“... art can change society, perhaps not permanently, but towards a new and subsequent utopia. Art is a space where not only value notions are discussed, but where provisional social models may be implemented to be seen, analyzed and, in the best of cases, copied by other disciplines and bodies in society, which will be the ones to negotiate their permanence and executive status.”
(Tania Bruguera)

Remembering Chema...

Remembering Chema Alvargonzález


Conversation between Chema Alvargonzález and Stefano Gualdi

(from an interview with PLAY)

Way of working

Stefano Gualdi A good way of understanding an artist’s work is to watch the artist at close hand while he or she is working, or in other words when he or she is translating his or her ideas and intuitions from one language to another. During this phase, theoretical concepts and formal solutions are formulated in sufficient quantities to reveal the artist’s intentions. For example, in your case, I have seen that while you have been preparing the solo exhibition in Berlin at Artinprogress, you have visibly modified the initial project, creating new solutions that appear as a function of the space and the use of new materials. Could you talk about your way of working?
Chema Alvargonzález I use intuition as my starting point; intuition as a light that illuminates pathways that were previously dark. With intuition comes an idea that makes me react to a specific situation. This is the most important stage, in that it is linked to the unknown that lies within me, allowing all the images that I can possibly imagine to flow spontaneously. Various elements come together in these images : sound, movement, concrete forms that have a life of their own, expressing their rhythms through the changes of light. On the other hand, reason plays its part in selecting the highlights suggested through intuition, and in making them concrete in the form of a piece. In this second part of the process the influence of literature, architecture, philosophy and cinema also appear. They are reflected in the way in which I order the concept and the specific way in which I reflect on the world in which I live.

Meaning of the journey

S.G. From the beginning, your work has often taken up the theme of travel, which is evoked in various ways by means of clouds, motorways, suitcases and airports. What does travel mean to you? Is it fleeing from a peaceful, but flat reality to venture along a road towards internal knowledge, as in the films of Wenders and Salvatores? Or alternatively, would you see adventure and the unknown with a more literary significance.
C.A. The suitcase, the journey and the plane are all elements that refer to continual human transformation, to the nomadic nature of ideas and the deconstruction of the frontiers of philosophy.

The idea of the circle

S.G. In many of your collages, and finally also in your digital photography, you edge parts of the image using circular forms, which create surprising symbolical relationships between the different objects and the different parts of the same photograph.
C.A. The use of the circle does not have significance as content, it is purely formal. It is a way of delineating and dividing spaces within the image. It is a way of transporting worlds and relating them to one another.

Your relationship with sound

S.G. In various installations, you have used a soundtrack, which in many cases you yourself create in relation to the image. What are you more interested in, the reaction of the viewer or the possibility of creating pieces in different media?
C.A. My relationship with sound comes from cinema. Ever since I was a child, getting to know the world by means of cinematic and audio-visual images has meant that I imagine the forms which I see in my mind’s eye accompanied by a specific sound. For me, all images have a soundtrack, even if it is a silent one. I am continuously looking for and finding music that I transform and apply to my works. Even my work in public spaces has a soundtrack, the soundtrack of what surrounds them. I like walking around them and watching how they change throughout the day, as time passes.

The significance of ruins

S.G. Nowadays, industrial archaeology and outlying neighbourhoods in so many cities offer you, and other artists, an impulse to reflect on the theme of the ruin, which was widely explored in the past by the artists of Romanticism. What are your thoughts about this theme?
C.A. My work on the theme of ruins is not related to the idea of romantic ruins, but rather relates to the idea that something has been destroyed and has the possibility of being transformed, converting it in this way into a generator of creative energy.

The influence of Berlin

S.G. At the end of the Eighties, you left Spain to complete your studies in Berlin, where you have found a lively and stimulating artistic environment, and where you have witnessed at first hand historic events such as the fall of the wall and the reconstruction of the East of the city. On an artistic level, has this experience influenced you?
C.A. The idea of change, of breaking with the past, is one of the themes that has most attracted me to this city. From before the wall fell right up to the present, I have lived through a process of constant change, of adaptation, in parallel with the transformation happening to the city itself, where history, politics and the actual development of the contemporary world have become mixed. Experiencing this process so closely has influenced my work by opening it up towards a constant evolution, a continual search that has strengthened my own artistic language.


S.G. Continuing with the theme of Berlin, working to put together this book, we have looked at around four thousand images from your photographic archive, and I have noticed there are a lot of images of the Alexanderplatz tower (Fernsehturm am Alexanderplatz) seen from different perspectives, and in differing climatic and light conditions.
C.A. I have been working on the idea of the Alexanderplatz for a long time now, because I find its architecture and the presence of the tower in the square very seductive, with the tower as a presence that unifies the image of the whole city, even when it was divided by the wall.

Your relationship with architecture

S.G. Architecture is present in your work in different ways, as historical fragment, as cultural model, as a source of inspiration or as a mysterious world that is still to be discovered or has not been fully explored in terms of its infinite possibilities of expression.
C.A. I understand architecture as a phenomenon that is related very closely to people. It is a construction which confers scale for human aspirations, making them either bigger or smaller. It is like a mirror, or a reflection of the collective state of mankind, in which constructions represent different individuals within the great collective of the city. Architecture is like a great tissue that spreads like a second form of Nature, with its own rules which give it order by marking their different rhythms, their different aspirations. This tissue has two moments that are very important: day and night. The vision of this tissue at night is very contemporary, and this amalgamation of lights in movement is like a metaphor for the era of communication in which we live. The lights of the city make it appear like the inner workings of a large computer, where the flow of energy moves from one side to another.

Public art projects

S.G. In addition to producing works designed for traditional exhibition spaces, you have always carried out a different type of research, which is expressed in your installations for public spaces.
C.A. I work principally in a dialogue between light, language (words), forms and urban elements. I try to arrange the forms in such a way that they create a dialogue with the architecture that surrounds them, and at the same time a dialogue with the viewer who is looking at them. When language is present, it is related to a specific situation, it is a key that refers to the space that it occupies and that has an ephemeral life, but which stays in the memory by means of photographic images. It is like a film, a transparency, which transforms the reality that encircles it for a while and then disappears. Language, as well as belonging to a collective action, has its own life which provokes in each viewer a personal and diverse association of ideas.

The power of language

S.G. I find what you are saying very interesting. Could you clarify this concept better?
C.A. Language interests me not only because of its meaning but also its physical form as an element that generates different connections in the reading of a piece.

Your relationship with light

S.G. Light, especially artificial light, takes a central place in your work. Are you interested more in its psychological or its aesthetic implications?
C.A. I am interested in light as an element of energy, as a source of illunination which allows me to make an intervention, to say things on an urban level, acting through my work in such a way that it changes the form of perception between day and night. The rhythms of the light mark the time. Artificial light and its reflection in the space is very important in my work. I work a great deal in urban spaces and I use light to highlight certain aspects of the architecture such as a window or a perimeter fence, the hollows of a building, to establish actions in an ephemeral way. These are commentaries on a specific situation of the architecture itself. After a while, they disappear and remain in the memory or as a photographic image.

The significance of colour

S.G.“No more light” but “More coloured light” the visionary Berlin writer Paul Scheerbart affirmed in 1914. He shared with you the passion for reflections produced by coloured glass. Can you explain your passion?
C.A. I use colours related to their traditional symbolic significance. Blue for spirituality, red for impulse, attention, passion, yellow for light and understanding. And I combine them as a function of the internal meanings of the piece and its relationship with its surroundings and its architecture.

Photographing your work

S.G. From the documentation of your work with installations, often new photographic pieces are created. I wonder if during these photographic sessions you manage to achieve a certain distance from the initial work?
C.A. When I’m photographing my own pieces, I manage to distance myself from my work so that I can see it in another way, which allows me to construct images of it from a creative perspective rather than a documentary one.

Forthcoming projects

S.G. Could you talk about your project for the Swiss embassy in Berlin, on which you are working?
C.A. At the moment I am creating an installation for the facade of the Swiss embassy in Berlin, an emblematic building that stands between the Reichstag and the BundesKanceramt. It is an intervention that will last for two months. The project is based on an association created between the works Mehr Licht (More Light) and the interplay of blue LEDs that will illuminate the West facade of the embassy. The words Mehr Licht (the last words attributed to Goethe before he died) are linked with the location of the building, beside the seat of government and other important state organisations, establishing a dialogue with the surroundings that invites a political reflection on the one hand, and a personal reading on the other. The current darkness of the facade will be replaced by illumination, in the sense both literal as well as poetic that both light and language offer.
Translation by Jonathan Bennett

In memory of Chema...

“Chema Alvargonzález, fotógrafo y escultor” by El País
“Mucho más que palabras” by El País
“Adiós a la mirada fugaz de Chema Alvargonzález” by ABC.es
“El fotógrafo Chema Alvargonzález fallece en Berlín, la ciudad que le inspiró” by Lavanguardia.es



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