Capitalism, practiced as a religion and a norm, gives rise to notions of progress that have a way of crushing in their path any and all historical, social, sensitive or mnemic (memory and recollections) links: any possible connection with the medium. This situation has led the artist to seek and revive historical sensibilities of the past (principally the romanticism of the late 18th century) that came about in response to similar situations that are now brought to life at the present moment in a somewhat defeated, post-apocalyptic manner.
But this response from the realm of art conveys more than just feelings of melancholy, tedium, fatigue and boredom—it brings with it new energies that recover, desire and envision other spaces, other ways of living, this time in the form of “micro-utopias;” a series of ideals that are necessarily modest, for confronting a dominant logic that is so much more powerful.
The actions undertaken by Nicolás Sánchez are almost always anecdotal tales, little pretexts for speaking about other things that, ultimately, are what intersect and structure his work: a soccer game, a meander through semi-urban areas with friends, a recipe for marmalade, a casual conversation, an illegal connection, the pursuit of an electric cable, the construction of a raft and its aimless disembarkation. All of these actions point to the same thing: they reveal certain urban situations, they recover forgotten memories, defend other velocities, reclaim lost spaces, rediscover other ways that people relate to one another and the environment, illustrate the need for other spaces and times for social connection and exchange, discover other dynamics and illuminate new alternatives as gestures of resistance to the ever- increasing tendency toward flattening, alienation, homogeneity and solitude.
What follows is an interview that is based on the exhibition Micro-Utopías but that could easily speak for an entire body of work, of perhaps minimal impact but tremendous metaphorical resonance.
Pamela Prado: What is the nature of the work you are exhibiting in Micro-Utopías?
Nicolás Sánchez: My piece is entitled La balsa de Noé (living off) the fat of the land (Noah’s Raft (living off) the fat of the land), and its title refers to the story in the Bible in which God orders Noah to build an ark to go off in search of another land, “where the seed of a new humanity may take root.” The English part of the title, “living off the fat of the land” shares that origin, and its original significance is a reference to living off the fertility and abundance of the earth, a phrase which today we can glumly translate as living off the fat of the capital cities. Specifically, the gallery installation consists of the projection of a video that documents the process that involved building, out of waste materials, a raft that I sailed down the Mapocho River. That raft is also part of the installation.
PP: I’d like to know where you work. In your studio? At home?
NS: I don’t have a studio, I try to use the city for that. My materials come from the city, which is where I work on them and where I set up my installations. My house is my studio, and that’s where I do the preparatory and follow-up work, which is slower and more detailed, and focused on planning, analysis and editing.
PP: To what degree is your work artistic and to what degree is it political?
NS: Hmm...I think my work is political insofar as it is artistic. My artistic vision and practice have to do with resisting a cookie- cutter approach to life. And this inevitably critical, contrarian and stubborn attitude gives the work political meaning and weight. I like to think of my pieces from the perspective of Joseph Beuys’s belief in the indivisibility of art and life, or something like the feminist catchphrase “the personal is political,” which defines art as something that emerges out of a critical stance toward life.
PP: What are the elements that are always present in your work?
NS: I’d like to point out two things: firstly, there is a quest –in both a metaphorical and a literal sense—that is prompted by a feeling of dissatisfaction that is constant and maybe impossible to resolve, that might ultimately respond to the mythical search for the cosmic axis. And secondly, there is a romantic quality, a melancholic approach to reality that is somewhat desperate and post-apocalyptic but always produces a spark of joy or hope within its sense of weariness.
PP: Who are your references?
NS: I have great respect for the work of Joseph Beuys, the Situationists, the Romantic landscape artists, Robert Smithson, Richard Long, Edward Hopper, Andreas Gursky, and Francis Alÿs, to name a few people from the realm of visual arts. And if I may, I’d also like to add the poètes maudits, H.D. Thoreau, Manfred Max- Neef, Adolfo Aristarain and Charly García.
PP: You work conveys some very harsh criticism of Capitalism. Could you develop a bit more about this?
NS: More than directing it toward the economic model and its execution, I think that the criticism found in my work in general is related to the application of that economic model as a religion, ideology and sole model. In other words, bringing the notion of exchange value to all levels of human life is tantamount to seeing and understanding the world in a very incomplete way, as if it were a huge supermarket. This has given way to certain ideas about progress in which the progressive flattening of the world is celebrated in the form of isolated suburbs, residential skyscrapers and bedroom communities united by six-lane highways, to give just one example connected to urban life.
PP: When I speak about micro-utopias it is related to the way in which your work makes a social statement, the way it forces us to question the structures of our society. It doesn’t attempt to change the world; instead, it presents alternative realities. What, in your opinion, are some of these realities?
NS: I’m not sure that the realities I present are very well-defined, but what I do, at least, is suggest a territory from which to imagine them. Fleeting places where other coordinates of the senses operate, where behind the fat of the capital cities we may find the memory, recollections, history, culture, knowledge, contemplation, the relationship with nature, human scale and velocity, self- control, social connections, generosity, and communication that are ultimately what allow us to understand one another and the world around us in richer, more diverse ways.
PP: In what way does your work relate to the viewer?
NS: I invite viewers into these new realities, and try to inspire them to create their own realities. And this is where I must emphasize the importance of the gesture in my work, because it is more suggestive in its attitude than effective in its action, and rather than being a finished work to admire, it is a suggestion, an invitation that gives viewers a space in which their desires may emerge. There is the intention of using poetry to illuminate alternative forms of life, creative forms of inhabiting space, and other visions of reality.
Pamela Prado is a Curator and art writer based in Santiago and Sao Paulo. She holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Chile (2000) and graduated from the Royal College of Art in London with an MA degree in Curating Contemporary Art (2009). For the last 10 years she has undertaken a number of studies and work experiences integrating curating, art and philosophy. She has curated the exhibitions: “Wonderland: Actions and Paradoxes” (Centro Cultural Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, February 2010), “Office of Real Time Activity” (Royal College of Art, London, March 2009), amongst others. Prado also organized the Seminar: “The New Archive. Documenting Visual Art from Latin America”, (Royal College of Art, London, May 2009). She has produced some publications and conducted interviews, such as the exhibition catalogue Friends of the divided mind, Royal College of Art, London, 2009; interviews to some curators such as Moacir Dos Anjos, (Exit Express, No. 47, 2009); and recently the book “Alfredo Jaar. The eyes of Gutete Emerita.” (Ograma, September 2010). Since 2009, she is working independently, and in collaboration with Danish art writer Sidsel Nelund, has created Curating Contexts, a platform for researching, discussing and reflecting on contemporary art in Santiago de Chile. She has just also finished a curatorial residency at Permanent Forum: Art Museums between the public and private realm in Sao Paulo, Brazil (September 2010).