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Materials and what they have to say: An interview with Wilfredo Prieto
by Nicola Bozzi

Amsterdam, Dec. 2011 - Cuban-born, Barcelona-based artist Wilfredo Prieto likes language, but defies labels. He likes to present objects that occupy the gallery space discretely and often lie on the floor, either arranged, scattered, or in a puddle. There is definitely a contrast between the often lengthy titles of his pieces and their minimal appearance, but Prieto takes time making sure the materials can speak for themselves. The artist's work plays with the visitor's expectations, underwhelming the senses and challenging the brain to connect the dots. A room full of speakers that loudly reproduce the cracking of a few disappointing nuts, poorly arranged on the floor (Mucho ruido y pocas nueces, 2006); crazy disco lights with no soundtrack (Mute, 2006); a library filled with books whose pages are all blank (Biblioteca Blanca, 2004), Prieto shows that there are always certain assumptions embedded in everyday objects, things we take for granted, and the artist's task is to create something new for them to channel. It might be a complex concept such as nationality, or an accepted quality of a particular material. In Apolitico (2001) the artist created a grayscale version of all national flags, thus romantically blurring all borders, while in Geopolitical Map (2011) he replaced a cartographical document with a newspaper, showing the volatility of globalized markets. In his most recent solo show, at Annet Gelink, the artist targeted more alchemical truths, producing a variety of different takes on transparent objects: a deadly poison and its identical antidote, a diamond lost in a pile of homogenous dust, an impenetrable ball of transparent film. Ironic yet formally subtle, the show exemplifies the artist's taste for the specificity of textures and the universality of ideas. I interviewed him about his work.

Wilfredo Prieto, Geopolitical Map, 2011, newspaper, Variable dimensions; Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam

Nicola Bozzi: Given your work with found objects, what is your creative process like? Do you accumulate them in your studio for future use or rather order them when you get an idea?

Wilfredo Prieto: I don't accumulate them at all. Objects, actions and meanings are found by studying reality, in public space. That's where they accumulate, where they're kept. I'm only inclined to materialize the ideas that come from those objects, according to the experiences and the needs of my time. They exist in their own reality, my function is merely to highlight them and dust them off. That’s why I wouldn't talk about found objects, but rather about found artworks, found meanings, which dialogue with the audience by themselves.

NB: While, usually, you like to make the different quality of materials stand out, in your Amsterdam show the transparency is quite homogenous. Why?

WP: Well, this is a very specific show. As it happens, it has a theme, a few elements that make it homogenous from a curatorial point of view. Formally, transparency is one of the key elements, but of course there are other shades: the material itself, the perspective of the different meanings... In my opinion, it shapes up a dialogue between each object, trying to enrich the communicational possibilities despite their apparent formal neutrality.

Wilfredo Prieto, The more that is added, the less you can see, 2011, cling film; Photo: Ilya Rabinovich  / Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam

NB: In art, transparency often feels impenetrable. Is your show at Annet Gelink an insider's critique on the art system?

WP: Yes, this could be another possible interpretation. I've always been interested in spicing up my pieces with a little reflection on art itself. This show in particular is an example of institutional critiques that are present throughout my work, but it's hardly the backbone of my message.

NB: A few years ago I reviewed a show at Berlin's KunstWerke, titled "Political/Minimal." Do you think it is possible for art to be truly beautiful (minimalism has become a rather widespread aesthetic standard) and political at the same time (e.g. compromising with the language of the media)?

WP: For me good art is always beautiful, even though it might have something that we call ugly or negative, either morphologically or ethically. That being said, when there is effective communication and a depth of reflection (which means quality), the work automatically becomes beautiful. This is my personal opinion, but – in terms of minimalism - I can't say for sure. Times were different, I don't know very much about today's minimalism. I do believe in a synthesis of communication resources and a correspondence between the reading of the work in relation to its shape, but I do not see this as directly connected to the aesthetics associated with the art movement known as minimalism - although I understand that, logically, there may be familiar aspects. I believe more in the efficiency of communication and meaning rather than form. Perhaps these days the idea is vertically controlling the form, top down. There is nothing formally closer than the words “Politics” and “Poetics.”

NB: In terms of "Political/Minimal," what artists do you think are best at keeping this paradox interesting?

WP: Well, to mention two Cubans, Felix Gonzales Torres and Ana Mendieta are very important artists for me. I'm not sure if they fall under the “political/minimal” category you mentioned though, I find it hard to interpret those terms.

Wilfredo Prieto, Apolitical, 2001, Black, Grey, white flags of all the countries with its official design, dimensions and Fabric, Installation view Louvre Museum, Paris, France; Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam

NB: As a Cuban artist who's been living in the United States, what role does your nationality play in your artworks?

WP: Actually I have been living in different parts of the world for many years. In the art world we're back at the primitive idea of nomadism, but at the same time I'm also still living in Havana and Spain. That's why the nationality issue hasn't been a priority for me lately. There is only one art, only one sensitivity, it doesn't matter where you come from or where you are right now. What's important is the experience that you receive, transmit, and share.

NB: In times of artists-architects, artists-designers, and artists-community workers, what do you think the role of the artist per se is, in society?

WP: In my opinion, the artist has always played the role of an elitist. Not in economical or educational terms, but in terms of sensitivity. There is already a social responsibility there, and from there to politics, science, philosophy. This means to create a reality that communicates with your environment. It's activating a poetic language in your own everyday space.

ArtSlant would like to thank Wilfredo Prieto for his assistance in making this interview possible.

--Nicola Bozzi

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