ASMA is an artist duo composed by Hanya Beliá (México City) and Matias Armendaris (Ecuador). Although they are not based in Chicago anymore, they started there project here in the city in the past spring (2018) and keep coming back and forth between different places in Latin America (México City, Sao Paulo, Bogotá, Lima, Santiago) and Chicago. I was interested in interviewing them because of that nomadic experience that includes Chicago as a satellite but not necessarily as their main hub.

1. Can you tell me when does ASMA begun and why did you choose that name?

ASMA was officially born a year and four months ago, but before that we were collaborating informally for about two years. We both suffer from asthma and it was one of the first things we talked about when we met, it became one of our first things in common. Investigating the word “asma” we found that one of the first readings of “asthma” was a kind of paranormal event where the patient received a divine visit. This aligned with our interest in generating value from those first approaches to knowledge that come from individual experience and that are not governed by reason or logic necessarily.

2. You describe your practice as an active collaboration and also like the overlapping part of a Venn diagram? Can you talk about the challenges of combining two individual practices and how that mutates into a third being, a third space?

It is a hard thing to collaborate. A lot of the times in collaborations people hold onto their own individuality and it becomes a clear assignation of roles. We have made our core focus to explore how collaboration is a tool to play, expand beyond your individual limitations and lose control. To be able to generate this third space, something new between the two, we believe that it is necessary that all our efforts are 50% and 50% in what we do. A lot of it is material experiments, we like that a lot and it makes everything easier in some way because it acquires a certain autonomy, in the end it is something that we would never have thought of doing in our individual practices. Within this active collaboration we have payed attention at the interrelations of everything and how things change each other; in this way through our work we enact this same interrelation, within the works, materials, ourselves, feelings, ideas, spaces, and people.

3. You use to define your collective work with one word: Love. Can you expand that idea? And maybe articulate on how love might change, evolve, disappear, grow, expand, explode and so on.

As we are romantic partners, when we started ASMA our process was very raw. We did a lot of exploration and play and it was mainly a search without much clarity, and what drove that search was our love. Things haven’t changed much but our language around our interest have. In a very simplified form, love is a cohabitation of difference; in some way, it works much like the Venn diagram, the third space, the space in-between is a togetherness. We can explore this within and between us but through materials we push this understanding of interrelations, cohabitation, difference and hybridity.

4. One of the most beautiful things about your work is that the essence relies on very small gestures and almost invisible details that are related to the origin of the materials you use, or part of the process of making. Can you make a list, like a long label or an informative poem, so that the reader understands what I’m talking about?

We have played a lot with material specificity. We made some pieces where we moistened the raw clay with eye drops, we used gray hairs to make a brush, dried Jamaica flowers like gravel for a cement sculpture, and many other materials. Perhaps the best example of this is a piece of poetic composition that we made in Sao Paulo where basically the label is a classic sonnet that we wrote:

Mano grabada en placa de metal,
bolsa de té rellena de cristales,
dos esferas de barros tropicales,
tetera de cobre, flor oriental.
Trenza tejida con hilo dental,
placa de dientes postizos frontales,
semilla con dos colmillos iguales,
dibujo en azul de eclipse total;
frasquito de Givenchy con mercurio,
esmeralda con orilla pintada…
un sobre de sal para el buen augurio,
dije atado a una cadena dorada,
corazón de lámina de telurio,
vela de color rosa perfumada.

Hand engraved on metal plate,
tea bag filled with crystals,
two tropical clay spheres,
copper teapot, oriental flower.
Braid weaved with dental floss,
front false teeth plate,
seed with two equal fangs,
drawing in blue of a total eclipse;
Givenchy flask with mercury,
emerald with painted edge…
a sachet of salt for good omen,
locket tied to a golden chain,
tellurium plate heart,
scented pink candle.

5. What are the responses of the audience to those little secrets, or ghosts, embedded in the work?

Sometimes these little gestures can create a certain personal recognition in people where it can trigger individual narratives for different viewers. Some of these gestures are hidden and play more with the way in which it might or might not change the essence of the thing. Sometimes it can generate more interest or strangeness and sometimes it may confuse people, because these details spread the “meaning” of the work, people do not like that there is not such obvious clarity, but it allows for multiple interpretations.

6. Is ASMA a nomadic project? Can you tell us about the travels you have made and how they have influenced your practice?

Since the birth of ASMA we have been able to travel a lot, especially last year. This has definitely marked our practice and changed it because each place has offered us different experiences and materials. We have taken much advantage of our shared experience in each trip to incorporate it into our process. The central imaginary of ASMA is influenced by these multiple contexts and interrelations.

8. What is the future of ASMA? Where do you want to travel, what pieces you want to make, what kind of career you expect for the collective?

After traveling last year, we have spent a few months in Mexico and have taken the opportunity to reconnect with the city and produce a body of work as a result from that; related to the historic center and the lake that lays underneath. We are interested in generating more immersive spaces in the future. We are looking into some residences in Europe. This year we plan to be in Bogotá and Miami for art fairs and we are currently preparing two shows, one of them in Chicago at New Works in November.

9. To finish, if you had to choose a tarot card for ASMA which one would be and why? 

The mad man, the magician and the emperatriz if they all had a child.

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