Interview with Artist Gabriela Gamboa on Her Installation “New Topographies”

When the pandemic lockdown began, Gabriela Gamboa realized that something important was missing in Miami: a mountain. Specifically, she longed for Cerro Bolívar, the mountain near her childhood home in southern Venezuela, close to the iron mines. This mountain had always given her “solace and peace.”

In search of that view and inner reflection, she conceived the idea of “installing the mountain in several places in Miami outdoors, in photography, placing it where there could be some visual relationship” to its location.

We can visit her mountain reimagined and relocated through the installation “New Topographies 25.7617° N, 80.1918 W°” at the historic Deering Estate and the Bakehouse Art Complex.

While you can visit the installation directly at the Deering Estate without a guided tour through nature, I highly recommend walking the trail with the naturalist of the historic center first. Despite not being connected to the estate's environment, the intimate relationship of the photographic installation with nature makes the journey worthwhile to awaken the senses.

A few days ago, I met with the resident naturalist, Jared Guerra, and the artist at the entrance to the Deering Estate on SW 72nd Avenue and SW 167th Avenue. My group climbed into a van and drove to another entrance by the north preserve of the estate, about two miles away.

“Be aware of the notion of perspective, proportion, dimensions, of how you see nature and light,” Gamboa said. This was her way of giving us the keys to connect what we would see on the trail with her work.

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Gabriela Gamboa walks the Deering Estate preserve.

Photo by Ana Maria Carrano

I. The Walk

We got out of the van and quickly lost our reference of being within walking distance from the busy avenues of the city. Jared showed us a turtle nest while naming some of the plants we passed. He pointed out the Florida slash pines surrounding us, telling us that the ones that lean to the west were the oldest since they had withstood more hurricanes from the east.

We continued past trees with reddish peeling bark, known as “gumbo limbo,” native to South Florida, saw leaves on the ground, and heard bird songs that sounded like other animals.

We even saw fallen logs on the side, one of which had bright orange fungi, reminding me of German forester Peter Wohlleben's reflections in “The Hidden Life of Trees,” where he explains how deep relationships exist between plants in the forest. He wrote about a tree's most important means of staying connected to other trees being a “wood wide web” of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network allowing the sharing of information and goods.

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“New Topographies 25.7617° N, 80.1918 W°”

Photo by Douglas Gomez

II. The Installation

“New Topographies: 25.7617° N, 80.1918 W°” is a photographic collage installation printed on metal panels that depict the monumental mountain at an intimate, human-sized scale. “These are massive mountains, and they come here as small mountains because they come and are shared as memories,” explains Gamboa.

The artist superimposed the prints of the photographs with scientific formulas taken from her father's notebooks when he worked as a metallurgic engineer in the mines.

If we place the coordinates of the artwork's title on a map, they will locate us in Miami, on U.S. 1.

Curator Laura Novoa describes the installation as having “compromised” source material, and the transparency and layered texture of the prints suggest that memory is opaque and complex.

The layers of the Bolívar mountain's prints made me think about the reddish peeling bark of the gumbo limbo tree. And I realized both were “changing skins” from their past.

The installation touches on themes Gamboa has frequently explored throughout her works, including exile, transit, memory, maps, poetry, and nature. Some of them include Study of Dust, a book that describes her experience of “inner exile,” and the video installation “Singular,” which she describes as a “geography” altered “through exile, transit, displacement, and memory.”

I observed the prints on the metal panels, the grass beneath the installation, and the zigzag lines connecting the chemical symbols from the bottom to the center of the images. It was like a landscape that connects and sustains simultaneously. Again, I recalled Wohlleben's mushrooms and the “wood wide web” connectivity that enables networking between everything in nature.

As Irish poet John O'Donohue said, “Connecting to the elemental can be a way of coming into rhythm with the universe. And I do think that there is a way in which the outer presence, even through memory or imagination, can be brought inward as a sustaining thing.”

And so, the landscape of this installation in the middle of the park serves as an anchor for internal sustenance, connecting memories and the environment to the world.

– Ana Maria Carrano,

Gabriela Gamboa's “New Topographies 25.7617° N, 80.1918 W°.” Through March 13, at the Deering Estate, 16701 SW 72nd Ave., Palmetto Bay; and through March 26, at Bakehouse Art Complex, 561 NW 32nd St., Miami. Admission is free.