Interview: Maria Dumlao

By Jonathan Santoro and Meredith Sellers

In conjunction with Vox Populi’s September shows, we conducted interviews with the four exhibiting members to learn more about their respective practices and the driving forces in their work. Exhibitions this month include solo shows by Will Haughery, Maria Dumlao, and Jay Muhlin, and a group show of printed matter curated by Beth Heinly. There is also an exhibit at Fourth Wall, the film and video space at Vox Populi, by Joan Oh, Tutorial up through September 27.

still of Maria Dumlao's Yours As Much As Mine, 2015 two-channel video projection on latex and metallic paint variable size, variable duration (9-20 minutes)

Maria Dumlao, Yours As Much As Mine, 2015. Courtesy Vox Populi Gallery


Jonathan Santoro and Meredith Sellers: Your animation Yours as Much as Mine addresses your family’s consumption habits by presenting a looping projection of animated ads and the metamorphosis of these objects into new energies, such as butterflies and plants. Do you think this fantasy process is an indication of first-world indifference with regards to our perceived needs and the waste that it creates?

Maria Dumlao: This play of the mythology of transformation could be seen as such, but it is not necessarily a comment on indifference or a questioning of how much is enough or excessive or what is ethical consumption. I am putting myself out there to expose my consumption, and in the process I came to realize that the excess and the process themselves are absurd. I use the loop as a way to be immersed in this continuous process and to show how one can feel trapped in the cyclical nature of transformation. I intend the work to be somewhat open for the viewer to freely identify with or distance themselves from the represented objects. It’s curious how they relate to the objects in relation to class, age, family size, or lifestyle.

still of Maria Dumlao's Yours As Much As Mine, 2015 two-channel video projection on latex and metallic paint variable size, variable duration (9-20 minutes)

Maria Dumlao, Yours As Much As Mine, 2015. Courtesy Vox Populi Gallery


JS/MS: Artists like Ian Cheng and Ryan Trecartin deal with over-consumption through threatening, dystopic exaggeration and claustrophobic gallery installations. How did you come to the decision to address the topic of consumption as being an ephemeral act?

MD: I’m interested in a specific experience of light, color, patterns and sound, and I trust the viewers to formulate their own questions or conclusions based on the experience. The viewer being present in the space is essential to the success of the piece. The work is conceived of as something to be experienced as installed, and I don’t believe that it would be as effective if one were to view it through computers or mobile devices elsewhere. It’s certainly not designed to be experienced in that way. Though the images are based on downloadable files from the internet, which makes them generic and impersonal, I intend for the work to convey a mediated intimacy, where they are representations of objects directly and physically related to me that arrive at the gallery walls as aesthetic objects projected in light and color.


JS/MS: Considering both the treatment of its content and the index of imagery used in Next to Nothing, the artwork of Fred Tomaselli comes to mind. Were you considering this work when constructing this installation? What artists or authors inspire Next to Nothing?

MD: Fred Tomaselli’s paintings and collage are certainly an influence, as well as Op art (especially Bridgette Riley), Andy Warhol’s helium-filled mylar pillows, Pipilotti Rist’s immersive installations, Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document, Antonioni’s explosion scene at the end of Zabriskie Point, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, NASA’s twitter feed, GIF art, various outsider artists like Madge Gill, and shopping catalogs and pop-up ads. Influences outside of art and film also vary: Terence McKenna’s lectures and his book Food of the Gods, self-help books, William Blake and Louis CK, various documentaries on medical research of psychedelics, and random articles that get passed around via social media. Sound or music is also prominent in making the work. I considered various minimalist and rock music and sound effects that would compliment or suggest the cyclical nature of the work, as well as to set the pacing and rhythm of the movements. These include Terry Riley, Glenn Branca, Brian Eno, Alan Licht’s Bridgette O’Riley, and Mind Over Mirrors, among others.


Maria Dumlao, Waiting for the Bridge I, 2015. Courtesy Vox Populi Gallery


JS/MS: You reference spirituality and shared meaning several times in your press release. We certainly share images (such as in a Google search), but with the vast plurality in the world, do you feel there is inherently shared meaning in those images?

MD: Certain compositional elements are derived from nature, such as the movement of the blue pills imitating the murmuration of birds or schools of fish, the movement of space hardware and meteors as they converge in space, or the patterns that naturally occur in nature in the second channel of Next to Nothing. The actual images of objects, such as the ones found in Google searches, are certainly not universal. The titles of pieces, Next To Nothing and Yours As Much As Mine, are taken from a Walt Whitman poem where he talks about his experience as universal experience. I am not suggesting that my experience or the images are universal. Some of the audience may have similar habits of consumption, some claim to have better taste, some ask if I’m endorsing certain products, and some may question my place in economic class. Though I have a direct everyday relationship with the objects represented, the images themselves are impersonal and downloaded from Google searches. It is much the same way that one would peruse a catalog online, select something, and have the representation magically materialize, delivered to one’s doorstep, and then consider it to be in their possession.

Maria Dumlao, Mimesis, 2015. Courtesy Vox Populi Gallery


JS/MS: With its swimming clusters of pills, Mimesis can stand to represent our collective need for diversion and comfort through prescribed pharmaceuticals or street drugs. What are your experiences with the effects of hallucinogenics or pharmaceuticals?

MD: This is an interesting question. This brings up the question of how and why we label psychedelics as hallucinogens. “Hallucinogenic” suggests an aversion to reality and refers to having a hallucination, where we see things that aren’t really there, as opposed to a psychedelic experience, which might be an opening up, expanding to or revealing a hidden reality. Reality is subjective and malleable. Is waking up in the morning before coffee more real than after drinking coffee when one feels more awake? Or when one has a headache, does one feel more natural after taking a painkiller? Wait, what’s the question?


JS/MS: Yours as Much as Mine works almost as a digital conveyor belt of your family’s carbon imprint. Conceptually, this project could continue infinitely. What is the logical stopping point?

MD: When I’ve reached nirvana. Just kidding. After the opening night, I’ve had to switch one of the video files with additional 6 minutes of footage because I wanted to include some of the things I consumed leading up to the opening of the show, such as the sandwich I ate in the afternoon. It became this irrational goal to catalog things relevant and leading to the show at Vox. There wasn’t a time when the process of indexing my consumables was scientific or precise, so I didn’t have a clear stopping point. The installation is made specifically for the Vox show, so this phase of the work is finished, but I don’t doubt the ideas and process will continue to transform.


Jonathan Santoro is an artist working in multifaceted sculptural approaches. Born in Providence, RI in 1983 and currently living and working in Philadelphia, his work has been exhibited at Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, Woodmere Art Museum, Vox Populi, The Icebox Project Space, Bodega, Little Berlin, and Secret Project Robot.

Meredith Sellers is an artist, educator, and arts­ writer currently living and working in Philadelphia. Born in Baltimore, MD in 1988, she earned her BFA in Painting with a minor in Art History from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2010 and moved to Philadelphia to pursue her MFA in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts in 2012 at the University of Pennsylvania. She works somewhere between painting, video, and installation.