Karen Zalamea, Canada

Residency Period: 1 December 2013 - 1 August 2014 (withdrew as of June 3, 2014)


Karen Zalamea completed a BFA at Emily Carr University of Art & Design and an MFA at Concordia University. She is the recipient of several awards, including the inaugural Sylvie and Simon Blais Foundation Award for Emerging Visual Artists. Her work has been exhibited and screened across Canada and internationally. She currently lives and works in Vancouver, Canada.
URL: www.karenzalamea.com

On-hiatus Proposal Summary

Adventures in Leisure
Karen's practice has focused heavily on modes of artistic production and on the body as a tool to execute that production. The artwork is a result of the physical performance of effort and skill, with the experience of art making simultaneously inscribed on the working body. For some time she has been contemplating "appropriate" departures from this line of work that would free her from planning future photographic series or performance-based videos centred on completing tasks or repeating actions, a process that often felt like artistic self-flagellation.

While on Residency for Artists on Hiatus, Karen has opted to concentrate solely on leisure through different avenues, without utilizing them as vehicles for neither artistic research nor future projects. This will include her participation in various recreational activities that she is familiar with or as her first attempt. Her list of delving into leisure will certainly develop during the residency.

She feels that being on official hiatus through RFAOH will free her from the anxiety of forecasting her next projects or art-related events, and will allow her the time to redefine her relationship to her ideas, measures of being and doing, ways of delineating experiences, and to her overall artistic identity.

Final Report

Over the past six months when I’d see artist friends and was faced with the expected question of “What are you working on these days?”, I would gladly reply that I was on hiatus. It may have been the combination of blatantly admitting I wasn’t making new work as well as my conviction in my choice of words that piqued their interest. It felt as if I was embracing a taboo, of not submitting to the idea of a constant (and therefore committed) cycle of production and exhibition that seems highly valued and championed in our network. It wasn’t my intention to demonize working on art, yet I was curious about our attitudes towards, and especially projections about, being a working artist.

Being an RFAOH resident made me question a number of things, like why I was a resident to begin with. Could I not be on hiatus outside of this residency? Did my “non-art activities” require some sort of institutional framework to be considered acceptable? Could I not grant this permission to myself? In truth, yes, I could have pursued this on my own, but I did find comfort in being on hiatus with other artists concurrently reflecting on their own hiatuses. And as a framework, RFAOH is a fluid one that for me facilitated a daily questioning of “What am I doing?” that may have been lost had it been self-directed.

I did struggle in the beginning with the thought of publicly seeking out adventures in leisure. I couldn’t shake off a feeling of irresponsibility, as if I was denying the possibilities of my practice over half a year. That of course existed in the mindset of artmaking in the production line of self-definition. If there was anything to shake off, it was that mindset. This residency was not about making nothing, nor being on an art diet based on deprivation, nor was it a display of laziness or creative stagnation, nor was it some hedonistic pursuit. At its core, it led me face-to-face with the fact that I was in fact discovering possibilities in my practice, and that there is much to discover when you let go and enjoy the process. One of my artist friends always stresses the importance of maintaining a “joyful process,” and I’ve always known I wanted a piece of that. I think this time has brought me closer to understanding what that process could be.




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Back at the library

As part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, I visited the Human Library, a one-on-one experience where you as a reader spend time with a human book who shares their story. The available curated “titles” available at the circulation desk included “Open Marriage,” “Over the Hill Gender Transition,” HIV, Addition & Me,” among others. I spent time with “Boy Weaver” and “Recovering Hoarder.” The encounters were surprisingly intimate, even though our conversations were limited to 20 minutes each. The compressed timeframe encouraged them to share as much as possible, with Tobin, the Boy Weaver, bubbling with passion about his technical skills and the possibilities of learning more. I asked him about his relationship to perfection. He laughed and said his craft demands it.

I had expected my conversation with Ross, the Recovering Hoarder, to be mainly about accumulating things, but I was pleased to have my assumptions thwarted when he shared stories of his childhood and adolescence, as well as the passing of his mother. It was a timely story to share, as I had just finished reading de Beauvoir’s “A Very Easy Death.” I asked him what recovery looks like, and he simply said that he would want to have a home where each room serves its function (i.e. a kitchen where he can cook, a bedroom where he can sleep). I wished him the best when we parted.

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Much of the leisure time I’ve been spending over the past weeks has been in winding down after my day job, mostly in the comfort of my home in the evenings brought to me by the all too convenient Netflix (and perhaps a download or two). Here’s a list of some recently watched and re-watched flicks:

My day job keeps me in front of a computer all day, so I’ve decided to reduce my screentime exposure and make a conscious effort to spend more time reading books. On what would have been Simone de Beauvoir’s 106th birthday last week, I went to the central public library and took out a few books to get me started.

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