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2021 Envision Award Recipient: Nayda Collazo-Llorens

As a Michigan-based artist whose many projects and exhibitions were either postponed or cancelled during COVID, Nayda Collazo-Llorens was thrilled to find out in August 2020 that she was one of five finalists who would be part of a Stamps Gallery exhibition, Envision: The Michigan Artist Initiative.

The exhibition, supported by the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, is designed to create a platform for emerging and mid-career contemporary artists who live and work in the state. Collazo-Llorens has spent the past 11 years in Kalamazoo, Michigan and has been named the recipient of the inaugural Envision Artist Initiative award, a $5,000 cash prize.

Portrait photograph of Nayda Collazo-Llorens, a woman with gray and black hair wearing a colorful scarf

Srimoyee Mitra, director of the Stamps Gallery, explains that the goal of Envision is to recognize the power and caliber of artists living and working in Michigan.” The five finalists were chosen from 259 entries. Each of them had the opportunity to create a new work with $2,000 in seed funding and get virtual feedback along the way from Mitra and her colleagues: Joseph Rohrer (Exhibition Coordinator and Preparator) and Jennifer Junkermeier-Khan (Outreach and Public Engagement Coordinator).

The Envision exhibition is on view at Stamps Gallery (201 S. Division St., Ann Arbor) through January 22, 2022. The hope, Mitra said, is that the experience will help to bolster the artists’ work by allowing them a wider audience and greater visibility. It’s challenging to be an artist under any circumstances but the past several months where artist exhibitions have been closed due to COVID have been exceptional.” She explains that another intent of the exhibit is to inspire the next generation of artists” to continue creating work while remaining in Michigan. 

Collazo-Llorens said she was drawn to the competition not only because of the funding, but because of the chance to work with Stamps staff and have new work exhibited in a group exhibition. Artists often are siloed in their own studios, so it helped to receive feedback from the gallery staff throughout the creative process.

Even though it was all virtual, it was still a way to connect,” she said. They also provided information about the physical space of the gallery which was really important in order to design the installation for that site.” The project provided an invaluable way for her to channel her creative expression during COVID. Learning she was a finalist during the shutdown gave her a push and provided focus.”

Nadya Collazo-Llorens stands between 3 large hanging screens, where her artwork Rupturing is projected

Her winning work, entitled Rupturing, though not directly related to COVID, touches on the failed systems that impact our lives. It’s a three-channel animated video installation that came from drawings that she had been working on throughout COVID. These drawings and the work that followed became my way of coping with the situation,” she said. She uses materials like text, images and maps to explore how information is perceived and processed.

In order to explore what the process of rupturing looked like, Collazo-Llorens said she needed movement, and that led to animation. Three 10.5 feet wide screens float from the ceiling and the work is projected onto them. One of the drawings is rupturing and collapsing and all of these pieces of the drawing start flowing around the room,” she said. Her work refers to the fractured systems that are rupturing: economic, social, political and ecological, among others.

She explains that you can’t see the entire work at once. She wants those viewing the exhibit to have to move around and make sense of all the visual noise” that surrounds them. She added that though rupturing tends to have a negative connotation, it can be part of a positive transformation – something that’s necessary in order to get to a better place.”

Mitra said the clarity of Collazo-Llorens’ idea and her meticulous execution of her vision really made her work stand out.” She said the work transcended the boundaries of one medium, starting from drawings and moving to animation, while incorporating audio and sound composition – offering an immersive experience where people can stand in the middle or walk around each of the screens, making them feel like they are part of the installation.”

The jurors said that her work offers fresh perspectives of contemporary art in the age of hyperconnectivity and isolation,” providing a mesmerizing three-channel” video that explores urgent themes of collapse, disruption as well as art’s transformational potential.”

Rupturing by Nadya Collazo-Llorens: colorful shapes are projected onto 3 large hanging screens

From the moment Collazo-Llorens began taking classes at an art school in her native San Juan, Puerto Rico at the age of five, she knew she wanted to be an artist. Drawing was something that I was always doing,” she said. She studied printmaking as an undergraduate at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and continued to work on paper and canvas. But she realized she needed additional mediums to convey her messages, like moving images. That led her to explore animation and eventually video. Then one video screen wasn’t enough. 

I needed larger projections to surround the viewer.” Thinking about information overload, she also works in other mediums and collects clippings from magazines and newspapers. 

“Through my artwork, I'm not trying to depict what I see in a traditional way,” she said. “I'm not trying to represent things. What I do is explore ideas.”

Collazo-Llorens’ interest in mapping, which is a focus of her work, relates to having to navigate spaces in her personal life, being part of the Puerto Rican diaspora in between spaces – between Spanish and English and the Island and the Mainland. There’s a fragmentation that comes with trying to be grounded in multiple different spaces, she explained. All of that is definitely present in my work.”

Collazo-Llorens feels fortunate to be the recipient of an award that she believes will go far towards supporting Michigan artists. Funding the production of a work as well as providing an exhibition space and support from the Stamps gallery team, is a great opportunity,” she said. 

The next Envision exhibition will take place in 2023, with a call for submissions to activate the initiative in spring 2022. As the inaugural winner, Collazo-Llorens is eager to see how the initiative continues to develop in the future.”