February 5, 1966 |
Santa Clara, Cuba,
|Education||Jersey City State College|
|Known for||Urban art, Street art, Land art|
|Notable work(s)||Culture Jamming (1989-1997)
Identity Series (2002-present)
|Movement||Culture Jamming Fine Street|
Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada is a Cuban-American Contemporary Artist. Born February 5, 1966, Cuba, he grew up in the United States. Rodríguez-Gerada predominantly creates his work in urban spaces on a large scale. His works reflect a concern for the individual and an appreciation of the urban public space. As a founding member of the early ‘90s New York Culture Jamming movement first with the group ‘Artfux’ and later with the 'Cicada Corps of Artists', Rodríguez-Gerada launched interventions upon billboards and public advertising. From this he gained international attention through recognition in the book No Logo, by Naomi Klein. By 1997 he was beginning move towards working solo. In 2002 Rodríguez-Gerada moved to Barcelona and focused on the large-scale ephemeral charcoal drawings of his Identity Series. He then developed the Terrestrial Series; ephemeral earthworks so expansive as to be visible from space. These have also gained international media attention. Other ongoing projects include the Identity Composite Series, and smaller artworks he calls Urban Analogies, and Memorylythics. Since 2009 he has curated the annual AvantGuard Urbano Festival; a small Urban Art Festival with big names, held in Tudela, Navarre, Northern Spain. He also takes part in numerous shows and exhibitions.
Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada immigrated with his family from Cuba to the US in 1970, to settle in North Plainfield, New Jersey. It wasn’t until his twenties that he realized that the move was because his parents had not wanted him and his two elder brothers to grow up under the then newly implemented system of control in Cuba. His father spent three years cutting sugar cane in concentration camp conditions in order to gain visas.
Rodríguez-Gerada was one of the first Hispanic immigrants to enrol in his local school system . There he was bullied for being Spanish, so he rebelled against speaking it in order to fit in with the other children. His fascination with how we form our Identity is something he links to his experiences as a child. In the U.S school system he saw children from many different backgrounds thrown into the ‘melting pot’, which has been said to leave children from immigrant backgrounds lost in a cultural limbo as adults.
As a boy he was interested in creating things; he always had a love of drawing and got really involved in art whilst at high school. Since the age of sixteen he started hanging out in Manhattan. Speaking of his influences he said:
‘I was surrounded by theatre, music and art that was breaking barriers and it seemed natural that I should want to do the same’
He went to study at Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University) where he met the future members of ‘Artfux’. After putting together a college art exhibition focusing on the issue of flag burning called ‘Flagging our Freedom’ Rodríguez-Gerada and his fellow students were spotlighted on CNN and other national newscasts. The media was very interested in their activity and so the group realised there were other issue that could benefit from this type of media attention. They decided to join as ‘Artfux’ and continue producing controversial artwork together. As a member of ‘Artfux’ Rodríguez-Gerada began to realise the power of art in bringing attention to the social ills and issues he cared about as well as its potential to impact change in the community.
‘Rodríguez-Gerada is widely recognised as one of the most skilled and creative founders of culture jamming, the practice of parodying advertisements and hijacking billboards in order to drastically alter their messages’ (Klein, No Logo)
Artfux brought culture jamming to New York City, and were active between 1989-1992. They started by illegally altering billboards and staging socially charged street actions and performances. But it was their billboard alterations that had the most coherent goal and plan of action in order to effect change. They targeted the disproportionately high amount of damaging products (get drunk quick beverages and menthol cigarette brands) being advertised in poor areas.
Coinciding with their ‘ad-busting’ was a wave of black and Latino communities coming together against cigarette and alcohol advertising. The communities accused these companies of exploiting black poverty by target –marketing inner cities for their lethal product. The Reverend Calvin O. Butts would take his parishioners on ‘bill-board busting’ missions and they would simply paint over the cigarette or alcohol adverts around their church with white paint.
Whilst the Reverend Calvin O. Butts method was effective Rodríguez-Gerada, with Artfux, sought more creative ways to undermine the billboard consumption messages: by turning them into political messages of their own with ‘clever/cute’ interventions. That way they could borrow the legitimacy of the advertising itself and still reach the same audience the adverts were originally targeting. For example Rodríguez-Gerada would morph the faces of cigarette models so they looked rancid and diseased. He then replaced the standard Surgeon General’s warning with his own messages: ‘Struggle General’s warning: Black and Latinos are the prime scapegoats for illegal drugs, and the prime target for legal ones’. With a deft ‘detournement’ (‘an image message or artifact lifted our of its context to create a new meaning’) a jammed ad might now speak about the negative effects of those products. Press releases were then sent out with photos of the exploits, receiving massive media attention. Every time a newspaper, magazine or newscast gave them the platform to address these social ills Artfux considered it a victory.
Culture jamming is seen as a part of the backlash against the brands, which was to do with specific issues; the loss of public space, corporate censorship and unethical labour practices.
Rodríguez-Gerada hoped to use his culture jammed billboards to open up a dialogue with the community where there had only been a statement. Despite being nearly arrested a few times he liked to work in broad daylight, and often found the arresting policemen supportive of his cause once he had explained his actions. He wanted what he was doing to be seen as normal mode of discourse in a democratic society.
‘Culture jamming baldly rejects the idea that marketing- because it buys its way into our public spaces- must be passively accepted as a one-way information flow.’
As a culture jammer he used the pseudo name ‘Artjammer’.
Through inclusion in the book No Logo, by Naomi Klein, Artfux was mentioned in legal testimony and thus helped bring about the ban of tobacco billboard advertising. Following the break up of Artfux Rodríguez-Gerada joined the Cicada Crops of artists, with whom he continued to culture jam. He soon extended his critiques beyond tobacco and alcohol ads to include rampant ad bombardment and commercialism in general.
By 1997, when Klein interviewed Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada, he was beginning to move away from working with a collective, and starting to experiment with more urban semiotics by altering street signs as well. He had become disillusioned with the culture jamming movement. So great was its success that culture jamming’s very ability to undermine those ads became negated. Instead the brands gained more attention, and the advertisers began to culture jam their own ads to bring attention to themselves, absorbing the aesthetics of the movement into their advertising.
‘Marketers have always extracted symbols and signs from the resistance movements of their day’ (No Logo)
Whilst the movement’s ability to bring about change was derailed, some artists involved, succumbing to its success, continued to use it as a stylistic device for self-promotion without concentrating on what mattered. For these reasons Rodríguez-Gerada moved away from culture jamming to enter into his solo phase:
‘In my new direction I decided not to allow any product recognition at all. Reverend Calvin Butts had it right all along. But as an artist it was not very satisfying to just paint the billboards white like Reverend Butts. I needed to somehow make it more poetic.’
In 2002, around the time that Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada moved to Barcelona, he began to create large charcoal portrait drawings of anonymous locals, covering the size of large exterior urban walls. They are ephemeral in nature; the properties of charcoal allow them to fade with the elements or disappearance with the destruction of the wall.
He borrows the same scale, location and iconic approach as urban advertising to undermine much of what that stands for. The momentum gained from such attention is directed towards social issues, instead of advertising. Rather than a famous face that sells something, Rodríguez-Gerada chooses random locals who sell nothing. By raising them in a public space he wants to question the controls imposed on those public spaces, preconceptions of where art is permitted and to whom it is directed. Their impermanence defies imposition on the space.
Having selected someone who has a strong identity with the area where the pieces are created, Rodríguez-Gerada photographs their face to create a mock-up. He then starts to create a hyper realistic work on the sides of the building . Initially he used ladders and scaffolding, but he now creates his giant drawings with hydraulic lifts. Each drawing might take up to a week of intense effort, and may last from only two to six months, leaving no negative impact on the environment. Since 2002 he has continued to produce works within the Identity series in cities all over the world from Barcelona to Bahrain.
The drawings share luminescence with the wall, instead of hiding the decay; the disintegrating urban locations are of equal importance. To Rodríguez-Gerada those worn walls talk about displacement, gentrification, neglect and poverty and in that there is an inherent history and narrative .
Documentation of the process begins with finding the protagonist, to the act of creating the drawings and to the chronicling of the disappearance, so that the finished drawing is not the necessarily the pinnacle of the piece:
‘The memory that is left confirms the importance and fragility of every existence. My intent is to have identity, place and memory become one.’
Identity Composite Series
Complementary to the Identity Series Rodríguez-Gerada has developed The Identity Composite Series. With help from the Autonomous University of Barcelona which has developed an algorithm programme, he has been able to create the composite face of the demographics of a city based on multiple 3D facial scans. As an artist in residence at the Autonomous University of Barcelona he created the first Composite Identity based on 100 faces in the demographics of that area in 2009. The resultant portrait was drawn in charcoal on an exterior wall surface within the area. In 2010 he created an Identity Composite for Badalona, Spain, using 3D scans of 34 faces, from the 34 different neighborhoods in Badalona. It too became a charcoal portrait, to grace a Badalona wall. Rodríguez-Gerada hopes to use the multidisciplinary project to create monumental sculptures as well as murals, in different cities ‘that mirror each location’s idiosyncrasy and population.’
Working upon removed interior wall surfaces from abandoned buildings, Rodríguez-Gerada creates fragment portraits of those closest to him. It took three years of research and testing to perfect the transfer of the removed wall onto wooden panels. As with the Identity Series value is given to the old wall surface and the portraits do not cover the worn urban surfaces but share importance. He explained
‘When I use these old wall surfaces, I’m actually using wall surfaces that are painted by generations of people. People who painted a wall when their baby was born, or when their mother in law was coming to visit. So all those layers of moments of their happiness is sort of the base of each piece.’
In his Urban Analogies works he is giving poetic gravitas to the ‘intangible memory’ these walls possess and the ‘passage of time they portray’.
Memorylithics is a sculpture series made using old architectural elements such as stone and bricks. In the finished artwork Rodríguez-Gerada involves the elements of the found piece.
Rodríguez-Gerada’s earth works in the Terrestrial series are designed on such a spectacular scale that they may be viewed through Google Earth or even photographed by passing satellites. The location, scale and material tend to emphasise what he is trying to say with each project, which in essence is driven by empathy for the individual. As with the Identity Series, they are ephemeral and the materials used do not negatively impact the environment. Each work is put together using a vector image and GPS technology so that they can then be mapped out on the ground. The works reflect Rodríguez-Gerada’s fascination with aerial photography and land art, as well as highlight new technologies and new ways we view the earth. He intends the enormity of the process, involving so many people coming together to create something in positivity, to raise the spirit of each project beyond the completion of the artwork.
Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada’s first Terrestrial work was Expectation, a giant ephemeral sand painting in the likeness of Barack Obama, on a Barcelona beachfront, Spain. It was designed to be viewed from space by Google Earth. On November the 3rd 2008, the day before the U.S elections, the Expectation project was presented at a press conference in Barcelona. The work was created using a vector graph and approximately 650 tons of sand and gravel covering an area 120 by 80 metre wide. It was supported by volunteers, who completed the work despite poor weather conditions. The Forum de las Culturas, Barcelona, administered it.
Obama’s political campaign was unique in its open connection with digital and social media, and in which campaign design was critical. ‘Hope’ was placed at the centre of the visual campaign; this tied in with Obama’s message and fed the American longing for an optimism to believe in. ‘Obama himself was his own best logo’. The campaign engaged huge amounts of individual responses from the artist community and never before had a presidential candidate’s physical impression become advocated by art. The enormous response is seen as testimony to the powerful reaction to Obama’s call for changes that had resonated throughout the world. Expectation is recognised as a celebrated artistic response to that momentum.
Through scale and location the whole project was visualised to reflect the global impact of that election. The title ‘Expectation’ lacks the idealism of ‘Hope’ and the work was intended as a way to open a dialogue ‘about the dramatic uncertainties of our time and the irrational search for a hero to save us’. Rodríguez-Gerada said that having it made from sand and gravel was like making a giant mandala to pray for change but also alludes to how the hope could fade away, as the sand eventually did. Expectation gained worldwide interest through huge news coverage on CNN, Reuters etc.
Homage to Enric Miralles
To commemorate Enric Miralles, a Catalan architect, on the tenth anniversary of his death Rodríguez-Gerada created a sand painting of his portrait, which was then transformed and undone on July the 3rd 2010, Barcelona. Miralles died at the age of 44 but his work left a remarkable legacy. His wife, architect Benedetta Tagliabue and their studio EMBT, organized the work and a picnic for family and friends. The portrait was a giant mandala in homage to Enric Miralles.
The GAL-LA project was created as part of the first planetary art exhibits called ‘eARTh’ curated by 350.org, which brought together artists from over 16 countries to make art that was visible from space. Each gigantic piece was created to highlight a particular issue related to Climate Change in response to the 2010 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico. The number 350 is the parts per million CO2 reduction target proposed by scientists to combat climate change. Gal-La was created on the beach of the Delta del Ebro in Spain using shade material and wooden posts, covering over six acres. Designed as a sun stencil, the piece was made to bring attention to the problem of sunlight/ heat that cannot escape back into space because of greenhouse gases.
Rodríguez-Gerada chose a little girl named Gal-la who lives in the Delta del Ebro and created this icon in her likeness; 'an icon to symbolize all the reasons for the world to act today'. The shadows cast by the temporary sheets between the posts picked out details of the girl’s face and hair. Her portrait was constructed using a labyrinth design to allude to the tenacity of the human spirit to find a solution. As he stated: ‘ By giving importance to each life, I want to give importance to empathy.’ Gal-La was chosen to be included on day 96 in Vivienne Westwood’s online installations collection of ‘100 days of Active Resistance’, a concept born from her manifesto to encourage the pursuit of culture and art to provide an antidote to propaganda.
For the Mama Cash project Rodríguez-Gerada created a portrait of the face of a fierce feminist activist, spanning almost two football fields on Zeeburghereiland, Amsterdam, in winter 2012. With the help of 80 volunteers the face was constructed in under a week using almost five miles of rope, seven tons of straw, 5300 cubic feet of soil and 1150 wooden poles. The portrait was to remain for one year. Rodríguez-Gerada had been invited to Amsterdam to create a piece for the International Human Rights Day, to help launch ‘Vogelvrije Vrouwen’ (‘Defend Women who defend human rights’). This is a campaign to raise awareness of the plight of Mesoamerican women who are illegally targeted and terrorized for defending human rights in that region. Mama Cash, a feminist foundation, commissioned the work.
He said ‘ I chose to use fertile soil to create this piece as a metaphor for what can come forth from the vision of these women if it is respected and allowed to bring about change.’
As Belfast Festival at Queen’s first artist in residence Rodríguez-Gerada created the UK and Irelands largest portrait to date, with Wish, in October 2013. The ephemeral portrait of a young girl making a wish covers eleven acres of the Titanic quarter of Belfast. Approximately 30,000 wooden pegs, 2,000 tons of soil, 2,000 tons of sand, plus grass, stones and strings were used to make the portrait. Adjacent buildings allow viewings until December 2013, but it is most comfortably viewed by aerial or satellite photo. Wish was eighteen months in the planning, and one month in execution, with a huge team of volunteers. As Rodríguez-Gerada had envisaged, the Belfast community very much collaborated with and supported the project, from construction companies such as MacLaughlin Harvey to the fire brigade. The portrait is based on a photo of an anonymous six-year-old Belfast girl that he had taken on one of his many trips to get to know and love the city in the prior eighteen months. Rodríguez-Gerada wanted to lift the pure moment of a child’s wish to the magnitude of a universal statement, particularly in the context of city like Belfast. For the artist it was the enormity of people coming together in support on such a large scale that amplified such a simple moment to a profound level.
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- Curbs and StoopsJorge Rodriguez Gerada Interview | Curbs and Stoops
- Avant Garde Urbano – Tudela De Navarra, Spain – Sept. 30 thru Oct. 4
- Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada: The A’s To Our Q’s | Wooster Collective
- Jorge Rodriguez Gerada Interview
- Curbs and StoopsJorge Rodriguez Gerada Interview | Curbs and Stoops
- ISSUU - Flic Magazine Issue#5 by Flic Magazine
- The incredible portraits that are bigger than a football field and take up entire sides of buildings | Mail Online
- Jorge Rodriguez Gerada | MoTA
- Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada’s Tribute to Spanish Architect Enric Miralles | Wooster Collective
- DAILY SERVING » Fan Mail: Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada
- Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada and Mama Cash Collaborate on Terrestrial Land Art Series | Complex
- Dutch Promote Women's Rights With a Massive Portrait
- How Belfast got stuck in to make artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada's Wish come true - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk