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Pigmenta.Lab by Natalia Venegas M.

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

Who are you?

My name is Natalia Venegas Monsalve, I was born and raised in the south of Chile between Chiloé, Puerto Montt, and Victoria (region of Los Lagos and Araucanía). I think that growing up in the south you have a particular closeness to the natural environments and the imaginary that this creates, but also my family on both sides grew up linked to the countryside and there was always a connection and learning from the land and the knowledge that it provides. Also as an only child, I spent a lot of time alone playing, experimenting, and learning from that nature. Always surrounded by herbs, greenhouses, evenings above a tree, walks through the forest, rivers and the sea, an inherited respect towards that natural knowledge was always present. I always saw my grandfather and dad working in the garden, building, and my grandmothers, mom, and aunts with their knowledge of herbs, weaving, dyeing wool.

When I finished school I came to Santiago to study. I studied art and then I became interested in illustration. Through both studies, these connections to the south and their mythology were present, from witches and sorcery to that ancestral knowledge combined with my family teachings. All these topics were my motivations for research and inventions, always trial and error. To this day, having a slightly more clearer focus, it’s what I keep doing, experimenting, and studying.

Today I don't know if my definition would be to say "I'm an art graduate", I don't think that's an identity or something that defines me. I prefer to understand myself as a constant apprentice of materials and techniques, which is what interests me... according to what I think, what you study at university is 0.1% of everything you have to learn, often you learn more from experience than from the academy. Of course, I learned, I learned a lot, but I'm still there and I'm still missing a lot.

The topics that I currently like are, as mentioned before, the study of traditional and experimental materials and techniques, illustration, and pedagogy, from which I keep on learning a lot thanks to experiences and people I have met in training, workshops, and mediation.

What are you doing?

At the moment I am in apprentice mode, studying by my own but also by knowledgeable teachers in subjects of techniques not only contemporary but from indigenous methods, also Renaissance, and from other cultures a little more distant such as the eastern ones. I am very interested in understanding the study of color, how everything originates, how they are composed and behave, or how ink or paper can be created from scratch materials. The interesting thing about this is that nature is almost always reached and in the process of understanding there are many reflections of the wisdom that exists in minerals, plants, and the capacities that one or the same has. It is not necessary to always depend on materials processed in factories with all that that implies. It is rich to buy and try good brand material, but it is much more enriching to understand and implement the materials from scratch. Personally, from time to time my head explodes when I realize that certain elements that we think of as waste can end up as a material with a force of its own. Something as simple as an onion peel, cut grass, or an eggshell. To understand that although today everything is sold ready, nature has already solved it. It is not always necessary to resort to chemicals or more expensive things, which doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy using all kinds of ready-made materials.

Specifically, in terms of production, I am making dyes from natural pigments to put them into practice in material studies, pedagogical resources and illustration. I apply them both to dye textiles (which I learned from my mother), and implement them as watercolors on different papers, aspiring in the future to extend it to other types of paintings such as tempera, oil and acrylic. For this, I test by experimenting both the possibility of colors or shades, their degrees of saturation, and studying how to achieve this from the interaction between the base pigment of the raw material from plants, animals or minerals, as well as different cooking, interaction or soaking processes in substances.

Why do you do it?

First, because I have always liked making inventions and playing to the laboratory a bit, I am curious how things behave, and how they are created and transformed in the process. But also because I feel that, being a little more critical, learning gives me a responsibility, I think that knowledge should be collective and accessible to everyone, and from a creative or artistic practice that should be encouraged much more. I believe that art and creativity are tools of freedom and healing. So I don’t agree with the mentality that not everyone can create, I don’t think that only some are chosen with superpowers because both creativity and technique are practiced and encouraged. It makes me angry when they take hours of art or any humanistic branch out of the school curriculum, or that they are seen as a hobby-like experience of last necessity. Moving away from art makes us short-sighted, routine and docile, they take away our critical capacity and takes away the right to something that, according to me, nourishes and liberates the spirit, I suppose it’s because it is effective in implementing control tools. But anyways, having the constant opportunity to learn and create from materials and techniques, I can transfer that knowledge onto whoever cannot access expensive materials, so they will know that they can create them from scratch and that they can experiment and lose the fear towards creative mistake.

What is your projection?

I aspire to understand how to activate a dialogue between art and creativity from nature, also understanding it as a necessary ritual, to know how to use the resources that are within our reach and to detoxify myself a bit from the dependence on industrial materials. It is going back to the simplest and the processes that always existed, in a much more active way. Another motivation of course is that ideally, they become shared knowledge. And in terms of productivity and economic sustenance, the idea is to continue as a workshop for techniques and materials for creative development, now much more focused on raw materials, and also to manufacture for the sale of materials such as watercolors and different pigments, as well as papers and other art supplies. I know it is a rather ambitious project and I might be light years away from knowing everything about it, but I also know that I have a passion for it and it is a necessity.

More about Pigmenta.Lab at the following link:

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