VIVIANA M. CARLOS—A Latin American narrative: on palm trees as immigrants and an archive as a conversation after death.

An artist's take. Alex Nichols in conversation with Viviana Carlos on her new book. Sobre Adaptaciones Y Engaño A Primera Vista (Adaptations and Deceits at First Sight) by Viviana Carlos.

What influenced the form of this artist book of this work was between what I was living and what I was learning. I thought, ‘I will know you through this archive’ like a conversation.”

Talking to Viviana is like turning the pages of her book, phrase by phrase, image by image, fact by fact, an atmosphere surfaces in grey and pale blue. The book is delicate and small; the quality of the paper is like a palm leaf, alive and textured, the images are faded. There is grief and the politics of being transplanted.

Sobre Adaptaciones Y Engaños A Primera Vista (Adaptations and Deceits at First Sight) by Viviana Carlos.

Palm trees as immigrants and an archive as a conversation after death. Opening the first page of Viviana Carlos’s book, there is an image of a street in an LA neighborhood flanked by two lines of tall palms. The heads of the palms all tilting downward as if to watch a procession. In the center of the image is a gaping white box. The space where information would be placed but is left empty. This is how Viviana starts her book. 

Sobre Adaptaciones Y Engaños A Primera Vista (Adaptations and Deceits at First Sight) by Viviana Carlos.

What follows next is a single palm, tall and lonely. Still no words. But these images look like varying forms of human isolation and congregation. Then the title arrives.

Sobre Adaptaciones Y Engaños A Primera Vista—About Adaptations and Deceits at First Sight. By Viviana Carlos

Viviana is coalescing public domain archived images – taken from various digital historical collections from the State of California both as a commentary on migration/transplantation and also reflecting on how we become part of the landscape which seems alien to us. But this I still don’t know yet. I am on the first layer of the book. The palm trees. I am not yet at the archival material of these images themselves or the state of her mind that would eventually lead to this book as a form of processing her grief. 

Sobre Adaptaciones Y Engaños A Primera Vista (Adaptations and Deceits at First Sight) by Viviana Carlos.

“Working at a historical archive brought me closer to history, I also learned educational, and research tools that I’ve never had access to or even knew of their existence. On my own time, I naturally started to research the history of California to situate and understand myself as a migrant. In the sea of facts, I found a tiny fact: that most of the palm trees on the landscape in California were also immigrants. I found this metaphor beautiful, and I asked myself, How did they get here?. I then started to play and speculate about this fact. Delving into the history of the plant as a subject, a character. To imagine how we can reference our human structures of what happens to us and to transfer that to this almost inanimate object, a palm tree.” 

Perched on hills, lined up in rows along streets—the Palm tree is such a distinguishing feature of the Los Angeles landscape—an icon of what California is. This idea of Hollywood, beaches, surfing now in Viviana’s vision has been paired with something unexpected and yet acutely accurate—the Mexican migration. And as she will later intonate in a fragment—possibly the palm was brought against its will. 

Viviana’s collection of facts is deceptively innocuous. Becoming incisive poetic hits on human nature. 

Sobre Adaptaciones Y Engaños A Primera Vista (Adaptations and Deceits at First Sight) by Viviana Carlos.

There is a desire to physically build the landscape to meet the specifications of our fantasies. Even when the built landscape is kind and generous, it’s totally fictional.

Back at adaptations and deceits—I keep coming back to those two words—to that first sight—what we miss and must constantly look at again—each time I ask, another thing is revealed.—‘ A landscape can symbolize and promise a state of well-being’—I lost my father suddenly. When someone goes naturally, it gives you time to prepare yourself, but when it’s sudden…when it is an accident… it’s different—What was hard for me as I was just getting to know my father as an adult… I’d just come to LA two years before—That haunted me…we were getting along…and then he died, and I thought…Oh no! You left!” I know that feeling. I lost my father too but not suddenly. I was given time to adjust to his departure, and still, there were so many conversations I still wanted to have.

Viviana is careful with her words. Wanting to get them right, wanting to make sure she is understood. 

Her job as a cataloguer and collections manager at ‘Curatorial’ in Pasadena influenced her to collect the images that form her book. “My reality was a 9-5 job—I didn’t have time to process grief—Being in a job that was in contact with history reminded me of my father—I wanted to share the archive and the information I was learning with him—It was important to me to find a way to communicate with him.” 

Sobre Adaptaciones Y Engaños A Primera Vista (Adaptations and Deceits at First Sight) by Viviana Carlos.

“My work has to start with something personal, an autobiographical experience.”

“I was living in a very grey period of my life. That is why there is almost no color inside the pages of the book. The blue details also in the book speak of an emotional agitation (depression).”.

In making the actual book, Viviana worked with a professional bookmaker and press in Oaxaca. Entrópico Ediciones. Oaxaca has a strong tradition of printmaking and bookmaking. 

Viviana worked with a professional bookmaker and press in Oaxaca to make the actual book. Entrópico Ediciones. Oaxaca has a strong tradition of printmaking and bookmaking.

“Working with independent publisher Entrópico Ediciones allowed me to share information bounce ideas; people helped me, to nurture and grow my ideas and to make projects happen. It’s a collaborative artist book. I couldn’t have done it myself.; each of us had our own responsibilities and methodologies.” 

The binding is hand-stitched. Each image and each block of text are carefully laid out. The product is so refined it can be easy to miss the details that have taken hours—easy to miss the artifact of death, immigration, or someone going through thousands of images.

“My father was an aficionado of history. He was an ordinary working-class man, but he, as well as my mother, shared the power of reading with us, pushing me to always know more. Knowledge is power. He didn’t have a chance to delve into history professionally. So he would do his own research and tell us stories of Mexican history, world history, political conflicts.”—with facts from an archive—a discussion about politics, history, and the world begins.

Sobre Adaptaciones Y Engaños A Primera Vista (Adaptations and Deceits at First Sight) by Viviana Carlos.

Viviana will be presenting her book in San Francisco on

March 3, 2022, at the San Francisco Center for the book

DATE: Thursday, March 3, 2022

TIME: Doors at 6 pm; presentation begins promptly at 6:30.

On Adaptations and Deceits at First Sight, from the Mexican artist, Viviana Martínez Carlos is a collaborative artist book that narrates the biological adaptation of the palm tree on the urban landscape of California, published by Entropico Ediciones.

The palm tree image is one of the most prominent symbols in the collective memory of the State of California. Utilizing imagery from the public domain dated between 1880 and 1920 and contemporary photographs by Martínez Carlos, On Adaptations and Deceits at First Sight, presents the palm tree as an inhabitant transplanted to this time and place. Brief descriptions of biological adaptations of the palm tree and reflections on the construction of the landscape are mixed in the texts.

Martínez Carlos will be in conversation with San Francisco-based conceptual artist Alex Nichols and focus on studio and research practices, the nature of collaboration, and how personal narrative can influence one’s body of work.


Viviana Carlos is a photographer and visual storyteller born and raised in Mexico. She earned her BA in Visual Arts from the University of Guanajuato, Mexico, in 2014; she attended the Narrative Photography workshop taught by the Magnum Agency at the University of Texas in 2016. In 2018, Martínez Carlos completed the continuing education program in Art Anthropology conducted by the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS).

Throughout Martínez Carlos’s childhood, her family was nomadic, constantly migrating from cities. Being an immigrant living in the United States, along with transitions in her personal history, aroused curiosity about biological and cyclical processes occurring in nature and the landscape. Through poetry, self-publication, and mixed media installations, Martínez Carlos hopes to generate dialogues about the passage of time, memory, the inevitable cycle of life, and our relationship with the natural environment.

Entrópico Ediciones 

Contemporary art space with editorial form. Oaxaca, Mexico. Thank you to Rigoberto Diaz Julian for his role as an editor and listener, “our conversations and your sensitivity nurtured the intention of this book.” Viviana M. Carlos

Espacio de arte contemporáneo con forma editorial. Oaxaca, México

Miradas al Foto Libro is a platform that arises with the purpose of contributing to dimensioning the transformation of the photographic scene and the contributions of this activity in contemporary visual culture. Thanks to Celeste Alba Iris this project was brought to its full potential.

Root Division is a visual arts non-profit, connects creativity and community through a dynamic ecosystem of arts education, exhibitions, and studios. The organization was founded in 2002 as a sustainable arts hub that would constructively address the main challenges facing Bay Area emerging artists: need for  low-cost studio space, exhibition opportunities, and arts-related professional experience. Giving back to the community is singular to our unique model where artists receive subsidized studio space in exchange for training and volunteering their time to do everything from teaching art classes to adults and low-income youth to organizing exhibitions.

Published by Alex Nichols

Alex Nichols is a San Francisco based interdisciplinary artist and writer who deconstructs the experience of self, tracks the perceived and performs the narrated idea of self through a disarming physicality, rigor and humor. Her current projects utilize video, monologue, performance, and installation, reconstructing the physical boxes, strings and language of constraints.

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