pieces, the act of gathering is evident—branches, rocks, and paper plants I’ve crafted. But with “Muzgos y helechos,” which is one of my earliest works, the act of gathering focuses on collecting botanical drawings from La Expedición Botánica del Nuevo Reino de Granada (The Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada), led by Jose Celestino Mutis between 1783 and 1816.
MY FOCUS LIES IN CONSTRUCTING BODIES OF WORK THAT IMMERSE PEOPLE IN DISTINCT WORLDS, TRANSPORTING THEM TO NEW IDEAS AND CONCEPTS. I AIM TO BUILD BRIDGES BETWEEN DIFFERENT CULTURES, FOSTERING MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS AND EXCHANGES.
There were 7,000 botanical illustrations created during this expedition, and I’ve been collecting printed editions of the plates. This piece uses digital collages and other techniques to recontextualize those historical drawings into small vignettes. The work draws attention to the impact of colonization—the root of land abuse and extractive economies that contribute to the environmental crises southern countries face today.
What kind of opportunities interest you as an artist?
Tatiana Arocha: I’m interested in opportunities that push the boundaries of conversation and amplify diverse voices. This is why I’m drawn to intervening in public spaces. Public settings inherently attract a varied audience, and it’s a challenge for me, as an artist, to navigate how to effectively communicate my ideas to such a diverse group. My focus lies in constructing bodies of work that immerse people in distinct worlds, transporting them to new ideas and concepts. I aim to build bridges between different cultures, fostering meaningful conversations and exchanges.
Another aspect I look for is experiencing artist residencies in unfamiliar places. The idea of immersing myself in a new environment allows me to observe how the place influences my reactions and shapes the evolution of my artistic practice. A process of growth and change.
“You Know What You Know” is held at both Space776 in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and at the KUNSTRAUM gallery in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. The exhibition is on view until January 28 at KUNSTRAUM and January 31 at Space776.
Dates: Jan 10–28, 2024 Closing Reception: Sunday, Jan 28, 4–6pm Gallery hours: Sat–Mon, 2–6pm
Location: 20 Grand Ave, loft 509, Brooklyn
Dates: Jan 17–31, 2024 Artist Talk: Friday, Jan 26, 5–6pm Gallery Hours: Tues–Sun, 12–6pm
Location: 37–39 Clinton Street, NYC
For more information, visit the gallery’s website.
INSTALLATION VIEW OF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW AT SPACE 776. IMAGE COURTESY OF GARLAND QUEK.