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Getting Personal

Winner of the Orlando Museum of Art’s Florida Prize in Contemporary Art, Edison Peñafiel on why he uses multimedia installations, how migrating to the United States has shaped his outlook and what he’s working on next.

1. Just being included in the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA), with all the artists and their works, is a great achievement. And being selected for the prize speaks so much about the work that I am creating. Sometimes you need that assurance that you are making it right to keep going forward.

2. The work I have on display at the OMA, in general, deals with ideas of history, cycles and perpetuity. You can see that in both installations Ni Aquí, Ni Allá and Sempiterno—the characters are bound to perform perpetually the same action repeatedly, as a metaphor for history repeating itself and as reflection of current global issues and the system we live in.

3. My work is a reaction to the bombardment of information that the media—TV and internet—has put us through. I feel it has made us become desensitized about the real issues happening in our communities and the world. I feel we, as a society, care about it for a few days, or even a week, and then we forget by passing to the new thing.

4. I work primarily in multimedia installations. I have tried other mediums to carry my ideas, but through multimedia installation, I am able to create this push and pull with the composing elements, such as 2D images interacting with 3D objects in space, and the element of time in video brings the idea of 4D into the piece. All these elements compose the experiences of our everyday life, so I want the viewer to have an as close as possible similar experience though the surreal installation and become part of the work while they view it.

5. I was born in Ecuador and reside in the greater Fort Lauderdale area. I see my work being affected by a collection of personal and collective experiences, and I think moving from Ecuador to the U.S. has had an impact on my work. I see my migrant experience repeated by newcomers over and over again, and I resonate and relate to it, not by being only a personal experience, but the experience of a community. This has affected the way I see and the language I use in my work.

6. Two artists I respect and who I think are important to the world are Doris Salcedo and Ai Weiwei for their commitment to their voices, ideas and ideals as artists, which goes beyond the personal benefit. They have powerful works that question and open the conversation about specific socio-political events that resonate throughout the world.

7. As a kid I would draw, try to replicate paintings and work with pre-fabricated clay pieces with my mother. I had graphic design lessons by my sisters and guitar lessons during my teens. After migrating to U.S. and enrolling in Broward College as a business major, I the enrolled in an elective photography class with Teresa Diehl, an amazing artist and professor. I struggled in her class, but she saw my potential and pushed me to follow it. After that class I was engaged back into art in a more serious way. I did four semesters of photography with her and here I am.

8. If I am not physically creating something or exhibiting, I am constantly thinking about the next idea. It just happens unconsciously. I like to spend time with family and close friends but somehow all of it ends up in conversations about art or politics, so it just finds its way back into work mode.

9. Right now, I am working on some ideas to bring my work out of the gallery/museum space and into the public area. There are technical issues to resolve, and consideration for mediums that will work better outdoors, but now it is a work in progress.

10. People should come see all the work currently on display for the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art at OMA for several reasons. First, the selection of artists and works was very well thought out and put together by OMA curators Coralie Claeysen-Gleyzon and Hansen Mulford. I really enjoy the subtle connections between each of the works on display transitioning between the macro and the micro, from social issues to the individual, the material and architectural to the spiritual and natural, all weaved and interconnected to give the viewer a whole experience of ourselves as individuals and as a collective. And second, the exhibition displays works by 10 progressive and exciting emerging and mid-career artists who are producing relevant work, so people should come and see what it is being created in Florida today.

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s July 2019 issue.