In Conversation with

Mariana Ramos Ortiz: Sand as a Symbol of Structural Fragility

Mariana Ramos Ortiz is a Puerto Rican artist who explores sand as artistic material in her work reflecting on environmental fragility and the resistance to American occupation of the island. Her work also addresses the importance of preserving the earth through symbols such as the palm tree.

C&AL: Regarding the idea of the game as resistance, how is it related to the construction of new thought?

MRO: I think about the game as something that requires repetition, that has rules, but sometimes has no end. Time here is circular. The year is cyclical, it’s about returning to hurricane season and being aware of the body’s repetition and the thought associated with the idea of living in the colony, in the Caribbean, and facing the difficulties of being here. It’s like a game that doesn’t end. Maybe those are the negative parts that we could change about these spaces. Preparing for a hurricane or being without power for a period of time become central to the experience of life here and end up creating a cage when in reality, if we think about, there is no reason we should be going through that. Sand suggests the power of undoing that structure, like in the game of hopscotch, where you go round and round in circles, and toss a coin into the air that never falls as such because you cannot throw it circularly. Some people completely lose their sense of direction and simply find themselves in this circular path, and others see it as “a structure in which we are living, which is difficult to get out of, yet one that can be undone.”

This piece can be touched and felt, but there are other pieces that cannot be touched, and that is very important to me. The United States has been the place where I’ve had the most problems with people wanting to touch my work, and that makes me think that I am making a piece about the fragility of that space, specifically the idea of creating borders, and what happens if you, an American, who are complicit in much of these dynamics, touch this piece without caring, without thinking about or knowing what the implications are of living in that space. It becomes a microcosm of the Puerto Rican experience.

C&AL: The image of the palm tree in your work makes us think about the dynamics of protected land in Puerto Rico and about the fight to maintain those spaces intact for the island’s people. How do you process changes in the landscape?

MRO: The palm tree has many meanings here in Puerto Rico, and it has the ability to make us lose ourselves in it. It is an element I am exploring and seeing how it fits in relation to other things, but, yes, there is also the idea of documenting space and the landscape. I grew up on the coast and, for me, it’s an important place to think about those changes. Working with sand also evokes that aspect of the footprint, which makes us think about issues like erosion, high sea levels, and the mangrove as a protective barrier. I think that the experience of visiting Puerto Rico again has a unifying effect on us when we go away to study or leave for another reason. Taking that moment to see if the things we recognize, which were important to us, are still there. Things that have no importance until they are lost.

C&: As a colonial subject moving toward the future, what are you taking with you and what are you leaving behind?

MRO: I think that being sure about what I think of my own reality and how interpretations of my work and people’s interest influence my position are central to my creative practice. It makes me dig deeper into the reality of where I am from and understand more clearly how much some answers are worth to me, with whom I communicate and how I communicate, beyond my work, in the context of reality. That’s what makes it clear that what I am doing is productive. And what I leave behind are also those forces that sometimes one follows or thinks are important for work, perhaps because you are in conversation with the wrong person or space, and they end up not being productive in finding that clarity.

Mariana Ramos Ortiz (Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico) is a multidisciplinary artist whose work considers the structural and temporal qualities of sand as a means to explore themes of occupation, permanence, and protection in the context of Puerto Rico’s current colonial realities.

Sheila Ramirez (Santiago de Cuba, Cuba) is a Cuban-Angolan designer and researcher. She explores the affective relationship between people and objects in their environment through visual and sonic files.

Translation: Sara Hanaburgh