After the series Atmospheres (there is something existential in these images that I cannot name) exhibited in 2015 in Galería NAC, Nicolás Sánchez continues to look at the sky in this new work based on archive images from NASA’s Apollo program, whose objective was to take man to the moon.
For centuries, mankind has been fascinated by the very idea of space travel. Long before engineers and scientists seriously considered the possibility of outer space travel, art and literature were already inflamed with fantasies outside the Earth’s atmosphere. And the moon, our closest astronomical neighbor - only 3 days away by spacecraft - and visible to the naked eye, has been one of the main scenarios of these attempts by science fiction to placate with images the terror of the future, of the great void.
Only 12 men have stepped on the Moon in 6 successful NASA and Apollo missions. Neil Armstrong was the first to touch the surface as he descended from the lunar module on July 20, 1969 on the Apollo 11 mission. The last to walk on the moon was Eugene Cernan on December 14, 1972 on the Apollo 17 mission. These 12 men have been the only ones to set foot on an astronomical object other than Earth. And they did so by carrying cameras attached to their space suits with which they recorded their lunar walks in search of explanations.
The images of this exhibition were created from these originals, preserved in the public archives of NASA’s Apollo program. In a process that took 3 years, I made a selection from more than 8,000 images, which were referenced in the lunar atlas and then digitally joined to form a new image of greater amplitude. It is a personal exploration of a historical archive, with a concern for the sublime, for the act of photographing, for the traces of human experience, for the less scientific images.
The exhibition also shows blueprints of original schemes and plans of the lunar module, satellite photographs captured by the LROC (Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter Camera) of the landing sites that show the still visible traces of the trails, and a series of videos of the space race obtained from the same archive. The views of the lunar surface, rocky, fine, dusty, without atmosphere, bathed in a white, silver light and the great silence as a backdrop, seem to puncture us with fundamental questions that shoot out in all directions: the mystery of the cosmic drama, the technical prowess, the astonishment and the human desire to understand, the existential vertigo caused by infinite spaces, - or as Buzz Aldrin described it, perplexed as he came down from the lunar module - the magnificent desolation.
The word zoo was first used by the London Zoological Gardens, which opened in 1828 following the spirit of the menageries, collections of captive animals for the viewing pleasure of imperial, royal or aristocratic families. Under a Zoo, Human beings were also sometimes displayed, in cages along with non-human animals, to illustrate the supposed differences between people of European and non-European origin.
The Great Exhibition that took place in Hyde Park, London, in October 1851, was the first in a series of World's Fair exhibitions of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century where all the countries around the world wanted to show what they were and what they wanted to be. Human zoos could also be found in these exhibitions, as in the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition or the -very recent- 1958 Expo '58 in Brussels.
The Universal Exposition of Paris of 1855 also incorporated the traditional Salon that was customary since centuries before. That year however, Gustave Courbet decided to set his own show in a temporary space right next to the Salon entrance. His Pavilion of Realism, as he called it, aimed to present his work in a better and more free spirited way than the one imposed by the Academy, taking into his own hands the choice of location, organizing the setting, selecting the artworks and even planning a financing scheme for the reception of his work, all this long before the appearance of what we nowadays know as curators.
Zoo - an artists' c̶u̶r̶a̶t̶e̶d̶ exhibition - is an open, hearty, artist-organized show that links together a multicultural group of artists who quietly produce honest objects in their studios nearby the disappeared Zoo Park in Brehmplatz. The show relies on different artistic approaches and their interaction, showcasing works by Rimma Arslanov, Stefan à Wengen, Thomas Bambey, Lisa Bergsteiner, Giulia Bowinkel & Friedemann Banz, Zhenia Couso Martell, Rahel Gubari, Stephan Kaluza, Christoph Knecht, Haure Madjid, Roy Mordechay, Jon Moscow, Peter Müller, Linda Nadji, Ninakarlin Prinz, Nicolas Sanchez, Regina Magdalena Sebald, Gil Shachar, Ira Vinokurova and Jongsuk Yoon.
Nicolas Sanchez L.
Vernissage September 9th 2016, 19:00 Opening Hours: From Saturday 10th untill Friday 16th
10 - 6 pm & by appointment +49 01638000585 Finissage September 16th, 19:00 Lepsien Art Foundation
Müllheimer Str. 25
To love the world, to travel, is a subtle art
which consists in discovering
the hidden ties that link the cities. Salvador Reyes, Andanzas por el desierto de Atacama.
Since the late nineteenth century, Antofagasta was the port for all those spurred by the desire to make quick fortune. They came in boats full of dreams of gold and precious metals, to this isolated strip of land between two boundless expanses - the Atacama desert and the Pacific Ocean. The city was built thus, by desire, hope and disappointment; by epic undertakings and lonely feats, in that eternal human quest for fortune and welfare.
The riches hidden in the desert were such that it was come to believe that the pampa was a magnetized surface that attracted metallic substances from the sky and the earth. The truth is that to these uninhabitable, barren lands, men threw themselves in search of riches; here lived and agonized thousands of men, between fortune and misfortune, triumph and misery, charging against the desert in a lifetime effort, fuelled by the fascination and the chimera of the vein.
I'll be showing my Tourists Trilogy under "Inventory: an incidental collection" at Cecilia Brunson Projects, together with Catalina Bauer, Ian Davenport, Amy Gadney, Sebastián Gordin, Josefina Guilisasti, Mona Hatoum, Nina Katchadorian, Lucia Pizzani, Gerardo Pulido, Tomás Rivas, Macarena Ruiz-Tagle and Cristián Silva.
"After completing the first year of our project space, we took the time to look at our inventory in order to bring out some works that we love and would like to share with you. These include pieces by artists who have already been shown at the space as well as some we will be showing in exhibitions to come. This sneak peek into our inventory shows our trajectory so far but also sheds a light on the idea of collections built through time, inspired by different interests, and that consequently trigger connections of their own"
The sun descending in the west, The evening star does shine; The birds are silent in their nest, And I must seek for mine Night by William Blake
As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves Mahatma Gandhi
Nicolas Sanchez artistic practice is pulled by an incessant need to wander. He has built a consistent and diverse body of work that incorporates performance, film, installation and photography, and many of it is made in wide-ranging and often inaccessible geographic locations such as Siberia and Patagonia. Other works explore themes closer to home: such as the study of the London pubs and the city of London depicted during the ‘graveyard hour’ of the slowest night of the drinking week, as seen in this exhibition at Sala Gasco. Between Walter Benjamin’s Flâneur and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, he situates himself as both observer and subject within the work. All in all, Nicolás Sánchez practice makes a deep and evocative argument that oscillates around a permanent sense of loss. Just as Romanticism arose in response to the excess of 18th Century rationalism and its broken utopian promises, Sanchez uses his landscapes as a form of romantic escapism whilst breathing into them a feeling of desperation, melancholy, anger and hope.
The following is a conversation between curator Cecilia Brunson and the artist Nicolás Sánchez that had place on Cecilia Brunson Projects at London, UK, on a rainy Saturday of September 2013.
Nicolas, I have to say that when you came with your first picture, I knew you had a really interesting project in hands, and my fingers itched to make an exhibition. How did you come about these images of pubs at night?
The project arose from the need to do something with that infinite city, to respond to that universe which are big cities where we seem to get together to feel less alone, and paradoxically we isolate ourselves through the same impulse. But London is so hyper photographed that I decided to start exploring the city at night -when everything which is clear and known becomes diffuse without precise boundaries -, on its empty hours, on Sunday midnights. One of the things that immediately caught my attention was this image of the pubs at their closing hour. This old British institution, this gathering place of artists, intellectuals, writers, poets, bohemians and anonymous night owls of every age, appeared for me in a whole new perspective. They were like sinking ships in the middle of the night, where a handful of castaways, contained and never content, seem to want to postpone the damn hour when the bars are about to close. It was a very seductive mix of pleasure and despair but in a kind of harmony. I was at first sight shocked and in love with this image.
And the night itself has been a subject for so many artistic movements...
Especially for the Romantics, that I admire a lot... they found in the night an alternative to the clarity of the enlightenment. I think it is the same again... The night appeared as a stage full of metaphors about the paradox of human experience in the city, about that endless search and our need to complete ourselves.
Yes!, and despite the darkness of the night, there is a sort of warmth coming out of the pub even though it’s at its closing hour...
It is part of this ambivalence of the image, although the pub is closing and this darkness is covering everything, then this sort of warmth appears... they, the patrons are a few, but they are carrying a fire, that is contrasting with the emptiness and quietude of the exterior. It is a very special and beautiful moment with a very special atmosphere...
In London pubs there is still the tradition of calling the closure with the phrase "time gentlemen please"...
Right. The parish rings a bell and announces the closing of the place; beers are hurried, farewells follow and with it the feeling of nostalgia that accompanies any ending. Outside, the city silently falls into shadows and the dim light of the streetlamps guides the last night owls home through empty streets and sidewalks.
And if we associate the work with Hopper obviously, and Manet... Is that something you would associate yourself with?
It was unavoidable, when I saw these pub images, to think in Hopper’s Nighthawks and secondly in Manet as you point...
I am thinking of his “Bar at the Folie-Bergere” painting...
Absolutely, this sad girl behind the bar... but mostly Hopper. He was the portrayer of the great depression at the United States, of the hopeless sensation behind the optimism in the economic growth. I love when Hopper paints empty houses or buildings because he is actually painting people, portraits of people even though you can’t see them
I find that really interesting, because, just like hopper was capturing that moment of depression, you are capturing a city in a moment where there is an absolute affluence, and it’s a culture of excess. Is this a sort of critique?
It’s just the bringing back of historic sensibilities... more than a critique I prefer to talk of an awareness of the gigantic shadows that the future projects in our present -following Shelley, the poet-. And part of the seductiveness of these images is that you can see that affluence but you also can see the other side of the story. The feelings that these images awake may reflect a crisis of excesses, but also of shortcomings. I think that this double reading is interesting because it speaks of feelings transversal to all epochs.
Aha, and the image “Untitled (Lord Southampton, Belsize Park)”; for example? What’s the story behind it?
This has been Martha’s family pub for over 80 years. I know the story because many times, waiting for the perfect time, I went inside the pub and started talking with their owners. Martha is selling the pub, she is closing, nobody is coming, a buyer wants to build luxury apartments there. So I tried too, to make these portraits of pubs, like people’s portraits, just in the way I think Hopper did.
And what role do the photographs of parks in the middle of the night play within the entire photo series?
They are also nocturnal cityscapes of London, but with a wider, more distant gaze. In the logic of the series they function as context, as a more distant portrait but of the same moment in the middle of the night’s deepness. While outside the city sleeps, others plot their own revolution within their hearts, get lost in the nights in order to remake themselves every day, to change everything by changing themselves.
In the photos, but particularly in the video, as a viewer, it is very captivating and you feel a bit like a voyeur...
The idea was to immerse the viewer in this special atmosphere. It is very voyeuristic at first sight, but sometimes you get into the image and become part of the scene too...
And this kind of mounting of the photos, I think it helped a lot…
Exactly. At a quick look, you only see glare and reflections. But having a second gaze you start to see things, you penetrate the surface, you get into the scenery and find details in the shadows and capture the whole atmosphere. It was a way of slowing down the images...
And that’s what I find very appealing as well about this project. Normally I find that in photography, you look at pictures and you capture things immediately, whereas painting needs a different kind of time. And what these photographs do is link both worlds. There is a moment when you begin to see, to discover…
In all my works I always try to slow down the images with a steady and contemplative gaze and aesthetics. This has to do with the actual difficulty of the images to trigger a dive into ourselves. Most images nowadays only allude to the immediate, to the external. I think that art must be capable of slowing down the images as well as ourselves, to make us look inwards and detonate some sort of enquiry...
It’s like when your eyes need a moment to be able to see after entering a dark room
Yes that is a beautiful metaphor!
And the title of this series... ‘We spin around the night’, is also the title of Guy Debord’s 1978 film...
That’s right. The Situationists appeared, as in most of my work, in the act of wandering around the city, in this case, at night looking for pubs. In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (we spin around the nights and are consumed by the fire) is an old latin palindrome (which can be read equally in both directions) that Debord rescued –in my point of view- as a tribute to those who are searching without sleeping and get burnt by the fire...
So the performative component of your work... it is present here too?
Absolutely. Although I do not appear explicitly, for me the performative work is as present as in the other pieces. When you see the whole photo series and the video, with their titles that refer to specific places around the city, you realize in your mind the performance itself. This drifting was the performance and it is very present for me in a more metaphorical and beautiful way sometimes.
Your practice works really nice, reading it as an ethnographical investigation... you travel to different places and do very different things but all linked in a way.
Every place I have inhabited, for long or short periods, was a trigger for me. My creative process is deeply linked to a place; it’s a response to it, to a reality. It is a buffer for approaching it, for being capable of assimilating what I like but also what scares me.
And finally Nicolas, what projects you are currently working on?
I am currently working on the promotion and circulation of "Life is elsewhere", an artist film in which I worked on from 2010, a lyric documentary about a trip to Atacama and Patagonia in search for life. Additionally, I was earlier this year filming in Tangier, Morocco for a future project on immigration and search of freedom.
Both projects, so distant in geography and appearance, point towards different directions but to the same point. They return once and again to the same thing, to the usual, but which I can’t name easily. Roland Barthes said, “what I can name cannot really prick me. The incapacity to name is a good symptom of disturbance”, and it is with that finality that I use the image, to point towards that which I can’t name, that which disturbs me.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life...” H.D. Thoreau
In January 2010, in Thoreau’s way, I went by myself, carrying a camera and a tripod over my shoulders, through deserts and steppes in a pursuit journey to find life. I had always wanted to make a movie. When I decided to start I realised that I had already made it. Two people who I had met under certain (determinant) circumstances in my life, had built through me a discourse about life in the form of a full-length documentary. Although I was once again late to my own idea about making a film, it still needed to be filmed. This is how in January 2010 I parted by myself, camera and tripod over my shoulder, to film lives at ground level within determining geographies. I carried with me the minimum equipment possible, seeking to create an atmosphere of intimacy and sensibility that allowed the landscape, and those who inhabit it in silence, speak. There began a project as long and difficult as it is stimulant, a project that today, three years later, has finally reached its conclusion.
CECILIA Nicolas great to have you in London. I have to say that when you came with your first picture, I knew you had a really interesting project, and my fingers itched to make an exhibition. How did you come about these images of pubs at night?
NICOLAS London is so hyper photographed that I decided to start exploring the city at night, on its empty hours, on sunday midnights. One of the things that immediately caught my attention was this image of the pubs at their closing hour. This old british institution, this gathering place appeared for me in a whole new perspective. They were like sinking ships in the middle of the night, with a very seductive mix of pleasure and despair but in a kind of harmony. I was at first sight shocked and in love with this image.
CECILIA And the night itself has been a subject for so many artistic movements...
NICOLAS Especially for the Romantics, that I admire a lot... they found in the night an alternative to the clarity of the enlightenment. I think it is the same again...
CECILIA Yes!, and despite the darkness of the night, there is a sort of warmth coming out of the pub even though it’s at its closing hour...
NICOLAS It is part of this ambivalence of the image, although the pub is closing and this darkness is covering everything, then this sort of warmth appears... they, the patrons are a few, but they are carrying a fire, that is contrasting with the emptiness and quietude of the exterior. It is a very special and beautiful moment with a very special atmosphere...
CECILIA And if we associate the work with Hopper obviously, and Manet. Is that something you would associate yourself with?
NICOLAS It was unavoidable, when I saw these pub images, to think in Hopper’s Nighthawks and secondly in Manet as you point...
CECILIA I am thinking of his “Bar at the Folie-Bergere” painting...
NICOLAS Absolutely, this sad girl behind the bar... but mostly Hopper. He was the portrayer of the great depression at the United States, of the hopeless sensation behind the optimism in the economic growth. I love when hopper paints empty houses or buildings because he is actually painting people, portraits of people even though you can’t see them
CECILIA I find that really interesting, because, just like hopper was capturing that moment of depression, you are capturing a city in a moment where there is an absolute affluence, and it’s a culture of excess. Is this a sort of critique?
NICOLAS It’s just the bringing back of historic sensibilities... more than a critique I prefer to talk of an awareness of the gigantic shadows that the future projects in our present -following Shelley, the poet-. And part of the seductiveness of these images is that you can see that affluence but you also can see the other side of the story.
CECILIA Aha, and in this image for example?. What’s that’s story behind?
NICOLAS This has been Martha’s family pub for over 80 years. I know the story because many times, waiting for the perfect time, I went inside the pub and started talking with their owners. Martha is selling the pub, she is closing, nobody is coming, a buyer wants to build luxury apartments there. So I tried too, to make these portraits of pubs, like people’s portraits, just in the way I think Hopper did.
CECILIA In the photos, but particularly in the video, as a viewer, it is very captivating and you feel a bit like a voyeur...
NICOLAS The idea was to immerse the viewer in this special atmosphere. It is very voyeuristic at first sight, but sometimes you get into the image and become part of the scene too...
CECILIA And this kind of mounting of the photos, I think it helped a lot
NICOLAS Exactly. At a quick look, you only see glare and reflections. But having a second gaze you start to see things, you penetrate the surface, you get into the scenery and find details in the shadows and capture the whole atmosphere. It was a way for slowing down the images...
CECILIA And that’s what I find very appealing as well about this project. Normally I find that in photography, you look at pictures and you capture things immediately, whereas painting needs a different kind of time. And what these photographies do, it’s linking both worlds. There is a moment when you begin to see, to discover…
NICOLAS In all my works I always try to slow down the images with a steady and contemplative gaze and aesthetics. This has to do with the actual difficulty of the images to trigger a dive into ourselves. Most images nowadays only allude to the immediate, to the external. I think that art must be capable of slowing down the images as well as ourselves, to make us look inwards and detonate some sort of enquiry...
CECILIA It’s like when your eyes need a moment to be able to see after entering a dark room
NICOLAS Yea that is a beautiful metaphor!
CECILIA And the title of this series... is ‘We spin around the night’, which is also the title of Guy Debord’s 1978 film...
NICOLAS That’s right. The Situationists appeared, as in most of my work, in the act of wandering around the city at night looking for pubs. So this gave the name to the original photo series, although the exhibition is called Meditation on an ending. It is an old latin palindrome that Debord rescued –in my point of view- as a tribute to those who are searching without sleeping and get burnt by the fire...
CECILIA So the performative component of your work... it is present here too?
NICOLAS Absolutely. Although I do not appear explicitly, for me the performative work is as present as in the other pieces. When you see the whole photo series and the video, with their titles that refer to specific places around the city, you realize in your mind the performance itself. This drifting was the performance and it is very present for me in a more metaphorical and beautiful way sometimes.
CECILIA Your practice works really nice, reading it as an ethnographical investigation... you travel to different places and do very different things but all linked in a way.
NICOLAS Every place I have inhabited for long or short periods, was a trigger for me. My creative process is deeply linked to a place, it’s a response to it, to a reality. It is a buffer for approaching it, for being capable of assimilating what I like but also what scares me
CECILIA And where next?
NICOLAS London still has a lot to squeeze!
CECILIA: Ok Nicolas, great to have you here.
NICOLAS Thanks to you and all the best and luck with your new project
Nicolás Sánchez (b.1981) is a Chilean artist currently living in London. His practice is driven by an interest in the situations that highlight, and even suggest an alternative to, the conditions of capitalist society. Often this is realised through his own journeys or interventions in urban and rural spaces, which are then presented as short films and photographic series. In Wild rosehip jam (slow food) (2008), he recorded the making and sharing of jam made from fruits picked on a walk through the periphery of the city; in La balsa de Noe (living off) the fat of the land (2011) he documented his navigation of Chile’s Mapocho River on a raft that he constructed from the waste that clogs its waters.
Continuing his interest in the idea of landscape as performance, in Sánchez’s latest series his journey took the form of a pub crawl – although not in the traditional sense. Roaming London’s streets on Sunday evenings during the winter, he adopted the position of the lone outsider looking in, to capture pubs in the hour before closing on the slowest night of the week.
Consisting of a video and six of his series of thirteen photographs, Meditation on an Ending is Sánchez’s first solo UK exhibition and the inaugural exhibition at Cecilia Brunson Projects. His work has been shown in numerous international solo and group exhibitions including the MAC Museum of Contemporary Art, Chile, Borges Cultural Centre, Argentina, and BAC Festival Barcelona, Spain. In 2009 he won the Juan Downey award for video creation. Below, Emma Lewis recently interviewed Sánchez about the background to his works currently on show in London.
Emma Lewis: You have previously described your work in terms of a critique of capitalism: specifically, the idea of observing or creating situations and gestures that counter the homogeneity fostered under this ideology. How did you seek to develop this position in Meditation on an Ending?
Nicolás Sánchez: In all the cultural and artistic movements that interest me (the German Romanticism, the Decadentists, the flâneur poets of the modern era, the Hudson River School, to mention just a few), the night as an image and as a metaphor has been a recurrent subject. Especially during the Romantic movement at the end of the eighteenth century, the night represented an alternative to the suffocating clarity of the Enlightenment, and a fascination with the obscure arose in response to the excesses of rationalism and its misleading utopian promises. Meditation on an Ending brings back this same feeling that the Romantics experienced in their time. Because of the optimistic view based on science and technology as the solutions for all of our problems, we experience a misleading sensation of plenitude, we think everything is being clarified by these means, but – I think – it is not. Mainly because our existence is diverse and random by nature. Meditation on an Ending is an exercise of turning the gaze inwards, to the night of the self, to the infinite night, to the sombre future, to an ending.
EL: What interested you about the pub, specifically the institution of the British pub, with regards to this mood or spirit?
NS: First I was fascinated with the traditional pub as an image (the different decorative styles, the hanging pots outside, the names, those particular signs, and so on) but didn’t know what to do with it. Then I started understanding it as an old institution of convener spirit, as a gathering place for artists, intellectuals, writers, poets, bohemians, drunks and anonymous nighthawks, that have always defied the hours and challenged the norm that keeps them contained but never content. So then I started pub-crawling at night with my camera at that damn hour when pubs are almost closing. Obviously Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942) appeared, as did Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), and with them, these images of pubs like sinking ships in the night, a mix of pleasure and despair in a kind of contradictory harmony. It is again the bringing back of historic sensibilities: Hopper was the portrayer of the great depression at the United States, of the emptiness, anguish and hopeless sensation behind the curtain of blinding optimism and faith in the economic growth and material progress.
EL: In the video we observe a pub in this ‘damn hour’. A patron’s occasional, steady movements and an outside light that flickers sporadically are the only movements in an otherwise very still, quiet scene. Is your attention to slowing down and relative absence of action intended as a part of your mode of critique?
NS: In my work there has always been a steady and contemplative gaze and aesthetics. This has to do with the difficulty of images [succeeding in] triggering a dive into ourselves. Most images nowadays – even if they succeed to refer to something else than themselves, even if they get past the surface, to dig furthermore – even then, they only allude to the external. To be able to turn towards the internal, looking inwards, and spark an enquiry – not a desire – art must be capable of slowing down the images as well as ourselves. My works in general and Meditation on an Ending in particular are directed towards this, through a contemplative approach. More than criticizing without pointing to solutions, I look for an awareness of the gigantic shadows that the future projects in our present. That is how I like to read the video you mention, as a metaphor: While the city sleeps and the shadows cover everything, a few people plot their own revolutions, getting lost around the nights to be found in a new way every day, changing everything, changing themselves.
EL: A number of the works in the series are titled ‘We spin around the night’, from the palindrome ‘In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni’ (‘We spin around the night consumed by fire’), the title of Guy Debord’s 1978 film of the same name. Could you explain the significance of this?
NS: Actually this was my second finding, after Hopper and Manet. The Situationists appeared, again as in most of my work, in the act of crawling itself, of drifting around the city at night looking for pubs. The group led by Debord, that as part of the historic avant-gardes vociferated for changing everything from the root, conducted urban derivés as a way to change a world that suffocated them with boredom, juxtaposing to the city grid a human one. So this gave the name to the original photo series, although the exhibition is called Meditation on an Ending. It is an old Latin palindrome as you point it out, that Guy Debord rescued – in my point of view – as a homage to those who are searching without sleeping, to the wakeful who can not rest and get burnt, consumed by the fire while they are spinning around the nights.
EL: Did you apply any structure to your movements through the city? How were you guided around?
NS: I never make any plans in the first attempts. Here I let myself be guided by the night and its power to sharpen our senses. In the middle of the (partial) darkness, silence and solitude, everything resonates in a stronger way; the unknown and the uncertain awake anxieties, fears…. but also cheerfulness and quietude. That frightening beauty that the Romantics called the feeling of the sublime: that is my compass. Unlike controlled causal processes, the creative process – life itself, following Beuys – is not foreseeable. There has to be space for the casualty and imagination, especially at that numinous time at night when forms are ever-changing and diluted. It is a search for metaphors rather than answers, as the only possible way to capture the transcendental which most of the time is blurred or only insinuated.
EL: With the idea of drifting, or the derivé, in mind, I wonder what degree of importance you place on the specifics of geography and location? (For example, the pub frontage and also the red postbox seen in one image are indicative of the country you are in – but the name of the particular establishment has been digitally removed.) What was the decision behind this relative anonymity?
NS: The first cut I did among the pubs that left an impression on me, was to discard the too-bustling pubs and the over or under illuminated ones. After that, I digitally removed only the signs with the names of each pub, not looking for a denial of the place, but in an intention to extend the metaphor to any other pub. The postboxes, phone cabins, transit signage and slightly distinctive frontage of many pubs, despite speaking of a specific country (a detail that I like), are mostly generic urban furniture or archetypal typologies, so I didn’t consider them to interfere with the poetic play. The intent behind this selection process is to choose the best way to give the known the dignity of the unknown, as Novalis says, a higher meaning to the commonplace, to the ordinary a mysterious appearance.
EL: And how about choice of time, too? As you mention there is a sense of quietude, even melancholy, captured in these images of the Sunday evening in the hour before closing time – a feeling that may not have been evoked had you shot at a different time, on a different day of the week….
NS: Absolutely. Going back, London is a place endlessly photographed, full of images of its appearance, immersing myself in its night was the way for me to slow down the images, to make them point inwards again, where we never look in these times of insistent expellant images that have failed – or never wanted – to show us the elemental paradoxes of human condition. The quietude of Sunday midnights were a beginning for this elegy of the night, for those who are looking for themselves, who are in search of something they don’t know but that does not let them sleep, for those who don’t believe in mass revolutions but in small, silent conspiracies.
This September 4th 2013 is the opening of my first solo show in the UK, at Cecilia Brunson Projects gallery.
“Meditation on an Ending”, a series of photographs and videos, a portrait of a silent conspiracy of nighthawks.
Meditation on an Ending
At Cecilia Brunson Projects Royal Oak Yard, SE1 3GD, London
Reception: Wednesday, September 4th, 2013 6-8PM
Viewing: 5 th September – 5 th October, 2013
On Sunday evenings, at ‘closing time’ during the winter months of 2012-13 the Chilean artist Nicolás Sánchez conducted nocturnal peregrinatory walks alone through the streets of London.
Inevitably during these walks Sánchez would pass by the lights of public houses at the transitory point of closure following the classical call: ‘time gentleman please’.
“So then I started reading stories exploring the famous and infamous visitors of each pub: artists, intellectuals, writers, poets, etc, but mainly crawling around the pubs at night with my camera.
And these images appeared. Pubs like ships in the night. A mid-distance front take, showing the shadowy exterior, empty streets, abandoned bikes, useless phone cabins, mailboxes, everything lit by a few lamps. And then the bright interior that invites us to look in on what’s happening inside. A bunch of people hanging onto the remnants of that damned hour when pubs are almost closing.
Anonymity, extending the metaphorical portrait to that of any local pub, is given by the digital deletion of names and signage, and by the blurry silhouettes from long and multiple photographic exposures”
These moments during the ‘graveyard hour’ of the slowest night of the drinking week provide Sánchez with an urban study within his recurrent theme of landscapes as performance.
Between Walter Benjamin’s Flâneur and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, he situates himself as both observer and subject within the work – a single pensive figure in the lonely sea of Sunday night drinkers.
Six of a series of 13 photographs, and a video, are to be shown in Nicolás Sánchez’ first UK solo exhibition.
Nicolás Sánchez is a Chilean artist living in London. With the backdrop of an increasingly uncertain and bleak global future Sánchez conducts in his work as an ongoing audiovisual study that incorporates both performance and intervention in the physical landscape. Just as Romanticism arose in response to the excesses of 18th Century rationalism and its broken utopian promises Sánchez uses his landscapes as a form of romantic escapism whilst breathing into them a feeling desperation, melancholy, anger and hope.
Sánchez won the Juan Downey award for video creation in 2009 and has been exhibited in national and international institutions including the MAC Museum of Contemporary Art Chile, Borges Cultural Centre, Argentina, BAC Festival Barcelona, Spain. This is his first solo- exhibition in the United Kingdom.
Cecilia Brunson Projects is a project room dedicated to contemporary art within the home of the curator.
For more information contact:
Phone: +44 (0) 207 3579274
assistant [at] ceciliabrunsonprojects.com
Exhibition opening hours: Tuesday – Friday, [3pm- 6pm] Saturday 10am–2pm and by appointment.
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).