“What matters in life is not what happens to you, but what you remember and how you remember it.” -Gabriel García Márquez
As a contemporary visual artist working in academia and living in Colorado, Cami Galofre is constantly receiving unsolicited suggestions to make her work “more Colombian” or “more Latin American.” Of course, as a born Colombian raised in Ecuador, Cami’s work is inherently that. Her imagination learned to walk at the foot of the Andes Mountains, found its flow in the rainbowed current of the Caño Cristales, and evolved among the clouds over Quito. And though the ground beneath her has guided her steps into the American West, and the landscapes have breathed a new color palette into her lifeblood, the capillaries of Cami’s memories remain embedded in her work.
In a hallway of Meow Wolf Denver’s Convergence Station — between two areas known as The Catacombs and The Swamp — the “Macarenia” installation offers a transitional and transformational environment. Swirling pastel paints merge with 3D cutouts to create a dreamlike topography, while multicolored lighting almost mimics the passing of the day. She notes, “I am really obsessed with this idea of liminal spaces and something that's a little bit more transient and ephemeral.” Indeed, the rolling, wavy lines and intentional iridescence seems to pull onlookers deep into Cami’s headspace like a summer storm, inevitable, awesome, and then as quickly as it appeared … gone.
Hers is the favorite song with lyrics swallowed by the years, the dream so real you’d forgotten you were dreaming, or the right love at the wrong time.
Named after Macarenia clavigera, an aquatic plant endemic to the aforementioned Caño Cristales river, “Macarenia” strikes with gorgeous shades of magenta and red, a bold base smoothly smeared with yellows, greens, and blues. “(The river) is filled with beautiful colors for a very short period of the year,” Cami explains. “I work a lot with color and color fields and abstraction. And so that is part of the inspiration, kind of nodding a little bit to my Latin American heritage and my love for magical realism and romanticism. As somebody who is inspired by the landscape and nature and the environment, I felt this was a perfect place to reference that and reference my home country in a kind of magical way.”
Although Cami drew inspiration from her Colombian roots on this project, be it through landscapes or reading books of magical realism (the literary genre canonized most notably by Colombia’s García Márquez), she is quick to note that “Macarenia” is not meant to represent one specific place
“I've lived in many different places. And so I think, every time I create something, it’s like a merge of all of these things together. It is meant to be a little bit more of an emotional memory recap of the colors of the atmosphere, of the sense of being in these particular spaces of nature … I have these cutouts that are 3-dimensional on the wall, and I was trying to make them look like mountains, in a way, and everybody keeps calling them clouds. And I kind of love that, that it's like they’ve evolved into these clouds, you know? I love when people reinterpret my work into their own narrative, their own memory, and their own expectations of a landscape. I love that because I don't think it's necessarily about me, but rather how it's experienced.”
To peek into Cami’s brain is to experience the familiar illusion of a prismatic sunset, a phenomenon as powerful as it is elusive, as present as it is just out of reach. It is when discussing these very dynamic shows of nature’s capabilities that she reveals more of the gray matter behind her motivations. “It sounds a little bit weird, but when I share about tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, the ocean on fire … there's something really gorgeous about that,” she says. “And maybe that's just the sublime or the romantic in me. The earth is a living and breathing ecosystem, and we are like nothing compared to it at the same time.”
This empathy and respect for the earth shines throughout Cami’s oeuvre, a spiritual reflection of humanity’s evolving relationship with its Mother. [From her artist’s statement]: “I see the landscape as a cultural identifier that stems from the collective experiences that we share in natural spaces. There is a psychological significance, a sense of home, that the places that have been, in one way or another, sacred to each of us live on in the form of memory.” So it is this shared, yet universally unique experience of seeing the land, our homes, and remembering these sights with our third eyes that connects us, and that Cami is so keen to explore.
“I want people to feel more connected with the earth,” she elaborates. “I've gotten a lot of great responses from different people that are like, ‘Oh, this reminds me of my hometown’ or ‘This reminds me of when I was traveling and I hiked this mountain’, or whatever. Again, this theme of memory.”
Yet, if you were to describe the landscapes Cami creates, you’d probably do better with a poem than with a photograph of any one mountain, river, or stretch of land. Her colors boldly blur and blend together, her shapes shift with unnatural rhythm, and still … somehow, something more vital takes form. It’s abstract, sure, but it’s nonetheless universal, as if earth evaporated and all that remained was people hovering, connected only by a thread of space and time. How do people move to come together if there’s no shared land or bridge to cross?
For her part, Cami has discovered that her movements have never followed a prescribed path. Case in point, she never imagined she’d be teaching at the Community College of Denver or leading workshops at Museo de las Americas. She says, “I didn't know that teaching was something that I was interested in, at all. It kind of just came to me, and I think it's been the perfect job for me. It’s the perfect place for me to have the time to create art, but also be able to hang out with such a diverse group of students, and work with them.”
What’s that saying? Head in the clouds, feet on the ground?
It’s not a surprise to discover how much Cami values giving back to her communities, particularly when you hear her speak about her interest in ecology or the welcoming Denver art scene. She clearly posits that her success and that of others is dependent on support systems, and Cami is effusive in her gratitude for her parents’ support. “Both of my parents have always been supportive of this non-traditional career path. There was always this slight anxiety, from all of us, about following the artist’s path (Cami’s mother is also an artist and a teacher), but they've always been very, very supportive of my creative endeavors. I think they’ve seen a lot of growth for me. And so … I'm trying to shout out to them for sticking with me.”
Whether or not an artist — or even a person interested in art — has the benefit of a stable support system and a welcoming community, Cami’s work reminds us of the importance of access. She says, “some people don't feel welcome in museums and some people don't know how to interact with art.” Sure enough, sometimes all it takes to build a bridge is an outstretched arm, and sometimes those bridges become platforms, and sometimes those platforms become mountains.
So, how DO people move to come together when all they share is a thread of space and time? Perhaps they’re drawn together by moments, feelings of possibility, or a shared sense of impermanence. It’s in those vague, subliminal experiences that all of our unique details fade, the thread is cut, and the land is replaced by memories of colorful mountains becoming the clouds.
Share image also by Kalen Aquisito