艺术家Ignacio Uriarte: IU
IU: 我觉得是第二个，这不好说。就好像有些艺术家起床会问他们自己“今天该做什么？”，我也不知道我该干什么， 但是起码我知道该从哪入手去寻找主题和素材。之后我就会深入这个主题，并尝试去超越它本身。通常我的思考所反映的并不仅仅是我的工作环境，但环境是开启思考的起始点。
如果你把我的绘画与诸如Sol LeWitt 等人的创作比较，会发现在美学和方法论上有着很强的关联。但这就像是一个有着办公室经验创伤的人，以过去几十年的艺术史为参考，并把它们以自己的方式过滤一遍。因此可以说这其中有百分之五十是我自己的，而另外百分之五十是来自本来不属于我的那些参考物。但有参考物并不见得是坏事，因为在我的创作中总是有一些规则要去遵循和执行。这就是为什么作品看上去和六七十年代的东西很像，因为它们遵循了同样的方法论。我不过是使用了更多生活中平凡的素材，加以幽默或讽刺的因素，并不全然是严肃的。
HJ: 你能更详细解释一下所谓“办公室艺术”（Office Art）吗？
HJ: “时间”在你的创作里是个关键词，就像当你谈日常例行的行为时，不过是时间范式的一种。在你的作品《向前向后》（Yorwärts rückwärts, 2005）中，时间被转化成某些具体的形式，比如字母的样子、打字的声音……从某种层面上，意味着你塑造了时间的具象形式。
IU: 对，那是Guillaume Déuillau 的想法。
IU: 我觉得是的，它可以避免想自杀的念头，我的意思是，有时一首歌也可以。我不觉得所有人都需要艺术，但有些人需要，他们需要想得更远一点。有些人喜欢一些很正常的东西，比如一辆好的汽车或者工作，我觉得这很好，但这不是生活的全部。有些人因为某些理由就会想更深入一点。我不知道是不是更多了，它们只是不同。所以我觉得做这个会有帮助，哪怕仅仅是因为它们存在，这就像分享一个状态、经历或想法，之后它们会制造出一种…… 不是宗教，更像是一种人与人之间的关联，会带给人们一种能量去过得更好。所以不单单是我的作品，总的来说，艺术就会给有些人带来一种力量。但只是有些人，不是所有人。
by He Jing
White Space Gallery, December 2014.
He Jing: Since 1995 you work for many corporations, in your statement it saids that you studied audiovisual art parallel to your administrative work. This experience give you definitely another perspective compared to the other artists, but what I’m really curious is how this experience act exactly in your work?
Ignacio Uriarte: In two ways. One way was as a trauma, a traumatizing experience. But then I had to deal with the rest of my artistic career. And the second is, it gave me a lot of raw material to work with. Just as other artist might use paint and brushes, I use that experience as raw material. And I turned that into the subject matter of my work.
And also, I think the office is just like jail. It’s a good metaphor for life. Life is ruled by routines. You have activities that get repeated periodically. Things you do and time periodically means time in a timely organized way, and I turned that into my subject matter in the way I worked. Usually, you see that most of my drawings, for example, is one particular activity, one gesture that gets repeated and organized in a certain way. So you have in the end a system of drawings or sequence of drawings, and often these little gestures they might be the same from one’s routines. For example, the scribble like that is an escape. You’re not being productive. But I take this escape and turn it again into an activity that looks just like a work. I fill out this huge rectangle; that’s like a work. It’s almost like punishment, or a cathartical exercise, an exercise to overcome that experience.
HJ: Does it works like an “original source” which is non-stop to inspire your creative energy, or it has already transformed into a sort of natural but obsessive behavior of thinking and acting?
IU: I guess the second. It’s hard to say. It’s like some other artists might get up in the morning and ask to themselves, “what am I going to do today?” I don’t know what I’m going to do, but at least I know what I’m going to look for: ideas and stuff. And in that way, I can go deeper into the subject matter and if things that go beyond the subject mater. Often my reflection on time or on work apply not necessarily to only this environment I work with, but the environment is just a starting point to make a reflection on something.
HJ: But what is the difference between your scribbling drawing and the drawing of an ordinary office clerk? Do you define yourself as “an artist” or a “non-artist” who just creates during the “little creative moment” as you said?
IU: Yeah. I think it’s the two things. When you say what is the difference between me and the man who scribbles, I think there is no difference. In the ideal case, whoever folds a sheet of paper in the office before putting it in an envelope or scribbles, he might think of my work and find it funny. If suddenly things are put into a frame, from that moment of your daily life, everything can be art. Anything you do. That would be the ideal case.
I think my work has a very strong relationship in terms of art aesthetic and also strategies if you compare my drawings with those of Sol LeWitt, I think there are a lot of connections. But it’s like taking all these references from the last few decades and filtering it through the eyes of someone who is traumatized by the office experience. So that’s fifty percent ordinary things and fifty percent a reference to something that wasn’t there before. But I don’t think that’s a bad idea. That’s a good idea that you have a reference to this work that has existed before. Because in my work, there’s always a set of rules and you follow them. That’s how you get to, that’s why the results resemble so much the works in the ‘60s and ‘70s, because it’s following similar strategies. It just uses more mundane materials and adds the aspect of humor to it or irony. It doesn’t take it completely seriously. Because you can always recognize the gesture.
HJ: Could you explain more about “office art”?
IU: Well, I think we mentioned already a few aspects of it. It’s almost like a result of a meditation, and just fantasizing and allowing yourself to be nonproductive. Be productive means, you’re supposed to work, but you could just... it’s almost like a small kind of rebellion. But your boss could still think that you are working on an Excel sheet, and yeah you are, but you’re making a drawing. Which is many people do at their workplace - well not in China - but like in Europe they are on Facebook but pretending they are working.
But that’s one aspect of it. In my case it was also maybe another metaphor. Let’s say you have a bird in a cage, and the bird makes like pirouettes and flies form one corner to another which is big pathetic because the bird is in a cage. You’re not going to be freer because of that. But you learn from that experience the limits of your freedom.
So I am doing all these baroque exercises with everything, trying to see from different angles, do this with that and mixing it, which is in a very way a petit bourgeois kind of rebellion. Because you’re not changing things, you’re not creating a revolution. You’re saying inside the cage. In my case, I’m staying voluntarily. You open the door, and I decided to stay the cage and paint the bars of the cage. I think it creates a kind of consciousness about the cage, about the limits.
By showing all the creative possibilities, which is in a way a good thing or a fun thing, it also creates a sort of like, “this is my world.” This tiny bit is my world which I spend my time in. So in a way, it’s a world that gives you a mirror and puts a mirror in front of you and allows you to see what your boring surroundings are. I don’t do it in an aggressive way, like, “break out, destroy your computer.” It’s very sensitive. It’s almost like a caress. It’s very soft and smooth, but it’s a little bit bitter Like sweet bitter. The way I’m describing it is very monotonous, like way of working or way of living. So it’s both. It’s very ambivalent in that sense. But as you said before, is there a difference between someone else who does it or me doing it? There is no difference. That’s the fun part. Maybe this allows people to have this sort of reflection on their own workspace, and even performing the most mundane activities maybe have a reflection on it.
HJ: When you talk about rebelling, it makes me think about Bartley, the writer in Herman Melville’s story, the man stayed in his office at Wall Street and never work at all. When his boss ask him to work, he said, “I’d rather not to do”. I thought about him because both of you create a blank time, a sort of protest to the standard office activity and the overwhelming alienation, even you acted totally opposite.
IU: And this is a kind of rebellion, because you’re questioning one of the main rules, which is the rule of efficiency. You got to be efficient; you got to be productive. But you decide to prefer not to be productive. I’m going to do the same thing, I’m going to sit here and not do a thing.
Or in my case I’m doing a thing in the usual laws of life would make no sense at all. Because if people decide not to work, they would go to the woods, go skiing, become an artist, become bohemian, get drunk, do wild things, express themselves, but not stay inside these confinements. So it is very rebellious, just rebellious in a very small and quiet way. For somebody who is not an expert or not an artist, art can be two things. Either an escape: let’s say you have a boring life but you put colorful, crazy paintings on the wall. That’s like an escape. In my case, it’s not really like an escape. It’s more like putting a mirror in front of you. You could find it boring and unpleasant. It doesn’t provide you this little spice of craziness. Oh, he’s a crazy artist! I’m going to put a square of craziness in this flat, and my work doesn’t do that.
HJ: Comparing with the others who became a full-time artist at the very beginning, you might be more conscious about the concept of “freedom”. What means for you a “free life”? Is it necessarily opposite to “standard” or “routine”?
IU: No, it’s not necessary. It just helps a lot. As you said, I think people who have ordinary jobs appreciate freedom a lot more. Because an artist who had always grown up in art school and always be so used to freedom, he or she doesn’t really appreciate it. Whereas if you’ve gone through that you are very grateful. But I think it doesn’t matter. You’ll find many people like Kafka, who have extremely profound consciousnesses and create the best ideas. Kafka’s work could have been destroyed. It’s a coincidence we found it. I’m sure there are many Kafka’s in those office buildings here who write or create, and I’m sure that work is extremely valuable. It’s just that they don’t call it art, or they might burn it or not share it. Because also to be an artist you need a big ego, and some people don’t have an ego. They don’t want to share it. They don’t care.
HJ: This consciousness, you think it depends on people, not the environment.
IU: Yes. I think it depend on the person, if they have a consciousness or not. I can spend more more time on what I do, but I’m sure I’m not more talented than many of these people. And one of the funny experiences is you always try to pretend you’re normal. I mean none of us is normal. They’re not normal either. We are all special in certain ways. But there, you always pretend you are normal and try not to appear too crazy or something. Honestly, and they all have a second life. Not everybody, but some of them have very really different lives than what they do in there. It’s just that, for some reason, nobody cares. Artists are very privileged. Everybody cares about what you think and what you do, and they ask you and congratulate you before seeing the show, whereas in a regular job nobody cares and usually only if you do something wrong people will notice. It’s terrible.
HJ: Time is a key word in your work, like when we’re talking about “routine”, which is just a featured paradigm of time. As in your work of taping words “forward”, “backward” (vorwärts rückwärts, 2005), the time had been shaped into a concrete form as the appearance of letters, the sound of taping... In another way, it means that you are creating the form of time.
IU: Yes, and also of routine. Because it goes backward and forward, back and forward. It’s almost like a clock work. You’re watching a mechanical movement, which happens a lot with my videos. And it’s also the idea of the Sisyphean work. You do something, and you undo something. You go up, and you go down. You go forward, and you go backwards. It also may remind you in a funny way of nature, because if you watch the sea, it goes in and out, lie meditating. It’s not necessarily negative, this routine. Our world is structured like that in periodical movement and activity.
HJ: Sometimes that structure is necessary.
IU: Yeah, yeah, sure! But in this particular work, and in many of the videos, you will see this idea of some sort of relationship with time, and some sort of relationship with the idea of Sisyphean work of doing and undoing. There are a few other videos which relate to time. One is called Acumlative Clock, and that’s a video of where I try to collect time for one minute. So I record 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0 every second and collect six hundred figures written on top of one another, like attempting to graph something so ephemeral like time. And there are few other words that deal with time in one way or another. I don’t know if you know 60 Seconds? It’s a circle of 60 watches. It’s almost like an animation, because you have this movement, a beep tone every hour. And each one goes one second ahead. So it’s really trying to show one minute in a structural way and the flux of time in this structural time. Like taking the actual moment and stretching it to the future and back for thirty seconds. Because time is infinitely small. I mean a moment, 12 o’clock lasts nothing, not even a mini second. And we cannot think in precise moments, we can only think in time lapses. One second, one minute, one half hour. And this work tries to represent that time lapse.
HJ: But we can see or feel the time through your works. So you really think the time could be visual or tangible.
IU: Sure, actually I think we always do. Let’s say you are waiting for the day to end, the work day. And you’re watching the clock and something moving. There’s so many movements where you do watch time. Even when you mediate and feel your belly go up and down, time it’s almost like a rhythm that you’re watching and feeling and getting. When you watch a wave its the sort of the same thing. It’s a kind of a mediation, but it’s timely. So I think there are many ways to observe time or different features of time. I think we, unconsciously or consciously, do many exercises to be aware of the passage of time.
HJ: Do you think the routine as you talk means necessarily repetition, or vice-versa?
IU: Usually, I think routine is an activity repeated periodically. Let’s say you wake up and brush your teeth every morning. That’s a routine. So it’s activity and it’s periodicity, keeping the same time every morning, or every Sunday.
HJ: And as you said, some of your work lends a critical view to our contemporary society, the daily routine, the mechanical activities, the formulaic behaviors, as the Frankfurt School claimed it,. Or more complex, as you mentioned that it exist a “mutual fetichization which led for instance to the use of neon light and the archive as artistic media and to the preferred use of minimalist art as decoration in offices”.
IU: Yeah, that’s the idea of Guillaume Désanges.
HJ: Yes, I read that!
IU: That’s true, I wasn’t aware until I read it. It seems so logical to me. Because he says on the one hand, artists in the ‘60s and 70s started to use all these office tools: the typewriter, the archive, the ring binder, the telephone, the neon light... to create this immaterial work or works based on information, even instructions is a thing that is closer to the office than to the traditional arts. And he says that at the same time in the office, when products were supplemented by services, like it was more important to offer full service instead of an object, the dematerialization of the object happened in the art world. Both industry and the art world had this dematerialization movement. And for that reason, he says that the office became clearer, the certain palette of colors, the white and beige and grey, these numb colors almost, very simple decoration, minimalist works on the wall, all abstraction, no landscape, so people could have empty heads to generate new ideas.
It is important that people create this new idea for service and stuff. Super interesting. This is not my idea but his, but I agree. And that’s why it also feels I’m not into do that looks like the ‘60s or ‘70s; it just happens very naturally. Because I don’t want to be... I don’t think my gesture is going to be better than your gesture. So I’m trying to take this gesture and do it very systematically. I do a monochrome, do everything that is systemically in a certain order. So I automatically have the aesthetic that looks like ‘60s, ’70 art, where there’ s not much where I’m trying to have an authorship sort of thing... There of course maybe thousands of gestures of mine, but I don’t give them any importance as the grand gesture.
HJ: Let’s talk more about scribbling, the very essential action in your creation. For me, scribbling is very psychoanalytical and connected tightly with the body. In a sort of sense, this automatic gesture seems very alike to the stream of consciousness. As in the literary, the stream of consciousness is a narrative device, here scribbling seems like another kind of “device” who drive the energy of creation.
IU: Scribbling is a very free thing as you said, subconscious, etc. And I organize it. So basically, I draw a line, for example. What is scribbling? Sometimes it’s spirally, sometimes it’s straight lines, sometimes it’s just your hand, the natural wrist movement. I take each one of them, and I set up a rule and then I follow it. So I take this psychoanalytic, originally subconscious gesture, and organize it in a very strict way. So again I turn it again into a routine. Like work, in a very kind of cruel way. You know this little moment of freedom, like a little flower that lives in the concrete and you strangle it and you turn it into a rectangle that is completely filled out. Usually I use a system. It’s no longer free at all in the end. I’m almost a sadist in that way. And it’s a bit masochistic, because it’s a lot of work. I’m being cruel.
HJ: And very obsessive.
IU: Yes, like work. It’s like sweeping a street or working an assembly line.
HJ: Normally people works in this way.
IU: No, less and less, because we have machines now. The materials I use in ten years will look so old. Even paper will look old. And even what you just said is a very important point. Work in the future will not be very repetitive, because more and more the computers and robots will do the repetitive. The funny thing that right now, we are in a very particular moment. We can call it the analigital moment, somewhere in between analogue and digital. We are still stuck in the moment and haven’t taken the final step towards digital yet. So my work is very retro, but our life is still a little bit retro, because the physical aspect of it is still there.
HJ: And do you believe that art presents a self-healing role for you? The creative action or even normal repetitive action could be “curative?
IU: Yes, it can avoid that someone commit suicide even. I mean, a song could make that happen. I think not everybody needs it, but some of us need something that they feels go a little bit beyond. Some of us like the regular things, like a nice car or a job, it’s fine but it’s not necessarily everything. Some of us for some reason need a little bit more. I don’t know if it’s more, it’s just different. It seems to go slightly beyond the surface of things and have a little reflection of them. So I think doing it helps and even seeing the fact that it exists. You can Google it: even that has a healing effect on some people, it’s almost like sharing a moment or experience or thought. And that creates a sort of... not a religion. but a bond between people that gives them a little bit of strength to live better. So it’s not particularly my work, but in general art has the power to do that. To some people, not all.
HJ: When I heard the sound of vorwärts rückwärts, it almost like a sort of effect of neurosis. Because it drive obsessively the energies.
IU: Yes, that is actually the rhythm. It is a second, so it’s almost like a watch. And you have heard this rhythm a lot in your life, so it might connect to a lot of previous experiences when you’ve experienced the sound of a clock.
HJ: One more question which is as far as related to freedom. I read in your statement that you were talking about ““the new gained freedom implied a great deal of responsibility”, what does that mean?
IU: Well, I’m an artist, I’m a bohemian, I’m a crazy. You know. The classical thing to do is to leave it behind, and in my case it was left it behind and I continued to do something that almost looks the same. And that is the responsibility. I thought, in my opinion, the better artists are honest artists. They are more believable. The shortcut to honesty to is to talk about things that you know. Talk about things you’ve experienced or suffered or know very well, your background, everything. Everything you know. If you talk about something you don’t know or someone you aren’t, maybe I won’t believe it. And that’s why I thought I should look into what I know. I don’t now how to draw, but I do know Excel. So I started making drawings in Excel.
HJ: Very modest.
IU: And then from Excel, I realized I can do something else. And then something starts growing from there. And between artists, not many have had that kind of experience in a working environment. Maybe it’s my responsibility to deal with that. And it’s not only the skills, the few skills I had, there were not that many. If you spend quite a few years, then maybe you will have something in you that you can share with others. Whereas the artist that has only seen art school relates to the office in a very different way as an outsider. Like I said before, with painting the bars like someone was in jail and made photorealistic drawings of the bars of the cell. I think that would be a very nice work actually.Very honest. Nobody knows the feeling as well as the person who is in jail. He has had so much time to think about it. And it’s a great metaphor for life as well. It’s really very intense existential experience, I believe, in jail, way more than the office.
HJ: So it’s long time that you stop administrative work and become full time artist. I suppose hat in this full time artistic situation, you establish a very structural routine for work, similar as before?
IU: It happens naturally. It helps me a lot to work with a certain, not very strict, but a certain schedule. Three times a week I work with someone who helps me, and we start at eight. And that’s great. Having that obligation and rhythm is very useful. In general, I think it helps a little bit because as an artist, it’s very easy to get lost in time, to get lost in everything, and it’s good to have structure in your life. I must say that I have a bit of a chaotic mind, so that’s why structure helps me a lot.