layered tensions.

© natalia vásquez
© natalia vásquez
© natalia vásquez
© natalia vásquez
© natalia vásquez
© natalia vásquez
© natalia vásquez
© natalia vásquez
© natalia vásquez
© natalia vásquez
layered tensions - statement, 2015

Layered Tensions is a photography and mixed media installation exploring the subtle, yet powerful energies that make up our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual landscapes. Each image features a yoga pose related to one of the seven major chakras, or energy centers, located from the base of our spine to the crown of our head. In these energies, we store information about our family experiences, survival, relationships, sexuality, self-esteem, communication, vision, and belief systems. They govern our ability to trust, express our emotions, manage our egos, communicate our truths, reveal our creativity, and participate in loving interactions. Playing a major role in the development of our physical, emotional, ego, social, and creative identities, the study of these energies on a personal level leads to growth and development in all aspects of our lives. This dedicated study has the power to reveal our true selves and our highest potential. From this sacred space, we are able to realize how we are indeed, all connected. How universally, we are one. This series continues the conversation that flows throughout my entire artistic practice advocating for mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

The seven images of the chakras are accompanied by two large images devoted to meditation. One is disheveled while the other is tranquil and serene. The first, with a symbolic exposure of the heart and bronchial branches, along with an array of frantic phrases, represents an anxious internal state. It confronts us with the seemingly arduous work involved in turning our attention inwards and the importance of our breath as we face our emotions, thought processes, and physical sensations to create and maintain a state of inner calm. The other shows the spine, grounded from the base of the human seat and rising into a clear, illuminated mind. This honors the space of clarity within each of us as we reconnect to our divine selves.

Each image features a yoga pose that accesses the energies of the relevant center, accompanied by an x-ray pertaining to the location of the chakra as it meets the physical body. Rather than showing the perfect execution of advanced yoga poses, I aim to reveal the process involved in making progress in the practice of yoga and life. At the highest of times it may be blissful and energizing; at the lowest, overwhelming and filled with inner turmoil; in between, the practice may be relaxed, or possibly redundant or boring. Whatever state we’re in presents us with an opportunity for growth and a deeper understanding of ourselves and others.

With an emphasis on process in the concept, I aimed to reflect that in the formal and technical elements as well. Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in creating “perfection” that it can lead to a disturbance of our thoughts or emotions. For the first time in my artistic practice, I promised myself to enjoy every step- that if something was causing me distress, I would try a different way. I used my own sense of pleasure in creation as reference and transformed my internal experience as the pieces of this series came together organically. So in this sense, perfection was no longer a requirement in any of the layered elements from the photo shoots to photoshop, the brush strokes, taking a knife to the canvas, suturing, or writing text, to back lighting with LED lights, or even adding or removing the dirt in the installation. Everything was well planned and thought through, yet spontaneity and fun served as a guide.

Because of this, I was able to observe and transform some of my own patterns, both in creation and in life. Instead of feeding into stress or worry, I chose to respect each piece and the symbolism and depth within each image in the series. The heart chakra image in particular shows tensions at the neck, shoulders, chest, and arms, all in need of release to truly open up the heart center energetically. As a yoga guide, I want to adjust her, ‘fix’ the pose, ease her tension. As a photographer, I debated internally whether to use another image to find the perfect expression of the pose. Of all the images I could have chosen from, I decided on this one because of my own inclination to want to adjust and perfect. Reaffirming that in fact, the beauty and the lessons are in the process, in the imperfections.

In creating this work, I also had the opportunity to connect with my grandmother in a way that has strengthened my relationship to her, even after her transition in August 2015. As a symbolic depiction of layers, I’ve combined each pose with her x-rays and mixed media, and with this imagery, examine the way we accumulate, store, and release tensions in different realms of our experience. Our already powerful bond has been strengthened because of this intimate time spent with her internal physical structure that no longer exists on this plane. For years, I’d shared with her my desire to play with x-rays in my artistic practice. The timing and magic that made it come together for this series have allowed me to find deep spiritual and emotional peace in her passing. Grieving has been just a little easier.

Working with great friends in creation of these images has also been an honor. They have open-heartedly participated in the execution of images that had been floating around my mind’s eye. Their belief in my vision and willingness to be involved added fun and ease. Also, turning the camera towards myself to capture poses that have confronted me with my own deep-rooted anger, fear, rage, and sadness has been a humbling experience. By accessing stored emotional energies in my hips and pelvis in poses such as half-pigeon and child’s and the struggles of my ego in crow, I have been forced into grounding. Capturing some of the involved emotions on camera has added an immense value to the creation of this work, time spent on my mat, and all the years dedicated to photography, meditation, and healing.

In addition to the installation, I also led Meditation Sessions within the space that were intended to delve more deeply into the symbolism behind the imagery and guide participants into themselves to gain awareness of where they were in the present moment. This added interactivity to the installation as the floor was covered in dirt and the meditations took place seated directly on the soil. This was yet another layer of the installation that brought the element of earth, the foundation of the Muladhara or Root chakra, to life. It also literally provided the ‘support of the earth’ beneath participants to meditate on and then create a visual response to their experience. Where pertinent, other layers such as water, fire, and air were also included in the images. 

The significance of meditation in my practice as an artist and human being inspires me to guide people into themselves. In the past decade of meditating almost daily, a massive transformation has occurred in my life. Once a terrified insomniac, I have been able to overcome the tsunami of negative thoughts that used to bash through my mind, tame a wild anxiety and depression that consumed my daily existence, reveal and accept repressed memories, and reconnect to a healthy self-esteem. I have also explored the powerful emotions of fear, guilt, shame, grief, jealousy, anger, and sadness that had me wrapped in their tentacles from the inside out. By facing them, acknowledging their presence, and accepting why they lived within me to begin with, I was able to shine light from within the shadows of my experience. This process has given me a deep understanding of myself as well as whom and what I value and prioritize in my life.

Balance in our minds, hearts, and bodies, connects us to that space within that holds our abundant supply of love, that space that exists before trauma, pain, criticism, and abuse. We all have it in us and we all have a path that leads us there. Meditation is essential to the most terrifying, exciting, and humbling adventure we’ll ever take: the journey into ourselves. Layered Tensions is a series honoring the exploration of our internal landscapes, where we are in our process, and the innate love and creativity that resides within each and every one of us. This leads us to a broader understanding of ourselves and others, and in turn, more empathy in our interactions.

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