Once you mentioned that you didn’t work in the studio, because you didn’t have it. Could you reveal the secret, how it’s possible to create complex objects and make fascinating shows without a permanent “basement”? How is your working place arranged now?
I don’t think there is any secret. I just adapted myself to the limitations of space at first, and then it became a kind of methodology for my work that gradually extended and transformed the ways of understanding the process of research and production. I have worked without a studio for several years; however I have always had some place where I could do little experiments, and also store materials and objects that I have been collecting and classifying during the whole period that I have been living in Belgium. I’ve never felt the real need to have a proper studio as a working space, because I find it more interesting to work under conditions of shortages and limitations. It gives me the chance to deal with my projects more freely, improvising, negotiating and adapting my ideas to a certain context. Not having a traditional studio has forced me to think differently and take into consideration other things; most of the time, the exhibition is determined in the installation process. It has always been important for me to work under pressure and anxiety, the exigency of concentration, the feeling of vertigo when things are not clear enough but I always trust my intuition and I am committed to each project.
In that sense I can say that I have been working in a sort of nomadic studio, in permanent transit between different types of spaces that are not necessarily physical – like in my mind, my phone, chaotic notes, experiments in the street; while visiting museums, flea markets, scrap yards, etc., where I’m always trying to search, document and organize information that could transform into potential pieces or installations. The exhibition spaces become temporary studios where I bring a large amount of materials and pre-set assemblages that take shape and place on the site. The result of each project is the materialization of a mental and physical state which responds to the characteristics and limitations of each context. It’s during these days or weeks that everything is negotiating as part of a complex system of references and relations.
However, I have decided to have a studio this year. I must admit that after working for so many years without it, it’s a big new challenge for me. It obliges me to reconsider many things and approach my work resorting to other kinds of processes and dynamics that I need to re-learn and that’s very exciting.
In your bio, it’s mentioned that you are originally from Lima, Peru but you received prestigious classical western European education, having graduated from HISK in Ghent, and then settled in Belgium. What influenced you most in the search of your own medium and artistic language – your deep roots and national connection or the context you found yourself in while studying? Could you remember the most difficult challenges you went through “becoming an artist”?
Both have been a permanent influence indeed. In my projects, there is a constant negotiation and dialogue between opposing forces that generate a hybrid body of work that cannot be defined or oriented in a single direction. There is a constant mixture of influences, interests, and references intertwined. In that sense, not only my Peruvian roots have influenced me, but also my family, academic, social and working environment. My father is a biologist and was the director of the Natural History Museum in Lima when I was growing up. My mother worked as a forensic chemist in the police department during the 80s and 90s, when Peru was going through its most violent times due to terrorism, and we had car bombs attacks and electricity blackouts almost every day. On the other hand, my grandmother was German and I studied in a Swiss school in Lima that was a kind of a bubble within that tough period. As you can imagine all these contrasts have influenced my growth as a person and artist on different levels.
Then I started my art studies in Lima, in Barcelona and finally came to Belgium to do the program at HISK 8 years ago. Regarding your other question, I would say that the most challenging thing was to keep going as an artist. The artistic career is full of never-ending challenges on multiple levels and no one teaches you how to deal with them because there are no rules that work for everyone. It’s a way of self-awareness and resilience. I think it’s pretty difficult for many artists to deal with the instability and uncertainty of career and life, trying to reach a consistency of work. It’s a challenge also to find the necessary motivation and concentration when you are trying to maintain mental, emotional, economic, and creative stability that allows you to manage your career in a responsible and committed way in the long term.
Is it possible for the artist nowadays to preserve a kind of autonomy, balancing between the dominating and mainstream issues in art discourse on one side, and between the institutional world influenced by money-power duo, on the other side? Do you see yourself as an “independent” artist or is it a kind of fake term that means nothing but is still frequently used?
It is difficult to answer because each artist is a unique case and each one reacts and leads his/her career following very specific goals and levels of demand. I think in all cases it is important to identify your own priorities, to define the way you want to live, how you want to work, to manage your career and what rules of the game you are willing to accept within this system or structure that we call contemporary art. Then you can start to move the chips on the board but there is no guarantee of anything and that can be very frustrating in my opinion.
In my case, I can’t say that I am a totally independent artist because I collaborate with galleries that represent, defend and promote my works. And I accept the rules of the game because I can live exclusively through this job, creating different kinds of art projects, while the gallerists take care of all the administrative matters, fairs, consignment agreements and relations with collectors or institutions. On the other hand, I also collaborate with art centers, museums or non-commercial art spaces that invite me from time to time to make projects and exhibitions. My relationship with them is more independent and I only involve some of my galleries for logistical issues. However, I believe that an artist can perfectly work independently but he or she definitely has to be a very organized and active person in order to efficiently develop all the different levels of his/her career.
Does the artist today need an exclusivity of gallery representation, from your point of view?
When I receive an invitation from a gallery to participate in an exhibition (either group or individual) I first try to evaluate several factors. The most important thing for me is that the minimum requirements are met before the decision is made. I’m trying to be more aware to work in the right conditions, respecting basic issues on a professional level. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s difficult to control, but all this serves as a useful way to gain experience.
As for the exclusivity with a gallery representation, it is a strictly personal decision that depends on the agreements between both sides. There are different types of galleries and sometimes it is difficult to find the right one specifically for you. That’s why exclusivity, in my opinion, is something that one should evaluate very thoroughly because it could also bring annoying and negative experiences. It doesn’t make much sense to have an exclusive contract with a gallery that doesn’t responsibly fulfill its role in protecting its artist, selling work, getting opportunities, and giving visibility. That’s always a negotiation and there must be trust and faith from the beginning. If an artist collaborates with the right gallery, it is also important to keep regular communication, and take care and respect the agreements, as in any relationship.
You are working with a wide range of materials, objects, creating complex and sophisticated installations as well as making photography, painting, site-specific interventions. Do you have a preferred medium? Or every installation is a universe of elements you are creating through your research, text, and artistic practice?
When I think of my work, I don’t see it as a progressive and orderly construction of projects, but as an open network where ideas are constantly revisited, shuffled and articulated under different approaches and redefined over time. For me all that information is circulating, adapting and redefining itself through different levels of negotiation, where both error and success are important within the process. I often return to unfinished ideas from past projects, reuse strategies, materials or even recycle pieces incorporating other objects or media that allow me to open other paths of investigation. My projects thus become speculative exercises and conceptual tools that I use to review and reconsider my work in general through the different directions I take.
It’s like being lost trying to draw a map of a territory that doesn’t yet exist. It is through the map that the territory takes shape, like a space in ongoing construction and modification. In that sense, I can’t say that I work with a particular medium because I use or incorporate all kinds of information that I consider relevant to open new paths within my research. I’m not interested in talking about my work in terms of pieces or special features but of ideas and processes in continuous growth that materialize and reorganize in different ways over time, like a large archive without a clear system of organization. More than a group of defined and definitive pieces, what I’m looking for are unstable links between things. Diachronic objects keep open dialogs in a common space exchanging information beyond language.
In many of your projects, you refer to archeological issues in different ways. Why and when did archeology become a vital part of your professional interests?
One of the aspects that interests me most about archaeology is that it is a discipline that deals mainly with objects affected by time and how these are susceptible to readings with a lot of room for error and speculation when there is not enough data. I find fascinating the possibility of giving form to the past, completing the missing parts through the vestiges and fragments that resist their imminent disappearance. I’m interested in the possibility of obtaining information through different types of technical procedures that help us constantly rewrite the past and take that as a basis for imagining possible futures. Another aspect that interests me in archaeology is the obsessive desire to reveal, classify and organize everything that has lost structure and symmetry through processes of rupture, fragmentation and dispersion. Material flows that eventually go into a chaotic states. This confrontation of opposing forces: a regulation/contention on one side and a force that overflows, breaks up and spreads on the other is something that definitely interests me a lot and I try to use it to some extent in my projects under different types of strategies. I tend to use structures, shelves, grids, containers or elements that build areas of regulation, where different elements and entropic processes coexist. I am interested in everything that breaks the balance within a system, proposing alternative readings that are beyond the anthropocentric worldview. Everything that rethinks and reconfigures certain cognitive structures that we take for granted in our constant obsession to find certainties about everything we do not know.
Is it important for you to keep connected to your own roots and ancient civilizations when the objects as a result of technologies were at the same time part of spiritual practices as well? Does the phenomenological, spiritual, and cult nature of the objects mean something for your practice?
I work on the basis of intuition, conceptual reasoning and symbolic load that certain objects carry in different cultures. I am particularly interested in temporal leaps, syncretism and hybrid associations between heterogeneous objects from different origins. Through these encounters I seek to relativize the function and value of things, opening other routes to redefine their existence. My Peruvian roots will always influence me to a certain extent and it is reflected unconsciously in my work.
I have never been interested in spiritual tradition in a practical way but rather from an anthropological perspective. For example, I find the animistic relationship that certain cultures establish with the world fascinating as a concept, as a starting point to reconsider the relationships we establish between the living and the non-living, between the human and the non-human, between thought (the self) and the material world. I am not very interested in the idea that things possess an anima or a spiritual character, but the capacity of agency. The objects are not only what we think they are. They are not only passive elements that perform a specific function during a certain time; rather, they are also active entities that affect the contexts and lives of other beings, performing very complex dynamic processes while being transformed and disseminated throughout the world. Despite being inert entities, if we think about their emergence, mobilization, grouping, overlapping, degrees of transformation and other characteristics throughout their existence, these could remind us of the dynamics that govern the existence of certain living organisms. All materials – and therefore objects – have the same natural origin. We should be aware that artificial or industrial components are created from long chains of processed natural materials.
Nothing is really stable or permanent. Things transform and decay at different rates despite their apparent inactivity. Energy is always being transmitted and released as matter changes form and physical state. Everything is in transition to another state or material level. In that sense, the boundaries between the living and the inert, the organic and the synthetic, nature and culture, the material and the virtual, the unique and the collective or the human and the non-human become blurred. Animals, people, plants, insects, bacteria, digital information and goods of all kinds, are constantly circulating around the world, affecting the world and leaving different types of traces in their path throughout their existence. Although we can’t perceive certain changes and movements, everything is on the move in a great flow of energy and information within a large holistic system, like a large organism, swarm or assemblage where everything seems to be interconnected to some extent.
The human body is not the axis by which things should be perceived and measured. We must try to think in a more geological and cosmological sense, at a larger scale where a human being is not the center, but one more agent among many others within a very complex system that is impossible to quantify.
We are matter, and – like it happens with other objects – our fragments scatter and merge with space when we die. To break and scatter implies to be recovered by the territory of which we were part, to become space again, where other bodies are mobilized, to then become dust as well and be part of something else in the future; it’s an endless cycle.
Everything moves with different rhythms and magnitudes; this incessant activity of micro and macro events is present in life and death, organic and industrial, material and virtual. Everything is part of a great mesh that builds a changing reality on multiple levels that we are not able to perceive in all its magnitude. And that is something very shamanic.
How do you see the connection between quite opposite from the first sight phenomena: technological acceleration and archeology? I am referring here, first of all, to your projects “The Archeology of Darkness” and “Times in Collapse”. How do you see the basic connection between time and technologies for humankind?
In a logical sense, technology evolves and tends to look forward, while archeology is a discipline that by definition is constantly collecting data from the past through material traces left by our ancestors. However, we sometimes forget that both the past and the future are under continuous construction. We can never have absolute knowledge of the past. The information we have is constantly changing based on new clues and technology that allow us to raise new hypotheses about something that will always remain blurry. On the other hand, it is from the knowledge of the past that we can speculate about possible futures. And if archaeology has taught us anything, it is that no empire or civilization lasts forever.
We cannot conceive technology as an isolated, autonomous, and fixed category, it’s an open process, a continuous flow of information that we inherit from the beginning of humanity and use to expand new paths of knowledge that is not always positive, of course. A technological advance always starts from a problem to be solved, something that activates new ways of thinking and operates to reach the desired result in the most efficient way possible. Technology not only solves problems but also creates new ones, and these, in turn, force us to look for new solutions that end up changing not only our way of interacting with the world but change the world itself.
The history of humankind is a history of adaptation to a hostile environment through technology. We have come a long way from the most primitive tools and artifacts to overproduction and overexploitation of natural resources. Unless there is a significant change in our culture of consumption, pollution and an unhealthy relationship with the ecosystem could lead us to imminent collapse and extinction.