Nicolas Sanchez L.

Life is elsewhere: a documentary film by Nicolas Sanchez

Life is elsewhere2012 HD Artist Film, Color, Sound, 90’ 00”
“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.

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Conversation at Cecilia Brunson Projects

Conversation at CBP Part I + II + III + IVCecilia Brunson talks with Nicolas Sanchez about the exhibition Meditation on an ending at Cecilia Brunson Projects Gallery

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

Meditation on an ending: Interview by Emma Lewis


Interview by Emma Lewis for Photomonitor

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.

We spin around the nights at Summa Madrid 2013

Untitled (The Lansdowne, Primrose Hill)We spin around the nights Series Digital C-print, Mounted on Aluminium and Perspex 60 x 40 inches

Entre el 19-22 Septiembre 2013, estaré mostrando algunas fotos de la serie We spin around the nights en la Feria Summa Madrid, sección Up, junto a Gerardo Pulido, Catalina Bauer, Josefina Guilisasti, Tomás Rivas y Francisca Valdivieso bajo Cecilia Brunson Projects. + info at

Damos vueltas por las noches

Silent plot (The White Lion, Barbican)We spin around the nights video Series 1080p HD video, ∞ loop, 27” LED Screen, Aluminum case 25” x 15” x 2” inches

Por Nicolas Sanchez

Cuando lo claro se vuelve difuso, lo conocido incierto, lo evidente misterioso y lo definido sin límites precisos, aparece un nuevo territorio libre donde coinciden -como en el tango- sabios, suicidas, amantes. La noche como imagen, despierta consigo asociaciones que han estimulado desde siempre el trabajo de artistas, músicos, poetas y escritores con pasajes notables en los románticos alemanes del siglo XVIII, el movimiento decadentista de fin de siglo (XIX) y los poetas flaneurs de la vida moderna. Pero son dos pasajes en el arte del siglo XX los que sirven de punto de partida en este viaje: la pintura Noctámbulos (1942) de Edward Hopper y las derivas de la Internacional Situacionista (1957-1972) encabezada por Guy Debord.

Hopper fue el retratista de la gran depresión estadounidense. Tras su pintura de paisaje urbanos, se colaba el retrato de una nación acosada por la angustia, el agobio y la desesperanza. Sus protagonistas son personajes taciturnos, ciudadanos abandonados en la soledad de las habitaciones de hotel, de los suburbios, en el tedio infinito de despachos sombríos. Incluso en sus cuadros sin personajes, donde la ciudad se presenta vaciada y decadente, la arquitectura cobra vida humana; pinta casas, fábricas y edificios, pero son personas. Los Noctámbulos es un resumen magistral de su personal estética, donde sus melancólicos personajes naufragan por las noches apoyados en barras de bares sin sueños.

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

Si Hopper fue el pintor del silencio que sigue al optimismo del progreso material, la Internacional Situacionista se sumó a la avanzada de las vanguardias históricas que vociferaban por cambiarlo todo. Desarrollaron la teoría y práctica de la psicogeografía, que planteaba el caminar como un instrumento de interpretación del territorio y al mismo tiempo de modificación simbólica de un sistema inhumano, una sociedad inerte y un mundo que los asfixiaba. Así, abogaban, en principio, por una nueva ciudad, para terminar planificando una nueva sociedad y un nuevo mundo que quebrantase los habituales parámetros de estabilidad y producción capitalista que los mantenia en el aburrimiento, la más moderna forma de control social. De alguna manera, los Situacionistas radicalizan el legado del flaneur que Benjamin detectó en Baudelaire como metáfora nítida de las paradojas de la vida moderna, ese ciudadano melancólico que contemplaba con distancia el éxtasis del progreso y la vida urbana.

… y el fuego nos consume

Bares retratados en plena oscuridad de la noche. El encuadre a media distancia muestra partes de su exterior en sombras, calles vacías iluminadas sólo con la débil luz de las farolas, buzones de correo, bicicletas sin dueño, veredas desoladas. El interior encendido de los bares nos invita a entrar y nos entrega pistas sobre lo que ocurre en su interior. Un puñado de personas parecieran estirar con calor esa hora maldita en que los bares a punto están de cerrar.

Borroneados digitalmente los letreros distintivos de cada pub, su carácter anónimo extiende su metáfora a cualquier bar de esquina. La silueta, deformada y borrosa de los parroquianos a causa de la exposición múltiple y larga de la cámara acentúa esta sensación.

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves. Gandhi

Las tomas contemplativas y silenciosas -agudizada la sensibilidad por el deambular nocturno- contrastan con la pequeña energía en su interior. Individuos que en su complicidad e incesante movimiento parecieran gestar una revolución, montar una fiesta improvisada o quizás simplemente emborracharse hasta la médula antes del fin. Pero los noctámbulos de todas las épocas han desafiado los horarios y con ello las normas que los mantienen contenidos y nunca contentos, y ese impulso que se mantiene intacto es el que la fotografía intenta rescatar. Ya no es el silencio de Hopper ni el radicalismo situacionista para cambiar el mundo de raíz; mientras afuera la ciudad duerme, otros traman su propia revolución en el interior de sus corazones, se pierden por las noches para encontrarse de forma nueva cada día, para cambiarlo todo cambiando ellos mismos.

La Serie Damos vueltas por las noches toma su nombre del antiguo palíndromo en latín In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (damos vueltas por las noches y el fuego nos consume) -que 
Guy Debord rescató- como un homenaje a los que buscan sin dormir, a los que llevan el fuego, a los que la vigilia y el desvelo les enciende porque no pueden dormir sin sueño.

Public Houses: una breve historia

Hacia mediados del siglo XVIII, el centro de Londres contaba un pub cada 116 personas. Centro neurálgico de negocios, trabajo y transporte, impulsó el establecimiento de espléndidos coaching inns, donde los viajeros podían estacionar los coches, cambiar los caballos, descansar y por supuesto, comer y beber. Pero durante el siglo XIX, la llegada del ferrocarril disminuyó los tiempos, acortó las distancias, y se llevó con su velocidad este tradicional tipo de establecimientos.

Pero al tiempo que desaparecían las casas de postas, el Beer Act de 1830 bajo el reinado de William IV que liberalizó las regulaciones para la fermentación y venta de cerveza, expandió por toda Inglaterra las Public Houses y breweries. A los tiempos de pubs en cada esquina, le siguió luego el auge de los Palacios de Gin en la época Victoriana, -de donde proviene la imagen ícono a la que se asocia el pub inglés- y los últimos años a la moda de recreación, modernización o estandarización de grandes cadenas. Pero si hay algo que no ha cambiado es su espíritu convocante, atomizador como lugar de encuentro de artistas, intelectuales, escritores, poetas, bohemios y noctambulos anónimos.

La historia -y las leyendas- cuentan de que Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese ha recibido en sus barras a través de los años al escritor Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), a su colega Charles Dickens (1812-1870), al poeta escocés John Davidson (1857-1909) y al irlandés William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). En la Fitzroy Tavern saciaban su sed el pintor Galés Augustus John (1878-1961), su paisano poeta Dylan Thomas (1914-1953, aunque había pocos bares de los que Thomas no hiciese su hogar), y el escritor George Orwell (1903-1950), cerrando la jornada los dos últimos en The Wheatsheaf, luego de tranquear 2 largas cuadras hacia el sur. Y la lista sigue; The Grapes frente al Támesis -citado por Dickens en una de sus novelas-, The Lamb frecuentado también por este último y The French House, popular entre artistas y escritores como el Irlandés Brendan Behan (1923-1964), otra vez Dylan Thomas y Augustus John, el pintor Francis Bacon (1909–1992), su colega Lucian Freud (1922-2011) y el novelista Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957). De los antiguos coach inn’s originales quedan The George en Southwark, pareado al desaparecido The Tabard, lugar en el que Geoffrey Chaucer da inicio a sus Canterbury Tales y The Spaniards Inn en Hampstead que cuenta entre su no despreciable lista de parroquianos con el romántico inglés John Keats (1795-1821), Charles Dickens (...), el autor de Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), el poeta y pintor simbolista William Blake (1757-1827), sus colegas Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), John Constable (1776-1837) y William Hogarth (1697-1764), Mary Shelley (1797-1851) -Frankestein- y Lord Byron (1788-1824) -Don Juan-, entre muchos otros.

Meditation on an Ending, Solo show at Cecilia Brunson Projects

Untitled (The Old Eagle, Camden)We spin around the nights Series Digital C-print, Mounted on Aluminium and Perspex 60 x 40 inches

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.

Nicolás Sánchez 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] Website: 

Exhibition opening hours: Tuesday – Friday, [3pm- 6pm] Saturday 10am–2pm and by appointment.

Download Invitation | Download Press Release

Utopía, arte y cambio social

Me voy de la ciudad (aún no te he olvidao)Shots from the journey. The last contemplation // Digital C-Print, 60 x 40 inches, Oak box framed

En occidente, la idea de utopía ha fascinado y de alguna manera atravesado todas las áreas y épocas del conocimiento humano, incluso desde antes de la génesis del concepto en la célebre Utopía de Tomás Moro de 1516; la edad de oro griega, la arcadia romana, el paraíso cristiano, las ciudades ideales modernas, las comunidades intencionales, el capitalismo, incluso la Atlántida, los Amish, la alquimia o Frankenstein. Pero se hace necesario precisar y acotar el alcance de la palabra utopía, al menos para efectos de este texto, y diferenciarla del mero sueño imposible, del capricho de la imaginación y de la esperanza (bruma que se disipa), para examinar la utopía en su condición de proyecto posible, rescatando su potencia de realización, su viabilidad dentro de la eterna y diversa búsqueda por la mejora de la condición humana.

(...) lo personal, el estilo no se consiguen intencionadamente (...) la afinidad general de las obras, que no se debilita con los siglos, sino que se potencia más y más, no radica en el exterior, en lo externo, sino en la raíz de las raíces, en el contenido místico del arte. La sumisión a la escuela, la búsqueda de la línea general, (...) conducen por falsos derroteros (...). El artista debe ser ciego a las formas reconocidas o no reconocidas, sordo a las enseñanzas y los deseos de su tiempo. Sus ojos abiertos deben mirar hacia su vida interior (...) entonces sabrá utilizar con la misma facilidad los medios permitidos y los prohibidos. Éste es el único camino para expresar la necesidad mística. Todos los medios son sagrados, si son interiormente necesarios. Todos los medios son sacrílegos si no brotan de la fuente de la necesidad interior. Wassily Kandinski

Las prácticas artísticas han sido parte de esta exploración, abriéndose hacia otros campos, cruzando caminos en esta búsqueda con otras disciplinas empecinadas también en empujar los bordes que las definen hacia terrenos menos complacientes, más difusos. Un área especialmente rica en estos encuentros es el terreno compartido entre el Arte y la Arquitectura, que más allá de los sobre citados ejemplos ilustrativos habituales, se vuelve un territorio inasible, en constante definición y duda. Sin buscar dar forma a lo que no la tiene, este es un intento por rastrear un impulso utópico común que empuja poderosamente a estas disciplinas hacia su confusión, hacia su propia disolución; una energía primitiva que vincula sus prácticas con la vida misma.

La crisis de los grandes relatos

Si hay algo en que la mayoría de los teóricos de la modernidad concuerdan, es que la crisis de ésta sobrevino junto con el fracaso y caída de las grandes utopías y relatos universales en el siglo XX. Definida a grandes rasgos al alero de las sucesivas revoluciones industriales que modificaron la economía y la sociedad desde el fin de la edad media, su término como período, más que marcado por fechas, se acuerda en la decadencia de los modelos de progreso que representaba, apareciendo en el horizonte la posmodernidad, con el desencantamiento, la fragmentación y la globalización del capital, como señas para descifrarla.

Particularmente en el arte –ese espejo de las sombras que proyecta el futuro- esta pérdida de modelos se reflejó en la dispersión de las vanguardias históricas y sus sueños de transformación social, y en el surgimiento de toda una serie de manifestaciones que eran más fáciles de definir desde su negatividad, es decir, por lo que no eran. La teórica estadounidense Rosalind Krauss publicó el año 1979 un ensayo ya clásico que permitió entender e identificar estas prácticas expandidas del arte en las décadas de 1960 y 1970, pudiendo ubicar trabajos como excavaciones en el suelo, movimientos de tierra, señalizaciones en el paisaje, líneas en el desierto, caminatas en la naturaleza, roqueríos costeros envueltos, espejos enterrados y placas de metal en el suelo, en categorías como escultura minimalista, intervenciones Site Specific, Earthworks y Landart, pero lo que es más importante, abrió una línea de interpretación sobre los procesos y la reflexión que animaban esta expansión.

Pero la derrota de los grandes discursos de emancipación del hombre y de una sociedad justa, trajo consigo otros nuevos, confirmando la lección más importante que nos ha enseñado la historia; que nunca aprenderemos de ella. El cambio de paradigmas y de esperanzas llevó lejos a los más entusiastas, que anunciaron el fin de la historia con el decantamiento de un sistema natural de democracia liberal como sistema de gobierno y de capitalismo como sistema económico, que había acabado con las ideologías, imponiéndose como modelo único. Pero paradójicamente, esta visión se invistió como el nuevo mito y gran relato, un proyecto colectivo, pero esta vez basado en la suma de proyectos individuales alentados naturalmente por la ambición. Una nueva utopía pero ahora supuestamente auto regulada y amoral, fundada en el beneficio propio y el progreso tecno-científico, que celebra el pragmatismo de la realidad, en un orden sublime de las cosas y los deseos.

La manifestación cultural de este capitalismo tardío la identifica, entre otros, el teórico político estadounidense Fredric Jameson específicamente en las artes visuales y en la arquitectura. Es la fusión de todo, alta cultura y cultura de masas en una amalgama sin profundidad, fijada en la imagen superficial, caracterizada por la imitación (el pastiche), sin espesor sensible, fragmentaria y manejada por el consumo. En la posmodernidad, la producción cultural ha sido asimilada como un commodity más, donde las instituciones culturales son órganos del orden dominante que contribuyen a transmitir la ideología del libre mercado a todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas, transformando todo en cultura oficial y valor de cambio. Si bien Jameson no realiza una valoración moral sobre el estado de las cosas y más aún declara la imposibilidad de tomar una distancia crítica ante un sistema que lo absorbió todo, reconoce que sólo a la luz de una concepción de la lógica cultural dominante o norma hegemónica, la genuina diferencia puede aparecer, pues él mismo se niega a creer que toda la producción cultural de hoy sea posmoderna en el sentido que le dió a este término. En otras palabras, su análisis crudo sirve para introducir y oponer otra forma de entender la cultura que incontrolablemente siempre surge como un magma vital a través de las grietas de los discursos sofocantes.

Justamente estas prácticas disidentes en los años 80’s y 90’s, son las que identifica el teórico español José Luís Brea en su ensayo Ornamento y utopía que continúa la línea de interpretación iniciada por Krauss casi 20 años atrás, expandiendo el esquema original hacia un escenario más complejo y proyectando su futuro. Atendiendo al terreno que nos convoca (ya que el análisis era muy amplio en su espectro), el trabajo de Brea viene a resumir muy bien todas las prácticas artísticas discutidas principalmente por la tradición crítica estadounidense del arte público y últimamente de su contraparte europea, que se movían en los terrenos superpuestos de la arquitectura, el arte, el urbanismo, la historia, la antropología, la geografía, la sociología, la psicología, la ecología y el activismo político entre otras disciplinas vinculadas a la experiencia humana en la ciudad. Es un arte disuelto en el tejido público que llama a la acción, en lugar de a la contemplación pasiva, que busca involucrar activamente; construcciones efímeras en terrenos abandonados, diálogos comunitarios con enfermos y ancianos, huertas urbanas, performances en el espacio urbano, infraestructuras comunitarias, paseos por ruinas industriales, ollas comunes para gente sin techo, instancias de juego y espacio públicos transitorios en barrios periféricos, recuperación de paisajes degradados y un largo etcétera.

Más allá del valor del esquema de Brea para situar aunque sea resbalosamente estas prácticas artísticas dentro de un contexto creativo muy complejo, su principal valentía y que lo hace especialmente inspirador, reside en su toma de partido, sin radicalismos ni dictaduras sobre el propósito del arte. Brea identifica y rescata en ciertas prácticas artísticas un impulso que retoma lo utópico con una nueva perspectiva crítica. La utopía reaparece en cierto arte que quiere volver a marchar hacia la transformación de lo real, hacia el cambio social, en lugar de tomar el rumbo contrario hacia el ornamento, hacia los intereses de una absorbente industria del espectáculo que aspira sólo al mantenimiento del estado de las cosas y los privilegios. Si bien, como el mismo Brea plantea citando a Loos, creer aún y nuevamente en una utópica fuerza transformadora del arte puede resultar iluso, ceder a una concepción puramente ornamental y burguesa constituye un grave delito contra el espíritu. Al igual que el adjetivo en la poesía de Huidobro, en el arte, cuando no da vida, mata; lo repetido, lo convencional, la cháchara, la propaganda, todos juegan en el equipo de la muerte.

Utopías de bolsillo, caminos posibles

Ahora bien, a estas alturas de la historia -y del texto-, queda patente la perversión de la utopía (su conversión en distopía) y los nefastos efectos al concebirla como mapa común aplicable a todos los destinos. Quizás entonces se haga necesario ya no acotar el término utopía sino redefinirla en este contexto, y visualizarla no como destino fijo sino como energía en cambio permanente; y junto con esto, pensar y limitar su alcance, proponer un cambio de escala, que conciba la utopía como una guía personal, alejada del sueño perfeccionista, como una fuerza interior hacia la proyección de una sociedad mejor de a una persona a la vez.

Aquí se puede ubicar ese impulso común insinuado al comienzo. Las prácticas artísticas y arquitectónicas que están en una ruptura y expansión constantes, en búsqueda de transformación y trascendencia, son guiadas por este impulso utópico/crítico, y transitan con paso atento por senderos secundarios, alejado de los falsos derroteros y los cantos de sirena del discurso dominante. No es un arte político a modo de panfleto, sino que se hace políticamente, como decía Godard.

Son trabajos que no anuncian ni gritan revolución, son obras sencillas, plétoras de energía y sin embargo calladas, que entran el habla y los egos para mostrarse francas. Son trabajos que buscan encarnar lo invisible, dar forma al espíritu, llenarlo de sentido, espejo y martillo a la vez de su propio tiempo. Son operaciones que apuntan a mostrar la importancia de la comunicación, la comunidad, el arraigo, la pertenencia, los lazos colectivos, los vínculos afectivos, la diversidad, la protección del ecosistema, la libertad. Son prácticas que ponen al descubierto el sufrimiento, la desigualdad, los miedos, las esperanzas y los sueños. Son acciones que tienden puentes entre naturaleza y cultura, que intentan zurcir lazos rotos entre personas concretas. Son discursos que reflexionan sobre la producción de significado, la historia, la memoria, el patrimonio material e intangible. Son procesos que no están atados a ningún medio específico, obras que lo abarcan todo, como la vida misma, gestos y llamados, no tanto a modificar el mundo sino la forma en que lo vemos. Trabajos que no logran -claro está- pero tampoco buscan modificar el mundo sustancialmente, sino el lugar desde donde lo pensamos. Es un llamado al otro, a su acción individual; las utopías sociales y la esperanza revolucionaria dejan su lugar a micro-utopías, un arte modesto en cuanto a su capacidad de transformar el mundo, pero que en su vuelo poético y su vocación de cambio, resuenan en quien las vive, con metáforas preñadas de preguntas.

Cuando me asalta el miedo invento una imagen, decía Goethe, y desde el artista hechicero que pintaba animales en las cavernas en su empeño por llegar a acuerdo con las fuerzas invisibles a cuya merced estaba, el hombre ha intentado a través del arte abordar lo inasible, acercar lo lejano, definir lo difuso. Pues más allá de la superficie, la realidad permanece compleja, inaccesible de forma directa, eterna incertidumbre. Desde entonces, artistas, arquitectos pero también escritores, poetas y diseñadores, han utilizado la fuerza indomesticable de la creatividad como motor para conducir un cambio de visión en lugar de condescender por conveniencia lo dado. Aquellos especialmente hábiles eran tratados con respeto en la antigüedad, tanto que hoy cuesta imaginar, que las palabras del poeta eran ayer temidas por el rey. Y el talante de este arte que apunta hacia adentro, hacia los mitos sobre los que se funda nuestro entendimiento del mundo, es el mismo siempre; pues aunque cambien los tiempos, las utopías, y las imágenes, la angustia sigue y seguirá siendo la misma, persigamos mamuts o persigamos la luna.

Para terminar, no puedo sino volver a traer a presencia a ese artista total, heredero de la tradición y espíritu romántico alemán: Joseph Beuys. Y es que la transformación de la mirada es la transformación de uno mismo a través del arte, del acto creativo. Desde la cosmovisión de Beuys y su “todo hombre es un artista”, sería una imposibilidad pensar la utopía desde fuera, como algo ajeno (y me quedo aquí con ganas de vincularlo al pensamiento de otro gran individualista trascendental y disidente pacífico como H.D. Thoreau), siendo ésta más bien, producto de una mirada creativa sobre la realidad, producto de la autodeterminación de un individuo sin representantes, pero que es parte integral de lo que él llamaba la escultura social, formada por todos. Así, el motor de cambio principal en la utopía es el proceso creativo, el arte como medio, como camino, como viaje de liberación hacia uno mismo. Un viaje iniciático que como todos los viajes míticos no es más que un viaje al interior de uno, pero que requiere salir afuera; como Chejov cuando partió a la isla de Sajalín a vivir con los guiliacos, como Gauguin a Tahiti, como Iommi y Cruz en sus travesías americanas de Amereida. Un viaje difícil, que exige una voluntad ética y política, pero que nos conduce a cada uno y a todos de formas distintas, a estadios más libres, a otras formas de vivir.

Tourists series at Pinta London

Del 4 al 7 de Junio 2013, estaré mostrando algunas fotos de la serie Tourists y el video Tourists (Threnody I) en la Feria Pinta London de Arte Contemporáneo Latinoamericano junto a Gerardo Pulido, Catalina Bauer, Josefina Guilisasti, Tomás Rivas y Francisca Valdivieso representados por Cecilia Brunson Projects.

Pinta, Showcasing the best Modern and Contemporary Art from Latin America, Spain and Portugal. Pinta London is the only art event dedicated to Latin American Art providing a unique platform in Europe to exhibit and promote Latin American artists. Pinta also includes artists from Spain and Portugal reflecting these countries’ undeniable influence in the formation of the Latin American identity.

Trailer La vida está en otra parte

Life is elsewhere2012 HD Artist Film, Color, Sound, 90’ 00”

Siempre quise hacer una película. Cuando me decidí a empezar me dí cuenta que ya la había hecho. Dos personas que conocí por circunstancias determinadas (y determinantes) en mi vida, habían construído a través de mí un discurso sobre la vida en forma de largometraje documental. Si bien otra vez había llegado tarde a mi propia idea de hacer una película, aún faltaba filmarla.

Así fue que en Enero del 2010 partí solo, cámara y trípode al hombro, a filmar vidas a ras de suelo en geografías determinantes, con el mínimo equipo posible, buscando una atmósfera de intimidad y sensibilidad que dejara hablar al paisaje y a quienes lo habitaban en silencio. Ahí comenzó un proyecto tan largo y difícil como estimulante, que hoy, 2 años después, está comenzando a ver la luz.

El documental retrata y busca entrelazar la vida de 2 personas; Horacio quien estudia un oasis de niebla al sur de Iquique, en pleno desierto de Atacama y Alfonso, que intenta rescatar una estancia ovejera en la Patagonia, al norte de Punta Arenas. Ambas experiencias de vida, marcan la trama del documental, vinculadas por mi viaje a re-conocerlos.

La vida está en otra parte. Un viaje de búsqueda para encontrar la vida, un largometraje documental de Nicolás Sánchez con música original por

Capitalism & melancholy: A conversation with Pamela Prado

Pre-project 3d modelNoah’s raft, (living off) the fat of the land

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).