Los Angeles-based artist Carolina Caycedo has committed to issues and ideas around water as the primary subject of her art. She works with grass roots groups to protest dam-building. Her art investigates the environmental problems of damming rivers and the social consequences that follow in riverside communities. Catcedo addresses contexts and communities affected by developmental infrastructure, in particular water rights and access for under-served communities.
Born in London to Colombian parents, Caycedo spent her earliest years in England but moved to Bogota in the mid-1980s. Her family lived in a town on the banks of the Magdalena River where her father grew basil. This location gave her early exposure to the seasonal cycles of life on a river. After receiving her B.F.A. from Los Andes University, Bogota Colombia in 1999, she moved to London for several years and worked as a guard at the Tate Gallery. This was followed by seven years in Puerto Rico where she taught and worked with a nonprofit arts group. She moved to Los Angeles in 2009 and fell in love with L.A., completing her M.F.A. from the University of Southern California in 2014. She resides and works in the Chinatown section of downtown Los Angeles.
Caycedo’s artistic practice has a collective dimension to it where performances, drawings, photographs, and videos are not just an end in themselves but are also part of her research. Her work investigates assimilation and resistance as she addresses communities that are affected by developmental projects, such as the constructions of dams, the privatization of water, and the negative effects these projects have on people. She often invites the public to write testimonies or narrations around environmental memory.
She transcends institutions so that she is able to work directly in the cities and communities, where she has developed and worked on environmental projects. These cities are numerous: Bogota, Quezon City, Toronto, Madrid, Sao Paulo, Lisbon, San Juan, New York, San Francisco, Paris, Mexico, Tijuana, and London.
In an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Caycedo gave a walkthrough of her “Serpent River Book,” a 72 page accordion-folded artist book, which combined archival images, maps, poems, satellite photos, and her own images and texts on the diversity of rivers. This book gathered together the materials she compiled when she was working in Colombian, Brazilian, and American communities which were affected by the privatization and industrialization of river systems.
Her “Serpent River Book” stretched out – snake-like – over a long, winding wooden table and was situated in front of her video, which juxtaposed natural and industrial images to show the negative effects of damming rivers. She demonstrated how her book was folded into a serpent-shaped object, whose five chapters showed how channeling water affected bodies of water and tangential communities. The book itself was made to resemble a river. The first part or chapter showed the river as the main snake, part of the Indigenous Amazonian knowledge. The second chapter revealed how traditional people, those who fish with nets or who are artisanal miners, had a low scale impact on the river. The third chapter showed the impact of colonialism on the river with the establishment of dams and canals. In the fourth chapter, the dam was breaking and people were displaced because corporate power was out of control. In the fifth and last chapter the people have resisted the corporate attitudes imposed on them, and we end up with the delta image at the mouth of the river.
In Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A. 2018,” Caycedo suspended a series of fishing nets in a variety of colors in the museum’s courtyard. She acquired the nets when visiting Latin American communities that were negatively affected by the building of dams and the privatization of waterways. She filled the nets with objects collected during her fieldwork. This installation is part of her ongoing “Be Damned ” project.
Caycedo’s 2018 video “Apariciones/Apparitions” showed performance scenes featured at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. Her performers tumbled and crawled down the staircase of the Beaux-Arts mansion and romped through the property’s themed gardens. Her Black and brown dancers went through motions derived from Afro-Brazilian spiritual traditions. The performers clashed and fused with the Huntington’s massive assemblage of artworks, purchased by the Huntington family whose fortune was made at the expense of people of color: Chinese laborers who died building the Central Pacific Railroad and Latino laborers who were arrested and beaten when protesting low wages while working on Huntington’s “Red Car” system.
Caycedo has participated in international biennials including Sao Paulo in 2016; Berlin in 2014; Paris Triennial, 2013; New Museum, 2011; Havana, 2009; Whitney, 2006; Venice, 2003; and Istanbul in 2001.
Her work was recently exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Palm Springs Art Museum, the Orange County Museum of Art in Santa Ana, and London’s Serpentine Gallery. Her hanging sculptures are on exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston starting from January, 2020, her second solo show at an American institution. She has exhibited worldwide with solo shows in Vienna, Madrid, Paris, Bogota, Bergen, Santa Monica, and Berlin.