4645+1

By: Aisha Pérez González

PRAN-
In the wake of New Year and on to new beginnings I had the opportunity of interviewing Megan Tatiana Convey Gómez, aka. @LaMeganConveyGomez on Instagram, as she traveled from Chicago, Illinois to San Juan, Puerto Rico to honor and pay homage to the 4645+1 victims of Hurricane María. This ritualistic performance intakes the toll of the 4645+1 lives lost by doing a, seemingly, never-ending sequence of Sun Salutations. Each Salutation embodies a prayer, a silent contemplation for every victim. A solemn commemoration from every place the artist visits until she has reached 4645+1. Here is our talk about her creative process, her formation and the development of “4645+1”.

Portrait of Megan Tatiana Convey Gómez by artist Lilliam Nieves as part of the documentation of her short residency in RIP SJU.

As a multimedia artist how a piece comes across through your mind?

I think that it has a lot to do with accessibility. With where I am, who am I working with and who is influencing me. For the last big body of work, I made I had a lot of ideas for what I wanted to present but the money wasn’t there. I had to make with what I had and most of the materials were collected over time. Sometimes I feel like a packrat [1] because I collect things and store them for later use to my advantage.

I was really influenced by my professor Dianna Frid in bookmaking, so I learned and liked to make books. I also worked as an assistant for collage-based artist Tony Fitzpatrick and part of my responsibilities were to cut tiny pieces, you can see that throughout my work as I do collage and nontraditional collage. 

 
Details of the cut-out process for a piece.

Although you create regarding your surroundings, how do you re-frame yourself if something doesn’t go as planned or imagined? 

 It’s important to be flexible. Fluid. Hopefully, there will be a point where I can acquire all the things that I want and make enormous pieces. But the reality is that when I did my last body of work, I was living in an attic and that was all the space that I had. So, I had to produce within that space. As an artist, you must adapt to your surroundings even in this situation. This is the first time I have traveled specifically to make work. Having to travel has encouraged me to make more performance and digital work as well because my three-dimensional work is not really made for traveling. This experience gave me the push I needed to step into performance and installation which is something I’ve been wanting to experiment with for a long time. This was the moment when I had to ask myself: When am I going to get this opportunity again? And I couldn’t pass up the chance to explore a different medium.

Megan with artist Lilliam Nieves. Picture of Lilliam Nieves as
part of the documentation of her short residency in RIP SJU.

What has inspired you recently?

A friend & fellow artist, Nancy Sánchez Tamayo, @Ladancynancy, does work around sacred spaces & necropolitics, that really influenced the performance piece I’m making now because she would do performances that were rituals. As I understood that we can take our spiritual practice and merge it with our artistic practice I knew that what I wanted to do for a long time was possible. Watching her gave me the confidence to step into performance myself as well.

What has brought you here?

I was in a bad car accident and that event made me even more conscious of my body. If you watch closely at the beginning of the performance, my right ankle doesn’t reach the ground and that one side of my body is still lifted. (While she was showing me parts of the recordings.)

All my work has dealt with the body, but I think it moved into space where it is now directly the body. Part of that was recovering from this car accident. Spending so many weeks overcompensating on the left side of my body because the other half was in pain. I am a yoga instructor, so I had to continue through this injury teaching in a cast. It went from relying on my physical body as a means to support myself, to have to go out there and teach people how to move when I wasn’t moving. So, I had to relearn and practice. As I saw myself recover quickly, I really understood the fragility of our human vessel and the importance of physical practice as a way of quickly healing yourself. Part of this performance is gratitude for my body, that my body can do this, that I’m still alive, still here and still have this physical vessel. 

Megan with her full altar in Chicago. Picture from the Instagram page of the artist.

How this performance developed?

When I got the opportunity to come here, I didn’t want to do anything political as a diaspora artist. As a biracial artist. As a white presenting artist. I didn’t want to be disrespectful. As time went on this was the only thing that I felt that I could do to honor my time here fully. So, I started the project in Chicago recording about 400 sun salutations at least.

This piece is a durational performance. It will be recorded and performed in many places as I possibly can. The sun salutation is a flow or sequence in yoga. In the traditional yoga practice, you complete 108 Sun Salutations on the solstice, equinox, your birthday or to mark other meaningful moments. Originally, my goal was to do a 108 each day that I could. After day one I understood that I had physical limitations and I would injure myself if I continued at that pace. So, I began to modify it, I decided that the minimum I could do were 27. I’m 27 years old, 27 is the fourth of 108 so it seemed fit. As the performance evolved, I understood that I needed some days to rest because this was a very emotional work. 

My goal is to do 4,645 sun salutations by the time the performance is done. Each sun salutation is to honor a life that was lost. It’s a prayer, a ritual, an energetic contribution to heal those who lost a loved one by Hurricane Maria. I was not here, I didn’t experience that firsthand, I didn’t lose any loved ones, but I respectfully want to honor the lives of those that were lost. Eventually, I will stream all the 4645 sun salutations in a long video so you can really feel the weight of that number. So, you can really understand what it took to honor every person. Also, that durationally and that time is reflective of the time that it takes to really heal, recover and regenerate and that reflects the experience that you all are having right now.



Multimedia collage on canvas. Picture from the Instagram page of the artist.

The altar is part of the installation as well. As I got older, I realized that I’ve been doing this as a child. Collecting stones, shells, feathers, money and putting them together with angels, fairies and things like that. It was magic practice that I had done before since very little I understood I was magic. I created a full altar, so it was an easy element that I could bring with me. It includes water from lake Michigan which is very sacred to the indigenous people in America. I collected that water in the full moon about a month or so before I began the project. Besides the water, there is salt for protection and sand from Puerto Rico and that is the other part of my piece. 4645+1.

That +1 is my best friend, Emory Díaz Sepúlveda, who was born and grew up here in Yabucoa. She was the one who gave me the sand from one of the last times she came to the island and I use it in the altar. She died a few years back and that was the reason I came here the last time. I also have flowers that I have bought for her birthday and hibiscus flowers from my tree accompanied by little things and stones for protection. With all of this, the work has evolved here and has evolved with what happened here. Today I have the chance to beautifully honor those lives lost but is also honoring her life. Understanding that this has helped me come to an end of a grieving cycle.

After Megan left Puerto Rico, she returned to Chicago and continues to work on the piece. There will be more places that will learn about Puerto Rico and her work, as she mourns our 4,645+1. If you want to accompany her on her journey follow her on Instagram as @LaMeganConveyGomez.

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[1] One who is unable to throw away a single thing with the most minuscule amount of sentimental value.

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