Amsterdam, Feb. 2013: Spanish artist Carlos Irijalba deals in reality and experience. His work sheds light, often literally, on the ways that Western culture consumes the world and itself. While viewers often encounter his work to date through film or photography, the substance of his practice is the experience of the event itself. Complex constructions, sculptures, and apparatuses inhabit his oeuvre. Light is a key element, whether shining from the headlights of an unfeasible two-faced vehicle, transferred from a football stadium to a remote forest, or rigged as a tiny moving sliver of space highlighting the narrowness of our experience.
Irijalba’s video Inertia will be one of nineteen video works featured at Art Rotterdam 2013 in the new Art Rotterdam Projections hall. I spoke with the artist at his new studio a mere week after his arrival in Amsterdam for his residency at the Rijksakademie. Further images of Irijalba’s work and process, including the full videos of the works we discuss below, can be viewed on his website.
Carlos Irijalba, Inertia 1, 2012; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Sherin Najjar, Berlin.
Andrea Alessi: The film you’re showing at Art Rotterdam Projections, Inertia, follows a shallow focal plane of light as it moves through a forest. How did you start to think about light in your work?
Carlos Irijalba: Everything leads into the next. One of my first projects, Überlegung, was a complicated sculpture of a car, where I was casually starting to be concerned about light. I had to do some press pictures and I was tired of the object because it took two years to build and it was very complex. So I erased the car from the image using Photoshop. It was very intuitive. The only thing remaining in the image was the space illuminated by the headlights. At that time I was reading work like Tanizaki’s The Praise of Shadows and Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, with this kind of very East-West philosophy, and I started to develop this idea of how reality is constructed in Western culture through light and through spectacle. I concentrated on these two elements – the lighting device and the screen. I was also interested in fireworks during daylight. How do they work? The element which is supposed to be dominant goes to a different plane. I saw the lighting device as something that produces spectacle, a scene.
Daylight is very democratic. It gives light to everything on the same level and then night falls. When you’re on a plane at night it’s black out the window and you only see lit spots that intentionally exist. And in that sense it doesn’t matter if it’s the sea or a potato field, it’s not visually intended to exist from our point of view. That is what Inertia is about. In other works, I look at the light device as something very plain. We pay so much attention to the other side – the illuminated – and I look from a different point of view.
AA: I was wondering about the relationship between photography and sculpture. Can one of those exist in your practice without the other?
CI: My background was sculpture and photography. I did sculptures while I was studying and I was never interested in representation. In a way that’s a contradiction because the videos and photos I show are representation, of course. I cannot bring everybody to the experience. It needs a filter.
Scale is important in photography, especially since the 90s – think about Gursky. In my work, because I make very big images, scale is used like a way of being in there. When my videos are projected, I also want them to have the scale of you being there.
Carlos Irijalba, Twilight 11, 2008/2009, C-print, 175 x 260cm; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Sherin Najjar, Berlin.
AA: So in an ideal world would you transport all your viewers to the space and forget about photography and film all together?
CI: Yes, that is the point I’m getting to. What I want to work with is experience. Twilight was the changing point in my work. The main thing in this project was moving a light tower from a football pitch into a rainforest. The same amount of light, meaning the same amount of attention, in a way, was being moved from one location to another. The content was how reality is built through light. The film is documentation of what happened. The real intention was to have the floodlights in the space in the forest and have people going there and experiencing that same amount of Western attention on that space. Twilight is about reality all the time. The real object is going; the real person is going; the real person is experiencing the real place. The main sentence would be “the last place is the place itself” rather than the representation of the place.
AA: Twilight reminds me of the philosophical question “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” It seems like a visual analog of that. If a light shines on a tree in the forest and no one is there to see it…
CI: Yes! It’s like what I was saying about the potato field. The potato field is not visually intended to exist; it’s just there to grow potatoes. It brings us to the subject of how we visually consume everything.
AA: Can you clarify what you mean by “the real”? What definition or philosophical background are you working from?
CI: My main interest about the real comes from Lacanian theory regarding the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic (R-I-S). The real is the only reference but it’s at the same time inapprehensible because we deal with it through our senses, culture, etc… I am more interested in the experience of a closed door blocking our way than the representation or the image of a closed door.
AA: A moment that I found really critical in Twilight is the opening scene because you see the lit tower, but you also see roads in the background that are delineated by light and you know where those roads are because of those lights.
CI: That’s the main thing – how this drawing of light is happening every day.
AA: We also see this in Inertia, which almost has a Plato’s cave aspect thing to it, where you have this really narrow field of experience from which you can only try to generate a larger picture.
CI: This narrowness was important. What the light is doing here is defining one moment and place in time and not the next one or the one before. It’s saying all the time: “here and now / here and now / here and now.”
AA: You rigged a really complicated apparatus for this work!
CI: It took two years. It was one year’s work and then we realized we needed another year.
We did all this research from scratch. When somebody from one field does something in another field it can be shit, but in a way you see things that somebody else might miss. I asked my filmmaker friends how they would create the effect in Inertia in cinema and they said they’d do it digitally with a mask. When I said I wanted it to be three minutes, they said: “for three minutes in film we don’t spend two years.”
Then again we’re talking about the real, and the real doing of things. There’s this one thing that’s controversial for my colleagues who say, “Why do you show your process?” I want to show it because there’s no secret. This is not about technique. There’s a thing in art about secrets and technique. It’s something I’m really not interested in. In my work the text is also as important as the image.
AA: So showing your process relates to themes of “the real” in your work?
CI: In Inertia specifically we work with a very immaterial subject, light, and the result should radiate this immaterial quality, but on the other hand it’s only the lighting device we built that can drive us to that experience. In this case, the device and the camera are the only communicating objects. They exist, they have a weight, and they occupy a real space. That’s what is implied in the showing of the process.
AA: The processes you show on your website can seem starkly contrasted to your final products, which display a lovely, sleek minimalism. Do you have anything to say about minimalism as an aesthetic choice in your work?
CI: I don’t think my work is very vectoral. One of my friends says I’m like a funnel. I concentrate on one thing. The way the works look afterwards, I want a few elements to be there. I do like minimal art. You can concentrate on one particular aspect of a thing. But even if you concentrate on one asset, there are many facets. Of course also I enjoy other types of work which are much more open and broken, but I have this kind of a narrow vision.
AA: There seems to be a distillation of ideas that goes into this clean work of art that can then open up again. It’s not just a funnel – it’s more of an hourglass shape.
CI: Yeah, you never know what experience the viewer is having. I wouldn’t want to have the feedback that things are too defined that you cannot go out of it. I’m not showing a vision.
Carlos Irijalba, Switch off I, 2005/2006, 100x200cm, C-print; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Sherin Najjar.
AA: So the viewer has a responsibility to absorb and make decisions as well? You aren’t a dictator.
CI: I don’t think so. What I’m trying to do is build a circumstance. On the other side I hope there’s somebody critical with his own point of view. I’m waiting for the feedback.
AA: Your work seems really site specific. Do you choose the site first and the idea goes from there? Or do you choose the idea and then look for the site that can help you achieve it?
CI: For Unwilling Spectator, my project in China, I was invited. I had to do something there and I had some ideas for the space before I went. For Twilight and Inertia it’s the opposite. I wanted to do something in the forest and I knew this incredible rainforest, Irati, in Basque Country. The stadium I shot in the film was clear. I chose it because normally stadiums have lights all around but this one has four towers, so I could dramatically erase one tower. I’m not interested in sports, but the field was a green abstract perfect surface I could compare to the forest.
In Inertia, on the other hand, I was dealing with the whole light thing and there was this road I had previously seen that formed a kind of tunnel of trees. If there were no trees above the road there would be just a light on the floor so I needed this unique location.
AA: Where would you like your work to go from here? Can you describe some of the not-yet-realized projects you have in the works?
CI: Right now I am working with geology in relation to social structures and in that sense I am interested in confronting the public with territory in a physical way. On the other hand, I always did projects outdoors whose documentation was brought into the gallery or museum. Now, regarding the exhibition space, I have been working for two years in the opposite situation, bringing the outside into the museum on a 1:1 scale. I am working on bringing an electric tower I saw damaged by a snowstorm into confrontation with the exhibition space.
AA: We discussed some of your philosophical influences. What sort of influences and inspiration do you find in the art world?
CI: There are many works I like. Recently I could highlight Pierre Huyghe’s intervention at dOCUMENTA(13). It created an interaction with the connotations of the space. Very well articulated.
ArtSlant would like to thank Carlos Irijalba for his assistance in making this interview possible.