Stella d’Ailly and Aldy Milliken: How can your art be seen as a political force?
Alex Villar: Rather than looking at the political realm with a focal lens that collapses its thought into what it seeks to achieve, one should understand it as occupying an entire spectrum, which traverses, among other things, the cultural realm. It is at the level of a coalition of counter-hegemonic positions, that I understand my work as contributing toward a political force.
Stella and Aldy: What are other interesting or personal references?
Alex: Beside the stimulation I find in the work of contemporary artists with whom I collaborate, I had the most formative experiences while confronting the work of the American artist Gordon Matta-Clark and the Brazilian Helio Oiticica. I learned about strength and defiance from Matta-Clark’s cutting gesture against the portentous physicality of architecture. And I learned about tactical physical displacements from Oiticica’s deployment of the makeshift constructions of the shantytown to create inhabitable spaces within the antiseptic configuration of the exhibition space. Both artists understood architecture as a determinant factor in the shaping of one’s subjectivity and set out to imagine ways to counter it. These artists’ work, in which lineage I would include my own work, share an understanding of the relationship between the space of experience and the space of presentation in the terms that Robert Smithson termed ‘site/nonsite.’
Stella and Aldy: In film and photography can we believe anything we see anymore? Who cares really?
Alex: The question of documenting reality and the discussion over the possibilities of its fabrication in face of the currently available technological tools is undoubtedly an interesting one. Also, in the sixties, the concern with questions of documentation in artistic practice provides us with substantial examples of the shortcomings of the notion of neutrality of presentation. In other words, have we ever truly believed what we saw, without considering not only the specific techniques that allow the fabrication of an image along with the conditions that limit and inform its reception?
Stella and Aldy: Who are your enemies?
Alex: My enemies are very clever, to the point that I cannot simply collect them as the police would when they catalog suspects or law offenders. My enemies don’t fit the pathological profile designed to differentiate the normal from the abnormal. Even if many of my pieces have focused on certain normative aspects of architecture, I would not name architecture among my enemies. I could not describe my enemies without changing the question’s pronoun from ‘who’ to ‘how.’ That is because, my enemies, to take on the challenge of the question, are not necessarily embodied in a subject but rather deployed via discrete mechanisms. The enemy is a procedure, a precise sequence of anticipated actions designed to accomplish particular routines, that seek to sediment a type of normalized behavior.
Stella and Aldy: How do you define yourself as an artist?
Alex: What for me remains attractive in the artist designation is the fact that this term remains relatively unfocused. In other words, the very signification of the word depends on the understanding of the particular practice with which the word is associated. I believe this kind of instability between a word and the meaning one derives from it can be productive. Herein lies an open possibility to engage in a situation that is not already completely preemptive of the experience one should have. Clearly, the figure of the artist is subjected to many conventions that often inform, if not, in some cases, fully determine what one can become. But I can say that I like to define myself as artist in this sense in which the possibilities are still relatively open to rearticulation, even if that is a proposition that needs to be repeatedly performed in order to be made consequential.
Stella and Aldy: When did you decide to become an artist?
Alex: I came into it relatively late, way into adulthood and through a gradual and lengthy process of self-discovery that made sense of a variety of disparate interests.
Stella and Aldy: What is your usual working process?
Alex: My process involves a lot of reading, mostly on theoretical matters, then leaving it all behind, getting very involved with very minute questions, developing these into more evolved ideas, that may become projects. Sometimes these pieces result from this continuous process of research, while at other times it is triggered by invitations and collaborations.
Stella and Aldy: What are you working on at the moment? How does it relate to previous work?
Alex: I am working in a project called Crash Course, which is to do with collision between human bodies and cars during contrived accidents. It relates to previous projects given that the main concern is the relationship between two vectors of force: the vector of determination and the vector of agency. I remain interested in power relationships, in how the subject is shaped by it but also in how the subject may redirect the constraints of a situation. This new work presents some new challenges as it introduces the possibility of invoking the fictional realm. It is still early to speak of results but I am very excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.
Stella and Aldy: What relationship do you have with your audience?
Alex: I remain absolutely fascinated by this encounter between work and audience. And yet, I know so little about it, in spite of my knowledge of the debates about art and audiences. In my work, I try to create an incomplete experience for my audiences, one that it is not necessarily supposed to be completed by them, but that could find a supplement in their experience of the work. I often create provisional architectural spaces to present video. These tend to occupy the exhibition space in a life-size scale. I hope to meet the audience half way: part of the experience provided by the work by means of a collection of interventive gestures; the other part provided by the actual presence and cognitive experience of the viewer. Perhaps a dialogue of sorts ensues.
Stella and Aldy: What are the benefits and the disadvantages of being an artist?
The advantages have a lot to do with the amplitude of possibilities of this activity, as I suggested while addressing your question about defining oneself as an artist. Practically speaking, working as an artist can be similar to other types of creative activity. It shares a lot of the same requirements, at least insofar as the development of the creative piece may be concerned. The similarities might stop there. The disadvantages of practicing as an artist are many, and this is of course a well-known problem that takes on many shapes but in the end boils down to the question of sustainability.
Stella and Aldy: If your work were translated into music what type of music would it be?
Alex: Punk rock; at least in spirit. Or, so I would hope.
Stella and Aldy: What do you wish happens to your work when you die?
Alex: The dream is about immortality, isn’t it? One often wants a part of oneself to go on living so that at least a trace of one’s existence doesn’t simply decompose along with one’s body, and the materiality of one’s experience would remain forever transcendent. Not my cup of tea. I think the best time for an artist’s work is the here and now. It is in this contemporary instance that it might best resonate against the ideas and events of its time. Of course, one wishes that the span of a work’s relevance be significant, this speaks of a desire to participate and influence the cultural debate.
Stella and Aldy: What do you like to get out from a residency?
Alex: Residency programs are very different. Many seem to derive from the same notion of providing temporary relief from daily distractions to allow the practitioner to focus on the work. But even this general outline proves to be differentiated when one speaks of international programs. I could say this: I expect residency programs to be different from one another, which leads me to expect different things from each program. Sometimes it is about getting a project done, other times it is about meeting new people, or even and simply to get out of town and clear your mind to do new work. Beyond those practical goals, I usually don’t expect much and I often gain a lot. I gain contact with a whole range of new interlocutors and I learn a thing or two about how life elsewhere can be so different and, yet, have so much in common.
Stella and Aldy: Do you like the ideas behind an/this open studios event?
Alex: I think the ideas for this event are quite interesting. There’s invention in the proposed idea and even a bit of a risk, which is something rare.
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