Submerging a Suburbia

Water, bubbles, paper, photographs and destruction come together as works of art in one student’s new Marshall Student Center (MSC) Centre Gallery exhibition.

“Fragile Suburbia,” which ends Friday, documents neighborhood house dioramas that are crafted out of paper, submerged in a water tank and then captured on camera.

Artist Gabriel Ramos, a senior majoring in fine arts, is working on a thesis that incorporates his exhibition.

“Fragile Suburbia” collects eight photographs where Ramos experiments with camera and manual techniques to explore the effect of water on architectural structures made of paper.

After spending seven to nine hours constructing the paper suburbias and setting up the lighting, Ramos said he shot for about 20 minutes before the structures were destroyed underwater.

He said he intended to capture the atmosphere and reaction of the paper structures when they interact with water and other components such as bubbles, lighting and color.

“The process and aesthetics of the work is what matters most to me,” Ramos said.

Alex Solomon, a sophomore majoring in vocal performance, said he enjoyed Ramos’ photographs as the crumbling paper dioramas create landscapes with “a Tim Burton-ish, eerie cartoon style.”

“I mostly liked the photograph ‘Suburban Landscape 2′ – I love the color of the houses and the way that the water gives the composition a murky effect,” Solomon said.

Ramos said he used a projector to devise the visual effects of “Suburban Landscape 2” by projecting the image of a skyline from the back of the tank to create two sources of light.

“The paper structures are submerged into a tank full of water, and from the outside, I manipulate the lighting and other effects that I think give the photograph the aesthetics that I am looking for,” he said.

Another photograph called “Untitled” shows a road running through building structures, with the water’s surface and a light shining in clearly visible.

Ashley Ortiz-Diaz, a sophomore majoring in fine arts, said she had only wished there was a way to see the process behind the photographs in person.

“I guess it is kind of hard to carry various tanks of water to the exhibition,” she said.

The exhibition also features a 3-D structure and installation called “Paper Houses.”

The installation consists of three large pieces of paper folded against the gallery’s wall and pushing onto the floor. The panels’ lower sections contain pop-up paper houses that just barely stand on their own.

Ramos said he has long felt an attachment to the physical format of paper and hoped to convey his social commentary through it.

“Paper is something I am extremely connected to,” he said. “I used to play with it ever since I was a child, and this was the opportunity to showcase a viewpoint through this material.”

Daiquiri Rene Jones, a senior majoring in cultural anthropology and women’s studies, said the structure’s paper material displays deeper meanings at work.

“The paper reflects the artist’s intention,” Jones said. “No matter from what kind of suburbia you come from – no matter how fancy or pretty or poor it might be – there’s always that fragility. We all come from that same substance, and his work shows it exactly as it is.”

Overall, Ramos said “Paper Houses” and the photographs have an ultimate message about the delicateness of even life’s most extensive plans and processes.

“It’s sort of an allegory of life,” he said. “People prepare for years for future events that might not be impactful, nor exist forever.”

The Centre Gallery is located in MSC 2700 and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the artist and upcoming exhibitions, visit