Conversation between Ana Matos and Rui Soares Costa
May 22 and September 10, 2017, Lisbon
Ana Matos (AM): Do you think the course you have taken in visual arts has a philosophical side? Do you see your work from a philosophical point of view? Or is it something essentially empirical, or experimental?
Rui Soares Costa (RSC): There is a procedural component in my work. In that sense it can be experiential as well as experimental — not to be confused with experimentalist. Although this might be the visible part, in fact it is not what interests me. I see my work as a way of producing knowledge, philosophical knowledge. There are several forms of knowledge, and as such, several ways of building up knowledge. In the contemporary Western post-positivist societies, science has become the predominant form of knowledge. It is the most renowned, perhaps the most relevant, definitely the one with more extensive applied consequences. However, there are other forms of knowledge, with multiple differences, some advantages and disadvantages. I understand both philosophy and visual arts as ways of producing knowledge. They are not a medium through which people express themselves. They are ways of creating knowledge, even if that knowledge is less objective and pragmatic, and sometimes harder to understand compared to other knowledge. Nowadays, with the predominance of science and technology in our daily lives, people tend to associate knowledge with objectivity, pragmatism and linearity. It is not unusual to see the use of attributes that are strictly scientific to describe knowledge. As if knowledge was limited to scientific knowledge. As if knowledge and science were the very same thing. But this is not the entire picture. Perhaps philosophy is the best example. Philosophy is — it has been in the past and will be in the future — one of the forms of knowledge that is most fundamental, tapping into the core of our humanity or existence. And it has very little to do with the pragmatism and linearity that most people associate with knowledge — for example, philosophy often questions categorical dualisms such as the separation between true or false. I see much of my work as a way of accumulating knowledge, a certain kind of knowledge that is built around visual objects. But that I truly hope goes beyond these objects.
AM: This philosophical idea of knowledge production is, as I see it, highly dependent of the materials you use. In a way, the experience of the drawings is different from the Sweet Series, or the Winter Series. The materials tend to be more than a medium for your work. They end up working as a way of transmitting knowledge.
RSC: Yes. The materials — whether sugar, varnish, fire or wood — participate in this process of knowledge creation. I don’t intend to transform the world according to my own image, or according to any strict a priori idea that is decontextualized from the surrounding environment. I usually work without having a very precise project for a visual piece in mind. I also don’t search for a set of transformations regardless of the materials that I am using. This kind of mechanism doesn't interests me so much. I am always looking for the context, for the relation with the environment and the surrounding world. In that sense, I use materials as elements that actively build the work. I don’t use them as handy tools that are out there to help me execute something that is already absolutely predefined. Materials are part of the process in a participatory way. Materials take part in the construction of the work. For example, varnishes are naturally glossy. They have reflections. The process of removing the reflection is artificial. It consists of the transformation of a naturally glossy varnish into a matt one. Varnishes are not naturally matt where gloss is added. It is the opposite. I appreciate this idea of bringing the different materials and the set of characteristics they have into my working process. I try to use and potentiate them. I look forward to engaging in a conversation with these elements so that they help me in my work. The gloss of a varnish, or its reflections, forces the spectator into the piece. It elevates the percipients self-awareness. Obviously this kind of thing has a huge impact on the way my work takes place. This contribution of the material fascinates me.
AM: And how do you end up using these materials? How did you start working with large plywood boards, to which you apply fire, sugar, varnish, and more recently, the precision burners?
RSC: Looking into my working process for twenty or so years, this fascination for what stands outside the strict circle of fine arts has been around for a long time. I don’t like the idea of exclusive materials, techniques or processes. But this is not an Arte Povera statement. Instead, it is an attempt not to be curtailed by what is defined as within the range of fine arts. It is an ideological statement. I have a certain repulsion for this notion of exclusiveness. There is an elitist and exclusivist construction that defines that certain things are accepted whereas some others are not. I don’t like ad hoc rules. I have always seen myself as an anarchist. So rules are there to be questioned. For example, one liter of varnish used in fine arts costs about four to five times more than one liter of regular varnish. You could say that it is a question of sophistication or one being better prepared to last longer than the other. But that is not necessarily the case, definitely not with such a price gap. It is a little bit like luxury products. There are no other products more disconnected from their real value (from the production cost of the object itself) and the symbolic value that society ends up giving them. Luxury is where this discrepancy is highest. In a certain way, whoever buys luxury products is assuming this self-inflicted cost. It is a similar story in the restricted world of fine arts and its set of limited materials and techniques. I don’t agree with this idea and don't play along with it.
I believe that this search for materials has something to do with the fact that I like to explore the world without self-imposed limitations. I mean, limitations will always exist — I cannot explore reality as if the sky was red and the trees were blue. There is a set of constraints from which it is difficult to move away. We don’t need to be imposing others. And going back to my early works, this relationship with the world has always been there, triggering me to explore outside the circle of fine arts. Explore, study and finally use materials in this process of knowledge pursuit. And research will always be an endless endeavor. Each answer to any given question will always carry an array of other questions. It is a multiplicative, infinite process.
AM: With your background in research that is so well reflected in your work, how do keep your work from being merely experimental? From being a simple exploration of the different possibilities and potentialities of the materials?
RSC: As I mentioned earlier, one thing is experimentation another is experimentalism. In one, the context is used to search for novelty as a source of knowledge and information in a conceptually driven top down process. In the other, there is an ad hoc approach where anything goes. I would say that these are opposite processes. One produces knowledge, the other, in the best-case scenario produces objects.
If the execution of a visual piece can have something to do with that experimentation that you talk about, there are lots of things that precede that execution. The methodological issues and the research around the materials have a lot to do with the execution. It is not related to the conceptual aspects of the work. Or it is less connected to the processes involved in producing knowledge. These conceptual, knowledge oriented issues, are what interest me the most and precede the actual execution of a piece. In fact, making a piece is in itself what interests me the least. The actual execution can be what takes longer, but it is never the core of my work. When someone starts painting a wall, one needs to finish what one has started. I see the execution of my work in this fashion. What can be interesting about painting a wall takes place before actually painting the wall. It is always conceptual. It can be about the decision of which white will be used, or about whether the paint is matt or glossy, or whether there will be texture. This set of decisions need to take place. Then there is the execution that will take time. I see much of my time spent in these procedural or methodological processes. But that doesn't mean that this is what interests me the most. The pieces cannot make themselves. I am interested in aspects such as the transformation, the transformation of the material, or the ways in which textures communicate and vibrate. How can we question the bidimensionality of visual arts? Painting and drawing tend to be bidimensional. I like to pursue the idea that this assumption can be bent. A texture, for example, is something inherently tridimensional. There is a third dimension to any texture. The notion of depth has to be fabricated on a bidimensional plan. There is a bidimensional surface where this other layer has to be inserted. This is no longer the case when we work with textures and the materials contribute to the process of creating a third dimension.
AM: There is a very thin line between experimentation and experimentalism. How do you navigate this line? This process is what is interesting and difficult.
RSC: I would say that the way my work takes place is in a set of equations with controlled, constant and predefined parameters. And as I said earlier, most of the work takes place before the execution, before even touching the materials. It is the opposite of a chaotic bunch of moving variables, of that uncontrolled experimentalism. Quite the contrary, there is a number of constant parameters and a strict and limited number of parameters under analysis. It is an algorithm where most parameters are essentially constant. For example, it is a deliberate decision to work with the vertical format and to keep exactly the same the proportion used in the different series. It is an attempt to keep constant what is not the core of my interest and that is not being actively studied. The elements that are being manipulated and that are under transformation are minimal — the controlled parameters. But of course, there is a certain degree of randomness in which the context participates. But I am comfortable with that.
When I use a precision torch over plywood it makes a deep burn that causes the wood to crack. This cracking is not absolutely controlled. For instance, I don’t control whether the cracks turn left, or right. This is the result of the high temperature applied on the wood. It is the fire that drives the transformation. But by controlling the fire I am able to control, for example, whether the wood will crack or not, the degree of this cracking and whether the cracking is millimetric or centimetric. The resulting textures of the burnt pieces are the consequence of those decisions. It could be a brush full of paint. In my case it is applying fire with a torch. Why is it any different? A person applying more paint than the strictly necessary won't be in absolute control of what happens to that excess of paint. There is no such thing as absolute control, in the strictest terms. I believe it is the same with my work. But because the tool is different, its behavior is also different. But I don't see one process as different from the other. An acrylic painting, unlike an oil painting, dries in a few minutes. You can make it today and exhibit it tomorrow. This is a radical way in which the context determines the making of the piece and the artist, the agent, accepts the idiosyncrasies of the materials, the way they exist and behave. To say that some participation of the context is acceptable and some is not is, at the very least, ambiguous and strange.
AM: The outside world is always interfering; it can be the light or the way someone reacts to a piece…
RSC: Exactly, there are other aspects that have to do with the interaction with the outside world. Again, like a glossy varnish. A reflective piece exists in a way that cannot be decontextualized. It is impossible to photograph such a piece without the interference of light, without reflections. But that interference is part of the piece. To try to photograph it without such elements is to photograph something else that is not that piece. Once exposed to light there will be reflections. Unless it exists in a black box, without light or a world to interact with, it will always be in interaction with the environment.
In the sugar pieces there was another symbolic or conceptual dimension. That work was less about the pieces themselves, or the outcome expressed in the visual objects, and much more about having pieces that were more or less living entities. Pieces that will evolve, that will transform themselves over time. The sugar in itself has no particular interest. It is relevant here because it is organic and will be transformed over time. It helps me fight the idea that art is so important — or people want to make it so important — that it should aim for eternity. I am interested in exploring and questioning this assumption with pieces that are always evolving, that have a life cycle and end up disintegrating. I am definitely uncomfortable with certain mainstream aspects of art. One of them is the assumption that an artist should aspire to be making something eternal — as if posing for posterity. This relationship with eternity is very crude and I feel I have to question it.
I don't appreciate being in a comfort zone. There is always a search for the greyer areas. This might be derived from my scientific education. When someone is doing research there is always a search. Testing hypotheses in experimental research implies an attempt to falsify hypotheses. The researcher won't try to confirm a hypothesis. His/her job is to try to falsify the hypothesis. If the hypothesis resists after multiple attempts to falsify it, then it might be plausible. I find it very interesting to apply this process to visual arts. There is always an informed search for the border conditions in an attempt to expand our current knowledge. It is a search in an area that can compromise the status quo of knowledge. I see this approach as my own, in visual arts and elsewhere.
AM: Is beauty a variable in those hypotheses? Or is it something you are not looking for?
RSC: That is a very difficult and complex concept. Surely I am interested in aesthetics and the notion of beauty. But I do not try to make my work easy or pleasant. People tend to think about beauty as something that is enjoyable. I do not think it has to be that way. For example, many of the movies I enjoy the most are extraordinarily difficult. They are extraordinarily beautiful, yes, but not in a direct or immediate way, or in a first iteration. Frequently this intensity, this aesthetic relationship can only take place after several moments of confrontation and tension. I tend to feel more comfortable searching for those areas where beauty is not linear. I like to part away from easiness, linearity. Something that is easy, as it happens with lots of music for example, that comes and goes, cannot be interesting. I have these ideas well integrated into what I do. I would not like my work to be immediately enjoyable. Nor do I deliberately try to make stupidly unpleasant objects. But again, this is a very difficult question. The notion of beauty is necessarily a construction that is collective, social. It is highly dependent on aspects as strange as the number of times you interact with an object. From that point of view, it has very little to do with the object itself, let alone with the artist who created it.
Drawing is always the beginning. It is a very simple relationship between an agent, a tool and a support. In the case of the Winter Series the tool is more unusual, weird maybe. The tool is fire. The lines are drawn slowly with fire on wood. It takes time for the burning to happen. But it is basically a line, like a line on paper, stretched out in time. As if we had taken this time dimension and stretched it. Instead of lasting five minutes, it lasts five or ten hours. The decision about how the piece is going to happen is a drawing process, a drawing exercise. Then I perform the exercise. It is in this sense that I say that my work has very little to do with experimentalism, of that "let's see what happens". I mean, there are times when it can happen. But that is never what defines the process. That is not what I am after, what interests me. But ultimately it is true that when you are drawing with the torch you won’t be in an absolute control of the flame...
AM: That is exactly what I wanted to ask you. You can have a mental idea of what you want to do, but precisely because it is an instrument that has an unpredictable side or error, is there a greater difficulty than if it was a pencil?
RSC: There is this underlying and implicit idea that a process is only valid if and when it is totally controlled, or manipulated, by the agent that creates or executes it. But this makes no sense. Even if you are painting a portrait, or making a photograph, you already have a contribution of the agent and of the context. It is not merely a reproduction. Strictly speaking there is no such thing as a reproduction. It is not even the case with photography. It is never a direct transposition of an image from reality into a support. There is always some degree of transformation. Somehow it has been stipulated that there are levels of this transformation, of the interference of the context in this transformation, that are acceptable and others not. This confuses me. And contemporary art, especially abstract art, tends to be unfairly evaluated in this way. It is this notion that there is some context that interferes with what the artist is doing that is acceptable, whereas other is not. It seems that it is only good if the artist annuls the outside world and there is only an absolute control of a given technique. But there is no such thing. Even in that case, where there is an ipsis verbis representation of reality, this absoluteness does not exist. There is always an immense, endless set of context contributions that is being incorporated. For example, when I am burning with a big torch that produces a large flame, if there is a breeze in the room, this will have an impact on the flame’s behavior. It is going to push it one way or another. But of course there can be control. I can make sure the room has no air flowing. Or I can, by contrast, open specific windows to create directional airflows. Or create a dynamic pattern in which the flame moves from one side to the other. But ultimately the flame will have a behavior that is not absolutely, entirely determined by me. That does not bother me. It is a part of a process that I accept. Is it any different with any other technique? I do not think so. In the Lifeline Series, if I drink twenty cups of coffee before drawing the lines will jump more than if I meditate for five hours. We are entities in relation to the context, always. There is no escape, no way around it. The context always influences, trying to state otherwise is a falsehood. If someone says the contrary, I will say it is factually wrong.
AM: I think that in addition to the context, your work also has a lot to do with time. The time that is inherent to the process itself. And it is a time that is simultaneously mental and physical. Because these pieces take time and that extended time is part of the process.
RSC: These different lines of work may appear to be different but that is the case only superficially. I would be in an uncomfortable position if my works on paper were these slow and meticulous drawings and the other works were instantaneous. They would be too detached, disparate. Even on the level of detail all works share similarities, despite the fact that some may seem to rely on chance more than the others. They are all very slow. To execute them is almost a process of mortification. Sometimes getting into the execution process is painful because I know exactly how long it will take. That is why I work every day. As it turns out the process is slow. But this does not mean that the time involved in producing the pieces nor the amount of context involved should be criteria for evaluating the interest or quality of the work.
AM: I think it would be interesting to look at the other side of your work, that has more to do with these conceptual issues.
RSC: I have no problem whatsoever, quite the contrary, in discussing processes because I think there should be no secrets in the mechanism. From this point of view the work is to be understood exactly as it is. It seems to me that discussing the process is very organic and honest. There is nothing to hide. This might have to do with the importance of replicability related to my background in science. Specifically in the Lifeline Series it is almost an exercise that could be performed by someone else. It would be interesting, as a proposal, to have it executed by another artist. There are predefined parameters and then it takes someone with a lot of patience to actually do it for as long as the execution demands. But this other person and the resulting vibration that the line would have could perfectly happen. You can install a seismograph here, or in the Azores Islands, and it will tell you different things. But the apparatus, the formula itself, may be the same. These drawings, these lines, this work, has this underlying assumption — a different person could be executing them. I have this predisposition to speak of the process, because I consider it to be less pretentious. The meaning, the conceptual side, exist of course! In fact, it cannot not exist. It is structural, fundamental. But I always refrain from starting this conversation because I do not want to force a specific reading of my work. The possible interpretations are multiple; I have my reasons to do things in a certain way, but often they may not be the most interesting ones for the perceiver.
AM: Yes, but they give clues to interpret your work. And that was where I wanted to go.
RSC: I agree, I am only saying why, many times, I am more spontaneously prone to discuss the procedural or methodological aspects of my work. It is the description of a process, of an event. I am not particularly interested in talking about the meaning of my own work. I believe I am the least interesting person to do so. Then there is another aspect that disturbs me and that I actively fight. The other day someone said about the Winter Series (fire on plywood) that this work is very relevant nowadays because we live this dramatic situation with wildfires raging in the country. But this posterior connection to actuality goes against a principle that comes from my scientific background. Post hoc tests are not easily tolerated in hypothesis testing/experimental knowledge. The mechanism must always start with a theoretical idea, that is, you have a hypothesis that you derive from a theory, and only then you will test that hypothesis to see if there is a correspondence in reality. It is this narrative that is used, not the opposite. Theoretical hypotheses are tested, never the opposite. Theories are not formulated from ad hoc results. It is highly objectionable to invert this dynamic of hypothesis testing and do the opposite (get some data and, later on, invent hypotheses, or theories to explain the data). I do not like, nor consider valid, this post hoc logic of making an interpretation of the world. This is true for scientific knowledge as it is in my artistic practice. My work with fire has absolutely nothing to do with the broad problem of wildfires. But of course, if there is contemporary art being produced with fire in a context where wildfires are such a grave problem as it is in Portugal today, there is a relationship that can be discussed. But one does not exist because of the other.
AM: In your artwork, the process is a set of hypotheses and variables that you study and that you test through an experimental process. In this scientific rational, when you reach the end, how do you interpret? It is not about explaining the concept or proving anything. It is simply about giving clues so that whoever sees your work can have a light that leads to a possible meaning, a path.
RSC: It depends. The working process is variable. For example, the Lifeline Series could not be more determined from the start. From the moment the study takes place and the decision is made that it will become a whole piece, it is already set where the line begins and where the line ends. But it is not determined how the lines vibrate. I am pretty certain of the artist's irrelevance in this process of meaning construction, of self-signification. That is, I do my job and in the end there is a product, a series of objects. The multiple pieces that constitute a series relate among themselves and that says something. There is an interpretation. As I say, what I am interested in, the starting point of these works, is drawing. I would say that my destination also tries to be drawing. At least that is the goal. Drawing is the freest way to look at visual expression, the way you translate something into a visual object. I see these forms of drawing as exercises of drawing being extended to different formats. I like to integrate organic materials — wood and resin — and try to understand what and how they can tell us, in particular through transformative processes. The fire, in the Winter Series, accentuates this aspect. Most of the work in visual arts is a kind of overlap. There is a support (e.g., paper or canvas) that will be covered with something. But you always have a support that serves as a basis. Working on wood with varnish (resin) has this organic element; it is part of the nature that is brought to the studio. This contribution is not always peaceful. All wood has patterns, for example, that I may not like. But I do not try to eliminate them; I invite them to participate in the construction of the piece. Most of the time you use the support only as such, in principle it is the place where something will happen but it has little function other than to endure what happens. I like to start working already on the support. The support also has a role. In this case, working with fire transforms the support itself. The support is impregnated by the way you are approaching and transforming it. This interests me, to bring the organic world into the atelier, to work on aspects that imply the transformation of this natural world. And then, from a conceptual point of view, I like to be surrounded by concepts such as time and memory. I find the speed and superficiality in which things seem to be conceived, lived and consumed in the contemporary experience to be very disturbing.
I especially like to work the notion of time, time as a continuum that can be manipulated. At some point we enter the timeline and then we can work or manipulate that line, the experience of time. We can compress it, we can stretch it. The works are either themselves transformable, in the sense that time enters and participates in them, transforming them (Sweet Series), or having stopped transforming themselves they are like capsules that enclose time (Lifeline Series). These are works that, in the conception process, need maturation. It is not only about the artist arriving and doing what he has to do and the work is ready. I like to think that the elements have to take part. And this is true for virtually all of my work. These are ripening times, more than drying times. It is a seasoning process, to a certain extent similar to wine ageing. And here the slowness of the process is essential. Because manipulating the context during this maturation will have an impact on the result, just like it happens with the wine. It is not the same whether the barrel where the wine ages is of French or American oak. It is not a simple, passive wait. It is not just about waiting for the water in the acrylic to evaporate. I am interested in working on these notions and then I think this ends up being present when you are confronted with my work and what is behind it. In terms of what the outcome is, the end product itself, I am a lover of simplicity and minimalism, emptiness and absence. I always seek what is not pretentious from the formal point of view. When you look at most of what I do, it does not aim to be formally very complex. The pieces are very simple, either they are textures without form, or when there is form, it is close to geometric. It fascinates me to explore what makes an orange surface become orangey, having a vibration that changes whenever you look at it. That seems to have life. I do not care if people see a specific image. I am interested in textures, vibrations, how a piece can exist on its own. It fascinates me to look at a piece and let it tell me different things every day. Not because it is a representation like Bosch's compositions where you are always discovering new characters, or new ways in which the characters interact. But because the piece will be different, it will look different and with the daily changes in light the reflections will vary. The way it is shown to the world will always be different. I pursue this idea that the work should be, to some extent, alive. It has a continuation. It is an extension of the idea that abstract art forces the spectator to participate. If you look at one of these pieces and you do not intend to get involved, you will hardly see anything. Either there is a willingness to construct meaning and enter the narrative, or nothing happens. To that extent I would not necessarily say that these pieces are more demanding, but they do need a spectator who is willing to participate. I like that. Obviously this happens, to a certain degree, with any artistic object, whether it is figurative or not.
AM: There are those who argue, by the way, that all art is abstract.
RSC: Yes, when you put it in terms of figurative versus abstract art. There is no representation that is not interpretative. From this point of view, there is no pure or hard reality. So from the moment you have an artist, a photographer taking an absolutely objective picture, you have a frame, you have a selection, you have...
AM: That is why it is an artistic object.
RSC: It quits being reality. Incidentally, this is another interesting notion. The idea that there is a reality, something out there with factual existence, regardless of everything else... But I would say that there is nothing besides a perception of reality. Even our notion of color is informed by the radiation that comes from the sun, with its chromatic spectrum. It could be different.
AM: And there are people who see the same color differently.
RSC: The trees are green in this physical world, if the physical world was slightly different and the radiation from the sun came to us a little differently, the trees, as we know them, would not be green, they would have another color. In fact, no one sees exactly the same way. It is always an interpretation, a relationship with an object that has to go through a perceptual filter until it reaches the percipient that will construct meaning. No one lives in a vacuum or in a laboratory, empty of stimuli and elements. An artist would not be able to produce anything if he didn't have a prior experience of a certain reality. If I have to enter this discussion, I have no doubt that all art is abstract and there is nothing but a certain degree of abstraction. Now, there are those who feel better in territories where the similarity between reality and the artistic object is greater, and there are those who are more fascinated exploring other representations. But they are always representations and they are always representations of reality(ies). But the reality is not just landscapes. It may even be non-visual. It can be a representation of a soundscape, as it is the case with lots of André Gonçalves's work.
AM: There is a political side to your work, in the sense that there is a clear intention on your part to use materials, instruments and processes that are less conventional, to bring elements from nature, a kind of recycling, to seek materials that are not “noble”. On the other hand, there is also a philosophical attitude towards dealing with variables that have to do with a transcendental side of our existence. Do you feel that these concerns resulted from your way of being, or did you develop them later on?
RSC: Let me try to answer the second part by starting with the first. I have always been confused by the masses, because I have always been fascinated by silence, solitude, knowledge, by the situations in which the individual follows his own mind. It must be the ballast of my parents, my family, having been on the side of the resistance to the dictatorship. Now to get to the second part of the question, it is unequivocal that there is this quest, this quest for materials not because they are less "noble" but because they are rarely used. The world is fascinating and extremely rich, so it is up to us to explore this potential that is out there. It is very limiting, reductive; to say a priori that from the range of colors available we will only work with three, with the three noble ones. But why can’t we use the others? This kind of narrative has always confused me. I am drawn to the border areas, the boundary conditions. If I see that everyone is using these three colors, then I feel that these three colors don't need my attention, they are in good hands. There are very good people looking after them. Let me look at the other fifteen who happen to be just there. If I were to work with these three colors I would not do an interesting job. There are people who are much more competent and capable than I will ever be.
AM: But at a certain point in your artistic activity it can happen that, for a given project, you want to use precisely these "three colors." So my question — provokingly — is: are you choosing materials not because they are alternative or because no one uses them, but because in a certain context, for a certain purpose, those are the best options?
RSC: Right. This is unequivocally the reason. But it is also because they are less used. Let me try to explain this paradox. When materials are mainstream (trying not to focus too much on the materials, this conversation could be about concepts, we could be talking about it in conceptual terms) it is unlikely that I will be interested in addressing them. I prefer to be looking into border conditions, more ambiguous territories, where my attention may be more necessary. When a subject is conceptually solved, it no longer interests me as an object of my work. I am naturally, organically, in more marginal or border areas. This is where I feel better, where I believe my contribution may be more relevant. This has costs, obviously. I will never tell you that I will not work with these three colors because everyone is working with them. But I have a hard time being interested in the mainstream, in looking at these three colors as objects of my work, knowing that I can be discovering something new within the other range of colors.
AM: The subject of time is transversal to many artistic areas. It is mainstream in a way.
RSC: In fact concepts like time, or memory, are so infinite and abstract to some extent, that it is impossible to solve them. There will always be multiple perspectives on any of them and therefore it is possible to always look at them in a new way. Apart from that, we are nowhere near the end of history. There are no settled or closed boxes, in a strict sense. In a drawing like those of the Lifeline Series, I try to compress time, as if the drawing was a time-compressing mechanism, exactly like the machines that compact cars in the junkyard. Those drawings are compactions of time. They are like presses. In the background are months being compressed, translated into a piece of paper. It is like a visual compaction of time. I look at these works very much in this way; it is a press that is out there, ready to be applied.
AM: When you speak of this time do you speak of past, present, or future?
RSC: In the Lifeline Series I see an online process, it is about doing the real-time translation of the agent to the support. Deep down it will be a present time, or a past present. In the Sweet Series there is a time when the pieces are produced and then they are put in the world and we wait for the world to do its part. In that sense it is clearly more prospective. The Winter Series is in a border area. It is also a bit prospective, since it is work on wood, organic matter. It is necessarily something about a future time. There is a continuation, not so obvious, but it is there. But it is also impossible that the previous time, the past, is not there as well.
AM: Of course, and the context in which it happens. From this conceptual point of view, I think there is a difference between the Lifeline Series compared to the Sweet and Winter Series. These have by their formal characteristics and what you intend to happen in the work, this absorption of time and how it will change the work itself. So it refers to a future time.
RSC: Even the others, the Lifeline Series, have something prospective as well. As I said, the idea is to have them moving. It's going to be a perceptive move, not a real one. But they are dynamic. One of the most relevant things my previous career has given me is the notion that there is much more happening with us than we are conscious of. There is a great deal going on outside consciousness, and I am interested in using that in the construction of knowledge. Everything we do in life goes well beyond the restrictive vision of being the product of consciousness, of a rational brain. As if we were masters of this operation. As if we made the decisions we want, as we want ... There is a lot happening outside consciousness. I like this discussion very much. Which filters are we placing on reality? A drawing like those of the Lifeline Series, from the physical, material point of view, has nothing else happening there. There is no physical transformation. But every time you look at one of those drawings, it will vibrate with a certain organicity, in a different way. This transformation is as interesting as a real transformation. There is nothing other than personal subjectivity. Even the physical transformations only interest me because they also happen in people's minds.
AM: You were talking about this question of the limits of consciousness, what happens outside our consciousness that we are not aware of, that we cannot justify. This is the unconscious, or subconscious or another territory that we may discover. My question is, especially in the Lifeline Series, and now in the Winter Series, is there a time when you feel that you are turning off your consciousness, or are you constantly alert? Or when it happens, is it the moment to stop? That is, why is it that what you are doing here, methodically, slowly, is not a way to try to reach a territory that is outside consciousness?
RSC: I would not say it is an attempt get away from consciousness, but the process does have elements that resemble meditation. I have described these drawings several times as a near-meditation process. Not that I am looking for it, but because the execution leads me there. They are not mechanical drawings. It is not a physical movement that takes place with the head elsewhere. There are times when there is a kind of emptying of consciousness, but it is not a disconnection. It does not come to that. Perceptively it is always very much under the skin. It is not uncommon to have a jump in the lines because a door slammed. And it is expressed in that way. If it was a process of conscious detachment what happened around would be indifferent.
AM: It could be the other way around, that is, when you came to that point you would stop drawing.
RSC: But in fact it is impossible to get to that point. Because the process is physically demanding and I can only draw the compression of lines continuously for short periods of time. I have to take breaks. These rhythms make it impossible to drift out of consciousness. Hypothetically, in the abstract terms, it could happen.
The questions that inform that series are: where does drawing begin? How and when does it begin? I get into the history of drawing and try to walk backwards in that timeline. Until I reach a limit. When I conceived the Lifeline Series I also looked for the physical limit of what I could do to have straight lines that were very close to each other without touching each other. The dimension of these sheets of papers is related to the limit of my movement with these controlled parameters. The postulates that are defined a priori also make this abstraction, this disconnection from consciousness, more difficult. Now, if it was possible, would I be interested? I have doubts that it would interest me. Because the idea is that it is a kind of translator, a seismograph. A translator of what goes on with the agent. If the agent wore off the outside stimulation, it would be a cleaner register, closer to a machine. It would be less interesting.
AM: That relates to what you were talking about earlier: time, silence, this loneliness.
RSC: My perfect workplace is by myself, alone, with Ernesto (the cat), if he does not bother me too much. These notions of emptiness, of silence, of absence are all things that interest me very much. I try to run away from fussiness. I am interested in this absence and bring this absence, this emptiness, to my work. The pieces with which I feel better are those that formally, objectively, plastically, do not have much. They tend to be very simple things, almost suprematist compositions.
AM: I do not think they are simple.
RSC: They are simple from the formal point of view. I pursue depth at the conceptual level. I like the notion that someone who glances quickly at my work hardly sees anything but a surface of one color or shade. Either a person is willing to invest time, or they will hardly see more than just that. I want to enter into dialogue with those who want to engage in a conversation. We live surrounded by stimulation. There is too much out there consuming our cognitive resources. And curiously we live most of the time using only part of our mental resources. We are not always living up to the potential of the resources we have. We tend to function using the minimum possible. People have to be parsimonious with the resources available. When something interests us, when there is time, motivation, when these resources are available, then we may be willing to engage in a dialogue. I am perfectly aware of this and do not want to force a dialogue. If and when someone is available, it will happen. The construction of meaning is surely something that does not arise if there is no such availability. Most of the time, there is an easy first reading of an artwork. It may not even be the one the author intended. It may even be the opposite. One of the characteristics of the production of visual objects is that they tend to have an interpretation, a first interpretation. If that is the meaning that matters, it is another question. I think my work does not facilitate this first signification. At first the work is raw, minimal, it seems that there is little going on.
AM: And often the first interactions, the dialogue, begin exactly with one aspect of the process.
RSC: Part of the abstraction has this problem, this difficulty. It is harder to start the conversation. If we are talking about a figurative representation one can discuss the framing. Imagine a photograph of a sidewalk, of course one can also discuss procedural matters, but it is easier to immediately enter into conceptualization. The formal part is already understood, it is a photograph. I think in my case this difficulty makes it easier to start the conversation by the process. A person looks at it and it is difficult, the work won't be screaming time, or memory. It does not happen that way, immediately or spontaneously, or fairly quickly. These are slow processes, and these are necessarily slow pieces in the dialogue they establish with those who observe them. And time is the most precious thing we have. It is the only thing we cannot add to our existence. We are always in a countdown. I have the humility not to impose my work, and the time it implies, on anyone.
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