In her photographs, performances and installations, Bianca Lee Vasquez forages and unravels the reverence nature holds among every living being
Bathing in the forest
The meaning of Shinrin-yoku in Japanese: shinrin as in forest and yoku as in bath, in practice, means to bathe in the forest. In studies surrounding forest bathing, immersing the body in woodland triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is at the heart of increases in contentment and decreases in cortisol, the stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands. In a study that connects green space to stress, nature is found to heal anxieties, with the absorption of an environment’s visuals and sensations causing a decline in cortisol levels.Videos of nature were shown to inspire surges of energy to finish tasks and dispel one’s stagnancy, while those who feel the wonder and awareness of nature, display a wane in their biomarker: a medical signaller that may lead to cardiovascular disease, depression, and autoimmune diseases. The biologist, Edward Osburne Wilson, published Biophilia in 1984; an exploration of one’s affinity for nature through the lens of evolution and psychology, which hypothesized that humans foster an affinity towards all life and living systems, a core in Bianca Lee Vasquez’s body of work. Vasquez works in nature, as an artist who cherishes rituals and weaves webs between flora, corporeality and the unconscious to promote and establish bonds with the Earth. «We can change our way of thinking of the living world by perceiving plants with reverence, since they heal us and they give us food to sustain life. If we consider plants, talk to them, imagine what it would be to become like them, then we can nurture a relationship with them, and nature».
Lampoon in talks with Bianca Lee Vasquez
The International Union of Geological Sciences, the organization that helms the definition of the Earth’s epochs and time scales, declared Holocene, as the present epoch, starting from the ice age 11,700 years ago. When human activities impacted the planet’s climate and ecosystems, the epoch welcomed the entrance of Anthropocene, the combination of the Greek words anthropo, as in man, and cene, as in new: a term popularized, in 2000, by Eugene Stoermer, alimnologist and leading researcher in diatoms, and Paul Crutzen, a chemist and a Nobel laureate. The Anthropocene Working Group acknowledged the commencement of Anthropocene in 1950 at the Great Acceleration; the influence of human’s imprint on the atmosphere, oceans, coastal zones and land. At the 2015 Great Acceleration of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, it was demonstrated that carbon dioxide concentration had positioned at 399 ppmV (parts per million by volume), an increase of over one hundred ppmV from 280 ppmV; the benchmark, as recorded in the Vostokice core. The concentration showed that the velocity of carbon dioxide had increased by one hundred times, amassed by urbanization, deforestation and pollution, which accelerate global warming and rock the state of the Earth. To record these fluctuations in the health of the planet and the essence of the environment, Vasquez employs photography, installations and performance to conduct the Anthropocene; dismissing the verb, to sustain, in sustainability as an embodiment of her venture. «I advocate for the Anthropocene, as it moves beyond sustaining the soft-apocalypse and ruining the planet to the point of no return. It exhibits changes that imbibe radicalism».
Trees Do Bleed
The 2015 compendium by Vasquez, who was born in the United States but whose family originates from Cuba and Ecuador and now lives in Paris, affords a view of the forests in Miami, Florida. In Trees Do Bleed, Vasquez splashes a red pigment, the impression of ochre, along the bark of tree trunks to manipulate the vision of life and blood in the wounds of the trees, to underscore the existence of trees as beings of life. Ilga Zagorska, a researcher at the Institute of Latvian History at the University of Latvia, identifies the symbols of ochre – a compound of hydrated iron oxide which has distinctions of red, yellow, brown and violet – as a feature of Stone Age burials in the East Baltic, with red as a metaphor of rebirth and regeneration. Quoting Aleksei Okladnikov, an archaeologist, historian and ethnographer, and Nina Nikolaevna Gurina, a researcher, «the red color of ochre is often associated with the color of blood, the most essential substance for life, and as the blood of the dead, connected with rebirth and the afterlife it has often been associated with fire – representing light, warmth and the hearth». The continuity of interconnectedness between humans and the ecosystem persists in Axis Mundi, the Latin for center of the world, where Heaven and Earth interweave. In this compendium, Vasquez lies down on the ground to depict humans as the axis of the environment, sheltering in the nooks of tree roots, melding into their shapes as she bends her knees, stretches her legs, twists her hips and arcs her head.In 2015, Vasquez exhibited video installations in Bois de Galluis and Les Yvelines in France. In Integración, Vasquez lies down on the grassland and immerses herself in the soil, uniting with the land. In Fusion, she leans on a tree, her back to the lens; a nest surrounding the tree acts as her crown, and her arms create waves in slow motion creating intimacy with nature through her performance. «This intervention aims to heal the tree from its malignant outgrowth. Standing with the tree, feet plunging into the earth and with arms uplifted rotating to the sky. I become a point where Heaven and Earth merge and universal healing can occur. These interventions intend to unite sky with tree, tree with human and human with earth». Wayne K. Clatterbuck, an Associate Professor of Forestry, Wildlife & Fishery at the University of Tennessee, reports how tree wounds break the tree’s bark, damage its food and water conducting tissue, infect it with fungi and bacteria, cause discoloration and decay its wood, which, in turn, weakens its stems and shortens its life. There a two responses to these wounds: the tree seals the wounds, not healing, but forming callus tissue around the edges of the wound, anticipating the growth of wood to hold back the spread of decay, compartmentalizing the injured tissue with the new; or the tree protects itself from the decay, as the existing wood surrounds the wound, creating barrier zones where, if the trees speeds up their boundary mechanisms, the infection localizes.
Anthropomorphic Tree Lee Vasquez
In her 2016 series, forests permeate the photographs of Vasquez. In Anthropomorphic Tree, for which she traveled to Bad Ragaz Forest in Germany, she reclines on a tree’s torso and embraces it, concealing her body and face from the lens. Her documentation of interventions with nature transports her in between La Havane and Las Terrazas in Cuba for Isla Sola, where the camera is angled to the sky, capturing Vasquez in a black suit, with her arms and head raised before the tree. In Webmaking Ritual I, yarns crisscross ensnaring Vasquez in the triangular formation of the trees in Centrale Fies residency in Dro, a town in Trentino in Italy. In 2017, this series extends to Webmaking Ritual II as she wreathes cloth around the pillars of trees in Jardins du Palais Royal in Paris, for the Carré Latin Festival, where she wanders the walkway, braids her hair with the end of the cloth, spreads and ties her arms with the cloth, closes her eyes and raises her head as part of her performance and installation. The following work discerns a dress made of wooden limbs and copper, with a white collar that reads Tree Dress, her piece for Nouvelle Collection Paris at Les Beaux Arts de Paris in France. «Mindfulness of our bond with nature may take place as we walk in the woods, witnessing how our surroundings take the form of life. We may sit beside a tree, knowing that this living being also breathes oxygen, reaching out with a sensibility of appreciation to the nature that gives life».
Baptism in Christianity
In Christianity, baptism identifies with Jesus Christ, his death, burial and resurrection, as Romans 6:4 reads: «we were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life». The ceremony involves water, as Matthew 3:11 reads, «I baptize you with water for repentance. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire», to plunge into and to rise from, as Matthew 3:16 reads, «as soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him». In Vasquez’s photographs, baptism occurs as a ceremony that helms her Amazonas Series, in the Rio Negro. This region of the Amazon sprawls across Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana with a landscape of 1.4 billion acres of forestry, half of the Earth’s remaining tropical forests, 4,100 miles of winding rivers, and 2.6 million square miles in the Amazon basin; making up about forty percent of South America. The Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) has partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature, Brazilian Biodiversity Fund, German Development Bank, Global Environment Facility and World Bank to protect the Amazon through an initiative that lasted for ten years. By 2008, ARPA had created 25.3 million hectares of parks and reserves while, from 2009 to 2012, it expanded to another twenty million hectares of land, now under its authority and protection. Amidst the conservation, infrastructures develop, soy monoculture and cattle ranching persevere, practices of culture dissipate, and mineral and hydraulic exploitation remains. Besides global warming, ‘resource curse’, where nations with developing economies and an abundance of resources have low growth in their economies and high rates of poverty, threatens the Amazon.
LabVerde Residency in Brazil
In LabVerde Residency in Brazil, Vasquez rests her body in the river, faces the sky, opens her palms, spreads her arms, closes her eyes and bathes in the water. Two videos accompany the anthology. In Reweaving Rainbows, a trunk arches to reflect the form of the rainbow. In R. Ian Harker’s study, the tree trunks curve from catastrophe,the availability of light, and soil creep, an indication of the slope instability. Downslope soil creeps have taken place if the trees resemble curved downslope, catastrophe, inclusive of snow pressure, bows the trees into sharp or gentle curves, and phototropism, the response of the organisms to light, may cause trunks to curve. Vasquez displays the soil creep in her performance as she crouches on the land, grasps the trunk, follows its shape with her palms, twisting her body as she reaches the peak of the arch, and squats back on the land as the video ends. In Ela Da Floresta, the sibling of her compendium at LabVerde Residency, Vasquez performs rituals in nature for six minutes and fifty-three seconds in five episodes. The clip introduces Yara, located at 2°57’ 37.512’’ S / 59°55‘ 12.512’’ W, where Vasquez kneels in the river, her palms on the bed and her head touching the rock before her, the water cascades and the bird chirp, and she rises from her position at a slow pace, her palms and knees on the river bed and her head bowed, the representation of the nymph, siren or mermaid in the Brazilian mythology affiliated with fresh water who finds herself sitting on a rock, combing her hair and lazing in the sun, her song lures men to dive into the water and live with her. Jarina follows, located at 2°58’ 8.1156’’ S / 59°54’ 40.1436’’ W, with Vasquez in the center of the woods, dressed in her Tree Dress, the leaves beneath her feet, the sunlight passes through the branches of the trees, and she sways from left to right and vice-versa, the wood limbs of her dress follow her direction, her arms raise and wave from her thighs towards the sky, the image of Jarina herself, the goddess of Earth in Brazil. In Yemayá, located at 2°57’ 42.2172’’ S / 59°55’ 20.3124’’ W, Vasquez lies down in the river bed, the water gushes around her body and hair, her eyes closed, the sunlight passes through her face, and she opens her eyes to look at the canopy of trees above her as the atmosphere portrays Yemayá, the mother of all, the protector of the life of waters, the guardian of the moon, sorcery, self-love, fertility and healing, the mother and goddess of ocean in Santería, a religion of African origin and developed in Cuba through the community of Yoruba in West Africa, drawn from the deities of Yoruba, the orishas, and the saints of Roman Catholica, the santos. Ituana comes next, located at 2°57’ 47.9016’’ S / 59°55’ 9.0336’’ W, the point of the pines pokes Vasquez’s breast as she leans towards the spike, the portrayal of Ituana herself, the goddess of the Amazon River in the Amazon mythology, the one who feeds her children on Earth with her breasts, the watcher of the planet, the ruler of the Afterworld at the end of the Milky Way, and the guardian of reincarnation. In Jubbu Jang Sangne, located at 2°57’ 44.604’’ S / 59°55’ 28.4988’’ W, the camera angles skywards to capture Vasquez embracing a tree around its torso, squatting and rising from and to the tree as the leaves move from the gust and the sun filters through the branches, the image of the goddess of the Jurema, a sacred evergreen in Brazil, and the spirit of Caboclos, the souls of the indigenous Brazilians. In her description of the ceremonies with LabVerde Residency, Vasquez states that «This work is composed of five rituals performed in the core of the Amazon rainforest, an ultimate reservoir and refuge of integral nature. These interventions reignite goddess culture and awaken the force stemming from the union between modern woman and the powerful female archetypes. Fusing mythologies with archaeology to decipher the spirituality of culture, to explore the mechanisms by which goddess cultures lived in an age of harmony and peace with the forests and the feminine».
Laozi, a thinker in the sixth century, denotes Old Master as a language and an anthology of one’s way of life as a literature in China. After Laozi possessed the recognition of a jing,a classic, its title in the classification of literature in China turned into Daodejing, the Classic of the Way and Virtue, the Way and its Power, a proposal to the theory of just rule found in pursuit of the Way. Dao, the Way, tails the cyclicity of changes, yet one’s desire and free will steer them off from its praxis,a destruction to the harmony of balance. To practice Dao, signifies the adoption of wuwei, the non-action. To act without impulse, to live in peace, tranquility and simplicity, to act in harmony with nature, to reflect and meditate by one’s self, to live away from desire, ambition and conventions of society. In Arpa, her 2018 performance for Carré Latin, the Latin American Contemporary Arts Festival at Jardins du Palais Royal in Paris, Vasquez acts in harmony with her Tree Dress, her movement follows the tune of the harp, played by Naomi Greene, a life of peace, tranquility and simplicity, a rendition of meditation free from ambition. The study of Vasquez deepens through Plantrophoscene, the language coined by Dr. Natasha Myers, Director of Plant Studies Collaboratory and an Associate Professor in anthropology at York University, on the interconnectedness of the plants and people. In her study on photosynthetic mattering, Dr. Myers describes Plantrophoscene as a call of encounter to join with the green beings, to conspire with the plants, and to relinquish the control and abandon the mindset that humans prevail in the domain, the involution, the act of entangling, the bond between the plants and people to co-become. In her 2019 work for Galerie Z42 in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Tsaheylu, Living Sculpture, curated by Lilian Franji, Vasquez perches on a wooden stool, palms on her thighs and legs open, while braiding her sprouts from the plant on the wall, a thread between the co-existence and the co-becoming of nature and humans.
Bianca Lee Vasquez body of work
Throughout her body of work, Vasquez practices rituals through photographs, performances and installations, the imprint of Mesoamerican rituals, the value of landscape and nature and the ceremonies at topogra- phy, and the influence of Inca, the religion of the Inca civilization, the belief in objects and the worship to nature, the sun, and the deities Viracocha, the creator of the Inca, Earth, humans and animals, and the divine protector of the Inca rule, Inti, the god of the sun, Apu Illapu, the deity of rain, and Mama Quilla, the mother of the moon. While these pervade, Vasquez has turned to Greek mythology to power her art. The Charites, the goddesses of charm, beauty and fertilitycomposed of Aglaea, splendor, Euphrosyne, mirth, and Thalia, abundance, the daughters of Zeus, the father of gods and humans, and Hera, the queen of the gods, or of Helios, the god of the sun, and Aegle, the goddess of good health, evoking their affiliation to charm, beauty and Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and pleasure, and portraying the prosopopeia of beauty and grace.In 3 Grâces, a compendium of three photographs in 2020, the portraiture of the Charites, Vasquez wears sneakers, stands with two goddesses, stretches her left arm, rests her right hand on the shoulder of the goddess next to her, and poses with a smartphone in her hand and behind a forestry while the two goddesses spread out and loop their arms as one, the embodiment of mythology, humans and nature.In the Bible, the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 «now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger,rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God», the body in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 «or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in yourbody», and the divine in John 3:16 «for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life». In the philosophy and creations of Bianca Lee Vasquez, whose upbringing centered on Christianity, the flesh in her art «In the West, the influence of Christianity endures, which plays on one’s guilt. We become ashamed of our body and sexuality, but is it only that?» The body, in her photographs, performances and installations, imply «I am matter, and my body is divine. If we fail to believe that an inherent divine matter exists, this may source the roots of our problems. How can we care for ourselves and our nature if we desert seeing divinity in one another?», and the divine in her advocacy «nature does not take revenge as it requires human activity. I saturate my visual language with this consumption of solidarity between plants and trees. It restructures the social system as it honors the camaraderie and brings into the forefront what is often in the background of our lives with the living beings».
Bianca Lee Vasquez artist
Her multidisciplinary approach cuts across performance, photography, sculpture and installation to reveal contemplative interactions between the body and the natural word. Bianca Lee Vasquez’s practice being very much oriented on ritual, weaves webs between flora, corporeality and the unconscious in promotion of establishing – intangible or tangible – bonds with the land. She correlates the recovered experiences of these interventions in nature to her performative installations while mingling with various ecological, feminine, and spiritual themes.