The CAMP’s 2020 Roundup: Reflections with The CAMP Gang
2020 is on its way out of our collective memory, though not without fully overhauling life as we’ve known it. At The CAMP, we kicked the year off by starting from scratch, adding new and wildly talented artists to our darling roster (i.e., making loads of new friends), partnering with FAMA for a 40-artist exhibition, leaving our Little River home and setting up shop in North Miami, and even the launch of a brand-new virtual gallery with the help of Emperia, UK.
Which made us curious—how has the unruly intensity of the new decade impacted those we work closest with? In the spirit of growth and community, we bring you The CAMP’s 2020 Roundup, a small interview series featuring reflections from our CAMP and CAMP Spotlight artists.
Except you’ll be hearing from the CAMP Gang this New Year’s Eve.
While we have the pleasure of working in an ever-changing industry that has enough room to encompass our insanely varied interests, personal creative endeavors and aesthetics, it’s rare that we have the opportunity to get put in the hot seat. Turning the proverbial camera onto ourselves doesn’t come along too often (though you may be familiar with some of our faces, especially if you keep an eye on our Instagram)—we even had to employ some of our beloved artists to pressure our boss, CAMP founder Melanie Prapopoulos, into an interview.
Nonetheless, taking into account the number of conversations we’ve had this year both live and written, it’s about that time.
2020 has been a difficult and often tumultuous year – how has it affected you and your work, be it creative or otherwise in your professional or personal lives?
Gabriel Torres, Creative, art dealer, resident tech man: As far as how it’s affected me, I’ve noticed obviously how much more cautious of become of contact with the world, but being a rather secluded person already there’s not many direct changes. For my art though, it’s definitely taken the biggest hit this year, as my creative freedom just hasn’t had any time to actually “create” anything. I’ve worked on one rather unsatisfying painting, and some initial drawings of characters near the beginning of our quarantine months.
Mario Rodriguez, Creative, social media star, operations: Personally, I am not an artist, but I do feel that this year has definitely thrown a wrench in my life. I felt that I had a definite plan for how my life was going to go over the next couple of years and now it is completely different, and that is directly because of COVID.
Maria Gabriela Di Giammarco, Creative, editor: 2020 has been insane on a general level, and although I’ve been super lucky not to have been affected directly by COVID-19 health-wise, this year has gifted me with much more perspective than I knew I needed. I quit my coffee job and started working for CAMP full-time, which has brought a dynamism to my work life, even if it’s from home. Creatively, my writing practice has always been this integral part of my being, like, I need to write. Now, though, instead of writing out of a volatile need to commemorate and process, I’m writing with more intention and more love. The emotional component is there but I’m starting to understand why it is I actually must do this.
Brianna Luz Fernandez, Creative, curator: 2020 has brought with it a lot of endings for me. I was laid-off from my job, relationships that I’d had for many years came to an end, and on the macro scale, life as we had all known it came to an end. I think that prior to 2020 I was spending a lot of time and energy on things that I didn’t want to be doing, but this Great Pause has allowed me to take inventory in my life and adjust accordingly. As the year is coming to an end, I feel that the things I am doing, relationships I am nurturing, and overall direction in life is more succinct and purposeful.
Isabella Sandstead, Creative, sales, operations: This year has tested me in ways that have allowed me to understand myself better, and become more secure in my ability to deal with hardships. Mental health among young adults has been declining rapidly, and I have seen the effects first hand. This has been the hardest aspect to this, the isolation and the hopelessness that I think a lot of people my age are feeling. In terms of my own work, I feel as though my work at the gallery and my clothing line have been the two things that are actually holding me up and pushing me to stay focused and determined, they give me purpose.
What has been the biggest hurdle you have had to deal with since March of this year?
Gabriel: As a continuing student, the change to exclusively online courses has put a sour spot on my education experience for sure. I spend much of a day behind a screen either working, watching, or playing, and to add learning to that as well kind of overloads me.
Mario: In March, the company that I planned on working for over the summer and post-graduation was hit extremely hard by government limitations on travel and the spread of the virus. At the same time, I had some very unpleasant interactions with some mentors within my university community, which only made me more determined to prove myself. Now I’m working at the CAMP Gallery and I couldn’t be more happy with my experience!
Maria: I think the biggest hurdle I’ve had to deal with is fear—fear of contracting the virus, fear of confronting my professional, academic, and creative goals so I can realize them, fear of the fickle news cycle, fear of the quasi-dystopia we seem to always be on the verge of in the United States.
Brianna: The biggest hurdle for me has been staying grounded because the pandemic forced me to restructure my life. I no longer had my job to ground my days, so I had a lot more time to be disengaged and ruminate in my mind.
Isabella: Remaining connected to those around me in the midst of a lockdown as well as my own self isolation into my work and business. Before COVID, I was already throwing myself into designing, taking a step back from the college social scene. When the lockdowns began, this only intensified and I really isolated myself. It has been difficult to feel connected to my friends, something I am still dealing with now.
Have you noticed any changes in your work?
Gabriel: Finally, a positive note! My work ethic more than anything has seen the best improvement over the quarantine, and I’m especially proud of how far myself and all of us at CAMP have managed to come even with the hardships the world is facing.
Mario: I definitely have noticed a change in the way I approach work. I used to be the type of person who always really needed a destination to get work done, be it a coffee shop, library, or even an office. Clearly, I was no longer able separate work and home as effectively because of COVID, and it has had some damaging effects on my own productivity and my ability square out down time for myself, so it is something that I am going to try to work on as the new year approaches.
Maria: Prior to COVID, I was working two jobs with literally no days off. With the onset of remote work and an arguably necessary schedule change, I’ve begun to approach my work as a place for me to develop my skills regardless of the context they occupy in my life instead of solely focusing on my bank account. I’m definitely more present now than I would’ve been if we hadn’t had to work through pandemic.
Brianna: Being that I was no longer spending the majority of my days waitressing, I did notice that I began to work more on personal projects. I was painting, making T-shirts, and learning embroidery. I don’t think that the quality of my work increased but I did allow myself to be more creative and play around a lot more than I had in the past.
Isabella: My work ethic is the same, perhaps there is a sense of having little time off. It feels as though I am always on call for the many facets of my work: my company, the gallery, and school. This can feel overwhelming as the schedule I had become accustomed to was flipped on its head.
Have you noticed any changes in how people react and or engage with your work now that they can see it mainly online?
Gabriel: The transition to an exclusively online type of gallery, not out of choice, has seen its fair share of difficulty, as no one prefers it over being able to go to physically see the show. Be that as is, I think it gives us the opportunity to pair artists and artwork into way more inventive exhibitions than we would be able to normally, and I’ve noticed people be able to appreciate that way more.
Mario: I would say what has surprised me the most is the commitment of some people to come and support artists even despite the circumstances. Yes, significantly less people have come to view artwork in person, but there are still those who, despite fear, anxiety, and the lack of hoopla because of the loss of masses, have shown a commitment to coming and seeing artwork in a safe fashion.
Maria: Gallery-wise, I think we’re garnering much more online engagement than we used to, I guess because social media has become The Hub for socializing now that we are (or should!) be staying home almost exclusively. It’s also quite different, as a gallery, than it would be if we were a business that heavily depended on foot traffic. Art is no longer a luxury, especially in the Internet age, that putting the work in to be available this way is a major benefit.
Brianna: In terms of my own art, I’ve always tried to have a balance between posting pieces and showing them at in-person exhibitions and shows, so I don’t think there have been many changes with how people engage with me in that regard.
Isabella: Definitely, as we move into a more digitally driven world, product reach and product visibility is reliant on being present on social media, on other other web based ecosystems. For clothing, this is vital. We are lucky to live in a city where in person traffic is still possible, but my brand has definitely had to put large focus on becoming present and recognizable online.
What has been the best thing that has happened this year?
Gabriel: Honestly, the best thing is that everyone I know has been safe this year, and that we’re still healthy going forward. I know the cliché and cheesy response, but it really is the best thing.
Mario: Getting hired at CAMP and being able to spend more time with my family and my boyfriend have been my two biggest blessings of 2020.
Maria: Truthfully, I think all of the solitude was a big blessing for me. I spent a long time avoiding it and now, looking back at that, I can’t even begin to understand why. Of course, the very best thing to happen this year was adopting my gorgeous and beloved dog child, Jennifer. It sounds hella ridiculous, but I didn’t want a dog to begin with, and then, literally the moment I met her, I felt part of my soul come back to me. “Obsessed” would be an understatement.
Brianna: The best thing that has happened this year is that I’ve gotten to see a lot of my personal projects grow and come to fruition. Having all this extra free time allowed me to close off season 1 of my video series, explore entrepreneurship, plan art shows and be in a few as well.
Isabella: The best thing that happened this year was being able to release my clothing line, Ça Va Vertica, at the start of October. Since then, we have been working to grow our reach in Miami and become established as a brand. All parts of this process has been demanding, but so rewarding and exciting at the same time.
Has anything surprised you this year?
Gabriel: Honestly how productive and creative people have been in the time being locked away in their homes! I’ve seen friends who, (sorry to be mean!) I didn’t think had a creative bone in their body when they suddenly started making their own art or products!
Mario: I think the main thing that has surprised me, and surely many other people, is the tendency we have to take things for granted. Before the pandemic, there were definitely some things that I myself was aware that I was taking for granted and that I shouldn’t have been, but there were also so many things that I thought were facts of life and that were suddenly taken from me.
Maria: What’s surprised me more than anything is how willfully ignorant people can be, not for any other reason than fear. Like, unmoved because of their comfort or their reluctance to understand and, maybe, change. I was also surprised that so many people were happy enough with Trump to vote for him again, but I know there’s bias in that surprise.
Brianna: The main thing that surprised me, and in a good way, was that despite the individualistic ways of our society, people were able to come together during this pandemic and help each other. This is the first time I‘ve witnessed and been directly affected by things like mutual aid funds, or circulated lists of community resources. It’s shown me that when it’s necessary, people can come together and take care of each other.
Isabella: I am surprised by both humanity’s resilience and our weakness.
What inspires you currently? Do you see this changing?
Gabriel: A lot of my inspiration comes from honestly finding new things, whether it be some other person’s creativity, new information on a subject either familiar to me or alien, or just general pursuit of knowledge. It’s been my inspiration for many of the things I work on, talk about, or make art about too; honestly seeking it is enough for me to want to be inspired to seek more.
Mario: I am really excited to see where this new perspective takes me in my life and I hope to keep the luck that I have had *(despite the global circumstances) into the new year.
Maria: I’ve always been inspired by prose and visual stimuli, but this year I’m finding more inspiration in archives—fashion, film, photography. I have a deep love for magical realism, as well as the absurd and the campy. I consume anything pop-culture related like my life depends on it. I also find inspiration in conversations. There’s something uniquely powerful about exchanging thoughts and perspectives that helps folks, especially me, think about the world and art with more dimension and vibrancy than I’d experience if I were left to my own brain.
Brianna: I’m inspired by the people that I have the pleasure of collaborating and working with, whom throughout this year have not stopped creating, organizing, and helping their communities. This year has been difficult for everyone, and it’s perfectly understandable to want to preserve yourself, but there are some who have put their own needs aside to bring positivity, community and connection to others and I am truly touched by that. I’m sure my list of inspiration will continue to grow, but this year has definitely solidified within me the power of creators, and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
Isabella: I always find inspiration through everyday life: nature, a fleeting image from my car window, a conversation. Humans, animals, and energy give me inspiration in a wide range of ways. My aesthetic is very image-based, and as more creatives spread their work online, the ability to become inspired by others is still available, just in a new way.
Is there anything (exhibition, event, travel, etc.) that you had to forego this year that ended up working out beautifully?
Gabriel: My planned trip to Japan was ruined! Ruined I say!
Mario: So many things wound up being blessings in disguise for my life throughout the entirety of this pandemic. I was given a reminder yet again that in my life, when I go my way and do what feels right for me, I come our better off. I also was extremely lucky to hear form Melanie in August, when I was hired, because of the fact that I was really at a crossroads for what I was going to do with work as I moved back to New Orleans. If COVID hadn’t happened, I don’t know if that opportunity would have presented itself.
Maria: I didn’t have anything explicitly planned for this year other than concerts for which I’d bought tickets ahead of time. That said, I’ve been learning how to forego desires (not in an ascetic way, sorry) and work with the circumstances that life brings to me in ways that benefit me. I’m finding that what I wanted initially happens anyway, getting there just looks a little different.
Brianna: I’ve actually experienced the opposite. I didn’t have much planned for my year, but the pandemic opened up a lot of opportunities for me to organize events and work on things that I’m genuinely passionate about.
Isabella: I was worried that being able to make meaningful connections with others when it comes to my business would be very difficult, however my partner and I were still able to come in contact with some really amazing people who are helping us along our journey.
In the same vein, is there anything that quarantine/isolation has inspired you to start doing or practicing?
Gabriel: Oh for sure most everyone knows I’ve avidly taken up cooking as of late, and it’s really only come with this post lockdown timing. I just became way more enthused by various cooking shows I’ve always loved, and then finally took action to pursue getting better.
Mario: Not really.
Maria: I’ve always done my best to be responsible for my mental well-being. For years, friends have been preaching to me about the benefits of meditation, and why it’s perfect for me and whatnot. Pandemic isolation has done more to convince me of it than anyone ever could, although it’s in part due to the realization that meditation doesn’t have to be about sitting still and breathing—it can be a walk on a beautiful day, journaling before bed, or watching the peacocks in my neighborhood terrorize the streets.
Brianna: Quarantine has inspired me to start practicing more realistic versions of self care. I’ve come to understand myself better, what things and people I want in my life, and I’m working on creating and maintaining the necessary boundaries to sustain myself.
Isabella: This time alone with myself has allowed me to become more dedicated to self care practices. When I was younger I was really dedicated to yoga, but as I entered college it kind of fell to the background. I have been able to fall back in love with my practice, and really focus on my own mental health and making sure to take care of myself.
How does your process differ now that we’re all spending less time out “in the world” and more time with ourselves?
Gabriel: I’ve taken more care to how I actually use my time, and want to spread it out more amongst my hobbies, my work, and more importantly as of late, with family. Before I tended to give less thought to how productive I was being constantly through the day in what I was doing, but now I want to work past habits and introduce myself to furthering either my skills working on the house or in the kitchen, my family relationship, or just personal goals that I’ve set myself to in general be a better person.
Mario: I’ve had to take a much more active approach to my own time management. Before, I felt that because I had so many things to do and so many places to go to, my time management kind of became a default of my circumstances. Now, I really have needed to learn how to make the most of my time even though I am much more available now than I was before.
Maria: Now more than ever I’m aware of how important it is to me to have time to myself. My process was all about doing something, always meeting up with friends, always caught up in devoting my energy to something external and ultimately, unnecessary things, but never nothing. I’m coming around to how cool it is to do nothing, like that John Mulaney joke.
Brianna: I’ve always been somewhat of an introvert and afraid to reach out and ask for help, but quarantine has actually pushed me to reach out more, to seek collaboration and to value it.
Isabella: I have to keep myself accountable by allocating my time between work and the business. This forces me to be very self-sufficient and has actually equipped me with some great life skills that I feel as though will carry through my professional career.
How do you see this moment in time affecting the bigger industry in the long-term?
Gabriel: The art industry has for several years now has had to come to terms with the advancement of media being integrated with art, not just as use as a medium but rather as a way of display. This lockdown period I think just caused a massive push from behind to have to accept the use of social media, digital exhibition, new technology with virtual and VR galleries and the way forward. I am no proponent of the entire replacement of the physical space, and would never accept the virtual idea as a replacement, but without acknowledging the advantages of both sides in terms of accessibility, new media as its own medium, and the safety of health of people, the art industry will join the reckless charge that restaurants and bars have been leading in a post-lockdown world. And we all can see how helpful the contribution of those places are.
Mario: I think a lot of what has happened under the pandemic has accelerated inevitable occurrences. The truth is, we have been interacting in a remote fashion for many years now through social media and online shopping. I definitely feel that something is lost at the inability of people to come visit exhibitions and see things in person, but in another sense it also opens the door for new opportunities.
Maria: I don’t mean this badly, but I’m happy to see people calling out the institutions upon which the art industry stands. I’ve always struggled with the inaccessibility of art considering, from an anthropological viewpoint, how deeply art is woven into the facet of our existence. I think that not just pandemic, but the push for wider social justice reform, global politics and understanding, self-actualization—the conversations that catapulted this decade into a year that’ll go down with infamy have been a long time coming. The industry—galleries, museums, fairs, boards, whichever and all of them—benefits, in my opinion, from moving away from superficiality, coming down to earth and reevaluating its priorities and practices, and engaging with the public with transparency.
Brianna: I think this moment may shift the type of art that people are wanting to see. This year has forced us all to take a look at the things that matter to us and those around us, and this shift in focus is reflected in the works that artists are creating. I also think that moving forward we will see a lot more portions of the industry existing online.
Isabella: Clearly, the way we view art is changing with the introduction of digital viewing rooms and more focus on online initiatives. I think this coincides with any industry, and as we look to the future it is important to note what we are taking with us and what we are leaving behind. Social media allows viewers to continue to interact with each other, but there is a sense of loss of community, especially in an industry that relies heavily on conversation and on the ground interaction. Although this is somewhat scary, there is also an exciting nature as we look to solve problems and provide viewers with alternative options when it comes to staying involved in the art scene.
Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?
Gabriel: I will join the millions of others saying that 2021 will be the year I lose some weight, but I just repeat my resolution every year to learn more than I did the year before. No matter if it’s silly information that will only be relevant once, or random things from a conversation with a person I just met, being open to learning something new is the only thing I wish everyone could strive to do.
Mario: My next New Years resolution is to grow into the new phase in my life that I’m entering while allowing myself as much grace as I can muster to make mistakes and fail.
Maria: True to form, I’m still figuring it out! I never have one until the clock strikes twelve and I’m bombarded by the right emotions. My resolutions are always about integrating new practices into my life for life, and not just for the year. They always tend to be about self-awareness, not going to the gym more or reading fifty books in a month. I just want to move through life as a person with agency and self-love.
Brianna: My main resolution is to continue to build a life that resonates with me completely.
Isabella: I am not usually one to set New Year’s Resolutions, but my biggest goals for 2021 revolve around establishing myself professionally. I am to graduate from college in the Spring, and I am feeling a lot of feelings! I aim to dedicate myself further to my business and to the gallery, holding myself accountable to the milestones that I have built for myself.