Juan Delgado, Ringing Forest in Jerwood Open Forest.
Juan is a multidisciplinary artist living in London. His introspective work explores the intimate reality of life, the inner world of cities, of different cultures, and of people. Given that art is a natural extension of the artist, we observe in each of Delgado’s projects a high degree of profound self-examination and as such, we see individuals interacting in a given milieu, be it a forest, the sea or a city, through an entirely subjective prism. Delgado typically works with photography and film. In previous projects he has used three giant screens running simultaneously to project footage of various subject matters: a fearless tetraplegic woman navigating a sailing boat down the La Mancha Canal; the relationship between an individual and the violent society (such as that in certain suburbs of Bogota) in which he lives; a fascinating study of the Palestinians and their daily struggle against Israeli occupation.
We observe in each of Delgado’s projects a high degree of profound self-examination and as such, we see individuals interacting in a given milieu, be it a forest, the sea or a city, through an entirely subjective prism.
On this occasion, Juan Delgado is one of five artists selected by the Jerwood Space in London to compete for a commission worth £30,000. The competition, called Open Forest, is a call to artists of all disciplines to explore the artistic potential of England’s forest heritage, with its incredible landscapes and diverse flora and fauna. It is an open-ended investigation into how contemporary visual artists interact with their natural surroundings.
Delgado, who comes from Murcia in south east Spain, is up against artists Adam James, Amanda Loomes, duo Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt, and Chris Watson, who is working in collaboration with producer Iain Pate. All of their entries are on display in the dedicated exhibition space at the Jerwood Centre until the 23rd February, and if you go along you’ll find everything from sculpture to film, photos and performances.
Delgado’s entry is a very personal project. It plunges its spectators into a dense, lush wood, a curious space in which the darkness forces us to advance tentatively while a flat, round screen surprises us on the floor. On each of the three walls is a photograph, each with a set of headphones attached. The large screen on the floor projects footage of plants and flowers in such microscopic detail that it’s impossible to distinguish what type they are.
Juan Delgado has a hearing condition that prevents him from hearing certain frequencies. This limitation, which has long affected him, is naturally present in his work.
The photographs, depicting trees, are meticulously thought out and evoke great aesthetic and narrative beauty; however, the light is so faint that the spectator remains unable to fully admire them. The accompanying audio is the artist’s own explanation of what this landscape represents, small narratives that ebb and flow through background sounds. But it is difficult to follow the narrative: what is happening? Why are we not allowed to enjoy the totality of the landscape, the trees, the flowers, the stories? The ambiguity is intentional.
Juan Delgado has a hearing condition that prevents him from hearing certain frequencies. This limitation, which has long affected him, is naturally present in his work. In his Open Forest entry he has chosen to immerse us in his vision of the world, and he wants the spectator to notice the difference in perspective of people living with some kind of visual or hearing impediment. This is why we are made to stop, absorbed, to question and to struggle with a desire to see everything with greater clarity.
In the artist’s own words:
There was a time when I thought that the function of art, one of its most important functions at least, was to reveal new ideas or experiences to the spectator. Although I still think that, I also feel that art need not have that responsibility. My artistic practice owes itself in the first instance to a vital need to express myself. But I don’t necessarily have to communicate anything, or to educate, or to have the public understand. My art, every project I get involved in, is nourished by all that I am as an individual, as a being that feels and is conscious in the present. Perhaps sometimes I do feel that need to reveal something new to the viewer, to an audience that has a constant expectation to be surprised and, in a way, entertained. These issues were what led me to create the video performance Who are you entertaining? in 2002. My work has an important autobiographical component and in that project I decided to put myself physically in front of the camera. I submerged myself in an inner place where memory helps me to navigate and to reconstruct a narrative that relates to a very personal (and traumatic) experience. This state of vulnerability, of exposing myself, permeates all my work and it is a conscious decision that has a very important influence on all my projects.
This project, Ringing Forest, is an intimate exploration of a condition that I have had for a very long time. The language of the forest interests me greatly; it has always seemed to me tremendously mysterious and evocative. If I win this commission, I hope to produce a multimedia piece similar to the one I have created for Jerwood Space. The commission would afford me the space and the time to continue exploring the manifestations of acoustic vibrations in relation to tinnitus and how this can be linked to the natural sounds of the forest.
Delgado’s Open Forest entry at the Jerwood Centre is well worth a visit, so head along to 171 Union Street, London, SE1 0LN. On the 13th of February, we will find out whether Juan has won this well deserved commission. Very best of luck to him!