Magazine article Sculpture

Contradiction Is My Logic: A Conversation with Alexandre Arrechea

Magazine article Sculpture

Contradiction Is My Logic: A Conversation with Alexandre Arrechea

Article excerpt

Alexandre Arrechea, who was born in Cuba, worked as part of the wellknown collaborative Los Carpinteros before embarking on a solo career in 2003. Now, he navigates between living in Spain and exhibiting in biennials from Venice to Taipei and in museums from New York to Honolulu. "The Map and The Fact," his recent show at Magnan Metz Gallery in Chelsea, closed last month. Last year, in addition to several gallery exhibitions, he installed "No Limits," a collection of 10 steel models of New York skyscrapers, along the Park Avenue Mall. Though recognizable, these icons came with a twist, reconfigured into unexpected new forms-a flag on a pole, a striking serpent, a pentagon, spinning tops, and an ouroboros (the snake eating its own tail). It took me a while to understand this subversive imagery. Why turn the Seagram building into an up-jutting fire hose? Why tilt a Courthouse tower to resemble a traffic barrier? As Lowery Stokes Sims explains, Arrechea "destabilizes these power symbols, thus preventing them from successfully assuming whatever political philosophy that might seek to co-opt them." Earlier this year, No Limits, a film exploring power and architecture and featuring Arrechea's Park Avenue works, was shown at the Rome Independent Film Festival.

Jan Garden Castro: How do you balance life and career?

Alexandre Arrechea: When you are aware of what surrounds you, you have the perfect tools to build your work. My work contains my experiences of having a family and friends, of living in different countries, of being a Cuban. I don't separate things. I was born in Trinidad, Cuba, in a humble family that trained me, since I was a kid, to give more than I received. My mother, even when we didn't have enough money, always had something in her hands for our family and friends. I inherited that.

JGC: Could you discuss the subversive images in Conspiracy, which was included in "Against the Grain" at the Museum of Art and Design?

AA:My work has dealt with architecture for many years. Conspiracy comes from a period when I was focused on issues of surveillance and control. Prior to that, I had done The Garden of Mistrust, a metal tree with a surveillance system in its branches. In Conspiracy, I tried to create instability in the concept of what contains what. In this case, the chair contains the building rather than the building containing the chair. For me, the chair is the place where you sit down and ideas start to emerge. So, Conspiracy creates instability in familiar concepts. It was also the first time that I returned to making objects out of wood after my work with Los Carpinteros.

Somehow, my relation to architecture was natural. I was born in one of the most beautiful cities in Cuba-Trinidad-and from a young age, I was surrounded by magnificent buildings. Furniture, too, is part of the colonial past in Trinidad. Since then, as a student and as a professional exhibiting in art galleries, the buildings of Trinidad, Havana, Madrid, and New York City have influenced my notion of working with architecture. These cities deal with different social realities, yet they all share a love of architecture.

JGC: How did you handle the transformation from student to world-traveling artist?

AA: In early 1990, I first exhibited my work as an art student in Havana. This was the first of three periods for Los Carpinteros. Dagoberto Rodriguez and I were working together without being fully conscious of it until we realized that we should do our first show together. Our professor, René Francisco, encouraged students to create collaborative works. Dagoberto and I were already a team, so Marco Castillo joined us. That show was so successful that the National Museum acquired our student pieces. We fell in love with the idea of trying to create a second show, which we did, along with a third one.

An invitation to the Havana Biennial in 1994 consolidated our team. As we continued, we became better known, and we showed our work in cities around the world. …

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