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Worlds Within Worlds: Raul Romero

The strangest thing about watching this preliminary version of Raul’s video is that Ingrid, who is featured in it, is sitting here watching too, so that one has the feeling of worlds within worlds, of Russian nesting dolls. This seems right, though, for a video about ICA’s exhibition Jason Rhoades, Four Roads as you stand beside the full-scale garage sculpture.
Raul and Jill

Raul and Jill watching the rough cut of the video

I remember the day Raul shot most of the footage for this video, how we stood outside the museum waiting for the traffic to quiet so he could film the opening sequence. Ingrid rearranged the posters on her office bulletin board to look good for the camera, and Raul calmly directed her through take after take, while ICA’s communications director Jill and I played cheerleader.

Raul Romero started working on ICA’s crew as an installer a couple of years ago, at first to help set up a complicated two-channel projection on walls that came together at an angle (Gilad Ratman, The 588 Project) in ICA’s 2011 exhibition, Blowing on a Hairy Shoulder / Grief Hunters, a series of events organized in observance of World AIDS Day. The piece is a lovely amalgam of students talking and making ribbons, activists reading, and music playing, sprinkled through with shots of posters and brochures and people drinking coffee.

Before ICA, Raul worked for Democracia, a Miami-based non-profit, flying around the country making videos about various Latino advocacy organizers. He has also made videos for Philadelphia-area galleries and artists. In college, at the University of South Florida, he worked at the Contemporary Art Museum, and once helped artist Cameron Gainer install a massive sculpture of a meteorite crashing into the museum. Raul was introduced to video when the local TV station he was working for needed another cameraman, and he honed his skills shooting the university football team in action. “It was much better than working at a coffee shop,” he says. Moving to Philadelphia, Raul was mesmerized by the elevated, disused railroad tracks. “I was thinking of Robert Smithson’s Passaic walking project,” he says, referring to Monuments of Passaic. “I’d bring some friends up there and walk around. Some of the work I’d made in Florida had to do with walking.” He tells me how some of his friends put up a swing on the tracks north of Spring Garden Street, and how he started making videos up there, capturing the experience of the moment: “It was dark, but fun and mysterious.”

One of the videos is a time lapse of his friends installing a seesaw up on the tracks. For Jason Rhoades, too, he has made a time lapse, this one of the show being installed—an enormous, month-long undertaking that he’s condensed to five minutes and fourteen seconds. (Unfortunately the part showing the deinstallation of the previous upstairs show, Karla Black, didn’t make it in. I would have loved to see that extraordinary confection dissolve back into its constituent materials.)

A newer project involves footage he takes on his bike, three small cameras strapped to his helmet, creating a moody receding view of Philadelphia’s streets. He’s also been playing with Google Sky, making images of the galaxy spin in kaleidoscopic patterns.

The key to editing the Ingrid/Jason Rhoades video was finding a balance between the timing of the images and the unfolding of the information. “Ingrid has a lively style, and it was important to convey that. It was hard to give the images enough screen time but move along with the narration.”

The mood of the time lapse videos is entertainingly jaunty, and that of the piece with Ingrid is lively and smart, but the swing videos are something else altogether. The bleak geometry of chain link fences and the catenaries contrasts hauntingly with the ecstatic smiles of the people swinging. Their hair blows, and the grass and branches stir, and the swingers’ bodies swoop through the frame. In the middle of one video, Raul himself appears, looking joyful behind dark glasses. Swinging backward and forward, his brightly tattooed arms straining, his smile widens as though in awareness of exactly what it is he’s doing. Capturing time even as he shows it streaming away.

To stay up to date with all the time we’re capturing at ICA, email miranda@icaphila.org.