ALEC VON BARGEN: world sympho-pic

This portrait of Alec Von Bargen ( consists of a series of edited messages we exchanged on Facebook, by e-mail over the last four months. It was very much an “art on the go” experience as Alec was constantly on the move: traveling to shoot in Asia, traveling to receive an award and inaugurate an exhibition of his work in Colorado, then back to Mexico, now in Iceland, the UK and Italy, traveling, traveling… He claims to recover from his intense work schedule in Akumal, Mexico, but this winter, even Akumal has become an epicentre of his activities with the launch of ONDARTE (, the second artist residency he founded.





From to , 30th December 11:48pm , SUBJECT: too many FB messages – where shall we start?

Hi Alec! Just saw the most extraordinary documentary on Albert Kahn (“The wonderful world of Albert Kahn” ) and his project called “Archives de la Planète”. The pictures and movies he commissioned about a century ago to document the world are mind-blowing: they sketch a world where it seems there was more understanding for human diversity than there is today (Jews and Arabs living together in Jerusalem, Macedonia and its incredible mix of nationalities, men and women – without a veil! – working together in the Moroccan fields, etc.). It gave me the curious impression that the many conventions and declarations proclaiming understanding and equality among people nowadays have become symbolic by entering into force when they used to lived upon before. What really stroke me too, was that some of these “Archives de la Planète” pictures of Asia, of Cambodia in particular, reminded me of yours… Is Asia eternal? Why so much Asia in your work by the way? to, 6th January 9:52pm, SUBJECT: RE: too many FB messages – where shall we start?



Hi dearest! It’s fun you mention Albert Kahn as I was looking over a book containing information on his work recently. He certainly had vision and passion when he commissioned that documentation work – he must have born with an inexplicable wanderlust, an infuriating curiosity, and above all, a desire for continuous growth, the type of growth that can only come from the firsthand discovery of realities distant from one’s own -but at the end of the day, what he did was precisely that: he documented the world. I’m not trying to race around the planet with the intent of merely encapsulating our world in a series of snapshots. My intent is to create from the core of what I feel in a certain place, or situation. I obviously document through photography that which I’m living, but I wish to document MY world, not THE world. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all. What is out there fascinates me thanks to what it provokes in me and what it embeds in the deepest corners of my soul.



Asia…Why Asia? Because of my mother, don’t you know? She instilled a passion for the Far East long in me before I could even point it out on a map. I grew up with tales of the terraced rice fields of Bali and the gold leafed palaces of Thailand, of the perfect beauty of Srinagar and even of the original Raffles hotel in Singapore. I was her ‘little Buddha’ before I had even stepped foot on Asian soil.

I guess my attraction to Asia also has a lot to do with the fact that I can’t understand anything that’s being said around me:  I can’t read the street signs and the ingredients in the markets can still be surprisingly foreign. I love to lose myself, become anonymous and feel foreign, and Asia gives me exactly that.

I am landing in Denver. Besos, xoxo




From to, 5th January 12:10 am, SUBJECT: sympho-pic

When I first met you at ArtBasel last summer – you looked so damned gorgeous! – your photo installation resonated in my art overloaded mind like a “pixel symphony”. I created this concept just for you, you see 🙂 The people you were portraying, were immersed in their natural environment but parts of it were repeating and developing like a motive in a symphony, singling a person and her/his loneliness out, putting her/him out of time. Your work was appealing more to my musical perception than to the visual one, although it started from there indeed… Why do you photoshop people’s environment in this manner, adding dots of space and time so as to stretch their universe? Can’t they breathe in their natural environment?

From to, 10th January 11:55pm, SUBJECT: RE: sympho-pic


I never really ‘pixelize’ anything… what I sometimes do is alter the noise value of each of the images in order to reflect more accurately the imperfection of the world that surrounds not only my subjects, but also the world as I see it, but this alteration, or manipulation, or ‘pixelization’ only occurs when I feel that the final piece can be improved by doing so, or if part of the initial proposal of the series. I think it is important to punctualize that I use photography as the basis of my art but that my final proposal goes through a complex process. In my ‘portrait’ series, for example, the horizontal, broken up panels, not only represent the different stages of the instant my subject is living, but also the fragmented thought process I go through in order to arrive at the final image. I begin with one image and from it take snippets, which I can flip, stretch, mirror or even decolour, and in a way, that’s exactly what happens to us all in life: We are what you see in the moment, but that moment would not be without all the other moments that brought us to this point. I represent the present while interpreting the past and envisioning the future. I capture the moment but then I choose to find my place within that moment.

In “AIR 2 BREATHE”, there is old woman I saw in Datong, Northern China. I was seeking to represent in the most honest and



simple way, the absolute lack of space in the area. People literally live over, under, side-to-side and therefore lose the ability to respect the such ‘vital’ space we so jealously protect in the west. This lack of space, air, privacy was a reflection of the political and social situation the country has been living for what seems an eternity. The images are concentrated on buildings, overcrowded spaces and the lack of intimacy; invasion, voyeurism and the obsession of the East with the West and vice-versa; duality, suffocation and the place we each occupy as human beings. China is a country of contrasts: the old with the new, the sparsely with the opulence, the ‘in-your-face’ with the hush-hush of a society still repressed by a silent and veiled regime. The world has it’s eyes on China but at the same time the Chinese have had, and will always have their eyes, and ears, and hands, and feet, and soul all over the world.

The final installation ended up being a series of images titles ‘SOCIALIST FIREFLIES’. They are all dark images of buildings with small quantities of light illuminating only specific and strategic windows. When place in a completely dark room with painted black walls and only one tiny source of light, they truly illuminate like fireflies and it isn’t until you’re close up that you sense the claustrophobic.

I now write you from the Grand Hyatt at the Dallas Fort Worth airport where I have been stranded after delays in my departure from Denver led to my arriving into Dallas 2 hours late for my connecting flight to Cancun…. because of snow in Denver and in Dallas… Hello? Snow in Dallas?


From to, 18th January 7:02 pm, SUBJECT: man-kind?

Snow in Dallas??? That’s unique. No snow surprise on my side: I am freezing and that’s only normal being in Lapland… What’s here to warm me up…reindeers? 🙂 Getting excited with the Finnish parliamentary elections scheduled for 17th April this year. A party called the “True Finns” is raising in popularity. We have to read their lips: “no more immigrants”, “no more Europe”, “no more postmodernism”, etc. What is left after all these subtractions: a true Finn?

I can understand the issue of immigration is dividing Finns however: those countries that are patronizing others on the splendors of multiculturalism (France, UK) do not offer an inspiring example of a harmonious integration of their immigrants. You and I have been foreigners in all the countries we have lived in but the result is that we feel a citizens of the world, at ease everywhere – if we have a recipe, we should probably share it! There are of course moments when we feel from another planet (that’s human) or days when I’d wished not to belong to mankind (a society of insects would suit me better) but that’s another story: there is only one way home, meaning we belong wherever our heart and mind goes, isn’t it?



From to, 29th January 1:02 am, subject, RE: man-kind?

The more I hear about Finland, the more I think I should visit! Was it a subtle way of yours to ask me more details about the “ONLY ONE WAY HOME”… Cambodia, Tonle Sap, lake at dawn and the beauty of just one, small fishing boat sailing off into the distance. An image so relaxing it becomes haunting as it’s impossible to forget that only a few yards away there are still human remains in the hidden killing fields of the former Pol Pot regime. Can we simply sit and forget?



Over the years, I have found that many answers to the heart and soul of a country can be found in these poor, forgotten and shun societies living by the rivers and lakes in the heart of the country. I was looking to them for clarity. What I found was the answer to what the place itself gave to me. I found myself in one of the most perfect situations ever, bathed by the morning rays and natures beauty all around… and yet, I never felt quite at ease. It wasn’t until this moment that I came to the realisation that in order for me to be able to sit on that barge, daydreaming down the Cambodian currents, hundreds of thousands of innocent women, children and men had to lose their lives to one of the most senseless, sadistic massacres ever… and it wasn’t too long ago that they were still be slaughtered. I looked around me and thought of all the unaccounted for bodies still decomposing in the nearby fields, of the remains hiding quietly at the bottom of the milky lake. It changed the entire scenery for me and made me have a deeper respect for the beauty that surrounded me.


From to, 29th January 7:52 am, SUBJECT: photog

You have to know that I truly love your pic “ONLY ONE WAY HOME”. Nothing macabre in my attraction: it has painting like qualities (rendering, soft finish touch). There is this harmony between the fields (the voices) of death and the peace of the lake… Life continues, regardless. You got into the LACDA top 40 with that series (Los Angeles Center for Digital Arts ). Impressive! I also like the sound of silence of your “Everybody’s gone” that won the overall award (juror’s selection – Jurors: Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb) and an extra honourable mention (by gallery director Hamidah Glasgow) at the Centre for Fine Art Photography’s exhibition ‘BLUE’( ) … Aren’t you a painter-musician kind of photog with your snapshot camera…!!!



From to, 4th February 6:16pm, Subject: RE: photog

Photography… it is the medium in which not only I choose to express myself at the moment. Photography, being a way to document my reality and then directly include it into my proposal, makes my conversation that much more honest. I play a lot with installations, I create conceptual pieces, I add writing and I experiment endlessly with the surfaces upon which I can print my images… all of this gives me a vehicle for expression which liberates me from the accustomed two dimensional image on a wall, and makes my production possibilities endless. I am also a published playwright and have been an actor my entire life 🙂 I also produce, direct and have always been a supporter of the arts. I was even trained in classic ballet by the ex-director of the National Ballet Company of Mexico, Cuauhtemoc Najera – call me a Renaissance man, as one of my friends did, or think of myself as a passionate of the passionate who loves to create or helps others doing so – don’t you?

Besos, xoxoxo


From to, 14th March 1:54 pm, SUBJECT: Nomadic lives

Alec, the pictures of your ONDARTE residence are just scandalooooous! Are you serious about people working with that view on the beach??? Whatever, lots of love and success to you with this new project – where do you find the energy?

From to, 14th March 9:22pm, SUBJECT: RE: Nomadic lives

Thanks for your wishes, guapa! I am also the founder of MIRA (Martignano International Residency for Artists ) in Lecce, Italy on the top of ONDARTE , in Akumal, Mexico – come and have a look some time! Both residencies offer living and working spaces for artists, in pristine, inspirational places, with the goal to promote their work internationally and aid them in furthering their careers. Being an artist is never easy and what I seek with these residencies is to feed the artists’ soul with a much needed dose of ‘tender-loving-care’ and support. We organize exhibitions, produce art books, plan conferences… anything that is needed to make sure we give each accepted artist a voice in the international artistic community. In a way it’s my humble way of saying thank you I guess, a small way of giving back. Besos, xoxo



CRIMSON LULLABY from the series "CRASH-ED"

From to, 20th March 3:18 am, SUBJECT: Crush, Christ, CRASH-ED

Ciao ILLUMInato – that’s how I call the artists officially participating in the Venice Biennale this year! Are you already on your way to Iceland?

From to, 20th March 9:02 am, SUBJECT: RE: Crush, Christ, CRASH-ED

Just got in Iceland and soon on my way to London! Back to the country that inspired my “CRASH-ED” series, an ode to the hundreds of thousands of people all over the world (even though it originated as an ode to the Icelanders who deliberately crashed their vehicles in order to claim the insurance benefits) who have suffered, fallen and ‘crash-ed’ thanks to the outrageous political games being played by own power-hungry, inept leaders… I mean it: this tiny speck lost somewhere in the Northern hemisphere which was on the cutting edge of music, fashion, art, architecture, green living, etc… and frankly inspired enough trust to have several countries, almost completely, invest in a dream of stability, productivity and higher interest rates… and the world fell for it… so when the crash came, not only was it more shocking to those who had portrayed Iceland as an example to be followed, studied and applauded, but to the Icelanders themselves, who had begun to blow their own egos somewhat out of proportion, it was a wake-up to reality… and a harsh one at that. In Iceland, the ‘before’ and ‘after’ the crash are so radically opposite that it merited at least a visit. Once there I fell in love with the country and its complexities and contradictions.

Are you still there?


All pictures are Alec Von Bargen’s and are copyrighted. Text by Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti

I made a playlist mixing Alec’s likes (Damien Rice, Sigur Ros but also Selah Sue, Mahler) and what I believe could be his for you to enjoy .



Human + Being Exhibition at the Center for Fine Art Photography Colorado from 25th March 2011 to 23rd April 2011

Soncino Biennale from 30th April 30th to 21st May, Alec will be exhibiting his Crash-ed installation

54th Venice Biennale, Costa Rica Pavillon, 4th June – 27th November curated by Bice Curiger, this year the Biennale’s theme is “ILLUMInations”.


7 Responses to “ALEC VON BARGEN: world sympho-pic”
  1. hanks from th ebottom of my soul. The simple fact that you would be interested in writing this and the sharing it with youtìr world is something asmazing, I’m so appreciative. May this be just the first of many… muchos besos and gracias!!! xoxo

    • Ruxandra says:

      You are the one to thank. I am not quite sure how others artists would have felt about a portrait-interview in the form of an exchange of messages but as this is the way it happened… mucha m …(ierda) with everything so exciting coming up! And see you (your work) in Venice then!

  2. Joey says:

    Alec- I have a great deal of respect for you as a human being. I respect that in your life journey you choose to learn about “a place” by immersing yourself unobtrusively into the current and pulse that exists in the gaps of the spaces you travel. Your camera and pen provide pure documentation of the sights and emotions stirred in you and return a sense of dignity and grace to those places of struggle and loss. Your heart serves as gondolier; the gentle guide that brings the vessel of our slumber in distant ports to a common shoreline to witness this reality with you. Thank you.

  3. Ruxandra says:

    Hi Alec, just found this video about how to gain space in Hong Kong (Gary Chan’s architect cocept of “sliding rooms” quite interesting. Have a look, maybe there is a lot of AIR 2 BREATHE 🙂

  4. Ruxandra says:

    Alec Von Bargen latest photographic installations are called “Veritas Feminae” they will tour the world 2013-2015 and starting 27th July, they will be shown in Shangaï

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