Lola Guerrera’s Botanical Art Defies Space And Time
Lola Guerrera’s incredible, grand-scale works of botanical statuary have captivated our staff ever since GC Editor-in-Chief Molly Beauchemin spotted this video of the artist making her “galaxy M501” installation– and awe-inspiring recreation of a solar nebula made from dried leaves, petals, and other botanical elements that hang suspended from fishing wire.
The installation, like much of Guerrera’s ouvre, works to dislodge the viewer from any particular notions of time and space and instead to submerge them in an alternate reality– one where elements of nature can function as thought-provoking interpretations of material, time, and space. (Many of Guerrera’s works are directly inspired by images captured by the Hubble Telescope.) From her dimensional work, Refugio, which consisted of dried leaves, straw, conflowers, and a host of other earth-toned plants to the more celestial Constelaciones, which used more colorful forage to depict the Andromeda Galaxy, her work illustrates principles of both the earthly and the divine; the real and the imagined. Below, Garden Collage talks with Guerrera about the inspiration behind her art, the mastery that goes into her manipulation of material, and how she arrived at using plants as a means to convey ethereal concepts– from “refuge” to “space” and beyond.
GC: What is your background and how did you get into art/the design world?
LG: I trained in Audiovisual Communication at the University of Málaga and initially worked in television as an audiovisual producer. But I had always felt a strong attraction to the still image, in particular to photography, so after working for a few years I decided to give it all up to do a Master’s in Creative and Advertising Photography and since then I have concentrated on the visual arts.
GC: What drew you to plant material as a medium? How do you decide what plant will fit with your idea?
LG: Before working with elements from nature, I had experimented with paper, thread and powder as raw materials. I used them to build installations which disappeared when the photograph was taken. I realized that all these processes had something in common: I was working with the ephemeral. So I decided to investigate who in the history of art had worked or been obsessed with this concept, and soon came across seventeenth-century vanitas. I became especially obsessed by those with clear floral motifs. For example, the paintings of Flemish artist Ambrosius Bosschaert. And this was why I decided to use elements taken from nature.
I began with flower petals which fell from my vases and then I started collecting all kinds of leaves and seeds which I found on the streets. I began to sort them by type and color, and the images I have created arose from observing them. My studio is full of boxes stuffed with petals, seeds, leaves, twigs…they are my little treasures.
GC: How would you describe your personal aesthetic?
LG: My educational and professional background was in advertising and television, which I suppose has led to me taking great care over the aesthetics of each of my images. I can’t come up with a sculpture and then take a photograph without considering even the smallest of details in the composition. Also, in my imagination the environment is strongly present in an almost metaphysical way. For example, in my latest project, “The Vulnerable”, I try to construct using natural elements whose life cycle I have seen for myself (life-death): images suggestive of space, which is their opposite as it is both physically and temporally immeasurable. Sometimes I work intuitively without a preconceived image and the ideas emerge as I come across elements. This was the case for the “Cama” photograph… and only later did I discover that image contains a deep message which has a great deal to do with my personal life. Other times I become obsessed with an idea, such as the beauty of the images captured by the Hubble Telescope, and I try to represent them through small or large installations.
GC: Where do you find inspiration and what inspires you?
LG: I suppose I am inspired by everything to some extent, although often I am not aware of it. For example, there was a time when I collected little elm leaves which I found on the floor around the city and they seemed so delicately beautiful and fragile as they had holes in them after an aggressive blight. I needed to do something with them and one day when I was trying different things out in the studio I discovered that if I projected a zenithal light onto them, their shadows suddenly created a kind of star chart. It was just down to chance, but was hugely beautiful and revealing at the same time.
“In my imagination the environment is strongly present in an almost metaphysical way.”
GC: What work are you most proud of today?
LG: Last year, I managed to convince an entire town to turn off their lights on a particular day at a particular time so that they could take a moment to look at the stars. It was challenging because as well as convincing them all, I had to convince myself that I was going to be able to achieve it.
But in the end, I did it and it was a particularly beautiful moment. When all the lights went out the light pollution disappeared and thousands of stars which had not previously been seen there began to appear. And to my surprise the inhabitants let out a general “Ohhhhh!”. I had managed to enable them enjoy something as simple as looking at the stars.
GC: Can you tell me more about your time working with a fashion magazine? How did you manage to associate art and fashion?
LG: It was the first time I have done a collaboration like this and I was very happy with it. I really enjoyed the process. Fashion photographers Estevez and Belloso noticed my work and suggested we collaborate on an editorial for a Spanish fashion magazine. Right from the start, there was a special chemistry at work and we were able to combine both our approaches in a very fluid and enriching way. We tried to come up with a series of installations with which the model could interact. To do so, we collected a great deal of natural plant material from the countryside: ears of wheat, branches and dry seeds. We also bought live flowers as the campaign was for spring/summer. The final result will come out in a few weeks! And I hope that this will be the first of many more collaborations in the future.
GC: What are your upcoming projects?
LG: I would like to create a series of small sculptures enclosed in glass cases. Little worlds made out of seeds and petals. And I imagine working with the natural environment for a good while longer but I can’t say the direction things will take.
GC: One last simple question: What’s your favorite plant or flower?
LG: It is definitely Spanish iris. The botanical name is Iris Xiphium. They grow wild in the fields where I was born (southern Andalusia). As a child, I used to go into the countryside with my mother to look for them; they are tiny and very fragile– they don’t last long in water. But going to look for them was a huge ritual at the start of the spring.