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Conversation between Scott Armetta and Olivia Ramos.
Burning Sugarcane, Hiroshige Rain, 2014
Charcoal, Acrylic, Watercolor, and Alkyd on paper mounted on hardboard
11 x 14 in.
RAMOS: There is an inescapable sense of doom when I look at this piece, yet with a peaceful perspective, as if watching crisis from a television set.
I find this in your previous work, the ones Adler and I spoke about a few months ago. The difference is the element of fire, which adds narrative, as opposed to the previous work, which were dark but no real clues to why.
The perspective (peaceful perspective) is also different. In your previous work, it felt like I was in the scene as opposed to watching the scene. Not sure if I'm having the correct experience.
Perhaps the body of water gives me that feeling or detachment.
ARMETTA: I'm glad that doom and peace come to mind. When driving to Belle Glade, FL there are plains there where sugarcane is produced. I’m aesthetically moved by the area when I see large swaths of fertile muck, and sometimes, the burning. I know it’s not good for the environment and even that sugarcane has a troubled history with the way it is produced from the workers point of view.
And here let me give a shout out to Fair Trade Certified Sugar. I only buy fair trade and animal byproduct-free sugar for myself. The sugar I get doesn’t include burning as part of the production practice (from a company called Wholesome Sweeteners).
So there is this feeling of beauty with an underlying feeling of, as you said, doom or destruction.
I think the "water" area you are seeing is the soil, the muck. Though you may have a similar reaction to water seeing that large area of black ground.
I think you're reaction may rightly be grounded in that it is literally happening farther from the viewpoint of the observer (in that it feels like you are watching it rather than you are in it).
I wonder now, after understanding the story, if the story is necessary at all.
are you interested in the injustice to nature via sugar process or in the effect or experience of destruction as a concept in itself?
That is also a good observation about the event being more attributable to a narrative event. I usually don't like to go into too much about what the things going on "mean" besides usually evoking an idea of mystery, beauty, danger, etc. In this case I thought it could add to the interpretation.
That is why I also put Hiroshige's name in the title. Those lines coming down in the image are alluding to the way he and other Japanese woodblock artists would sometimes depict rain. In effect the smoke from the process may be turning into some form of precipitation.
Sudden Shower at Ohashi Bridge, 1857
13 1/4 x 8 3/4 in.
Again, I'm not usually that literal, and it is not necessary to "get" the piece, just part of my thought process in this case.
I do think that sugarcane may help the interpretation here. Though to me the most primary thing as a visual artist is to elicit a, hopefully significant, aesthetic response. I am not referring to others, just me. I really feel that documentaries and writing – journalistic, scientific, and so on - most of the time do a much better job than I would at clearly and effectively making a case and offering suggestions on how to make things better.
The piece is beautiful and scary and evokes emotion, regardless of the narrative. However the title gives a air of activism.
I am glad you mention it, and weather it is necessary or not, it is something you feel passionate about.
And from the way you describe the journalist and other types of media it seems as though you have reservations about being an activist or don't think it fits within the realms of the artist, in your case.
Going back a little - I will add your question to the top:
"Olivia: are you interested in the injustice to nature via sugar process or in the effect or experience of destruction as a concept in itself?"
I'm concerned with the first one and take action in my life to hopefully lessen some of that. But as far as my art making I would be probably more interested in the broader implications of destruction in itself and that it sometimes comes with a type of beauty.
Like you said, this one is more directly narrative than my other pieces, so this is sort of an exception to how I usually deal with these ideas, though there are abstractions in it that have nothing to do with sugar or realistic burning, like in the top third towards the left – the smoke sort of embraces a line of rain.
One reason I usually leave those things for the viewer to find is that I don’t want it to be too much like explaining a joke or something – where we “get it” but it loses potency because of the explanation.
“Olivia: And from the way you describe the journalist and other types of media it seems as though you have reservations about being an activist or don't think it fits within the realms of the artist, in your case.”
No, let me be clear I was only referring to myself as an artist – other people can do that better with their artwork than I seem to be able to.
it is universal law that once we stop to explain, there is a loss in the intensity of the experience. Even if only because the energy or focus has now gone to explaining.
it's a murky subject in what art is and how it can be used, and if used does it continue to be art?
or is it ok for art to be an activist gesture as long as it is never mention or explained?
I feel like sometimes the specificity of activist art is not something that I have usually found as compelling for the seeds of my own work. One could have the most noble idea, but if the work is not compelling, it is arguably doing the idea an injustice. In the same way I may like architectural design, that isn't what I tend to gravitate towards making myself.
When I see a website like The Life You Can Save.Org and philosopher Peter Singer asks, would you jump into a shallow pond to save a child if it meant ruining your favorite pair of expensive shoes - the answer is "yes". Then the question becomes why not take the price of a pair of shoes and donate it where it could go to save lives. It's the same thing in effect - distance being the primary difference. That is powerful and it causes real change.
Finding out terribly upsetting statistics like 7 Jumbo Jets full of children dying every day due to Malaria. Can you imagine hearing that 7 large planes crashed on a daily basis? And it, in effect, happens every day. I feel like sites like that, information like that presents problems and offers some potential solutions that are profound. I am activist, but my art is not necessarily.
By the way, speaking of documentaries. Please watch Earthlings - it's free to watch Online. If you do I promise to donate $20.00 to any charity of your choice.
It is more powerful if art invokes activism rather than translates it
Yes - great point!