In 2000, Carlos Amorales had an exhibition called Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures at Walker Art Center. Consisting of a video monitor placed on the floor showing two masked Lucha Libres wrestling, Amorales described the work as “an attempt to discuss and understand how physical and psychological confrontation between ‘self’ and ‘other’ shapes our understanding of personal identity and of social image.”
Personal identity is a fitting focal point for an artist who was born in Mexico but who spent his formative years in Amsterdam – a culture that is, if not diametrically opposed, at least tangentially so. Now based in Mexico City in the Juárez neighborhood – close to the beautiful, sprawling Bosque de Chapultepec and its world-famous Anthropology Museum – Amorales is in the position of representing his birth country at the Venice Biennale. It is the second time the artist has shown there. His first was in 2003, as part of a collective at the Netherlands pavilion, but this time he will exhibit solo.
Though Amorales’ work spans video, painting, drawing, sculpture, and performance, he has been working since 1998 on his Archivo Líquido a digital archive of vector images of birds, spiders, trees, and similar, taken from various source materials and transformed into black silhouettes. His Black Cloud exhibition is one such outlet from the Archivo Líquido project. Composed of 36 types of moths, hand-glued to the walls of the exhibition space, here, The Power Plant in Toronto. “Black Cloud becomes a surreal yet sublime gathering of insects delicately poised in sculptural formation,” reads the exhibition notes. “A phenomenon that suggests the potential for harm, destruction, and irreversible doom.”
Life in the Folds/ La Vida en los Pliegues is the title of Amorales’ exhibition in Venice. It draws from the Archivo Líquido, yet turns away from the figurative nature of that project, embracing abstraction in the form of an invented alphabet. Speaking to My Art Guides, Amorales explained: “these elements are like the tools that are needed to make music, to depict poetry or a text. It is as an exercise of abstraction through which I have created a world, that is a figurative world of characters, trees and houses in which I tell a story…”
We spoke to Amorales at his studio in the weeks leading up to the Biennale.
What does it mean to make art?
It’s a very complicated question. On the one hand, my parents were artists, so I grew up immersed in this, I grew up in this environment. Because of this, appreciating and seeing art for me has been something very natural but, from then on, the decision to become an artist is a very big change.
I think there’s something you’re always looking for. In my late teenage years, I realized I wanted to make art. There was a time when all my friends were choosing their careers and it was difficult for me to find my vocation. To be an artist is to have a creative but very exploratory vocation.
Can you live on art?
Yes, definitely. In the end it’s the same as with any other profession: you have to know that there will be dark times but, with perseverance, you’ll be able to see the fruit of your work and this will make you feel complete. Ultimately, you’re living off your passion or what you love or who you are as a human being, and that’s priceless.
What is the process for getting invited to the Biennale?
Well, they called to tell me that I was being pre-selected, but then you have to send them [an artistic] proposal to see if you will be selected. The first time I was at the Biennale, I was very young and I lived in the Netherlands – they were different times. Right now I’m 45 years old and for my career it means something else. When they called me to tell me that I had been selected, I was a bit nervous because I already had my hopes up, and besides, you have to cancel any other commitments previously scheduled because you’re getting into this monstrous enterprise. But, you may say this is a good problem to have. The next week they called me and I went to see the place in Venice they had given me.
Do you care about this kind of recognition?
Yes, of course I care. I think they’re super important, since art is something very strange because you only work for yourself. For example, most people work for someone else, and as an artist you work for yourself, so the ego becomes much more involved.
What does it feel like to represent your country?
Well, it’s similar to when a soccer player goes to the World Cup. And it’s kind of weird, since art does not work that way, but at the end of the day, people end up asking you to represent an entire nation. At the end of the day you’re a flag bearer, you’re representing your country, in a place like the Biennale which is the perfect representation of globalization. Sometimes it’s complicated, because you think you have to talk about your country through your work or something. And it’s interesting, because I’m from a generation of artists who lived and studied abroad for a long time; I’m a not-so-local artist.
What is the piece you hate the most?
There are times of transition in an artist’s career, and these render you very vulnerable. For example, when you finish a project that you liked a lot in which you put a lot of effort and you have to move on to another one, I think those moments are when the artist is more vulnerable. So I don’t have a specific piece, but there was a time – at the end of 2008 – which I feel was very formalistic, I was doing “works on my own works,” something that only I would understand.
Interview by Diego Urdaneta