Jaime Gili, Repetition
including a conversation withPablo León de la Barra
Editors: Yvan Martinez and Joshua Trees
Design: Hyunho Choi
Who is afraid of CMY?
Jaime Gili in conversation withPablo León de la Barra
We are on the train back from Newcastle, where we attended the opening of your installation as part of the ¡Vamos! Festival, which, as a curator, I invited you to do. You worked on 80 columns in the Victorian train station, making a colour field. In the morning we went to visit Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbarn in the University of Newcastle, and I think these artworks are an interesting starting point for our interview, as they stand at the crossroads between Art and Architecture.
Jaime Gili: It is wonderful to be able to see the Merzbarn here. It is a 3D mural/painting, different to the installations done by those painters who stop thinking as painters when faced with the challenge. It has something of a parallel, organic, unending kind of work.
Pablo Leon de la Barra: In recent years, with the arrival of computers as tools for architectural design, there is a certain way of making architecture and thinking about it as something somehow “over-technologized”. Architecture has perhaps lost its more artistic side. During this time a parallel phenomenon has also happened: more and more artists are now making artistic projects that are almost architecture. Someone told me once that artists make “bad” architecture, but I replied that perhaps this “bad” architecture should cross-pollinate with that made by the architects and thus reclaim its artistic side.
JG: That sounds good to me! From my specific point of view as an artist, the process becomes much slower when working with architecture. From the moment a project is discussed up to its finalisation, a lot of time passes.
PLB: You have to deal with budgeting, schedules, construction. Architecture is less immediate than art.
JG: And also the creative rhythm is affected. Now, for example, I am starting to have clients who can afford to let me work with more durable materials like metal or tiles, and not any more directly painting on the wall. It gets even slower!
PLB: That’s interesting. How did it all start? What was your first art/architecture intervention?
JG: The first commissioned mural I made was in Caracas in 2006 for collector Sagrario Pérez-Soto in Caracas. It came just after the exhibition “Las Tres Calaveras” in Periférico Caracas, a space with three mobile walls. On each I painted a mural and each had a huge painting leaning against it. A tall wall in the back was covered with posters, as a background to it all. After seeing it, she immediately wanted a mural in her house.
PLB: The way you decide to install your paintings has always interested me about your work (and this again relates to the Merzbarn). In your exhibitions, the paintings always have a physical presence in the space, a spatial presence - although they are not three-dimensional, they create spaces and are in dialogue with the surroundings. Paintings are sometimes perpendicular or leaning diagonally against the walls. You took painting out of the canvas first, and then also paintings out of the wall. How did this happen?
JG: I always work from painting itself, from the two-dimensional. Playing with the plans is probably the only way I know of trying to understand the three-dimensional space. I admire how my mother, a wonderful seamstress, perfectly understands how a piece of fabric will wrap, fall and cover a body. That’s mastering 3D in a way I really can’t do.
PLB: And yet in some of your paintings one can see geometric explosions. It is not only geometry made two-dimensional again, on the canvas, but there is an intention in the geometry, in the shapes and the colour, to also come out of the canvas.
JG: And to me they are still plans! A layer is succeeded by another and another, creating depth.
PLB: Do you sketch your paintings beforehand, or do you go straight to the canvas?
JG: There is rarely a plan, a specific project. I imagine how it might end up, but I don´t plan or sketch or measure. I am more the type of artist to work by trial and error than by project-and-try-to-copy. In painting everything happens very quickly. My canvases are composed of hundreds of rapidly executed small projects.
PLB: I think this is an important point: when you make a painting in the studio as part of a daily process, even if there are no sketches, the painting is the plan. Nonetheless when you work in architecture, there is not much room for change.
JG: From the moment a project is approved, up until the moment it is realised, not many changes can happen, and that is as annoying as it is necessary. But there are different cases: the mural for Sagrario Pérez-Soto is exemplary in this because she had something in mind but she wouldn´t tell me. When I went to visit her house she let me roam around and I chose a space. She said “well, this is not where I wanted it, but you can do it here as well.” So I painted two murals.
PLB: You reach a point where painting becomes architecture. Plans create another kind of space. There are two sides to painting; it can be a decorative thing, but also a spatial, phenomenological experience.
JG: I think that not everyone has a complete experience when experiencing painting.
PLB: You are right there. For example, I arrived at art from architecture, so the first works I was interested in at eighteen were by artists related to architecture and the space. The last artform I approached was painting, I believed that it had exhausted itself and that it didn´t have much to say anymore. I was only able to rediscover it later, in 2002, when I met artist Federico Herrero from Costa Rica, he opened my eyes to the expressive capabilities of painting. A lot of the reason for this was because Federico also takes the painting out of the canvas. I think it is interesting when you say that not everyone can see painting, maybe we need to take painting out of the canvas so people can experience painting again and from there be able to go back to seeing it on canvas. This is why I think your painting has a lot to do with the act of seeing and re-seeing.
JG: I agree, although it seems a bit didactic to see it like this: just as how in some interventions I highlight architectural elements and people look more closely at them, perhaps the same happens with painting: by installing canvasses in a certain way in the space, I am making the colour on the canvas more evident, considering its spatiality, and the depth that it may have within.
PLB: In Venezuela, where you come from, as in Mexico, where I come from, there is an enormous tradition of integrating the arts. The relationship between art and architecture - in which buildings incorporated other arts, particularly painting - becomes one of integrated projects. How did this tradition influence your work?
JG: In Caracas there is a great awareness of this tradition. In my first exhibition there, viewers understood this perfectly in the murals. Jesús Fuenmayor, the curator, has his raison d´étre as a curator in the “synthesis” or integration of the arts, and of which the architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva is the best example in Venezuela. For some time we Venezuelans were the pioneers of this in the fifties, but then it all evolved into “cinetismo” (kinetic, optical art) becoming the official art for all architecture. In the seventies there was an oil bonanza, and on a corporate and state level, optical artists took almost all of the commissions. We are still living the low tide of this phenomenon. With the subsequent saturation, no one wanted to hear any more about art integrated with architecture or public art until many years later. One could say there is a renewed interest nowadays.
PLB: Something similar happened in Mexico with the “muralismo”: it became the official art, patronising, doctrine-filled. From the sixties and the “Generación de la Ruptura”, people didn´t want to hear about “muralismo” anymore. Not only that, but art with a certain social and political aim was not saying anything to people anymore. They had already absorbed the codes. On the other hand, patronising and indoctrinating ideologies were no longer interesting.
One of your projects interests me a lot: an intervention with abstract/painterly/objects in the Petare neighbourhood in Caracas, in which the use of an abstract language seems to hold more social and political content than in a revolutionary realistic mural.
JG: The work in Petare is in a way, I think, an answer to this art-architecture relationship as a tradition in Caracas. It includes the awkward knowledge that the piece will not be able to effectively and immediately address the problems that the neighbourhood has. Even if the work superficially seems to have the form of something that may have existed before, it is made to be easily repaired, neighbours themselves are the ones who have the duty to keep it and restore it. We worked with the community so that that would happen. The rules are now very different to how they were thirty years ago.
PLB: How did the idea or invitation to work in Petare happen?
JG: It was also through Jesús Fuenmayor and the mayor of Sucre, with the first lady Mariana Ocaríz. Their plan was to use artists´ interventions in public areas that had been created in recuperated areas. This park, for example, was made in a hole left by the construction of the Metro system; subsequently I was called to make an intervention there. It is in a very busy square with thousands of buses passing daily and the Metro running through it, it is a gate to the barrio. We made several visits and worked with the local inhabitants. Various proposals were made, and they saw the plan before work started. The construction was also local, and in the installation and restoration the neighbourhood took part. The work consists of enormous triangular metal plaques painted in flat colours which look like they’ve fallen from the sky. Each one is unique and at the same time they visually unite the barrio.
PLB: What would be the difference between the artist working today, particularly your works of public art, as opposed to the art done in the fifties in the University of Caracas building, or the works of Cruz Diez and others? There is an obvious influence, but I imagine there are also differences.
JG: I relate more to the more painterly work of Otero than to the work of Cruz Diez or Soto. Otero even painted two industrial storage tanks like the ones I am doing in Maine. Of course, the results of the research of colour done by Cruz Diez are crucial, but I am not influenced by his more scientific side. On the other hand I think it is important to understand a change that I see happening - we are seeing less permanent public artworks and more temporary interventions than in the past. Here in England we are used to it. This is more dynamic, gives more control, gives work to more people, it doesn´t leave marks and has similar effects socially. For example the intervention in Tynemouth Station is going to be there for two months and is going to be part of more than one festivity, but then it will be taken down.
PLB: But what would be the function of public art today? For example, I was thinking about a work I was involved in and which you know - Chemi Rosado´s work in Puerto Rico in 2002 in Barrio Naranjito – in which he painted the whole village in different shades of green. I don’t know if this had any influence or resonance with you. The interesting thing there was Chemi´s interaction with the community in painting the houses. Beyond land art or public art, it was also a way of activating a community. I don´t know if you had a similar experience in Petare.
JG: Chemi´s work is pioneering in many aspects. I definitely remembered it when negotiating with the neighbours in Petare. To be honest, all my trips to Puerto Rico were very important as I was coming back to Venezuela after a decade in Europe, and their sense of belonging to the Caribbean and their way of understanding the social contrasts made a huge impact on me. But what would be the function of public art today? I think there should be more of it, sure, but its function…?
PLB: In Latin America there is still the possibility that art has a social function. The Petare project is as if you have taken art to a community, which is wonderful, and it is something I have been thinking about with relation to the work in Tynemouth. These site-specific interventions create temporary, outdoor museums, specifically for social groups which don’t have a museum nearby, or for whom the architecture or the idea and structure of a museum seem intimidating. I think these kinds of interventions are something that some artists can do but maybe we don´t encourage enough.
JG: I agree, but we must consider that a social function can happen equally on both sides, even if the tangible needs in Latin America seem greater in general - things like the collection of rubbish, water service, insecurity. Not being able to improve all this and instead installing an artwork may seem pointless, but it is not. The benefits are intangible. As an artist I will perhaps always feel I’ve fallen short with such big calls. The work in Petare is like an arch, a gate: it envelopes you, welcomes you home. Nowadays there are always kids playing there, I think psychologically all this creates a feeling of pride that improves the quality of life for people.
PLB: It is difficult to change the perception that sometimes even the very inhabitants of a place themselves have of it, such as areas full of poverty. Your projects contribute to changing that image. Other works you have done, like the industrial tanks in Maine, relate to the landscape we are now passing on the train, picturesque landscapes of the countryside, that in reality contain thermoelectric plants and factories. One sees only grey and green. Your interventions go beyond embellishing the industry and the landscape.
JG: Intervening to change the daily experience of passing through a place.
PLB: In works like the one in Tynemouth there was a certain economy of means; you managed to intelligently occupy all the enormous space with a reduced budget, covering the columns with the posters. You created a colour field with the reflections of the colour, inviting the viewer to walk amongst the columns and experience a kind of “chromosaturation”.
JG: Although the columns have very little surface, using such “pure” colours made the reflected colour important. The glass surface was too large to cover with vinyl, which was one of the options, particularly due to the costs of access and installation.
PLB: And it is interesting that you used CMY, the basic printing colours.
JG: Cyan, magenta and yellow, to which I added the original colours of the columns, the Victorian dark green and white, found at the metal intersections. Magenta was the first colour to appear in the design because it had the highest visual contrast with the dark Victorian green. Yesterday we mentioned “Who´s afraid of Red Yellow and Blue?” by Barnett Newmann; here we should say “Who´s afraid of CMYK?” which is also relevant for this interview because although they are the ubiquitous printing colours, we may not use them as we are experimenting with alternative ways of making a book.
PLB: And finally a question that Hans Ulrich Obrist always likes to ask at the end. What projects would you like to make?
JG: In Venezuela there are certain spaces that are nowadays controlled by the government, and in order to start looking at them I am simply waiting for a change in the country´s situation.
One of them is the horse racing track of “La Rinconada” –its garden was designed by Burle Marx. Another one that I know I will invade one day is the gallery of the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism in the Central University in Caracas.
PLB: And in Britain, anywhere where you would like to make a new work?
JG: There is this place that a British abstract painter created in the middle of a council estate up in the north. I can´t remember his name now, but it is a wonderful concrete structure that was abandoned for many years, hated for many years…
PLB: Of course! It is Victor Pasmore´s Apollo Pavilion, which is here in a council estate in Peterlee, near Durham. We have just passed Durham! We must go there soon! I was just thinking that these future projects are a perfect way of ending our conversation about the relationships between art and architecture and all the echoes that this relationship may bring in the future!
Jaime Gili: Repetition offers a conceptualist approach to the formalist genre of the artist monograph. Designed during a workshop about the book as a curatorial space, readers can experience Gili's work from different angles as the paintings transform and travel across consecutive pages.
The book contains an interview between Jaime Gili and Pablo León de la Barra. During the course of discussion, ideas are exchanged about the integration of art and architecture in relation to Gili's evolution and international recognition, including a recent commission for one of the world's largest murals painted on industrial storage tanks in Portland, Maine.
Edition of 500
135 x 190mm (5.31 x 7.48 inches)
English and Spanish
Editors: Yvan Martinez and Joshua Trees
Design: Hyunho Choi
read an interview with the editors at the Walker Art Centre's Blog here
more on books from the future here
Jaime Gili's website here: www.jaimegili.org
and some other posts in this blog about Jaime's work, here, here and here.