Eileen Zelaya

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Exchanges with Eileen Zelaya:

1. Eileen, please share with us your personal background? Where’d did you come from, where were you born, and how did you end up residing in Miami, FL? Please also mention how you got into art?

I was born here in Miami because my parents wanted me to have a birthright citizenship in the United States. We moved back to Honduras for a little bit but the economy wasn’t and still isn’t the best to make a comfortable living. We moved here to Miami where my mom found more opportunities for her and to raise me and my sister. My mom remarried and we moved around with dad, who was in the army. I lived in Oklahoma, Maryland, New York throughout my adolescent years. It was during my time in Oklahoma and the expansive plain landscape that I explored with filmmaking, arts and crafts. I was about 9-12 years old and when my parents got a camcorder that I began using to film horror movies with my friends, it was the era of YouTube. Academically, I didn’t get into art until I was about 20 years old. Art making was always with me though.

2. From speaking with you and gathering information you provided, how and where did you study photography and expanded media? How did you see yourself when studying art in Orlando?

My first photography, and also art, class was an elective I took when studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria. I was doing a sociology major at the time. I came back from that trip very excited about art and decided to change what I was studying so that I could take more art classes. When I returned to UCF (University of Central Florida) in Orlando, I was learning how to draw technically as a discipline rather than a hobby. I had a great professor, Brooks Dierdroff who taught expanded media and I learned about the variety of ways art can be experimental. I was like a sponge absorbing everything during my classes, I felt and still feel like there is an never-ending learning process when it comes to making art.

3. I like when you mention that your interest in understanding your Latina experience in a sociological context drives your art practice please elaborate.

Being Latina is the backdrop of my experience, my family and my surroundings they’ve always been in a hispanic setting but I was Americanized from birth. So, it is like two worlds at once-being at the edge of both experiences. I can see how my family has changed from living here and the pressure of being first-generation. Living around the United States you start to understand how others come to view a family of immigrants. It changed the way I viewed myself because I felt I had to be more Latin or more American. Either way I was living in-between two cultures that are constantly influencing one another. The way my family in Honduras views my family and I, is that one of being higher-positioned because we managed to find a way through living here. But my family and I here, we are fairly middle-class. It is interesting to bounce between these two cultures. It’s important for me to understand my roots and the most interesting way of doing that is through observing my own family-starting from the house and then back out into the world.

4. You use the study of animal relationships as a method to dissect your families immigrant experience, along with your mind, body and language dilemmas, can you be more specific and provide an example? It seems that your method can be said to be derived from literate predecessors but perhaps not, please share how you first came to acknowledge this dichotomy.

It definitely comes from literature and poems. Gaston Bachelard in Poetics of Space says “..the image which is the pure product of absolute imagination, is a phenomenon of being; it is also one of the specific phenomena of the speaking creature.” It’s impossible to detach personal experiences from a person’s artwork. The human experience is one that is entirely subjective, I’ve noticed this from meditating on language and how it shapes the way we see the world. Growing up in a Spanish household and for anyone who speaks more than one language knows there are words that cannot be translated. And one could say the same about other creatures and their language- birds, cats, ants. The body language says more than words can. It is an experience of an immigrant to feel out of place in speaking language but feel at home in human or animal companions. And it isn’t so necessarily about my family being immigrants but something more essential about the experience of humans being out of home in the natural world and feeling lost, alienated in civilized towns and cities.

5. How does the landscape inform your art? I see that the video “A Few Things That Will Remain” integrates a distorted landscape that fits within the biomorphic form in the center or perhaps the other way around?

The landscape in the animations are one of deserted spaces, specifically in that piece. The creatures are isolated and floating in a space that isn’t theirs. I add them after creating the “creatures” because I want them to feel exaggerated and distant from where they belong. It is the experience of closing your eyes and focusing on a feeling. What you get it is not a clear image of a body, background, or foreground with the body resting in shadow. What you get is sensations of a place you once knew, disconnected pieces of memory, and movement.

6. What are your short term goals and how do you plan to reach them?

I hope to continue building my skills as an animator, I think there’s real potential there to show what goes on when we dream, daydream, close our eyes and imagine. I am working on building on my technical skills and getting around the computer building world to show that.

7. How do you overcome challenges in your art practice? What resources and tools do you employ to overcome set backs and how do you recycle such processes in your toolbox?

Whenever I’m experiencing a mental block or lack of creativity I remind myself to trust the process. I have notebooks filled with thoughts, ideas, diary entries, and scribbles it is my personal handbook to guide me through feeling stuck. It is like maintenance- the boring kind that can only be flourished each day through love and care. Other times, I find comfort in literature and poetry because words and stories conjure up strong images and emotions for me. One book I always go back to is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and it helps me understand both creature and inventor, I’ve read it several times throughout my life and still feel the fear and love from the story.

8. Are you planning to venture to a MFA granting program in the future? And if so, what are some requirements you look for in a graduate school?

I’m considering it, I want to work as a practicing artist outside of academics before jumping back into it. I think it’s important to spend time in solitude to create artwork before analyzing it conceptually. When I’m ready I’ll look for a graduate school with professors and mentors that can understand my practice and help guide me. I prioritize the relationships made with a cohort and professors. I’d hope to have a group of graduate students who care to help each other grow as artists. None of our practices exist in a vacuum, we need people to talk about ideas with.

9. How do you see your practice in the scope of traditional media, such as painting or sculpture?

Painting will always be part of my practice because it involves the body more than any other media. You’ll never get closer to color and material. Or at least not through animation on the computer. The direct contact from paint to canvas is a more intimate experience on a personal level. It brings me back to my core. So I cannot make images on the computer without first having drawn it in colors first with my hands. Without first letting my body make marks on paper.

10. What is next for you? What projects are you currently working on, etc.?

My friend and also incredible artist, Sandra Zanetti, and I are going to be making a trip to Bulgaria this April to work on a collaborative piece as a collective. She’s interested in political systems and ideologies and how their shaped by capital and technology. We are discussing ideas but it might have some elements of animation and a time-based sculpture, like the Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson. We want to use the environment as a tool. We have passionate discussions about the evolutions of animals and contemplate the future of our species. 

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