Being Human: Interview 
with Amalia Caputo

Portrait of Amalia Caputo, 2024. Photo by ©Oriol Tarridas Photography. Courtesy of the artist.

is a Venezuelan American lens-based artist, art historian and researcher. She holds a BA in Art History from the Universidad Central de Venezuela (1988) and a MFA in Studio Art and Photography from New York University’s dual program with the International Center of Photography (1995). She is a PhD candidate at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. Her work focuses on the intersection of womanhood, nature, and feminism. She explores topics such as permeable landscapes, the natural world, photography in the digital age, historical omissions and the creation of cosmologies related to women. 

What inspires you?
Amalia: I find inspiration in the intersection of nature and our human thought and existence. The beauty of our natural surroundings sparks my creativity. I am fascinated by the complexity of human thoughts in relation to our presence in the world and the emotions they bring fuel my practice. I love reading about other people's thoughts and looking at other people's work. Music is also a big source of inspiration for me. It is kind of the most intimate experience connecting with beauty and emotions. The synergy between all these realms drives my practice—a combination of the phenomenological experience of being in the world and uniting all who have preceded us and the thoughts they’ve brought into the world.

Your work explores “being human” as “being woman”, with and of nature, and the intricacies surrounding this. I see these themes in your Sorora Mística and Entanglement series. Could you speak to how you feel like these works represent them?
Amalia: For the Entanglement and Sorora Mística series, I explore an intimate connection between the woman's body and nature. I like to focus on our role in shaping a particular order of the world and how it is organized through a different perspective. I don't want to specifically talk about a binary system but a more fluent system of thinking about and creating the world we live in.

 “Entanglement” captures the intricate interplay between our physical selves in nature and the natural world. We have consistently separated humans from nature and positioned ourselves as dominant rulers of the natural world. I evoke internal and imaginative connections that might give rise to archetypal thoughts about our shared existence with nature. The series juxtaposes human body parts or faces with natural elements, seeking to decolonize our understanding of human and nature and challenge gender norms. As women, our connection with procreation is so intricate to the process of nature. Embracing a perspective larger than ourselves allows us to acknowledge that the natural world holds collective memory. Everything is in constant flux and mutability.

Amalia Caputo, Entanglement (Algae), 2021, Archival Pigment Print.
Amalia Caputo, Entanglement (Bark I),  2021, Archival Pigment Print.

Amalia: Sorora Mística comes from a totally different strategy. Using backdrops of natural images, I create analog and digital collages initially inspired by four Engravings from 1615 that explained Cabala as the mirroring of art and nature: art is the most human of activities, and with this train of thought, we seek with it to explain the experience of being in the world, as we can also understand nature through science, medicine or healing. 

For Sorora Mística,  I reflect on how women have been systematically erased from the ordering of the world, for example, that of the figure of the wise alchemist. Alchemists were never women; it’s the idea of looking at women as reminiscent of a certain wisdom, embodying various aspects of femininity, knowledge, and as reflections of nature itself. 

I propose these fantastic arrangements of images that come from all kinds of paths. There are body sculptures that I took in France, there are Baroque and very quirky objects I find along with natural debris and personal memorabilia. These physical and analogical collages symbolize the presence of the female body, the transfer of wisdom in response to historical misogyny.

Amalia Caputo, Sorora Mística IV, 2023, 
Archival Pigment Print.

Amalia: If I were to draw a parallel between the two series, Entanglement is about our presence in the world, and Sorora Mística is about being surrounded in and being of nature. I love combining history with nature and culture. They are always entangled, always together, always flowing. We want to think of them as separate, but they are not.

As you mentioned, nature and culture are separable. Much of your work draws on how reflecting on this inseparability is core to the human experience. And there’s something to your use of photography as medium to explore this relationship, particularly with the creation of archives and the emphasis on memory. Could you speak more to this?
Amalia: Sure. From my early days as an artist, I have been fascinated by visually uncovering how the body shapes our memories and how the world influences our psyche. In my practice, I dive into the intricate role of photography and image creation—not only as a technological tool that serves me to reflect on the humanity we share but also as a powerful instrument to reconsider our human existence and experience. 

For me, photography, for example, rather than relying on narratives as fixed structures, allows me to contemplate stories that nurture the very essence of memory-making and us acting as witnesses to our existence and makers of material culture.

Beyond technicalities, I explore the implications of photography through a feminist perspective; this prompts a re-evaluation of narratives historically omitted within the patriarchal structures. Over my 30-year career, I've wanted to amplify the voices of silent collectives, which happens to be mine, and to shine light on under looked contributions of women. 

Amalia Caputo, Sorora Mística II, 2023, 
Archival Pigment Print.

In this process, I reflect on and challenge the narratives that separate humans from nature because separating what women are, think, and do has dismembered the bigger picture of history.

Using a technological apparatus as base practice enables me to use these fractured, frozen times in space, placed on the material photograph. Through this, I can speak about this parallelism between our separation from nature and how culturally, we’ve seen ourselves(women) and have been seen from a different viewpoint. 

With my work, I try to repurpose a historically colonialist tool, the camera, as an instrument that implies a certain power struggle in the sense that it can try (by capturing images to have control, dominate,  grasp and take over fragments of the world. Yet I'm not using the camera in a documentary way. I'm using it to create visual metaphors of individual narratives evocative of what I think life is or what I want to reflect upon. In my earlier work, you will find a lot of women's bodies in places with objects, reassessing our place in the world somehow and our relations, whereas now, I'm using photography to think about ourselves as part of an omitted history and trying to insert us in it. 

In some way, you’re grappling and working with your sense of place in this larger narrative. On that note, let’s talk about “Every Being is an Island”. 
Amalia: Every Being Is an Island is a long-haul project I made throughout 2020 -21 during the pandemic. I was granted an artist in residency at The Deering Estate, a historical museum and a 420-acre protected natural space in the south of Miami. The protected area has been kept intact since 1920s for us to see and feel and learn about the testimonies of nomadic, native cultures that were passing by this area of the world, the Tequestas, Native Americans that lived here 10,000 years ago. These discoverings contradict the idea that Florida was a swamp with no history. 

Here, you can see how the land has worked and works on its own without our intervention despite the fact that humans will take care of “tabula-rasa” ing everything if there’s not another set of humans that provide certain laws that protect old, natural areas. 

I began documenting my presence in this untouched area during the pandemic, when there was a specific energy to the world, and I was in nature by myself. Those days I was reading Timothy Morton's Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) theory, understanding that Covid was kind of an OOO, taking over the whole world. It was a supernatural experience to be here with all the silence, animals, and everything that happened in the wild was so loud on how we had been silencing and trying to control nature, to stop it from growing. 

Amalia Caputo, Every Being is an Island (Water II), 
2020, Archival Pigment Print on Canvas.
Amalia Caputo, Every Being is an Island (The Deering is an Island) I, 2020, Archival Pigment Print.

I tried to ask myself what happens if my presence is kind of invisible, if I am the person that least makes an impact as I'm going through? I was reading Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception and, in parallel, looking at the Deering's photographic archive. There were the naturalist observations done by Charles Torrey Simpson and John Kunkel Small, a botanist and a photographer who well documented the lower Florida Wilds in the 1920s when the Deering Estate was being built. Mr. Deering, a patron of art and lover of nature, invited these naturalists to come over to his land to observe. I looked at these drawings and photographs, returning to nature and documenting my presence. 

Lastly, there's another part of my work that deals with the construction of visual atlases and through the advent of the digital and the capacity we have with low cost to produce a high volume of images, and reflecting on the high volume of images we're facing every day. These images that circulate are dematerialized. We are looking at them on screens. 

By compulsively reuniting and printing these images of my daily experiences through nature, on the one hand, I explore the symbolic significance of photography's progressive disappearance as material culture and reverse the speed at which we use photography. With a physical large-scale installation, your time in the exhibition can hopefully reflect somewhat your experience in nature, it soothes you, whereas the digital experience through screens might instead agitate you. It’s the idea of creating an environment filled with images as a testimony of one little person living in the world and looking at these things every day in constant change, shifting from one thing to another. 

On the other hand, the purpose was to create a photographic atlas that bear witness to its current state. It's a protected territory, but in Florida, we also have the imminent threat of sea level rise, facing the potential loss of our territory to water. 

Amalia Caputo, Every Being is an Island (Floaties I), 2020, 
Archival Pigment Print.

I took great pleasure observing the foams that appear in the water due to oxygenation, the algae that blooms and turns bright green and then dies and turns brown and covers all the surface of rocks, and then it just suddenly disappears. This is all a reflection of ourselves.  This body of work is very special for me because I had the chance to be in nature for a year and a half almost with no other contact. I made these scrolls to evoke the physical experience of scrolling through digital media. It was not a two-fold but threefold experiment: I wanted to reflect on the space where I am. I wanted to see and leave a testimony of what we have now and produce a material experience of it. In addition, I had all this context of Miami's rich history, which is still in the process of being “re-discovered” now. Florida has fascinating ecosystems: there's Pine Rocklands and hammocks, Mangrove Wetlands, dry prairies, springs, coasts and Subtropical forests—different natural environments in one place. And the Deering holds all of them in one place. 

To be in that timeless natural area —thinking about time as the ultimate construct of humans—was a great experience. I was lucky to have the opportunity to be in residence there and produce all this work. It was like a crash course on natural observation while trying to be non-invasive.

Interviewed by Esther Fan on February 13, 2024. Published on March 8, 2024.