Interview by Eva Mayhabal Davis 

For Culturework Magazine, we interviewed artist Maximilian Juliá. His work elaborates on comforts from home, as objects, remnants, and their ordinary objecthood to sculptural essence. He shares some insight on a recent body of work; Diarios del Fango: Los Paquetes/ Dirt Diaries: The Packages and more. 

Culturework: Packages as objects of love, tenderness, rebellion, and market. Where did your attraction to recording your packages stem from? 

Maximilian Juliá: It is quite common for Puerto Ricans to deliver fruits, coffee, traditional foods among other things to each other that fit inside a box just as it is ubiquitous for immigrants to receive boxes from their homeland.

I first became interested in the idea of the packages because my uncle who lives on a farm in Maricao, Puerto Rico sent a package. I saw the cardboard box with two handles and no lid. Inside the box, there was an assortment of plantains and papayas. My mom said: ‘It came from your uncle’s farm’. I became fixated on the physical ordinariness of the box. Its content did not look intentional or well placed. Everything about it was ordinary to me. That is what is most definitive about my artistic practice that common everyday objects are the most interesting to me. 

I see poetry in such objects. Often taken for granted, their design serves as vehicles for our values and may culturally influence generations of our families. I believe everyday things have an impact on the way we think collectively. Objects are representative of who we are. Thus, I react to ordinary objects and I change along with them. 

The more time I spend outside of Puerto Rico, the more I become interested in the landscape of the island. I’m desperately trying to redeem myself for the things I took for granted. I think it may be a way to cope with living in NYC and being away from my home and my family. The idea of not being able to help make Puerto Rico a better place frightens me. All generations go through cultural shifts and it seems my generation is going through a big change. 

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Diarios del Fango: Los Paquetes/ Dirt Diaries: The Packages, 2020. Installation image courtesy of the artist.

CW:  The objects photographed have a specific context, is there anything that you are particularly intrigued by? What should your audience reflect on these items? 

MJI’m mostly interested in the ordinariness of these objects. There are a lot of common things in nature. Things I’ve taken for granted like soil, coffee, banana shoots, ginger, and turmeric tea, coconut, moringa, and more dirt. I hope individuals recognize their disconnect with nature and perhaps identify with that. After all, we primarily live in cities and urban sprawlings where there is sometimes very little access to nature. Others would be more attracted to the object –questioning whether it is a real box full of things or an illusion, or what is it? I like that ambiguity. Both instances have the potential to ignite a conversation, an inquiry fueled by curiosity and maybe more questions. I want these works to potentially make soil interesting, my soil, your soil, and the earth’s soil.

CW:  The boxes themselves are reminiscent, at least to me, I remember the huacal that is used for carrying produce. It derives from the nahuatl, meaning caja de pino, a box made from pine wood. It carries, it has a purpose and has always been a carrier of goods. These packages of nourishment. Can you expand on their sculptural qualities, their objecthood? 

MJ:  My initial idea was simple: the boxes are the photo frames while at the same time, they play between the formality of framing images and the object itself becoming a sculpture.

I mostly follow my intuition. I trust that whatever choice I make has a relation and a continuation of the narrative of my work. I want to trust my presentiment during the process of making. This doesn’t mean I make all decisions deliberately without thinking about the concept. Instead, I find myself unriddling meaning and answering questions that leave me with more questions for more work. 

In this case: the wooden crate. The original boxes were made of cardboard more specifically USPS packages. I am particularly interested in the box as a structure that holds these cultural items. It’s this context that makes the things inside a treasure or a shrine that makes these objects become inherently interesting/powerful. 

To me, these packages represent comfort from my home. I’m bringing a feeling of comfort to a very lonely city. 

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Diarios del Fango: Los Paquetes/ Dirt Diaries: The Packages, 2020. Installation image courtesy of the artist.

Puerto Rican visual artist Maximilian Juliá (b. 1985) works primarily with photography and video. Addressing the shifting notions of formality, he combines a variety of supplementary mediums. Through installations and a keen eye for design, he explores materiality that is visual and sculptural. His work was recently featured in the exhibit “Sculpture, Not-Sculpture” at Brooklyn’s Transmitter Gallery online viewing through May 15, 2020. Instagram @mxmlnjulia

Eva Mayhabal Davis is the arts content editor at Culturework.