The world of video art is vibrant and continuously evolving, and few artists encapsulate this dynamic spirit as creatively as Juan Álvarez, also known as Wamoo. A Dominican-American artist hailing from New York City, Wamoo has created a unique artistic signature by blending his own footage with found clips, video games, and other kinds of videos to create a colorful and globally influenced pop art style.
In this exclusive interview, Wamoo takes us on a journey through his creative process, discussing his influences, the significance of his cultural roots in his work, and his experiences exhibiting his art at esteemed venues such as The Reef in Los Angeles, the Brooklyn Museum, and Lightbox in New York.
Wamoo also delves into the challenges and rewards of his artistic journey, highlighting the importance of perseverance, creativity, and authenticity in the realm of video art. Furthermore, he shares his insights on the intersection of art, technology, and filmmaking, envisioning the impact of emerging technologies like AI on his domain of video art.
This interview is an inspiring deep-dive into the world of an artist who is pushing the boundaries of video art, creating immersive experiences that stimulate the senses and provoke thought. Whether you’re an aspiring artist, a film enthusiast, or simply curious about the intersection of art and technology, Wamoo’s insights are sure to enlighten and insp
Q x A
- Can you introduce yourself to our readers and explain how you started your journey as a video artist?
I am a video artist from New York City. I was originally an instrumental hip hop producer until around 2012. My project We Float was getting traction from music blogs and was approached by a publicist about promoting it with a music video. I told them I had one ready and hurried onto iMovie to make one pulling YouTube clips, hahaha. I actually enjoyed that process a lot, and started investing more time into creating videos. Since then, all of my major music projects have had a visual component, including Tranquilo, the piece I submitted for Chroma.
- Your style is often described as an internationally flavored version of pop art. Can you elaborate more on this and explain what influences your art?
I like to think of my work as an extension of the pop art movement that dominated the art scene back in the 1950s and 60s with the likes of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, but it’s just now taking place 60 years later. Instead of Campbell Soup cans and Brillo Pad boxes, it’s Super Mario and Naruto. I remove pop culture materials from their original context and synthesize to create something new. The only thing is that I don’t really prioritize social commentary in my work — I like to look inward.
Growing up in the United States, we consume a lot of media and advertising, and I think it’s really easy to conflate core memories with a commercial, a video game, candy, or a music video. We get nostalgic for the things we used to consume, myself included. In a way, I’m synthesizing my experiences, my thoughts, and feelings, through a pop culture and consumerist lens.
- You are known for composing your videos by blending original footage with found clips and video games. Can you share with us your thought process behind creating these unique collages?
I really believe that everything in art, music, video games, what have you, has already been done from an expression standpoint. Technology can really make leaps and bounds in what kind of art we can make, but no amount of technological innovation will change why we create art. It’s a reflection of the humanity behind it, art is expression and everyone has lived similar experiences, such as love, anguish, and other human emotions. Collages are an opportunity to look back at all of those things that have been said and see what really resonates. It is a way of cataloguing memories and constructing a reflection of who we are and what matters to us. In short, my video collages are an amalgamation of all the things that have impacted me and my journey in this world.
- Can you talk about your most memorable project or piece and what makes it stand out for you?
In 2017, I created a video installation for my album “GOLD: a journey thru space and time”. “GOLD” was a visual album and interactive art experience that sought to envelop audiences in a unique journey of personal exploration. The journey of the film is as such: the astronaut launches into space and immediately begins to hallucinate, leading him to find that this mind is a window as vast as the external one he has just plunged into. Facets of himself are now encapsulated into many different galaxies, solar systems, and planets. It is hard to tell if what he is interacting with is real or imagined. The details of his journey are left intentionally vague to allow the viewer to input their own life experience into the journey.The installation was for an event that took place at Stuyvesant Mansion in Brooklyn. At the time, there were rarely ways to experience music visually aside from music videos and experimental pieces that were sonically unconventional. I wanted to see hip-hop and other popular sounds take up space in an interactive installation. In creating this project, my intention was to give diverse audiences an opportunity to move through a visual and sonic world with space to explore their personal experiences of fear, anxiety, and self-discovery in a supportive community environment. It was really cool to see people walk through the video, looking up and down, taking selfies, as if they were traversing a real life place.
- What challenges have you faced in your artistic journey, and how have you overcome them?
As a multi-faceted artist, the most difficult thing is streamlining what I have to offer so that it is easily digestible for people. It is also a big reason why I avoid using the term “multi-faceted” when I describe myself, hahaha. It makes it difficult to pitch myself both for music shows and for art shows, so much so that I mainly have focused on taking on visual projects more often than music, which in a way, is a blessing, as art galleries and other venues that host visual arts provide a unique opportunity to listen to music from interesting vantage points — music literally sounds different depending on the space in which it is listened to.
- You have showcased your work at various notable venues such as The Reef in Los Angeles, the Brooklyn Museum, and Lightbox in New York. How do these experiences influence your growth as an artist?
While I love the solitude that comes from creating art, I really love showcasing it. Art for me is my way of connecting with people. The smiles and conversation from audience members that come from showcasing is an experience like no other. Hearing their perspectives and how they see my work really adds value and it is what keeps me going as a creative.
- As a Dominican-American artist, how do your cultural roots influence your work?
I don’t often explore my own cultural identity in my work, given its insular nature, but that does not mean I shy away from it. When I do explore it, I like to take it to places it has never been before, such as a song and video about a Dominican snail who looks up to Chun-Li.
As an immigrant, I struggled mightily with the language barrier and mostly learned English through watching cartoons with subtitles. I believe that experience was likely central to the artistry of my work .
- Can you tell us about the film you’ve submitted to the Chroma Art Film Festival? What inspired you to create it, and what do you hope the audience will take away from it?
Tranquilo was conceived from a series of collage music videos I began releasing in 2019. These pieces were inspired by a commission I made for a Puma event, which was inspired by retro video games and 1980s/90s pop culture. Working on that commission brought back fond memories of playing Super Nintendo with my siblings and I felt the aesthetic would be fertile ground for this series. In addition to creating instrumental music and video-game collages, I wrote poems for each video inspired by feelings and experiences from my childhood. I treated the process as a collaboration with my younger self, using my skills as a hip-hop producer and video editor to make my childhood daydreams into videos. My hope with this piece is for viewers to find links with their younger selves in this piece.
The episodes, which I released in segments over 2 seasons, range in topics from spending a rainy day at home to finding courage in the face of fear to Mega Man learning how to do the dougie. The Tranquilo series became my most popular project, amassing over 10k Instagram followers since its first episode. Excerpts have been featured in art magazines including Obsidian, published by Illinois State University, and Apricity, published by the University of Texas at Austin.
- How do you see technology like AI impacting the art and filmmaking industry, particularly your domain of video art?
It makes art so much more accessible to people. It can make any regular person an artist, and experienced artists have been given superpowers. I can see it being very beneficial if it is used to augment human creativity, but my main concern is that as much as it can be a tool to streamline the creative process, removing the drag of software and skill limitations that prevent many from fully expressing themselves, it can also flood the marketplace. You’re already seeing it with the widespread adoption of Midjourney and DALL-E 2. I’ve seen people generate some incredible stuff through the use of these programs, but a lot more of it is also very bad. However, as this is a very new development, I do not yet understand what the full implications of the introduction of AI to art are just yet.
- What’s your perspective on the intersection of art, technology, and filmmaking? How do you envision their convergence impacting your future projects?
I’m already living that convergence, haha. Without a computer, I wouldn’t be able to do the work that I do, and I’m always looking for new tools to use for my projects. I would like to see how I could merge the use of old and new technology in my videos. I wonder if AI would be good to edit stuff shot on real 35mm film.
- Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring video artists who want to make a mark in the industry?
You have to be in it for the love of it to succeed. You have to be consistent even if you’re not seeing consistent results. Work on your craft, connect with people, put yourself out there. It is a marathon, not a sprint, and eventually the right doors will creak open.