Abraham Cruzvillegas (b. 1968) is one of the most important conceptual artists of his generation. Over the past 10 years, the artist has developed a riveting body of work that investigates what he calls autoconstrucción, or “self-construction.” Featuring 30 to 35 individual sculptures and installations, along with his recent experiments in video, film, and performance, Abraham Cruzvillegas’ exhibition is the first major presentation to shed light on the artist’s unique vision and multifaceted practice.
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Rose Mary Salum: What made you become a visual artist, when your background is in philosophy?
Abraham Cruzvillegas: My background is art and education, not specifically philosophy. The year I started college, in 1985, I held my first art exhibition. I always wanted to be an artist. Yes, I also studied
philosophy, history, literature, journalism, but again: my goal was to be an artist.
RMS: You are not the only artist who uses discarded objects to build art and yet, your art is so different from the rest.
AC: The difference is that I never use garbage. I don’t see the materials I use as garbage, to me, they are objects other people think are dead. But for me, energy and matter never die… that’s all.
RMS: Sometimes, when I see your pieces, my first impression takes me to other cultures, to economic and political realms. Is that something you plan ahead?
AC: Yes. I think of some of my works as internal dialogues about economic clash and unfair distribution of wealth. What is trash for some, is someone else’s gold.
RMS: By “self-constructing,” you are also revealing or unveiling, I would not say the true nature of the objects, but their aesthetic nature, a certain truth that remained unveiled not only to you but to the spectator. You are also unveiling an array of their pragmatic uses. To me, this is the primary motor (in the Aristotelian sense) that moves you to do your work. Are you always in control of the results? Can you share your creative process?
AC: When I select a material to become part of an artwork, I don’t think about the artwork, but rather a possible usage. So, sometimes I collect things for long periods, just accumulating objects that I think are useful, but many times I don’t know what for. I also like to keep the very nature of the materials as I find them, not transforming them at all, or in a very subtle manner, so they can speak for themselves and to allow them to sustain their own dialogues properly, without my voyeuristic intervention. Just on that level: bearing witness.
RMS: For you, transformation occurs in the minds of the viewer, not in your work. Can you elaborate on this?
AC: Art is not really in the objects, but in people’s minds. I believe that things are alive and that they have an influence on us, so we are just forming part of an inner relationship, I think. This triggers interpretations in our understanding. But many times, we don’t want to do that, so we expect the artist to give us clear, finished messages. For me, this is boring. It makes me think that selfish artists produce unique meanings, boring works and lazy audiences.
RMS: By juxtaposing the organic and the manufactured, the handmade and the mass-produced, you remind us of Duchamp, but also you remind me of the very Mexican way of patching things up to make them work. What worldview is rooted in your way of doing things? You are Gabriel Orozco’s pupil. Can you share the influences he has had in your art?
AC: I have many influences, from artisans to filmmakers, poets and musicians. My work is influenced mostly by ordinary people who transform their realities with ingenuity and resourcefulness; this is something human, not Mexican or from the art world. My worldview is more like an ideology: I invent solutions according to specific needs. Each work demands a specific way of making it. There’s no homogeneous way of thinking in my work or in my mind, I’m very contradictory. I love instability, both conceptual and physical. Gabriel Orozco is a great artist and a great friend.
RMS: You’ve said, “After transforming something, I want it to be ready to be transformed again, by interpretation, by physical decay, by its own weight, by time. It happens anyway. That’s why I don’t like the idea of production, because it means arriving at the end, not a beginning.” However, your art will always remain permanent through the very images taken at your exhibitions. How do you deal with this contradiction?
AC: Interpretation happens with images as well. But contradiction happens in interpretation also. Archives and catalogues are subject to both of these.
RMS: Helio Oiticica has a piece titled Vermelho cortando o branco. The piece Autoconstrucción reminds me of that. How did you arrive at this aesthetic conclusion?
AC: The work you refer to is part of a series called Blind Self Portrait. I collect papers from my everyday life and I paint them on the back, which is the side you can see. The visual arrangement of the works is highly random, so they can appear as grids, or chaotic patterns, lines or messy ovals. I like that you thought about Hélio’s beautiful work, but I’m far from being as smart as he was.
RMS: When I think of your name, La curva and La polar immediately come to mind. Would you share how you conceived of these pieces?
AC: These works are more related to playfulness, but activating it, rather than talking about it. I just play.
RMS: Your art is often considered part of a new movement in Latin American art (which has been compared to the YBA boom in Britain in the 1980s). In your opinion, why is it that you are so well known in Mexico and Europe, whereas people hardly know your work here in the US?
AC: Since I was 21 years old, I’ve been told I’m part of a movement in Latin America, so now it’s been 24 years since it was said the first time. I think of myself as an intergalactic indigenous person, not as Latin American, Mexican or Chilango. I’m all of these things at the same time, but my language –when I make art– is more a Tower of Babel where everything fits in. In fact, I feel as close to some Scottish, Korean, Italian or French artists, as I do to some Peruvian, Argentinian, Mexican or Colombian artists. I’m also very well-known in the US: I have lots of friends around…
RMS: This exhibition promises to illustrate your contributions and the motivations and influences that have informed your thought, as well as your commitment to social and political realities that shape everyday lives. In your opinion, have you accomplished at least half of what you wanted to accomplish when you started out as an artist?
AC: In my perception, in the context you are talking about, I haven’t accomplished anything yet. But the exhibition at the Walker is the best beginning I ever could have dreamed of; I’m very proud and happy about it!
Rose Mary Salum is the founder and director of Literal, Latin American Voices. She´s the author of Delta de las arenas, cuentos árabes, cuentos judíos (Literal Publishing, 2013) among other titles.