Welcome to Friday Artist Features! On Fridays, we often enjoy featuring an artist whose work often includes themes of urbanism and mobility. This Friday we are happy to feature Romina Cristi Olate, a Utrecht- based watercolor painter from Santiago de Chile.
Romina creates subjective maps that depict inner landscapes and enjoys painting the landscapes that we all love to contemplate. Her work explores the subjective dimension of human dwelling through concepts that cross discipline boundaries, such as urban imaginaries, psychogeography and subjective mapping, integrating the act of walking as a transversal thread across her creations.
Romina holds a degree in Architecture from the University of Chile. Her years as an architect drove her to ask herself about the social implications of human dwelling and its relations with the urban context. Thus she started exploring this topic by collaborating with a group of artists and a geographer to develop a study about urban imaginaries. This experience motivated her to start her artistic journey to explore the psycho-emotional side of the human habitat and hence to develop a personal visual language to materialize her ideas. Her artistic education is nurtured by different non-academic sources that include attending international workshops, artist mentoring and self-study.
During her years in the UK she focused on painting watercolors about urban landscapes and subjective mapping, which allowed her to exhibit in different galleries in Southampton and London, take part in international art residencies, and to lead workshops in Europe.
After moving to The Netherlands in 2020 she keeps developing her own language in watercolors under artist mentoring and is currently participating in the international project “My Room Is a Strange Loop” that connects architecture, art and poetry.
Does your city or town of residence inspire your work in any way (or other cities)?
Romina: The cities I have lived in are the main source of inspiration to my creations. I’m always curious about what is around the corner and that surprise factor keeps me exploring. It doesn’t matter how many times I have been passing by, there is always something new to observe (outside or inside)
Now I live in Utrecht, a medium-sized city with a mediaeval city centre. I’m from Santiago de Chile, a damero founded city, so to me, this kind of handcrafted curves and randomness of Utrecht creates a confusing shape that helps me to get lost, which is marvellous.
What is the relationship between the city and your art? Does urbanism influence your work?
Romina: I have moved quite a few times to different towns and cities during the last seven years and actually, by finding a way to establish a relationship with the place, I landed in the art world. One of my first mapping series was called “Sewing Routes” and that was my excuse to immerse myself in the industrial city of Southampton, that at the beginning was very cold and grey to me. During the process, I discovered interesting layers and elements we had in common. I also got to know our contrasts so we became friends.
I’m aware that the experience I have when living in a city is highly determined by the decisions taken or (not taken) by city planners and politicians so I would say that Urbanism influences my work to the extent it shapes the city I live in. The connection I try to establish through my art is more about the perceptual experience I have as a citizen and in that way the physical context is accountable for the fifty percent. Other factors like my mood, situations that make me change my way, or the weather, or the presence or absence of sunlight, are the other fifty.
What mediums do you work with?
Romina: Watercolour is my prefered medium. It is the simplest and cleanest medium. Plus it’s easy to carry, so it’s perfect for a walker. Its most beautiful characteristic is the transparency and the possibility of creating layers. That’s great for telling stories about places and to capture atmospheres.
How do you move around the city or town you live in and what is your favorite mode?
Romina: My first option is to walk. If the place is a bit far and I have little time, then I take my bike only if the weather is kind enough. The Netherlands is famous for its bike infrastructure, plus it is flat… so it is quite convenient, but as I am not used to the cold and wet weather I would rather use the tram when it is raining. It allows me to enjoy the view and the comfort of this mode of transport.
What are your favorite streets or sidewalk spaces?
Romina: In Utrecht my favourite street is Oudegracht (the old canal). This street and canal runs all across the centre of the city and you can walk at the level of the street or at the level of the canal (around four metres under). You can also navigate the canal or go by bike.
Then there’s “The Singel”, a bigger canal that encloses the city centre. It resembles a heart, which makes sense. This is the geographical center of the country. You can walk all around this canal accompanied by a beautiful park.
When I am in Santiago I love to walk along Santa Amalia Avenue or Trinidad ave towards the border of the city and have a face to face encounter with the Andes. You can easily do that in La Florida, the district I come from.
Also in Santiago, if you walk in the city centre you can walk through the buildings because there is a net of galleries. I find that absolutely fascinating. There are plenty of old shops and strange urban peculiarities.
In Southampton (UK) I loved Riverside Park in the Bittern neighbourhood. This was a beautiful place to connect with the river Itchen. I wished you could walk all along the river until it meets the sea. You can enjoy outstanding Sunsets from Cobden Bridge.
Are there other pedestrian areas in your city you like to spend time in or appreciate?
Romina: The central area is where I move the most because I live here but I enjoy walking to Lombok and have fun finding exotic spices, fresh vegetables and Turkish delights. In the summertime, you can also spot quite a lot of brave swimmers jumping into the canal.
I also enjoy larger walks toward the old mills in Oud-Zuilen. There are paths you can follow all far from the heavy traffic.
What challenges, as well as opportunities, do you see with issues of walkability in your city? (i.e. things that can be improved but also what works)?
Romina: I believe that in Utrecht you can find a very good example of a walkable city. The city center is restricted to cars and recently to scooters at certain times. There are many paths along the city and walking routes you can follow. You can enjoy a nice stroll next to the canals and have good access to parks or green areas. There are routes for walkers that interconnect the city with other areas also, so it is interesting if you enjoy following larger trails.
A real challenge here is to deconcentrate the attractions. During the weekend the city center is totally packed with local visitors and from towns nearby. It is true that they have created new neighbors with their own services, but somehow the “new” has difficulty competing with the “old ” What could be the reason for this? I guess people are not only looking for shopping or solving issues. In my opinion, the soul and fuel of cities are the cultural attractions. Where are the libraries, bookshops, artists, street art, layers of history, urban tribes, spontaneous social events, and so on? And that is something that tends to be forgotten when creating new housing complexes.
Do you have any perceptions to share about sustainable urbanism in Utrecht?
Romina: I think it is interesting the transformation that this city has experienced in a few decades. In 2020 I witnessed the end of a large scale project to re-open the “singel” or canal that surrounds the old town. It transformed from a canal, then to a highway during the 50s, and after a referendum in 2002 people made it to be converted back to a canal. I’m amazed by the level of engagement of the citizens here with their own public space to rescue the heritage and make it more pedestrian-friendly. And the openness of the authorities to integrate their demands, rectifying bad planning interventions. Even though it involved significant investment. You don’t see this kind of dynamics in other latitudes.
You mention on your Instagram that every full moon you share about your walks, maps, and watercolors…
Romina: Yes, every Full Moon I send an art letter to share with my subscribers my artistic process. This involves walks, subjective maps, watercolors, and other surprises. Everyone is welcome to join my crew. I’m also happy to hear back from my subscribers and exchange interesting insights. Art Lovers can subscribe here
Visit Romina online at https://www.rominacristiolate.com/
Photo: Romina Cristi Olate, Lugares Intangibles (Untouchable Places), part of the Riu d’art Festival, at Riba-Roja d’Ebre.