contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the Month / November 2023

Public Phones
(Series No Place)
Katia Miranda

Mixed media on canvas
50 cm x 50 cm

Katia Miranda’s collage “Public Phones” is made from assembled photos, pictures and phone books, partly painted on canvas. Almost in the centre, there are the three title-giving public phones. They are on a skin-coloured painted background, surrounded by nearly rectangle fields in bright colours or structures of seemingly wooden planks. Except for some depth, arising from the photos, the collage has no three-dimensionality. This results from the technique. However, perhaps the technique of collage was chosen by the artist due to the subject.

“Public Phones” is part of the series “No place”, which was created for the exhibition “You. Me. No Place.” in May 2023, at Proyecto Poporopo, Guatemala City. For this purpose, the curator Valeria Montes invited four artists to deal with the concept of non-place by Marc Augé. In 1992, the French anthropologist published the book “Non-lieux, introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité” (Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity). Here, the author distinguished “anthropological places” from “non-places”. The first ones are environments, where people meet and exchange. Generally, they have a history, promote social relationships and empower an identity to people. On the contrary, non-places are not historically evolved, but built for one special function in the urban space like shopping malls, motorways, railway stations and airports. They are an expression of (super) modernity, a kind of transit aera, where people stay out of necessity, where no organic life is possible and where the individual remains anonymous. Despite this segmentation, Augé emphasises that it is subjective and no value judgment: If a non-place is a workplace, it promotes social relationships and an anonymous area might give a certain liberty.

In preparation of the exhibition, the four artists (Francisco Garcia, Juan Ramón Meza, Katia Miranda and Cecilia Perez) met periodically for three months to outline and discuss the central ideas of Augé’s model. To approach the concept, Katia photographed non-places, which she frequented and printed a selection of them on matte canvas. Cut out, she arranged them with other pictures and pages of phone books. She partly painted them in order to create a dialogue between the images, shapes and forms.

The three blue bordered phones are surrounded by skin coloured painting. By the (a little bit forced) complimentary contrast between blue and orange and the centred position, the means of communication are accentuated. Moreover, the blue, grey and black of the devices, as well as their form are repeated on the canvas. All this is contrasted by yellow and red colour fields. Additionally, there are two green rectangles. One is structured and centred above the phones. It could show a fence with some trees above. Is it an outlook on nature? Do the various colours refer to the diversity of people in the place? Are the repeated panels a reference to fences or walls, which constrain to go out? Are the painted and unpainted pages of phonebooks standing for the longing to search for someone to talk with?

Notwithstanding, non-places are spaces where people stay for specific reasons, Katia created a relatively two-dimensional picture. This could be an expression for the limited social possibilities in such places. However, the central element are the public phones. Their ability to enable people to speak together, refers more to an anthropologic place in the sense of Augé than a non-place. Nevertheless, the model of public phones without cabin makes an intimate communication almost impossible since everyone around could listen to it and the noise level of the environment makes it supplementary difficult. On the other hand, with these circumstances the described anonymity of non-spaces is not given any longer. The distinction between the distinguishing definitions of two different kinds of urban public spaces dissolves.


Katia Miranda

Born in 1961 in El Salvador, Katia Miranda’s forms of artistic expression are diverse. As her childhood passion was the dance, she turned it into her profession and danced for 25 years with several companies in her home country, in the United States and in Guatemala. Furthermore, she studied Arts Management at the University of Tampa, Florida, received in 1984 her Bachelor of Science degree with the specialisation in visual arts and managed art galleries in Florida and El Salvador. After her marriage, she raised her children and worked in the family business.

Some years ago, Katia restarted to focus on visual arts and found here a new way to express herself. Mainly she paints inspired by her preparative photos, but she also creates self-reliant photos, sculptures and installations. Her working process is very thorough, since she makes numerous preliminary studies, before starting the actual execution. This might be a habit, which she learned in her longstanding carrier as dancer, where perseverance and hard labour were essential. The resulting oeuvres express that rigour, like her hyper-realistic oil paintings.

A particular concern of Katia is her attention to the environment with a focus on wrapping materials. But instead of denouncing the negative aspects of the impact of plastic in nature, she displays the items like a luxury product and draws our attention to them. It is the artists’ invitation to us, to reflect about our handling with pollutant materials. Exemplary for this style is her series of plastic bags. One of these paintings is our Artwork of the Month / November 2017 “Ellipses” from 2016.

Katia’s intensive reflexion about humans’ attitude to wrap almost everything, even ourselves (garments), found its expression in the cooperation with the Colombian fashion designer Francesca Miranda. In 2016, inspired by Katia’s paintings, she created a series of dresses and purses after the images. At the same time, Katia started the new series “Permanent Maze”, where she focused on packing belts. As the title indicates, the painted presentation of this packaging material is not like a medial staging, but a cut-out from a larger context and shows a seemingly disordered tangle of tapes. However, the colouring is aesthetically appealing. Additionally, she added a three-dimensional version, where real packing belts protrude out of the frame. One of the paintings of “Permanent Maze” is our Artwork of the Month / September 2020.

Besides these pictural representations of packaging materials, Katia makes, since 2019 (interactive) installations with plastic waste and introduced a new subject in her oeuvre: water, which is depicted in paintings and photos, but it also appears in sculptures (Esculturas líquidas). Additionally, polyester film became an actor that is the subject of her various forms of expression since 2021.

In 2023, Katia started a new series of works: “No Place”, due to the exhibition “You. Me. No Place.” curated by Valeria Montes. The show focussed on the book “Non-lieux, introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité” (Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity) by Marc Augé from 1992. Here the subject is not our ecosystem, but our social environment. Even though, the artist started her working process by photography, the outcome is very different. Despite the figurative base, the results are nearly abstract collages, which don’t remind the earlier hyper-realistic paintings. One of these pictures “Public Phones” is our Artwork of the Month / November 2023.

Since 2009, Katia regularly participates in group shows, mainly in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. In 2016, she had her first solo exhibition in Colombia. Subsequently she frequently has personnel shows in Guatemala, Colombia and Panama. In 2017, her works travelled for the first time to the United States (Naples, Florida) and Europe (Vienna, Austria and Florence, Italy), then in 2021 to Dubai and currently there are several of her artworks in Germany (Erfurt). Beyond that, her works entered in private and public collections in Guatemala, El Salvador and Italy.

Katia lives and works in Guatemala City.