Interview : Ernesto Solana

Ernesto Solana (B. Guadalajara, 1985) is a Mexican photographer based in Savannah, Georgia. He works in different mediums like photography and installation. His artistic practice is parallel to his research and explorative trips around the suburban belts of many cities in the U.S., Mexico, Northern Africa, and the Netherlands. In his images, Solana captures the consequences of urbanization, colonialism, the capacity of political abandonment and the narrative qualities that decadent objects within these environments have. Solana recently presented his solo show Taxon Drift in Non-fiction Gallery, Savannah, GA, and has been part of groups show like As to Be Inaudible at C/O Berlin, Berlin, Germany curated by Jörg Colberg; Salon ACME, in Mexico City, and Indocumentados in Guadalajara. He recently published his book titled Systema Artificialis where he explores the consequences of the “Anthropocene” and the new forms of relationship between the notions of humanity and nature. Solana studies at I.C.P. in New York and is 2018 candidate for the International Limited-Residency M.F.A. in Photography at the University of Hartford, in Hartford, Connecticut.

Untitled (1890s Ketchup Bottle)

Untitled (Footprints)

Untitled (Jellyfish I)

Systema Artificialis

This project originated from my interest in natural history and nature. During the last two years, I have been working in the East coast of the United States, doing field research, producing images, and collecting objects that address the new shapes and elements embedded in the landscape. “Systema Artificialis” considers concepts such as the tension between what is natural and artificial; the disconnect between western-minded societies and nature; and the so called Anthropocenea—the proposed term for the geological epoch in which we live today that attempts to understand humankind’s geological influence over the Earth as increasingly indivisible and irreversible.

By exploring the Anthropocene and the relationship between nature and humanity, depicting man-altered landscapes, and studying the new taxonomy that these landscapes are accumulating, I intend to blur the line between the natural and the artificial realm to envision a state of human fabrication, creating a world of fiction within our reality to question the sociopolitical practices of western-minded societies and how these practices have influenced the way the natural world is perceived and affected.

Untitled (Taxon V)

Untitled (Containership Waves)

Can you speak of your photographic philosophy and why you began your project, Systema Artificialis?

Photography for me has a correlation with exploration, there is a history of explorers documenting their finds through images. In that sense, I have been working on the East Coast of the U.S. for the past two years, in the peripheries of urban centers in coastal states, and Systema Artificialis started with the continuous practice of walking around the margins of urban zone and encountering the deep impact that human life has had on these zones—like eroded Styrofoam cups coexisting with pre-Colonial ceramics. The project also thinks about the history of science and historical forms of exhibiting objects, many established museums have a photographic archive of their own depicting the expedition where specimens were acquired, and their own collection. As an artist, these questions and directives have informed my practice, and even though you could say that photography is my main medium, I also work with installation and objects. As a more defined thing, Systema Artificialis started as my thesis project for my Hartford University MFA, and its currently an artist book designed by Estudio Herrera in Mexico City which will be part of an upcoming show this August.

Why the title, Systema Artificialis?

The title Systema Artificialis [Artificial System] is inspired by a book titled Systema Naturae [Natural System] first published in 1735 by Swedish naturalist and explorer Carl Linnaeus, which is basically the starting point for taxonomic classifications of contemporary science. By changing the Latin word Naturae to Artificialis, I’m emphasizing a state of human fabrication within the world created for Systema Artificialis. I’m interested in categories, and the process in which those categories are assigned, and I played with the idea of imagining future taxonomies in which what we consider as ‘artificial’ will one day be indistinguishable from the ‘natural.’

Untitled (Debris III)

Untitled (Goldfish)

Untitled (Rattlesnake Festival)

Untitled (Sturgeon)

The photographs have a muted, dark quality to them; taken in the vernacular of a geological / anthropological survey. How do you view your role as a photographer in this work?

I’m an avid naturalist and I’ve always felt the need to explore the natural world that surrounds me. Systema Artificialis is also dealing with my research on Anthropocene—a proposed term for the geological epoch in which we live today that attempts to understand humankind’s geological influence over the Earth. My concern with the current state of the Earth is perhaps revealed through this more subtle and symbolic imagery. I find it interesting that this space overlaps with art and science in order to explore distinct ways of representation.

The way you Photograph the current state of the Earth is rightfully dystopian. As single use containers fill the natural world, and products from China, India, Canada, the US, etc. can be found on every single continent…it’s strange to think our trash is a new kind of fossil and implicates every member of the Human race. It may be the only ‘thing’ connecting us. Your perspective on conjoining the natural and artificial world(s) is refreshingly open, and never becomes didactic. Do you believe our global economy has become in contention with the natural world? How do your photographs fit into this politically charged space fighting for the future of the environment?

Yes, you touch on a very important point. S.A. is not a project that illustrates the consequences of the current environmental crisis in the way that other photographers more related to activism, or even photojournalists, would do. S.A. studies the materiality of these objects and their relationship to new environments in a way that they almost become characters with unique stories. Some stories we can all fairly assume from our interactions with these everyday mass-produced objects, while other, more culturally charged remain opaque. The global economy, or late capitalism (to be more precise), has profited on the natural world with an uncontrollable exploitation, and there are many things that are lost. Historically speaking, there has always been a concern about the preservation of objects, yet interestly enough, late capitalism and mass-producing economies have created objects that are self-preserving. Personally, the idea of having a vital, operative connection to the natural world is one of the great loses. It seems as if a certain numbness has engulfed humanity’s capacity to react. I am aware that S.A. comes in a time where environmentalism and green capitalism are not only discussed everywhere, but also, a discourse that is being increasingly included in friendlier modes of industrial production and product consumption. In that sense, my photographs open many questions about the capacity to perceive and engage with information and materiality. I hope they also open a space to think about the way we name, select, represent and understand objects.

Untitled (Fishing Spot)

Untitled (Basketball)

Untitled (Erosion)

Untitled (Electric Outlet)

Untitled (Debris II)

What’re your plans after Hartford and where can we see the work?

After the aforementioned Hartford thesis exhibition opening August 10, I will be heading to Casa Wabi in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, for a month-long artist residency. I have two coming shows; a group show at Casa Park titled “Prima Materia” organized by Adrian S. Bara, Viridiana Mayagoitia and Ana Perez Escoto in Upstate New York, as well as a solo show at PEANA gallery in Monterrey, Mexico, to be opened in February 2019.

To view more of Ernesto Solana’s work please visit his website.