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.




recent comments


I took some time away from this blog to reconsider how I’m approaching my foray into leisure, and am slowly deviating from the laundry list of activities I’ve accumulated. Rather than a diaristic “Today, I did such and such…” reporting method (although learning soutenu turns in ballet class was monumental and worth a little mention), I’m choosing to loosen the grip on the planning and see what events, activities, and invitations come up as I go. This is the framework I’m inventing now, but this entire adventure is mere invention, so the possibilities are boundless. I may even scrap this framework in a few weeks and reinvent a new one.

Leisure, as I am starting to understand it, is uncoerced activity which one has the desire to carry out, experienced during “free” time away from business, work, school, chores, and other such obligations.

The idea of free time is contentious in itself in that financial (in)flexibility and societal pressures can determine which activities are accessible. The Situationist International maintains that free time is illusory and rarely free; economic and social forces appropriate free time from the individual and sell it back to them as the commodity known as leisure. (Thanks, Wikipedia).

I’ve been dismantling a few assumptions I’ve made about leisure, with leisure not necessarily equaling pleasure, the possibilities of free time being distinct from leisure, and free time not necessarily being free.

In comes the part about floating. To hopefully release myself from all the slippery muddiness that accompanies definitions and over-thinking and thinking about thinking, I decided to go for a float in an isolation tank, also known as a sensory deprivation tank. Floating is basically a practice that involves lying in a light-tight and soundproof tank with 10 inches of body temperature water with 800 pounds of dissolved Epsom salts. For roughly 90 minutes, the body remains still, all forces of gravity on the body are eliminated, and you enter a different sensory, psychological, and emotional time and space. Some use the practice for meditation or spiritual growth, others for relaxation and well-being.

This was only my second floating experience, and I know it will get better the more I become accustomed with the practice. I catch glimpses of moments where I physically feel like my body is moving freely in outer space, as if I might crash into the side of the tank, and then when I become concerned about that, the moment is gone. Then I heard a jackhammer from the business next door and realized it was a real sound and not one I was imagining, but the centre has been kind enough to give me a complimentary float for the interruption. I’ll try to stay in outer space a little while longer next time.

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