The Life Cycles of Objects: An Interview with Adrián Villar Rojas
Take a closer look the artist’s work and its relationship with time.
Julia Detchon, Adrián Villar Rojas
Sep 5, 2023
Massive, deteriorating sculptures are just one aspect of the immersive worlds Adrián Villar Rojas builds. Even in the controlled environment of a museum, they crumble and crack, hinting at both the material reality of time’s passage and at a series of imagined cataclysmic events that might have brought them here.
A speculative relationship with history—and with our possible futures—is at the heart of the work on view in Chosen Memories Contemporary Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift and Beyond. As the exhibition comes to a close (on September 9), I spoke with Villar Rojas, who lives and works nomadically—most recently in Rosario, Argentina—about the multifaceted works he has shown at MoMA, and their new directions.
— Julia Detchon, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints
Clearly each of your objects is part of a larger constellation of ideas, drawing from many disciplines and schools of thought, from geology and art history to pop music and video games. How do you choose from such a range of sources, and how do they take material form?
I read very voraciously, and in a scattered way, with no hierarchies. I try to move from my studies on Courbet’s invention of the first solo show, in 1855, through the work of Patricia Mainardi, Loki the Agent of Asgard by Al Ewing with illustrators Lee Garbett and Jorge Coelho, Federico Campagna’s Prophetic Culture, to the YouTube cartoonist Kayfabe or Roger Deakins’s podcast on cinematography. I need this type of intense, hectic, and frenetic range to activate my imagination.
During this “post-pandemic” time, fiction seems dull to me. Nothing seems as intriguing or ineffable as what we are experiencing now. In the last three years we have witnessed the cost of a barrel of petrol priced negative $37; melting glaciers and weather events that are redefining national borders; Netflix’s market share go higher than EXXON’s; super-powerful artificial intelligence become a ubiquitous assistant for office work, accelerating the dismissal of thousands of laborers all over the world (and many more to come); a super-rich technocracy that won’t stop spending money on prolonging life while more and more poor people suffer from extreme lack and marginalization. To me, this is beyond most people’s capacity to imagine; somehow we seem to have arrived at the end of imagination. We consume an avalanche of content—on TV and in films, podcasts, and books—that once was called science fiction, but now I don’t feel that the word can be used so lightly anymore. Are we living in a post-post-sci-fi world?
Could anyone have imagined that the first humans to demonstrate against AI were going to be writers and actors in Hollywood?
When I look at your work, sometimes I feel like a character in a story about the end of the world. One of the major themes to emerge from Chosen Memories was the way contemporary artists use history speculatively. Even your invented worlds respond to the course of actual human events. Do you see in your work a kernel of futuristic thinking?
I am driven by these speculations about the “art” that might emerge at the point where art ends, after which it could be approached only by nonhuman or more-than-human awareness. I’m trying to get as close as possible to a paradox: subjectivity without culture, without an anthropocentric point of view.
This question reminds me of a project I made in 2010 called Songs During the War, where many of these formative ideas were crystallized. The work is a short parable in which I proposed a hypothesis: what if, in the final moments of humanity, the last five women and men on Earth decided to make an artwork? It would be the last human artwork, with all the implications implied by this fact. In the story, the last group of humans encounter a long-abandoned amphitheater. Knowing and feeling that their end is coming, they carry out one last mission to affirm their existence: to perform the role of Neanderthals, executing modest rituals and household activities, until their extinction.
There is a beautiful, paradoxical gift as a result of this last artistic operation: if the only beings who can measure time are time-traveling through this performance, back before evolution dictated it would be Homo sapiens that survived over Neanderthals, it is impossible to deny that the traveling back into the past is really taking place. Time, language, representation, and meaning is theirs. Traveling in the opposite direction to the flow of time—denied by Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity—is in this case perfectly achievable.
In this way, space-time is exposed to one last ghastly, dissonant fold, like two mirrors or two microphones facing each other and producing infinite feedback. With this act, we arrive at the edges of anthropocentric representational systems and art itself—its ultimate ending.
History in the Present Tense: Storytelling in the Art of Julie Ault and Alejandro Cesarco
The artists have a conversation about the conversations in their work.
Julie Ault, Alejandro Cesarco
Jul 7, 2023
History Is a Living Organism: A Conversation with Rosângela Rennó
The Brazilian artist repurposes discarded photographs to fight “structural ignorance” and the willful erasure of history.
Rosângela Rennó, Madeline Murphy Turner, Elise Chagas
Sep 6, 2022