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Claudia Bueno: The light artist from Venezuela


An artist uses light and shadows to paint visions of modern life.

THERE’S something almost primal about Claudia Bueno’s art. Perhaps it’s because we are instinctively drawn to light. Or perhaps the delicate interplay between light and shadows inherent in her works is something we instantly recognise, from dapples of sunlight shining through trees or streetlight shadows dancing along buildings.

Whatever the appeal of this artist’s work, there’s no denying that her pieces are fascinating to see. Manipulating light, darkness and shadows to create images both literal and abstract, Bueno calls her works light installations or collages. The 30-year-old light artist, who is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, has been dabbling in the art for seven years. Currently based in Kuala Lumpur, this is her first exhibit in Malaysia, which she hopes will be an introduction of sorts to her work.

Bueno says her interest in light art began when she was a fine arts student in university and did a year of study in Spain.

“I had the opportunity then to study set design and animation, and that was the key turning point for me. I was fascinated by the use of light within a space in set design, and I loved the movement of still drawings in animation. When I went back to Venezuela, I started asking, what is my language as an artist? And I went back to those elements of light, space and movement,” she explains.

The exhibition, at Wei-Ling Contemporary gallery in KL, showcases works from two series, Forgotten Cities and Extracto.

Forgotten Cities is a reflection on the ubiquitous urbanscapes that have increasingly become a part of modern life. One untitled piece, for instance, uses soft lighting and shadows to depict washing lines criss-crossing messy alleyways, with people silhouetted against doorways. Another similar piece seems both intimate and threatening, as a mother and daughter walking hand-in-hand on a street is contrasted starkly with dark barbed wire fences.

“In this series, I wanted to represent fragments of cities and the memories of places I’ve lived in. It’s about memory, and the poetry of life,” she says.

Before coming to Malaysia, Bueno says she lived in Switzerland for three years. The contrast between the cities in both countries, as well as those back home in South America, she says, informed much of her work.

“In Malaysia, I was able to visit cities that tell stories of the past, whereas in Switzerland, everything was so clean and perfect and well-maintained. The cities in South-East Asia remind me of places back home, in that there is a certain lack of polish and maintenance that tell tales of their own history. My main theme is cities that are allowed to age, that are a testimony of time.”

One piece, Forgotten City III, is a culmination of these various influences. A delicate collage of familiar city images – electric lines, a woman cycling, chain link fences, balconies, pedestrians – is made dynamic and much larger thanks to the motorised light that moves back and forth, casting different shadows on the wall. It is a beautiful example of creating movement, depth and mood by contrasting light and shadows.

The Extracto series, meanwhile, signals a departure for Bueno from the works she created in the past – the pieces in this collection were all triggered by her move to Malaysia.

“This was the first time I’ve let colour into my work, it was a big jump for me. When I moved from the grey-and-white, perfect winters of Switzerland to a developing country filled with smells, colours, sights, sounds, it was a real sensorial explosion for me.

“I wanted to let Malaysia into my art. So I started going to Chinatown (in KL’s Petaling Street), where the shops are just full of these colourful, crazy things,” she explains.

It was in one of those shops that she found her inspiration, a box filled with small glass bottles.

“The bottles led me to think about aspects like essences, extraction, labs, testing, and so on. And then, I went to East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) for the first time, where I saw first-hand the environmental impact of human activities. These two different elements came together in my mind without consciously knowing they were going to meet.”

The result is a series of works that explore the meeting point between nature and technology, albeit in subtle and surprising ways. The piece Deep, for example, contrasts organic waves in multiple shades of backlit blue with rigidly-arranged, blue-filled glass bottles (the same ones Bueno encountered in Chinatown).

Water City, which was created for an exhibition in Singapore, uses clear panels painted with blue and black and motorised light to represent a city by the sea. The diffused blue and black shadows thrown against the wall highlight the contrast between the cityscape and the sea, as well as the interplay between the two.

Natural Passage, meanwhile, is more abstract. A painted glass cylinder lit from within throws a revolving image onto the wall; it starts off in soothing shades of green, but steadily grows more dramatic as it is shot through with yellows, oranges and reds. Hypnotic, gorgeous, yet slightly disturbing, it cleverly juxtaposes nature with suggestions of damage and destruction.

“Extracto is about that subtle tension that is created when nature is caught off-guard as elements of technology are introduced. I was trying to present that encounter between pristine nature and these so-called alien elements,” says Bueno.

These layers of meaning, however, do not keep her pieces from being accessible, thanks to the sheer visual delight they provide.

“Contemporary art can be rather intimidating to people, but I find that light art is often easily enjoyed. Maybe it’s because light is so familiar to us, or produces effects that can be enjoyed visually even if the meaning isn’t immediately obvious.”

Forgotten Cities and Extracto by Claudia Bueno are showing daily, 10am to 9pm, until March 3 at Wei-Ling Contemporary (G212 and 213A, Ground Floor, The Gardens Mall, Kuala Lumpur). For more information, call 03-2260 1106 / 03-2282 8323 or visit weiling-gallery.com.

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