Hello, one and all.
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The Drongo: Today, our interview guest on The Drongo is Carla Paloma. She speaks Japanese, she's managed an art gallery, and -- until the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shutdown -- she was running VARDA, an artists' residency in Sausalito, California. As usual, I'll let her introduce herself.
Carla Paloma: I was born in 1982 in Buenos Aires to lesbian moms who loved wearing leather and a dad who was very straight, delicate, and feminine.
When I got to university, I learned that the world was pretty polarized in terms of gender and overall expectations. Then the economy collapsed. Since then, I have lived and studied in New Zealand, Japan, and Denmark.
A few years ago, I started an artists' residency in a historical houseboat in California. While it was a lot of fun, it was too much work. Today I focus on making ceramics and learning to code.
The Drongo: Operating an artists' residency on a houseboat [the Vallejo] is pure drongo -- and you did it for six years!
What was it like to start up the residency, and to keep it running? If you could run another residency in a strange environment, where would you do it?
Carla Paloma: To start the residency program from scratch was simultaneously fun, challenging, and exciting -- and, because I was creating it from scratch, most of the time I had no idea what I was doing. At the start, I was not used to living with so many random people, having a husband, or owning a cat. But, gradually, the unusual setting became familiar.
The residency chapter of my life was full of new interactions, beauty, creativity, intensity, and action. Since moving to California, I've learned numerous priceless lessons and created plenty of opportunities to grow. I think one thing that became much more present when spending time with older artists was that every day is a gift. While we can, we should try to make time for doing what brings us joy; being of service to a local and/or global community is equally important.
This lifestyle gifted me so many precious friendships and unforgettable positive experiences. I remember the first time I came to the houseboat, I learned about the Black Mountain College, where Jean Varda taught painting. Many of his old schoolmates spent time in this houseboat. How enchanting is it to live in a boat with such history?
I think the houseboat naturally tried to continue its legacy of bringing together creatives who teach one another just by being. Some of the younger artists inspired me immensely. They seemed so timeless and free — perpetual muses.
The Drongo: And although VARDA is closed for now, you still live near the seaside.
Carla Paloma: Living on the water is unique. The water birds wake me up early in the morning; I see fish swimming around the house; I see the stars at night. The water is more connected to nature. Storms and winds are much more real, too. The risk of ropes becoming undone, or poles breaking, are probably not something you think about often, right?
When living on the marsh, you need to plan your outings carefully. Tides go up and down daily, and sometimes getting home means getting wet: in the ocean to your knees, with your bike on your shoulder.
Lastly, I get a chance to pick up ocean trash weekly. Recently, I found a cassette tape from the '80s, and a silver watch from the 1950s. I call this weekly activity "modern archaeology." Of course, I also pick up sneakers, food containers, wrappings, and the latest: face masks! Do you think about where your trash ends up?
Overall, running a floating residency has been a wonderful experience — totally magical. If I were to run a new residency, I would choose a remote beach town in Peru or the North of Brazil. In such a hypothetical scenario, city people would collaborate with indigenous people, and exchange knowledge.
The Drongo: One day, when I hear media buzz about such a residency program, I'll smile to myself and know exactly whose handiwork it is.
Now I'd like to move from your role as an organizer to your own artistic practice.
Carla, you've been making ceramics for about five years. On your website you say that each piece is home to a spiritual being. Where do those spirits come from? Do individual spirits inspire you to create houses for them, or do they show up in response to your completing a piece?
Carla Paloma: The spirits are with us all the time; most of us have lost the capacity to see them. They come from co-existing dimensions. Spirits crave bodies. They show up because they want to experience this reality.
When making non-functional pottery, I do not tend to be present, and I tend to be in a meditative flow. Sometimes, I work on a piece for several hours without stopping. I forget to eat, and I do not take breaks. I tend to work best at night. I stop when my body hurts or feels heavy. I minimally glaze my sculptures. The form is the essential aspect of the art piece.
I tend to be more present when making functional pieces, because I weigh and measure them several times. With them, I think, the energy is stored when I throw on the wheel. However, the glazing stage is the most important for the personality [of the piece.]
Sometimes, my functional pieces do not wish to be too dressed up. Other times, they want brighter colors. It seems that each has its distinctive personality and age, and these are expressed through colors and textures.
The Drongo: Your ceramics are stunning, Carla. My favorite is "Head 2," though I'm also extremely fond of Mister Clay (who has his own website.)
Does the spiritual aspect of your work have anything to do with your upbringing? You're the first person I've ever met who grew up with three parents.
Carla Paloma: Maybe I won't be the last!
I had more than three parents. I also had my Armenian nanny, who took care of me from the time I was three months old. She passed away when I was nine. When I was 13, I chose a life mother called Maika — she is my favorite. I talk to her regularly.
The Drongo: Looking back on your youth, what aspects of growing up in a "non-traditional" household are most precious to you now?
Carla Paloma: Freedom of expression in a nonbinary household was too ahead of its time. I take those two aspects as the most precious because they granted me the foundations to be independent and brave.
The Drongo: Having been taught the virtues of bravery and free expression at an early age, it's no wonder you grew up to be such an exemplary drongo.
Well, I regret to inform you that we're nearing the end of our interview, but as consolation I can offer you the chance to go wild. Is there anything you'd like to show to readers of The Drongo? Perhaps I can persuade you to submit photos of your pottery studio, or to conduct psychoanalysis on Mister Clay...
Carla Paloma: I would like to share a poem that my biological mother gifted me when I was eight years old. She framed it and placed it on my wall. I wish I was better at following Borges' advice. I read this poem once a year to remind myself of what — I think — the key to a good life is. I hope you like it.
The Drongo: From the poem Carla shared:
I was one of those who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, without a hot-water bottle, and without an umbrella and without a parachute,
If I could live again — I will travel light, If I could live again — I’ll try to work bare feet at the beginning of spring till the end of autumn, I’ll ride more carts, I’ll watch more sunrises and play with more children, If I have the life to live — but now I am 85, — and I know that I am dying …
Carla, thanks so much for telling us about your artistic inspirations. We could have covered many other topics, such as how your experience learning Japanese shapes your view of language and literature, but I'll have to do the next-best thing and refer readers to you directly.
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If you aren't already subscribed to The Drongo, subscribe today to receive more interviews by email. Interview #4, with Lyla Boyajian, comes out in mid-February. She's a drongo if there ever was one, and she'll tell you what it's like to work for the US Census, live and study in Armenia, and bargain with secret societies!
2021-03-20: You're popular, Carla, and I've got proof. Drew and Alexi weigh in: