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Interview with Anton Alvarez

Colours, machines, elements of chance and again, colours

As the world has witnessed an unprecedented global lockdown unravel before our very eyes, Current Obsession conducted interviews with artists across disciplines reflecting on its effects and discussing unexpected changes affecting their practices. Anton Alvarez, the Stockholm-based Swedish-Chilean artist with a background in interior architecture and furniture design, is definitely not afraid of embracing any material. His complex work embodies the perfect balance between art, engineering, and craft. Exhibiting internationally already for years, he admits that recently, he has been busier than ever before. How has the pandemic outbreak changed the pace of life, work routines, and how should artists go about it?

Veronika Muráriková: Your studio is based in Stockholm, no lockdown or any strict measures took place there, how is the situation now?

Anton Alvarez: I think the situation is very different within the world. As you might know, in Stockholm, depending on how you are working, the routines are still quite similar. I leave my kids at the kindergarten, I go to my studio… Of course, international shows have been postponed or digitalized, the landscape overall is changing, and I’m imagining that it might even change how the business operates after this crisis is hopefully over.

Exhibition: The Flavour is So Strong, Larsen Warner Gallery Stockholm, 2019 Photographer: Carl Kleiner

VM: So, have any specific changes occurred as a result of this pandemic outbreak affecting your work?

AA: Yes, some shows that were supposed to happen this spring got cancelled, for example, one fair in Paris has now a digital version. But for me, I’m operating more on the commercial gallery scene, selling my works, and the galleries are really trying to reinvent themselves, adapt, and exhibit digitally. Larsen Warner Gallery in Stockholm, they made a selection of my work, almost like an editorial where they wrote about me and presented some available pieces, and there was a good response to that. I haven’t seen if that resulted in any sales, but there were a lot of requests after they published it. People are still requesting pictures of works. I mean, some people are, of course, in economic crisis, I imagine, but people buying art who have the resources are now sitting at home, shopping online, so to say (laughs).

VM: I see, was the digital marketing and online sales something you were focusing on already before, or has it intensified recently under these circumstances?

AA: Before, people were also buying works from images only and perhaps based on the reputation or name, without seeing it in real life. So during these times, it might be actually the only way of acquiring the works. I saw a nice initiative by Harley Weir, a ceramicist who organised a digital auction where all of the pieces were3Dscanned, so you could view these from all sides, 360°experience. I think there will be more of that.

Exhibition: The Flavour is So Strong, Larsen Warner Gallery Stockholm, 2019 Title of Sculpture: 1508191855 Photographer: Carl Kleiner
Exhibition: The Flavour is So Strong, Larsen Warner Gallery Stockholm, 2019 Photographer: Carl Kleiner

VM: For me, it was the same. I only knew your work from pictures and social media, and it was indeed a different experience when I saw the pieces live in your recent exhibition at Larsen Warner gallery (2019).

AA: Yes, the materials, the close look people can have, and perhaps touching the piece when no one is looking, feeling it, and those kinds of things are important to me. My audience usually knows my work just through the pictures, they are very important, but all of them might not be my possible buyers, which is the reality of selling the work. But as you said, it’s a quite different experience, the physical encounter in terms of, for instance, a scale, something which is quite hard to translate into the picture if there is nothing to relate to. I like to document my works in plain surroundings, so the scale usually gets lost there.

For sure, the parameters of the new work or processes will be kind of set up by the current situation and the way how we operate at the moment. The circumstances and life always affect the work.

VM: I was just wondering since you have this engineering approach to making, creating your machines like the Extruder or The thread wrapping machine if using, for instance, software or producing digitally is something you consider?  

AA: You know, I feel pretty lucky that everything is slowing down a little bit. Last year was very intense for me. I had more shows than I’ve ever had before, and I’ve been kind of thinking and trying to reinvent myself slightly. Before the corona crisis, I was pushing things further all the time, the request came in, and I couldn’t say no. But now, as things are slowing down, it’s the perfect time to dive into researching something new. For sure, the parameters of the new work or processes will be kind of set up by the current situation and the way how we operate at the moment. The circumstances and life always affect the work. For example, the extruded ceramics was something I made when I was on parental leave with my first daughter. I knew I would be off work for seven months, but I wanted the production to continue, so I designed a machine that somebody at the museum can operate for me. So that was my personal life affecting the creation of that extruding machine, and I believe this situation will influence the one that I’m working on right now.

 

It’s still, even now, so much about administrative work, organising, packing, and all of that. But since the last year was pretty successful, I can take this time to think now. If I didn’t have the resources, the lockdown would have been extremely stressful, and I wouldn’t be able to think at all. I think it’s a balance there.

Title: the Extruder Photographer: Märta Thisner
Title: the Extruder Photographer: Märta Thisner

VM: And how does your studio operate at the moment? Is it just you working on your own then? 

AA: Yes, it’s just me. I don’t have any employees. Usually, there is one intern or like old interns, local freelance assistants I hire when I need more hands. But for this year, I decided to be just by myself to be able to focus more on whatever this new thing can be. Because you know, when you are in a team, at least for me, it’s more about producing. When I’m in the thinking process in my studio lets say already for three days and not coming up with anything specific, it can be stressful to have people around you to put them in work. So for now, it’s just me fiddling around the studio at my own pace.
I believe, that maybe in a year or two it will be an amazing year as every artist has the chance to slow down now a bit and there is less pressure on production. I’m hoping that it’s going to be a beautiful, thriving moment for the art scene when this is over.

Title: L'Ultima Cera, exploring the possibilities of lost wax casting at Fonderia Bataglia in Milano. Photographer: Francesca Ferrari

VM: What are you working on now? In which exhibitions are you currently taking part in? 

AA: The thing that is fixed is an exhibition into which I’m putting quite a lot of effort at the moment. It should take place next summer in the south of Sweden in a place called Vandalorum. It’s an art and design museum. We started to talk about this project one year ago, and it was supposed to be on already this year, but then we postponed it to next summer before the corona outbreak even happened. It was just by chance. I really wanted to make this exhibition because it’s a very interesting area with a lot of different industries. On the board, there is a lot of people who run local companies like the owner of the factory which produce metal parts, factory owner that produce vacuum cleaners and things like that. It’s very convenient now. If I’m gonna start working on a new project, I can try to produce it there with the local resources. They can collaborate with me, and I can use their knowledge, come up with ideas and technical solutions, so this way, I can create something way more complex.

I believe, that maybe in a year or two it will be an amazing year as every artist has the chance to slow down now a bit and there is less pressure on production. I’m hoping that it’s going to be a beautiful, thriving moment for the art scene when this is over.

VM: Has this situation revealed some possible changes that you need to consider within your working process or in general?  

AA: I got hints from galleries that maybe this situation we are in might change the system of a white cube approach, bringing in a new exhibition and artist every month. I love making shows, and when talking to one gallery, I got the impression they don’t want to plan ahead because they might operate differently in the future. But I would still like to see the physical shows taking place because it’s a good way of reaching out to new people or to a broader public, people that are not particularly interested, but they might just bump into it. What I was thinking could be interesting are these galleries collaborating with bigger institutions, aiming to set up larger and more ambitious shows for which maybe they don’t have space themselves.

Title: L'Ultima Cera Photographer: Francesca Ferrari
Title: L'Ultima Cera Photographer: Francesca Ferrari

VM: This idea of galleries, online platforms, and institutions working together to set up more challenging and complex shows is very compelling. Have you thought about any collaboration yourself?  

AA: I’ve never worked that much on collaborative projects. But there was one collaboration with a fashion brand this spring, which also got postponed. I don’t know why, but there are a few brands that like my work, and I’m very happy about that. Perhaps it’s the fluidity of the pieces, the movement, or maybe the fact that these sculptures evoke bodies that have resonance within the fashion industry. There was one brand in particular, which rather than just getting inspired by my work and having the pictures of my pieces on the mood board, wanted to include me in the process and have me in the development of their collection. I’m still not sure if it’s going to take place or if it’s cancelled, so I’m not going to say their name. It’s a brand I like, and I appreciate the creative director’s approach when instead of being a parasite on other people’s work, they included me in their brainstorming sessions. It could have been really fun!

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