23 July 2020
23 July 2020 - Written by Lucia De Stefani
In Castle of Innocence, Costa Rican photographer Joel Jimenez analyses the history of representation linked to the Children’s Museum in San José and by extension the narratives and myths that shape our perception of protection, violence, and truth in the collective consciousness.
On the spot where the Museo de los Niños now stands in San José, Costa Rica, once stood a maximum-security prison. A failing administration and the lack of criminal justice reforms led to its shutdown in 1979. There had been corruption, rioting, overcrowding, and misery.
That’s a striking contrast to the facility that opened 14 years later. Though the children’s museum does dedicate a section to exploring its past, it shifts visitors’ attention to the story of its new purpose. Light-heartedness, learning, and growth thus foreground the history of the site in Castle of Innocence, as well, as its creator, Joel Jimenez, ponders this dissonance, considering the inherent contradictions of its lingering past that he calls “the dichotomies of power/truth, innocence/ignorance, violence/control, imagination/reality are overall key ideas throughout the project.”
By digging through archives and juxtaposing images to create new meanings, Castle of Innocence leads us to reflect more deeply on our “perception of protection, violence, and truth in the collective consciousness.”
The small gestures captured by these images become leitmotifs in the narrative that unfolds. “Those gestures of reference are efforts to understand the complexity of images and how we can question our own understanding of history through visual representation,” Jimenez says.
The project developed in two phases: an initial phase of archival research, unearthing documents, interviews and photographs, and a second phase of building meanings by layering images. It sparks reflection upon the concepts of power and context, the roles they play in controlling and constructing identity, and their convergence with the idea of a place designated for a specific purpose: looking back, the prison was used to control detainees; looking ahead, the new structure’s design aims to cultivate the play-loving nature of children.
“For me the images are always talking to each other, they're always interacting with the history from both [the] now and the former prison,” Jimenez says. “When you put two images together, you construct different meanings between those images, with a dialogue. That's a key part of the project, changing the meaning of both.”
The influences of Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin are implied in how Jimenez explores images that have recurred in various times and identities, and the layers of narrative that we construct to interpret a story.
Ultimately, Castle of Innocence becomes a deeper meditation on the power of images as they bow to context; images can manipulate context, Jimenez explains, since they’re used to control narratives.
“In the current context, with all these social media sites, we're consuming images in a very passive way. We see images but don't really reflect on them. We consume them, scroll by them or don't pay attention,” he says. His work is informed by such awareness of the responsibility we bear as consumers of visual media and as participants in the act of interpretation, as we explore details to dig up context.
“The project goes to present this idea that you have to not only think that images are not innocent, that images hide a lot of things, they have a lot of layers. You have to really take care to not be ignorant about how those images are able to control the way you think.”
Joel Jimenez is a visual artist interested in the conceptual possibilities of space to convey human conditions, emotional or psychological states, and social issues in contemporary society. Follow him on PHmuseum and Instagram.
This article is part of the series New Generation, a monthly column written by Lucia De Stefani, focusing on the most interesting emerging talents in our community.
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