5 Questions with artist and curator Carolina Alamilla | Pittsburgh City Paper

5 Questions with artist and curator Carolina Alamilla

click to enlarge Swim cap with ceramic flowers is displayed next to a photo of a woman joyfully wearing the cap.
Photo: Courtesy of Carolina Alamilla
Space Swim 01 by Carolina Alamilla, 2021

No one loves the summer more than Carolina Alamilla. This is evident in her ongoing curatorial project Third Floor Window, through which she projects video art for the enjoyment of passersby. From the window of her third-floor apartment in Mt. Lebanon, the native Floridian presents various works from different artists, many featuring tropical, verdant, or beachy images meant to transport local residents away from their gray, cold, Rust Belt surroundings.

Besides curating, Alamilla currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Studio Art at Washington & Jefferson College and maintains a studio in Pittsburgh. Her artistic practice is rooted in sculpture but has expanded to areas of installation and time-based media. Her work deals with the reconciliation of nostalgia tied to both personal and public spaces and how the environment impacts her sense of cultural identity.

Pittsburgh City Paper spoke with
Alamilla about growing up in Miami, swimming, creating clouds, and more.

1. Your recent work references the theme of summer. What makes you interested in pursuing this idea?

I grew up in south Florida, and so most of my work deals with memories of growing up in a tropical, multicultural colorful city, and with that comes longing. It only seemed appropriate to create about summer while experiencing my first real winter here in Pittsburgh. I longed for warmth and color during the cold season. I was thinking of the long summer days spent at the pool, and engaging enough to experience similar joy at my community pool here in Pittsburgh during the warmer months. Long summer days at the pool encapsulate many memories for me and others. I wanted to evoke feelings of play and of a "forever summer" within the work of Space Swim. Very much about creating this environment of an endless summer with some futuristic elements. 

2. A lot of your work embraces the space between memories and public spaces in the form of installations. Can you tell us about one of your memories that influence your work?

Even though I create from the personal, I think a lot about the viewer interjecting themselves within the environment. I think a lot about my childhood in Miami, having a mango tree in my backyard and knowing that every summer the tree would be filled with sweet fruit. I think about the open-air markets, seeing a variety of produce, with Latin music blaring through the speakers, and regularly going to the beach with my family. Can my work trigger a personal memory of their childhood? Or about a place they would frequent?

My installations show how I carry these places with me while within the familiarity for others to engage with.

click to enlarge Ceramic clouds placed in a grid installed on a wall painted blue
Photo: Courtesy of Carolina Alamilla
Home Sky by Carolina Alamilla, 2019

3. I especially love your ceramic sculptures of clouds. Can you tell us how you came to this cloud theme in your work?

I've made a ton of clouds! Too many to count in different iterations and materials. The main clouds exist in glazed ceramic forms. That was a big project for me during graduate school to create 50 ceramic clouds for a wall installation. The interesting dichotomy of these clouds is their weight of them. They are fragile but hold a permanent shape and live in this state of soft hardness, and they are the same every day. They refer to a postcard image or snapshot of a beach sky. If you reference anything in ceramics, you automatically add longevity to it, even if naturally it shifts and moves as clouds do. I like the permanence of fired clay. 

I saw the clouds as an interpretation of my home sky, typically seen in south Florida. A sky with many clouds with no rain to follow. Clouds are an organic form that comes in different shapes and sizes, almost like me, taking various forms, growing and changing with every new city I live in.

4. You've also worked as a curator at a number of museums and exhibition spaces. Do you enjoy art historical research or how did you come to these curatorial opportunities?

I've enjoyed curating because it challenges me creatively and logistically. Any opportunity to showcase someone else's work or process, I'll do it! So much visual art is about creating a space for others to experience the artwork. I believe the work should be seen and interacted with in a specific space and for a particular audience. In curating, I do just that.

A curator is an advocate for the artwork and artist. I enjoy the "research" aspect of curating. I get to know the artist through studio visits or interviews, become very familiar with their work, and ultimately write about how the artist’s personal life weaves into their material choice, their manipulation of the material, and eventually the final presentation of it. Letting the artist focus on the art-making allows the curator to do the legwork of applying to galleries and all other necessary planning. 

click to enlarge A building at night, where you can see into the windows
Photo: Carolina Alamilla
Work by Justin Lincoln shown in Third Floor Window

5. Can you tell us about the Third Floor Window project? How did you become a part of this?

I was initially encouraged by a cohort of other curators who had discussed non-traditional gallery spaces, ones that don't have the same formality as a white-walled gallery, can be approached casually, and at any time in the day. This thinking then led to start using my apartment window as a screen. The window faces a brewery and restaurant, a somewhat busy street corner, letting me believe I had an audience in place! 

I began this project in the winter of 2021. During the cold months, the sun sets much earlier, which gives a longer time frame for the projection to be seen. It is becoming a library of video art from artists all over the U.S. and Canada. One artist a weekend, playing their video on loop on Friday and Saturday evenings. On Instagram, I share photographs of the window and a video work sample.

Not only have I curated artists' work that I thoroughly enjoyed, but I have also been approached by other artists and discussed video work that best suits the window. Creating a space for video work to solely exist and be looked on by restaurant-goers, beer drinkers, and dog walkers. 

Third Floor Window exists to bring art to a neighborhood, to be experienced by anyone.

You can find Carolina Alamilla at carolinaalamilla.com, instagram.com/littlesoul__, or at instagram.com/thirdfloorwindow.

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