Leaving the corporate world behind, talented Mexican-American artist Patricia Garcia-Gomez booked a getaway to Naxos island to relax, unwind and get the creative juices flowing.
What was meant to be a four week stay turned into three months of work and play, as Greece gave Patricia the space to create an entire physical and sensory experience at a four level monastery. The beautiful result is Earth is a she, a multi-media installation composed of video, sound and environmental theatre.
Please tell us about your work in visual media, sound and sensory immersion?
Sound and sense are very direct, and they can affect your emotions immediately, without any thought or explanation. That’s because they hold stories, memories, the ancient, everything. My work is about connection to this. An invitation. I’m interested in using sound and sensory immersion to activate the imagination, encourage people to listen deeply to the world around them, and to extend the edges of place and time.
What have been some of your favourite projects to date?
Earth is a she, which I created in Greece, is still among my most favourite. I completely immersed myself in the soul of the land and the people I encountered. Creating it was a bit like an excavation-a constant digging up of emotions and sensations, and I met people who are now close friends. I am also very excited about my newest project, Oaxaca. It is a series of intimate portraits and sensory impressions.
Where are you currently based?
I’m in East Marion, Long Island, about two hours outside of Manhattan, very close to the water. The move out of the city was, in fact, inspired by my time in Greece. I felt so good after my daily swims that I marked it on my life plan, “This is how I want to live. I want to be able to swim every day.” Where I live now backs up to the Long Island Sound, where I swim every day. It’s not Greece, but it is Greece. In essence.
When did you first visit Naxos?
I first came to Naxos in 2017, on a self-given sabbatical, after a decade of running an award-winning branding agency in New York City (and getting myself fairly exhausted). My goals were simple–swim every day, eat well, slow everything down, write, and create space for what would be next. It was not so much a vacation as it was immersing myself in a fully-engaged creative life.
Tell us about “Earth is a she.” How did it all come about?
Earth is a she is a site specific installation that I created for the Bazeos Tower, composed of video portraits, sound, and environmental theater. In the installation, video portraits are projected 8 feet high in a space that is invisibly-filled with the smells, sounds and textures of the land just beyond the space where you are sitting. When you enter the room, it may appear to be empty. Attention is drawn to sound, and then the visual begins to take presence.
The installation started to percolate in my mind on my first trip to Naxos. Not as a formed idea, but rather as a sensing. Of place. Of sounds. Of presence. The sound of the bells moving across the mountain tops enchanted me, as did the cicadas. I would drive around the island and pull over to record them.
One night, as the sun was starting to descend, I saw a shepherdess crossing a wide field with her sheep. She called them and appeared to have them in a bit of a spell. We waited for her on the far side of the field so we could say hello. She laughed with us at the spontaneous oddity of having people run up to her in the field. Have you ever had that feeling of having encountered something that will be very important, but with no information yet? This is the feeling I had when meeting Maria Makari, the shepherdess who would become the subject of the film.
I filled the exhibition room with plants and herbs from the fields Maria works in every day. The audio, created in collaboration with musician/composer Prassanna Vishwanathan, blends field recordings of Maria with vocals rendered by Prassanna. We collaborated across New York, India, and Greece until we landed on this version, which feels born of the land.
What was the vision of your project?
My vision was to honor Maria, a shepherdess, a mother, a woman who walks in deep connection to the land. She reminds us, earth is a she…. On opening night, Maria and I had the first private screening together. Never before have I felt so much responsibility for caring for someone’s story. We watched it seven times together, and she gave me the most gentle embrace afterwards.
Even though it was a very hot summer, people came to sit in the theater, and they lingered, listening in the sound meditation room. One day, someone who lives on the island walked up to me and said “you have captured the essence of the island, thank you.”
How much time did you spend with Maria?
I visited Maria in the fields almost every day. Sometimes I would stop and take a few photos, sometimes I would just wave hello and walk beside her. My goal was to get a sense of her, and also get to know the plants, smells, textures, sounds, of the land around her. The more time we spent together, the more fun and light things became. I don’t speak Greek, so we communicated with eyes and body language. One day when I was trying to ask her about her goats she invited me to join her in milking them–at 5AM! It was hard work, and dirty work, but she handled the animals with so much gentleness. You can see it in the film.
A turning point came when I realised that I only had images of Maria “in the field.” But there was something much bigger about her that I wanted to capture. I invited her up into the Tower, in the room that would house her installation. It is here that we created the large portraits that became the center of the installation. It’s as if all the work we did together was leading to this moment. We didn’t speak, we were just fully present together.
During your time in Naxos you also created ‘Call of the Naxos Moon’ and ‘Prokopios,’ tell us about those?
Call of the Naxos Moon, a sound meditation room, is about sacred space and invisible forces. Drawing on the history of the Tower as a monastery, I wanted to evoke a sense of the ancient that is present there. The room is filled with artifacts collected around and about the Tower. The vocal meditation (an ancient meditation by which one can experience the absolute “unstruck sound,” which we understand as “silence.”) was recorded in the early mornings, the time of day that the air moving through the space is most perceptible. Participants were invited to come in and to do nothing, just listen. Sitting in the room, the voices’ vibrations are felt directly through the body.
I had so much fun with Prokopios, named after the beach on Naxos where it was filmed. Using footage that I shot during my first visit to Naxos in 2017, I created a series of one-minute video triptychs that show the intersection of people’s personal and individual visits to the sea. The sea is universal in that it is powerful for all of us, but how it is powerful is intensely individual. When all these scenes collide with each other, a new timing and cadence is revealed. Some are funny, some peaceful, some absurd. I love the ambiguity. They are mini meditations.
What was the highlight in Naxos?
If I had to pick just one highlight (other than working with Maria and the other artists), it would be immersing myself in its sounds. First, the cicadas. They are an ever-present soundtrack that moves with you no matter where you are on the island. Then, the roaming goat bells. Bells that sound like waterfalls, both near and far in the distance. It’s mesmerizing. The sound becomes a part of you.
Other favorites: daily swims, discovering secret beaches, meeting local artists, driving through the winding mountain villages, getting lost (almost daily), running into daily life (especially weddings!) and being invited to join.
Where did you experience your best swim and food in Naxos?
I swam every day at Prokopios beach because it provides a long stretch of calm water–and it’s lively. My favorite swim spots , though, are the ones that you have to work harder to get to: Psili Ammos for its remoteness and Hawaii for its wildness. Things aren’t always well-marked in Naxos Greece, which lends a sense of adventure.
My favorite places to eat: Axiotissa (so fresh and bountiful- the best post-swim lunch);
Taverna I Pigi (roasted rooster and beer up in the mountains of Potamia); Paradiso (feet in the sand on the edge of the sea), Kitron Cafe Cocktail Bar (for a beautiful coffee or cocktail),and; Mitos Arternative Bar in Chalki (wood-fire pizza, fantastic hosts who know everything about Naxos, ask for Petros).
What part of Greek island life do you connect with most?
There is something ancient and untamable about Greece that really speaks to me. I could sit for hours listening to the cicadas, or along the sea. I recently learned the Greek word “filoxenia”– the love of strangers and an eagerness to show hospitality. Everything I experienced shows this to be true. This is the heart of it.
Do you plan on travelling or working in Greece again and if so, is there another island or region you would like to see?
Yes! I’ll be back in summer 2021, leading a retreat that’s about re-setting, connecting to nature and self, making space to be filled up with goodness. Want to join? The global pandemic has left us all in need of a bit of restoration. No other place is as life-affirming as Greece. I would like to go deeper and farther into Greece, and see the places less visited.
*Watch the official trailer to Earth is a she here-
Main Image of Patricia Garcia Gomez taken by Patrick Hanlon ©