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Karina Aguilera Skvirsky is a multi-disciplinary artist who works in photography, video and performance. In 2010, she participated in There is always a cup of sea for man to sail, the 29th Sao Paolo Biennial, where she exhibited work from her project, Memories of Development. In 2014 she will be having solo exhibitions at Hansel & Gretel Picture Garden Pocket Utopia, NY, NY and DPM Gallery, Guayaquil, Ecuador.

She has received a Fulbright Award to go to Ecuador to complete a performative film project, “The perilous journey of Maria Rosa Palacios”, in 2015. Skvirsky’s work has been exhibited internationally in group and solo shows. She has received competitive grants nationally and has participated in numerous Artist in Residence programs.


On-site Live in Las Galerías from November 3 – December 19, 2015 & January 19 – February 13, 2016

“My work incorporates vernacular and constructed approaches to making art. In particular, I am drawn to the idiosyncrasies of memory and how personal histories intersect with politics and are contextualized by the time periods in which they are made. I research, create and perform archives slipping between record, the remembered and the reconstructed.”

A Conversation Between Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful and Karina Aguilera Skvirsky

NDER: I am glad that I visited your studio at El Museo del Barrio, as the ideas for your project part of the Office Hours (OH) residency were still shifting. Your plan then was that of photographing every building on 104th Street, much in resonance with what Ed Ruscha did when he documented Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966.

NDER: El Barrio/East Harlem, much like other neighborhoods in the city that were kept alive by new immigrants, after the white flight to the suburbs, is now the subject of drastic changes. These alterations bring to the surface issues of class and race. What does your project have to say about this?

KAS: As an outsider spending time in El Barrio it’s hard to get beneath the surface of issues of race and class. In some ways my project with its focus on architecture suggests that class and architecture are intimately tied. Gentrification is both a very slow and quick process. The visibility of glass buildings and sites under construction points to an affluent situation on the horizon. At the same time, photographic excerpts of housing projects and tenement style buildings describe the history of the neighborhood.

NDER: I find an interesting correlation between materials and gentrification. This might not always be true, but glass facades seem to point to some of those changes in a community that working class New Yorkers so much dread. What are the new building materials that you are encountering along your walks on 104th Street and in El Barrio/East Harlem in general?

KAS: Yes. Exactly I mention those glass structures above because they signal new or recent construction. “There goes the neighborhood.”

NDER: What are some of the stories that you have heard on 104th Street and how are they influencing the outcome of your photographs?

KAS: I met quite a few people in the galleries who recognized spaces that they frequent or walk by often. This is interesting to me at a psychological level. How many visual cues do we need to identify the spaces we live in and with? As I left certain icons in some of my collages, one man spoke about the Puerto Rican flag and its importance as a symbol to the community.

NDER: In your proposal, you talk about the stigma attached to public housing in New York City. The tendency has been to isolate the buildings comprised by the so-called housing projects into a modernistic utopia that pulls them out of context. How is your lens dealing with what I see as a form of architectural segregation?

KAS: Photographically speaking, I treat public housing as any other building in the series, removing those buildings from the context to think about their architecture and perhaps the promises the architects made to the community. I am not being critical of these buildings within the project but I think in photographing them we think about them and the space they use on a city block and, most importantly, the many people that live in them.

NDER: I dare to say that the average middle class New Yorker knows very little about life and community in public housing buildings. There are many misconceptions that deem certain buildings as dangerous for no reason other than their looks. Are you actually going into some of the places that you are photographing? If so, can you elaborate on this?

KAS: I photographed the buildings from the sidewalks and the public spaces within them. I think it’s interesting that public housing itself creates a physical context isolated from the neighborhood. It really is a distortion of the modernist utopia that that they were supposed to create.

NDER: Please talk about how the digital techniques that you are using serve to disrupt the stereotypes that the viewer could unconsciously project on your images?\

KAS: I think more than the digital techniques it is the analogue techniques of simply cutting and gluing down buildings right side up and upside down. I’m not going to say I am trying to aestheticize them but I am wanting the viewer to see them for the architectural choices that they represent. My project is not disrupting stereotypes and it is not about focusing on the abject or the poverty of housing construction. I think the project is about showing what is there-what we may take for granted or what we may not consider worthy of a photograph.

NDER: El Museo and El Barrio/East Harlem are so intertwined historically and affectively speaking.

Where do you see this organization in the midst of your work for the Office Hours (OH) residency?

KAS: It’s a really positive move to bring the artist(s) inside the museum to activate the museum and promote dialogue with the public. I think it stays true to the mission of the organization. 

NDER: Where do you see yourself in all of your wanderings along 104th Street?

KAS: I am an outsider, of course but I feel like I have a sense of the neighborhood. There are still signs old New York or New York from the 1960s-when waves of immigrants settled there.

NDER: What makes your project different from that of Ed Ruscha and relevant to New York City today?

KAS: I love Ed Ruscha’s project but one feels the car culture in his All the Buildings on Sunset Strip. My project is very much from the perspective and scale of a pedestrian.

NDER: There is an interactive component in what you are doing at 104th Street, and so I imagine that in photographing buildings you come across people who question what you are doing in their neighborhood and tell you stories about their places. What are your artistic strategies for allowing this interactivity to flow when you present your photographs at El Museo, and how do you plan to integrate the information that might emerge into your work?

KAS: I allow myself to talk to people and allow the process to fill up space. Rather than try to control the project it was nice to allow the project to develop at its own pace-so I could get to know the neighborhood. 

NDER: Can you name a good place to


KAS: Creperie on Lexington


KAS: with the Guys on 104th and Madison

Be alone

KAS: Along the water-I mean the East River


KAS: Along the water-I mean the East River


KAS: In the museum

Watch the sunset

KAS: facing Central Park

Talk to neighbors

KAS: 104th at 1st Avenue

Become politically active

KAS: Lexington and 104th, along 104th Street?


This interview is part of Back in Five Minutes, a residency program conceived by Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful for Office Hours (OH) at El Museo del Barrio.

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