April 12, 2014
Interview with former SAIC student and San Diego artist, Robert Andrade
Lauren Fulton: Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you land in San Diego? Teaching..
Robert Andrade: Originally I’m from San Diego. I come from a family of tradesmen, which has highly influenced me persuing art in a serious manner. While growing up it was mandatory to help my family build things, i.e. houses, furniture, anything utilitarian. The house I grew up in was built by all the men in my family. They helped instill the work ethic I have today. This was the beginning of how I learned how to construct objects and problem solve. With this said, I didn’t actually begin making art seriously until I was in my early 20’s. I entered art through photography.
After living in Chicago, Wisconsin, and upstate New York, I eventually made my way back to San Diego. The move cost me almost every penny, so finding work quickly was something I had to do. I got very lucky finding work teaching art appreciation on the military bases around town. This opened more doors and I’ve been adjunct teaching for the last couple of years at various small colleges. At the moment I am looking to move very soon either to Los Angeles or somewhere in the Bay Area. San Diego has been okay, but I feel that there is only so much exposure an artist can really achieve here.
LF: I’ve been looking at your most recently completed piece, Axis Mundi. Similar to some of your other work, it uses forestry/floral and natural materials (or seemingly – in this case, it’s plastic topiary), pairing them with more sleek, shiny or industrial ones. Can you tell me about this new work?
RA: Something I’ve been interested in more recently is using found objects along with highly crafted objects. Both are charged in different ways and I like the relationship they have together. Over the past few years the idea of the fabricated landscape has been a central point of interest. Formal gardens and the structures that make them up have been something that have been a central theme in my work. Within the history of the topiary, there is a fundamental exaggeration of Man exercising power over nature. It is a symbolic gesture to be able to shape nature to any form, especially perfect geometries, since you will never find this in nature on its own. For me, using a plastic topiary signifies the idea that this is a hubristic act, since it is fake in every respect. The power we think we have does not really exist. It is a symptom of man continuously trying to attain absolute sovereignty over everything he or she comes into contact with.
The other component for this work is the mirrored-tinted red Plexiglass. This derives from my interest in corporate architecture as well as the ideas and symbolism contained in logos. The garden is often a reflection of a king or a person of power. I try to embody that through the use and placement of the mirrored surface. I am also interested in playing with the idea of art history at times. In this case as well as in some of my past work, I am thinking of Minimalism. The pure shapes and perfect finishes have always had an effect on me. I remember the first time I saw a large Minimalist exhibition at MoCA – I was new to art and had no idea it could be made this way; it was so powerful to me. When looking at it I felt like there was so much going on. It was as if the simplicity was a mask or “skin” for something larger and unexplainable.
LF: Is there a certain way you envision the viewer interacting with the piece? I ask because of its size and very open construction.
RA: In terms of the viewer, there is no specific way I envision how this work should be experienced. I would hope that the viewer walks around it, paying attention to how the reflections play with the object, the light and the space itself, but that is something I know I can never fully control. This work has not yet been exhibited, so I myself am curious how it will be received once it actually leaves my studio.
LF: One of your other recent projects, Phantom Gardens Fortified Cities (monuments), was presented in San Diego at Helmuth Projects last year and is an ongoing project, correct? From that exhibition, I think one of the first works encountered, Derive (monument), encompasses some of the ideas you’re addressing very well. Would you explain the impetus for the project and how it functions in relation to some of your other previous work?
RA: Yes, PHFC (monuments) is an ongoing project. Though at the moment we have decided to put it on hold and come back to it when the time is right. With this project, we are interested in investigating sites that resemble the contemporary public square along with the idea of commerce, such as the mall and other tourist destinations. One of the main ways that we work is through site visits of various kinds. We trespass on constructions sites, go to malls at all hours, and visit areas of interest related to architecture and the idea of the monument. One example of this is the town called Felicity located on the border of California, Mexico, and Arizona. It claims to be the center of the world, allows for tours, and even has its own perfume! When we are at these sites, we break away and take as many photographs as we can. This is what Derive (monument) is constructed of. It is a digital collage of some of the various site visits we have done as well as the implementation of graphics. With Derive (monument) we wanted to create multiple perspectives and orientation on a single plane. We were looking to give the viewer a disorienting effect by using the tools and language of graphic design. We both teach graphic design, so it often creeps into our work; however, we use this language as artists, not designers.
I see this project as an extension of my own practice. It is not a separation, as some artist who collaborates with another would often frame it. These are the ideas I am interested in investigating both on my own and with Tim since he is also invested in them as well. There are some elements of the work we make together that I feel I want to take in a different direction. For instance, we have often discussed the mall as a place where violence occurs, not in a literal sense, but in a metaphorical way. How it controls people and how symbols of power and manipulation are all around yet most are completely unaware. This idea of violence is now coming out in some new work I’m developing where I purchase highly crafted and specific military knives to use as a material. They are knives specifically for maiming and killing. I’m not sure where this is going yet, but am excited to see what direction this ends up taking.
LF: How do the Chanel perfume pieces work with the concepts presented by the rest of the work in the exhibition? The monumental and ruins mixed with objects such as this, invoking consumerism.
RA: Chanel itself is a monumental brand. More specifically Chanel No.5 has been around for generations and is the most iconic perfume in existence. With the work Chanel (monument) you are looking at a real version of the original perfume, a highly convincing counterfeit, and a very low-end counterfeit. Through our research we discovered that Chanel No. 5 is one of the most difficult perfumes to replicate for low-end consumers. A good counterfeit costs almost as much as the original. A bad counterfeit costs almost nothing and smells mostly of alcohol. The presentation is one of seduction and repulsion through showing all the sloppy low-end materials along with the high finished gold-mirrored Plexiglass. We even had this scent sprayed throughout the exhibition since this is what goes on in the mall. Scent plays a large role in the manipulation of consumers in mall settings, be it though food or perfume. We are trying to show both the beauty (facade) as well as what lies beneath the surface of the entire idea of brands in general as well the language of presentation and the location in which these interactions take place.
LF: What was your collaboration with Timothy Earl Neill like? You two have worked together before, correct?
RA: Tim and I have been collaborating in one way or another for almost a decade. We met in 2003 in an installation art class while attending junior college. This was right before we split off to go to different art schools. Since both of our skill sets are high in different areas, we try to extend our projects as far as we can, often times not knowing how we will pull something off until we begin working on it. We would rather fail at making an ambitious work than make things that are easy and unchallenging. We share a studio, so this makes some of the process more convenient. Our friendship has always been one where we are always pushing each other to be better, to make better work, and to make opportunities happen.
LF: One of my favorite works of yours, Vaux-Le-Vicomte (After Le Notre), also parallels architectural order with the natural, and you emphasize a level of perfection and monumentality through its execution and materials. Would you talk a little bit about the piece and what it was that attracted you to this site in France?
RA: This was one of the first works I developed with the garden as the focus since it epitomized all my interests in one site: power, class, design, the built landscape, all in relation to architecture. This site also has an inherent contradictory characteristic. It is suppose to be a place for complete contemplation and serenity. Yet, it must be kept up at all times and it is really only built with one person in mind, the king or in this case, the Sun God. The view that looks off into infinity is literally the king’s view. It is the king who speaks to all the people and it is how he maintains absolute sovereignty through this symbolic communication with a higher power. VLV is landscaped with lots of optical tricks, mainly the alteration of land elevations to make it appear much larger and longer in scale.
With my version of this work, I wanted to place the viewer in the king’s view and show that it is only in this spot that the forced perspective actually fools the eye. If one stands anywhere else in the room to view the sculpture, the illusion breaks down. I was planning on doing some other Le Notre gardens, as a series, but haven’t gotten there yet.
LF: I was curious if the garden was a big focus for you in developing this work. I believe it’s been redesigned since you created your piece.
RA: I think you are referring to Ruined States, which was installed in a wild English style garden in Ithaca, NY. The gardens are reflected in that I wanted my work to get enveloped by the surrounding landscape. I was hoping that over time my work would be destroyed and rendered invisible by the land it was placed on. I also wanted it to look like a ruin of sorts that one might come across, like a historical artifact or map that was placed there and found unexpectedly. Something interesting I found out while living in Ithaca was its rich history with land art. The site where I installed this work was adjacent to where Smithson collected material for his Cayuga Salt Mine Project a few decades ago.
LF: Oh wow, I had no idea. That’s really interesting! Would you speak a bit about some of your older work, the landscape drafting plans and proposals you created, particularly the ones for Dallas? Those actually relate to Smithson.. his landscaping plans and earthworks for Texas and the few that were actually executed.
RA: I really enjoy working on long ambitious projects. This was one way of working I explored a lot a few years back. For me, all the supplemental materials such as drawing, models, and schematics become part of the work, even if the real piece never came to fruition. The ideas still exist in some form. For Dallas, I wanted to create a public earthwork that allowed the viewer to actually enter the piece. It was going to be a drawing in the landscape that was big enough and deep enough for people to walk through. The line work was the city streets of Washington DC. I often use city plans as metaphors for power since absolute power can be located geographically. In this case Washington DC is the main world super power, yet we often forget that every great nation has fallen. This piece is a reminder of that. It also was referencing the great earthworks in a different way. When original earthworks were made, they were isolated and were experienced in mostly desolate areas. I wanted to use the language of land art from what we know via art history and make it an actual public work in the middle of Dallas.
In the back of my mind I knew it would never actually happen. I didn’t have enough resources or support, but I thought it would be great to push it as far as I could until I hit a wall. Once I reached that point, I had two years worth of work that all resemble this large idea. So for me the work actually exists in some form. Maybe it is better this way. This is something I’m still not sure about, but am very comfortable with this uncertainty.
LF: I knew the plans were never fulfilled but was never certain what the plans were actually for either. I remember some fundraising events in Dallas for it, just as I was moving back to Texas, but I was never really sure of the project. Interesting. Thanks.
One last question: Any artists in particular you’re influenced by?
RA: I’m mostly influenced by my peers and colleagues, but of course a lot of the art canon has shaped the way I think about my own work. I would have to say Robert Smithson, Donald Judd, and the artists associated with the Mona-Ha movement are all major influences. I keep a close eye on what artists are doing all over, so I’m sure this makes its way into what I’m doing at some point.