Karen Zalamea The Prefix Prize
The recipient of the third annual Prefix Prize is Karen Zalamea, a Filipino-Canadian artist who resides in Burnaby, B.C. With an interdisciplinary practice rooted in photography, Zalamea is adept in the use of a wide range of photographic substrates, creative approaches and installation strategies. Accordingly, her works are occasionally abstract, often textural and layered, and always sensitive to their modes of display.
For her Prefix Prize exhibition, Zalamea presents They are lost as soon as they are made (2020), a series of archival inkjet prints displayed in a grid formation. During an artist’s residency in Iceland, she produced the work using a handcrafted large-format camera with ice lenses—that is, lenses that had been fabricated by freezing locally sourced water in custom moulds—in order to photograph the surrounding environment. The resulting soft-focused images reduce the landscape—and landscape as a genre—to its fundamentals. Often, light at the top of the image descends into darkness at the bottom, with scarcely a horizon line to be seen. Smoky greys, luminous whites, and every conceivable shade of blue dominate, with rocks, beaches and other more representational elements only occasionally evident. Taken as a whole, the work is undulating and atmospheric, evoking the constancy of change. It is attuned to the fleeting moment, imbued with a sense of the infinite. While all photography captures a passing moment, perhaps it is the artist’s use of the ice lens—with its inherent impermanence, its particles of matter, bubbles of air, and other imperfections—that amplifies the uniqueness of each image and heightens the sense of its ephemeral nature.
Always attuned to material culture, Zalamea has also produced They are lost as soon as they are made in the form of an artist’s book. Exquisitely manufactured as a limited edition, the book offers, through the handling and turning of pages, yet another way to appreciate the work’s deep and mysterious temporality.
Launched in 2021, the Prefix Prize is awarded annually to a photographic artist of any nationality. Designed to honour artists at any stage of their careers who have yet to receive the recognition they deserve, the prize consists of an exhibition, a publication, and a cash award of $5,000. This year’s prize was juried by eight senior photography experts, including Ryan Doherty, senior curator, Contemporary Calgary; Sean Lee, director of programming, Tangled Art and Disability; Scott McLeod, founding director, Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art; Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, director, Haus der Kulturen der Welt; Tara Smith, executive director, Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival; Brittany Waldner, senior designer, Underline Studio; and Jennifer Young and Caroline Laxton, co-chairs, Project Development, Partners in Art. In addition to choosing the recipient of this year’s prize, the jury recognized Oscar Alvaredo and Alnis Stakle with honourable mentions. Alvaredo, a Spanish artist who currently resides in Barcelona, evokes the mystery and the strangeness within the everyday rhythms of his ancestral village, while Stakle, a Latvian photographer, explores urban environments wherein the systems and structures designed to sustain society are simultaneously alienating.
Curated by Scott McLeod with the Prefix Prize jury
Presented by Prefix ICA in partnership with CONTACT, Tangled Art and Disability, and Underline Studio, and with the support of founding partner, Partners in Art
Karen Zalamea is a Filipino-Canadian artist, educator and cultural worker based in Burnaby, BC. With an interdisciplinary practice rooted in photography, Zalamea considers the camera-mediated relationship between the body and space, as well as the material and representational potential of the photographic surface. She holds a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver) and an MFA from Concordia University (Montréal), and she has carried out artist residencies in the Philippines, Iceland and Canada. Her work has been presented in solo, group and public-art exhibitions across Canada and internationally, most recently at the Capture Photography Festival (Vancouver).