Óscar Alonso Molina / Susanne S. D. Themlitz
I would like you to begin by telling us about your work process, that is, how your images, which are so complex, come into existence.
There are images or they could be called “mental landscapes” that I carry (or that carry me) and through which I navigate, or I seek to translate the thoughts and understand correlations. Some of these images are present in the story of my work; some are visual interpretations that I make, like journeys or visits to works of art; some are related with memories from my past; and I rub shoulders with others on a daily basis. Then they nourish one another. When some take me unexpectedly by surprise, I set out to encounter them; I examine them and immerse myself in them until some become integrated into others. Many remain permanently on standby, because they don’t have a meaning yet, while others disappear precisely because they have no meaning. I am also very interested in some remnants and footprints that people leave in their wake or that continue to exist as the evidence of a past activity or function, like the power of presence through absence and other costumbrist vestiges that breath local and social characteristics. It’s a somewhat empirical process: Interwoven associations. I begin from a point or a few elements and I place them in a flexible structure. I construct combinations that I internalise or that interest me externally. And it is an active form of vision: An individual grammar is constructed, an individual meaning. In this way, the works become observable themselves. Thus the horizon is defined and expanded step-bystep, with more or less contradictory images on different planes.
Initially, your work appears to be related with the idea of fantasy and the surreal: The dream, dreamlike, unconscious archetypes… I would like you to speak to me about all these topics with reference to your interests and your work.
Yes, I am fascinated by how our brain works in this sense: It reads and establishes relations, it can construct possible bridges and merge parallel realities, create fictions and geographies. I don’t know whether the creation, visualisation and manipulation of these planes make my visual discourse surreal (it may have some characteristics, but in essence, it enables me to mentally travel through different observations, working sometimes with objects, words and images). There may be dreamlike aspects, but then I ask myself where the visual hallucination or delirium begins in the visual arts, both for the artist and for the spectator himself. It appears to me then to be ever present in some way, or isn’t it? Joining A to C may seem absurd if B is missing, but B is still there. So, sometimes we take shortcuts and join languages, because essentially, we are translators, or, which is the same thing, each of us is an enormous digestive system.
Your images always reveal a kind of internal story, sometimes highly blurred, other times more articulated on a narrative level (like the videos in your most ambitious installations). Could you tell me about the function that this idea of “telling something” fulfils in your work?
They can be seen as narratives. For me, it is more of a microscopic and focused glance at each particle, sometimes with juxtapositions. Moments, appointments, observations. Suspended layers or planes. That’s why I don’t see myself in the role of “telling something” through my work. Occasionally, I can join fragments, situations or elements that do not interact, but that can co-exist in one way or another. What seems important to me is that the finished work has a system, its own anatomy and a valid proposition. This might sound very vague, but it’s very evident to me. It’s the visual thought that transmits a story without a defined direction and without a vanishing point. Perhaps it is a representation of how the brain establishes associations. Some ideas simply arise, sometimes without meaning. However, the brain always attempts to give meaning to them. It is a process that consists in encountering the world along the way.
What determines whether a work acquires the format of a drawing, a sculpture, an installation, an artist’s book, or a painting? You move with amazing mastery and coherence in all types of disciplines, which furthermore often intermingle and over time, one part of the work comes to form part of another very different part (a framed drawing, for example, that is incorporated into another exhibition in the body of a sculpture or an installation). It’s very eye-catching.
I undoubtedly have a great interest in constantly re-questioning my own work and considering where the sculpture or the drawing begins and ends. Thus, in the same way that I use different perspectives, dimensions and deformations in a single work, I also re-work and re-observe a problem with a different medium and language. There, I am interested in the series, in approaching the theme several times until I think that it acquires a strong body and a significantly clear meaning. A work can also be nourished with another, or visit it, although without losing its own story, thus analysing other settings and contexts. This part fascinates me: Even eliminating or altering fragments of the texts can lead me to want to think about a work. Sometimes it makes sense; other times it doesn’t. It’s always important for me to focus on the observation and reflection, otherwise nothing happens. I believe that this unease is necessary, although it is not comfortable.
I would like to discuss some aspects of your work that I see as being interrelated, but it would be more convenient for the reader to examine each one separately in its specificity. Let’s begin with precariousness, the poor materials, the constant appearance of fragility in your artwork, which seems to be made almost by chance, without many pretensions, with hardly any sophistication at all...
I am interested in found objects, like things that exist in the world and in which it is possible to find something that can be integrated into a work of art. I hope to find a connection between an object that exists and a text or an object on which I am working: A connection between something that is out there and something that is already stored. Hence, I always seek a meaning that establishes a connection with that which is inside, by referring to that which is already sketched or by amplifying it. This is where the overlapping structure of my works comes from. It is true that I can use a thread that may have a meaning in a work for me, for example, such as a reference to a graphite line, as I also may use a bucket that serves as a platform and whose colour and plastic already constitute an element in themselves. A piece of furniture can be an element to work on the theme of still life and a snail shell or bronze shell can completely change the meaning as it is transferred to a different material. Sometimes the simplicity of the material helps me to draw and represent the fragility of the sculpture, whereas other times, due to their strangeness, this fragility and the lightness of the materials enable a freer interpretation of a work; and in the same way, other times, I need more classical materials.
Let’s continue with the formless…
The formless is a possible form within the elements and the spaces. I also have my doubts there: Does the formless exist as formless? Otherwise, it can be so recognisable that we call it informal because it has no name and has a merely, though completely autonomous transitory presence?
The deformed and the grotesque...
It must be my fascination and interest in multiple perspectives to merge contents or metamorphose elements. Thus, another side of me navigates in the tradition of the grotesque.
Perhaps it is produced as a result of the different possible transformations and associations of themes and fragments. But I am interested in this theme, especially from the viewpoint of metaexistence.
Finally, the body at the limit of what is human…
Or what is human at the limit of its body? When I integrate human creatures into my work, I want them to be anonymous, as I do not wish to represent the portrait of a specific person, but rather the presence of a human being, the inhabited: It’s always more of a portrait of a situation or a gesture than a portrait of a person.
In your latest works, there is something more analytical, in terms of the structures that comprise it, as if the interest in demonstrating how your pieces are approached, constructed and organised and how your pieces grow through accumulation had increased. Is this something premeditated? On the other hand, this does not cause the so characteristic humorous side of the work to disappear, but rather to the contrary, it highlights this non-figurative and more say “mental” background even more. It could be said that a more general analysis is observed to some extent, without the work becoming more “serious” or contained in other aspects as a result of this… What do you think?
It is true that I work with different focuses, perspectives and approaches, but this phenomenon or “problem” has always accompanied me. Perhaps for this reason it is sometimes difficult for the spectator to understand the bodyunit of my work. I remember well that when I was studying art in Lisbon, some teachers appeared irritated, frequently focusing on works that were apparently more personal and poetic or works with apparently more conceptual content, as if there were only one possibility. I remember sculptures that I created by assembling wood or stone slabs as an architect would do, alienated (or not) with model figures, but in parallel, I also made small heads of clay or gigantic boxes full of organised materials and objects, also accumulations, like an encyclopaedia.
I simply look at how things are related between one another and how their contents change. This is why I am not surprised that they formally express themselves in different ways. In any case, I cannot manage encompassing everything within a single language, and so I have to approach things in different ways. Thus, returning to your question, when I work I develop parallel lines of argument and this is something that I have been doing in a continuous way for over twenty years, sometime in a more evident way than others. It is a premeditated stance to be able to observe a subject with different angles and different magnifying glasses.
From your work, some kind of comment can be deduced about the inner world of man, his psychology, his fears and his way of being in life, as well as a subtle and very humoristic critique of the political, social and cultural order of our civilisation. Could you tell us about these two themes in relation with your work?
Some texts that are like photocopies to take away; they can appear in a publication or be incorporated into drawings or installations.
I once picked up a book on ethology that I had from my childhood, I dived into the text and rewrote some parts for (2000). The listing appeared in a publication of the gallery and in photocopies to take away, but not in the exhibition hall. On another occasion, while pregnant, I read a quite strange book that was recommended to me, something like a guide for future mothers and I rewrote some sentences that I then integrated into my work. Some time later I also read a research book on animal behaviour and at the same time another on clinical psychology and ended up intermingling sentences from one and the other in part of a video. While preparing the installation The Gallery of the Lonesome, Sullen and Self-Absorbed (2001), I remembered the book by Elias Canetti Der Ohrenzeuge (Characters) and adapted a couple of sentences for a kind of manifesto that were written in pencil on a wall of the installation.
Before making the animation video, The Good, The less Good and Other Survivers (1999), I had made some drawings of similar characters, which were also found in the installation by the same title. Thus, I cut out sentences from press articles describing the news and used them in the video. On the other hand, for the individual titles of the photomontages for the Quiproquo series (1999), I researched and chose titles originating from the countless films by Méliès (though few have been recovered), as a kind of homage to the filmmaker. When you invited me to the exhibition Other Flowers of Evil (2012), I felt like sticking my nose back into the poems of Baudelaire, so I took some verses and incorporated them into the series, because as I thought, thanks to them the drawings could be read on another level, thus opening a door that was already there. Ultimately, the elements always intermingle in some way; it’s just a question of understanding how the things are interrelated between and within themselves, not within a closed system, but rather in a complex and continually growing space. However, and precisely because of this, the process is only an attempt: Humour, poetry and proportional calculationsare elements that become detached from this process.