Edison Osorio Zapata Essay by Robin Rice
Edison Osorio Zapata
Spring 2008 Fellow
“The feeling that I have when I’m speaking in English is not the feeling I have when I’m speaking in Japanese or Spanish.” A citizen of the world, Edison Osorio Zapata, a Spring 2008 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, was born in Venezuela soon after his parents emigrated from Colombia. He grew up in Australia. He lived in Tokyo for eight years working as a chef and operating Equatorial Cuisine, a restaurant with a globe-circling menu, before deciding to return to Australia to study photography and then glass. (At Sydney University he happened into the hot shop and asked “a guy if I could try it. I took a gather, blew a bubble and said, ‘This is it.’ I went to photo media and said, ‘I’m leaving.’”)
In many ways Zapata is typical of today’s peripatetic cosmopolitan artists, those who do not identify solely with one culture or base their artistic orientation on it. Nevertheless, Zapata is very interested concepts relating to racial and cultural identity and ethnically marginalized communities. American photographers Carrie Mae Weems and Glenn Ligon are among the artists he particularly admires. However, Zapata’s own focus is centered on transitional states. It’s “about trying to reach another culture and tying to be understood. It’s that arbitrary feeling about food, language, and manners. When I speak English with somebody who speaks English as a second language, my English softens.”
Recently, he says, “I’ve been looking at a building as almost like a person on some level.” In 2007 in a gesture of uniting traditional technology and contemporary, he built a section of a house (“Mi Casa – Su Casa” ) combining glass bricks and mud bricks. He made both types of building blocks utilizing his extensive background in ceramics for the clay parts. He also used a conjunction of the same bricks in two materials in the installation “Blur” in which he projected video of a moving mouth and eyes through distorting glass brick. The mud brick (an older technology) obviously blocked all communication of the video.
Zapata has clearly not abandoned photography. One series of work involves the construction of glass lenses containing low relief images and the projection of light through them to make prints which, though altered, do carry a recognizable human image from the lens.
Although glass is intrinsic to his work and cold-working has become a primary interest, printmaking, especially as it relates to language, allows Zapata to make installations incorporating paper and fibers. He engraved a series of glass cylinders resembling rolling pins or the inking roller used in lithography with children’s rhymes in Japanese (because he felt like a child speaking the language) and printed scrolls of paper. These were installed with the rollers suggesting arbitrary points in the story.
In one CGCA project, Zapata constructed surfaces sprouting sections of cane like grass or hair with the intention of projecting film through them. He likens the cane, which carries light, to the omnipresent fiber optics carrying information around the world today. The objects themselves are objects of interest: clearly hard and fixed in form but almost plush or organic in appearance, almost like aquatic creatures.
In their form properties, Zapata’s installations and other works combining media and materials echo and reinforce his cultural eclecticism. His thoughtfulness about the challenges and rewards facing individuals who move between cultures produces work that is uniquely his, growing out of his own experience, and emblematic of the state of art and all communication in today’s diverse world.