Isabel C. Peñaranda

The Life Behind Them, 2019

Video Collage & Installation with photo contribution from Niyat Gebreab

As Toronto’s urban population grows, so does the landscape of infrastructure. In this installation, multidisciplinary artist Isabel C. Peñaranda reflects on the reality of living in close proximity to people who she has never really met.

Inspired by the sounds behind closed doors, the smell of dinner being made next-door, and by the fighting heard between families in the night, this piece reflects the admiration, curiosity, and interest for the intimate details about people we live with but do not know.

Q&A with Isabel C. Peñaranda

Q. Could you tell us about any current projects that you are working on?

A. For the past year, I’ve been working on my 4th year thesis project with my friend and fellow artist Lily Tieu Phung Diep. The project is a video-installation piece called Dissimulō. It’s basically a miniature theatre with a projection running an animation inside. Dissimulō combines Lily and my interests in installation art and experimental animation and it is conceptualized around our experiences as introverts and the energy that’s expended in order to function in spaces that ask us to be something other than what we are.

Q. Describe your project in its current state and what you’d like it’s final outcome to be.

A. Currently, Lily and I have the physical installation pretty much locked. We spent just about 3 months constructing our theatre out of wood and linen fabric. The piece is detailed with elements from Victorian-era design but painted entirely white in order to reflect a modern style and to serve as a canvas against which the colours of our animation can stand. The theatre also serves as a shadow box with linen screens constructing the walls on which scenes from the animation are played out as stationary shadows. We’ve been working very hard to integrate the style of the build and the content of our digital animation well throughout the piece so that people can appreciate the physicality of the installation as much as the projected video.

Initially, Lily and I were working to have the piece installed and finished for viewing. Right now, however, due to social-distancing we’re working on a version of the piece where the theatre exists inside a 360° world online with a portal into the theatre for the animation. It’s kind of a last-minute pivot and a bit of a rush to get that executed and also finish our animation in full. But we’re hoping something turns out.

Q. How did you reach the conceptualization of your current project?

A. Conceptually, Dissimulō kind of works to highlight a lot of the energy that people put into functioning in an extroverted, social world. Lily and I came up with the concept as we started discussing what things we’ve experienced in our years at Ryerson and what insecurities we’ve been struggling with as introverts and artists. I think the concept came about very naturally for us because it felt like an easy time to unravel a lot of the things we’re afraid of facing in new social environments outside of Ryerson. We’ve been using this project to express many of our anxieties, so Dissimulō has worked as much for us as we have for it.

Q. Are there any artists that have inspired this work? If so, why?

A. Peter Földes has been a huge inspiration for our piece. He was an incredibly talented animator and a pioneer in computer animation. And we’ve definitely been referencing his visual style and experimental storytelling a lot in our animation. His work was often conceptually heavy but visually kind of minimal and that’s a balance Lily and I are trying to achieve in our animation too. Likewise, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Paradise Institute has also been on our minds throughout the building process.

Q. Describe any challenges you have faced and any solutions that you have found to be helpful in the creative process.

A. In the creative process, for this and so many projects, I think a big challenge for me is not always having enough time. Being able to manage our time has been difficult as Lily and I try to juggle between building an installation, animating a short film, finishing our last year of school, and working. It’s never easy to find the time, but staying excited and invested in a project helps to motivate you.

Q. Have you had any success in getting your work out into the world? Do you have suggestions for other artists?

A. My biggest struggle when it comes to getting my work out there is actually just my unwillingness to share it. It might be a combination of insecurity and anxiety, but having my work seen actually terrifies me. Obviously, that’s not very reasonable or sensible for someone who wants to make art professionally. So, I think one of the most successful strategies I’ve implemented for getting my work out is to collaborate with friends and artists whose work I admire. It becomes a lot harder to hide or simply forget about the work when it’s co-created because it’s not only yours. It also makes it easier to get work out there if more than one person is dedicated to finding a space for it to reach others. And having someone to create with also makes the whole idea of being an artist in the “real world” less lonely and scary.

Work In Progress:

Dissimulō (in collaboration with Lily Tieu Phung Diep), 2019