Over the course of her groundbreaking career, Colombian artist Alba Triana has melded science, intuition, philosophy, and artistry to create a fascinating body of work that is purposefully difficult to define. In her enthralling installations, which take the form of light and sound sculptures, vibrational objects, musical compositions, or oftentimes something in between, electromagnetic fields bring sculptures to life, and enthralling sound waves vibrate and dance with light, becoming visible to the naked eye.
"I come from music, and being a composer greatly influences my work. I work a lot with sound, but I also have pieces that involve other forms of vibration," Triana says. "Sometimes I define myself as a sound artist/intermedia artist because my work encompasses something bigger than just audible sound."
Triana always knew she would be an artist. Her paternal grandfather was one of the founders of the symphonic orchestra in Colombia, and on her mother's side, her grandfather was a poet. "My whole childhood gravitated around the arts," she says. She studied music composition at Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá and dedicated the initial stages of her career to composing avant-garde music for electronic and symphonic instruments.
It wasn't until she attended graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts that her practice shifted and began the course it continues to follow today. The year was 2014, and a difficult personal situation led her to spend time experimenting instead of composing music. "My work changed and adopted the installation format, which marked a big shift in my practice," the Miami-based artist recalls. The result of these initial experiments was the first piece in "Music on a Bound String," a series of works that she continues to develop to this day.
Inspired by string musical instruments, the pieces in this series usually follow a similar structure to produce visible sound. Each installation presents a string held by two points. Meanwhile, a speaker emits an inaudible signal picked up by the string, which then vibrates and reveals a restless soundwave. Luminous Phrase, 2019, a recent iteration of this series in which a noiseless soundwave interacts with blue and red light to reveal a series of unexpected gestures, is one of many of Triana's works set to be on show this year at Untitled Art.
When people encounter Triana's oeuvre, they often wonder how she arrives at such remarkable creations. "I always say, I don't know. It just happens," she says. "I think that the process of experimentation and meditation [play an important role], and also I collaborate with people from other disciplines like scientists."
This isn't to say she hasn't developed a particular system that creates space for intuition, reason, and artistry. Triana says curiosity ignites her creative process. "It's a curiosity that sometimes I can't put into words. Usually, it's related to deep questions about our humanity, how everything functions—the universe," she explains. What follows these moments are periods of experimentation in her studio, which she describes as a "creative laboratory."
There, intuition initially runs the show, although she often brings in philosophy, mathematics, physics, and other sciences to help find an answer to the questions she's exploring. Research is followed by important periods of experimentation and creativity. "When I'm experimenting, there is a moment in which I understand what I want to do, and then I just get into creative mode," she explains.
Occasionally, Triana allows herself to be surprised by the creative process, following unknown paths and respecting what the work reveals to her along the way. "One of the things that I love about art is that each work shows something to you. So I let the work manifest what it needs to manifest. And in a sense, I train myself to be a vehicle through which many things can manifest," the Colombian artist says.
Though intuition plays an important role, Triana dances delicately between instinct and reason to produce her singular creations. "When you overthink, you can be overwhelmed by rational fantasies, and when you only follow your intuition, it can [make the work] too simple." Through this dance, she seeks to cultivate different forms of intelligence in her work. "I believe art is a powerful vehicle in which humanity expresses all forms of intelligence. I think when you engage different forms of intelligence, different things get revealed to you and through you," Triana says.
Triana uses unexpected materials such as coils, needles, light, music, and electromagnetic fields in work. Of this last material, she says she is mainly interested in the fact that "we cannot hear it, we cannot see it, we cannot touch it. It allows me to explore the relationship between our tangible physical world and the imperceptible forces that govern absolutely everything."
In Delirious Fields, 2019, for instance, an installation of shiny silver spheres suspended by transparent threads engage in mesmerizing and disparate dances around spools of copper coil. The spheres' seemingly magical choreography is the product of electromagnetic fields at work. Similarly, in Entropic Ballet, 2021, another work in the "Delirious Fields" series (and is set to be on show this year at Untitled Art), delicate silver needles suspended by fishing line engage in a one-of-a-kind choreography also prompted by the electromagnetic fields Triana utilizes.
To produce these works, Triana sends electricity through a coil which emits an electromagnetic field. "I create the system and make sure I have the conditions I want, so the choreography or whatever is happening emerges from that. I create certain conditions, and then things happen naturally," she explains.
One of Triana's biggest inspirations is nature. In the past, she has been outspoken about believing human beings are not separate from nature but rather a part of nature themselves. This belief is at the center of her artistic practice. "I'm very inspired by nature. And when I say nature, I'm not talking about botany. It's about how everything functions at a very fundamental level. I'm interested in how nature self-organizes. If you see things in nature, for example, a solar system, it's not that different from an atom. And there's an order within the chaos, which is very interesting," she says.
"I feel that for many years, [most of] humanity has followed an anthropocentric paradigm in which we feel that we are different from nature. That paradigm needs to be shifted. We are a manifestation of nature," Triana explains. "Intelligence is a very powerful thing that emerges through the human being, and that is something that I have learned by doing this work. I've learned many things about our desires, how we function, and how we self-organize."
Ultimately, Triana strives to create work that induces a state of awe, and to attain this she turns to herself as a point of reference. "If the work induces something profound in me, I trust it can induce something profound in someone else. Sometimes, when I'm in the most intense of creative moments, I physically feel things like my taste buds get activated, or when I can't stop thinking about something, [I know it's because it] has stayed within. So I trust that if the work can touch me, it can touch someone else, and we can connect."
Salomé Gómez-Upegui is a Colombian-American writer and creative consultant. She writes regularly about art, gender, social justice, and climate change for a wide range of publications and she is the founder of Solar, a creative communications studio based in Miami, FL. Salomé holds an LLM from Harvard Law School. She is a regular contributor to publications such as Vogue, The Guardian, and W Magazine.