In 2021, Cecilia Araneda spoke with Cristal Buemi as part of a multi-year curatorial research project on Latin Canadian cinema. This is a brief extract of her research. The two films on this page are viewable by the public to June 30, 2021.
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Canada, Cristal Buemi is a multimedia artist that holds a BA from Ryerson University and an MA from Bau, Design College of Barcelona. While multidisciplinary by nature, (animation, video, photography, collage and digital design), her work pushes frame-by-frame boundaries by exploring the materiality and inherent beauty found in the minutia. | cristalbuemi.com
CA: Working on this curatorial research project, I’ve often reflected on the long shadow the American term “Latino” casts onto us here in Canada. To me, that term references a new emerging macro culture in the USA that is the result of the meeting of different Latin American cultures away from their origin. Being Puerto Rican / Canadian, you straddle that idea two-fold, given Puerto Rican culture is a specific Latin American culture, while also being American. Do you feel a connection to the American Latino culture, or is being Puerto Rican something that is distinct?
CB: To me being Puerto Rican is something that is distinct and unique. Yes there is absolutely an American Latino presence on and off the island, in our citizenship and even in our language. (Puerto Ricans are known to speak Spanglish). However it is only one part of the incredible mix of cultures that our Puerto Rican identity is composed of. I have grown up surrounded by Spanish, African, and indigenous Taíno influences both in Puerto Rico and later in Canada within my family. Especially when it comes to art, whether it be music, or visual work. This diversity in the culture and in it’s art has always inspired my creative outlook.
Historically, there has always been a problematic relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico. Even to this day you feel this tension between those wanting to benefit from the connection, and those feeling its negative effects too deeply to ever identify with it. So, even though I do have dual citizenship, I have never identified or connected as solely American or American Latino, but of this larger combination of many cultures.
CA: You’ve studied and often work in digital art, yet over time you have rooted your art practice in 2D animation, and specifically stop motion. You’ve described your film chair (2016), co-directed with Ludwig Camarillo, as an experimental stop motion work that reacts against conventions and one that enabled you to enter a new stage in your career. What drew you to stop motion? What techniques are you most interested in experimenting with?
CB: Although I think that my digital art background plays a massive role in who I am as an artist today, there was always a slight disconnection from its process for me. I remember the first time I ever created a simple sequence by physically moving an object one frame (photo) at a time, and then playing back the results I thought not only was it pure magic, but the process allowed me to feel connected to my work like never before. The ability to breathe life into any material, shape or form creates this limitless platform in which one can express creativity, and I was hooked. Although a tedious process at times, it is a medium that allows you to create each moment, resulting in a unique handmade visual that always stands out. Because it is so imaginative by nature it really enables you to create completely experimentally and unconventionally which are major approaches to my work.
When creating chair, I knew I wanted to make a short film that was abstract, and reflective. Playing with the idea of perception, and allowing for a versatile interpretation from the audience. Keeping the set and props minimalistic allowed for the frame by frame movement to create a rhythmic and at times hypnotic illusion that worked perfectly within the theme. This film also inspired future animated experiments that focus on texture, and natural material diversity. I always love mixing old techniques like drawing, painting, collage etc. and capturing them through new technologies or mediums like animation. More recently in my film Breathe Stretch Repeat I dived into rotoscope, which is a hand drawn technique that recreates a sequence by tracing/drawing each frame while still playing with texture. I am excited to further push frame by frame boundaries and keep using various materials and techniques in unconventional ways!
CA: You grew up in both Puerto Rico and Canada, living surrounded by Puerto Rican and Canadian family. Even though you were born in Puerto Rico, Canada isn’t a foreign place to you and you didn’t come here as an immigrant. Does consciousness of your bicultural identity affect your work in any way? When you travel to Puerto Rico as an artist, does your bicultural identity take on a different quality there, versus here in Canada?
CB: I have always struggled with a sort of cultural imposter syndrome. When someone is bicultural, at times you are made to feel like you are a watered down version of your ethnicities, making your identity complicated and weighted. There have definitely been times where I have not felt like I was Canadian or Puerto Rican enough whether it be as an individual or as an artist and didn’t feel confident that there would be an audience interested in my work.
For a long time when I would return to Puerto Rico, I was made to feel that I came from a place of privilege as a part of my upbringing was in Canada. Many artists spoke about systematic struggles that I could not relate to. But at the same time, I remember in Canada feeling the same struggle for opposite reasons. Mainly, Colonial white artists, showcasing success and opportunity in a way that I also did not feel was readily available to me, especially as I identify as a woman of colour.
As I matured, I began to understand that what made me different from others is also what made me special, my identity was what provided me with a unique voice and perspective. I finally felt grounded in this feeling and in my self worth. Inspired by my new found confidence, I decided to further explore this point of view at an artist residency on the Toronto Island at Artscape Gibraltar, followed by a residency in Miramar, Puerto Rico at Hielo Air. Through an exploration inspired by the term “Wabi Sabi” (A Japanese aesthetic celebrating the imperfections and impermanence found in nature) I gathered foliage from the respective lands and animated them bringing the beauty of uniqueness and imperfection to the forefront. This allowed me to really dive into my bicultural identity and highlight the incredible similarities and differences that both sides bring to my work. Although I have perhaps always felt more at home in Puerto Rico, it was after this experience that I finally felt more accepted and inspired within both cultures.
CA: You’ve described the importance of the material to your animation practice, where your ability to physically touch your work while making it is a vital step in your process. What are the motivations behind this working practice? Are there certain kinds of materials that interest you the most, or is this something that is open to a process of discovery? Does being at different sites (Toronto, San Juan, Barcelona, etc.) have any effect on how you work?
CB: Stop motion’s repetitive nature allows for a meditative process, and an opportunity for a tactile connection to your work like any other. Having the physical control over how your visuals look, feel and move was very important to me as a creator. It’s a real object or material, but now I have the power to recreate it in various ways, and I just love that about this medium! No two animations are identical and that unique quality is what motivates me to continue expressing myself.
When most people think of stop motion animation, they immediately think of claymation classics like Wallace and Grommit, Gumby, or Pingu. But I’ve always been interested in using materials in unconventional ways. My fascination with materiality started with various papers, and found objects and then expanded to wood. Once I started working with natural materials I knew that this was the path I wanted to continue on. I found it added a healing aspect to my work that I could not only experience in the process of creating but also share as a result. I am always open to a process of discovery and at the forefront want to have a reusable environmentally safe approach to the materials that I end up using whether synthetic or natural.
One thing is clear: my mixed media approach to my art has always been a major inspiration and a connection to my mixed race identity. This is further proved when I am working at different sites. My main creative bases are Toronto, San Juan and Barcelona. All of them have served very important roles in the development of my eclectic artist style and inspire me in different ways. Toronto represents challenge, opportunity and growth. Barcelona fills me with creative freedom, adventure and possibility. While San Juan has always felt grounding, divine and full of light.