Born in 1969 in Mexico City, Mexico
Lives and works in New York, USA
Interview with Mauricio Alejo
KATRIN STEFFEN: Your videos tell short, surprising stories set in everyday life. What specific situations attract your interest?
MAURICIO ALEJO: Hard to tell. I think what triggers my interest are these little physical happenstances that for some reason have the power to transcend themselves as mere physical phenomenon. Nothing wrong with mere physical phenomenon; I love physics, but I’m interested in situations where power, tension, displacement and precarious equilibrium have the ability to resonate with someone’s memory, perception, and physical experience of the world.
KS: In the short sequences, things are not always what they appear to be at first glance. In Line (2002), for instance, a minimal intervention from your side reveals that the presumed line is in fact a jet of water. It almost appears as if you are carrying out pseudo-physical experiments using different materials and textures. An insight based on direct experience that you’re passing on to the audience? What role does optical illusion play in this?
MA: You’re right, these specific videos are almost all about optical illusion, but I have to say that the verbal also plays an important role. The title is not just a description but an instruction on what to see. That’s the reason for the existence of titles in pieces so short, which shouldn’t really have spare parts. The verbal has a structure and authority that the visual lacks. When a certain point in the plot is reached, there’s a fracture that goes from the verbal to the visual, leaving the viewer vulnerable and open to relate in a less prejudiced way with the materials. Once that happens, I like how basic the experience becomes. Let’s take the video Line as an example. You have the title and then you have the image of a line, but once the action happens you are confronted with a line that is less of a concept and more of a thing. The line is actual material, water in this case, but I think the big shock to our perception comes from something more basic, something that has to do with phenomenology—the sudden realization of movement in stillness.
KS: You have created a unique universe of everyday objects and situations. The banal thus gains a poetic touch. Are surreal humor and wit a significant part of this?
MA: That’s actually funny because I’m purposely trying not to be humorous, and at the same time I know I’m being humorous. What I think is happening is that I’m mixing some ingredients and presenting them with the same mechanism with which humor works. That is, a break in a narrative that all of a sudden brings an unexpected element. Even if the new proposition is absurd, the very break in the continuum promotes laughter. I like that psychological engagement with my work. I think the break I propose is in the unspoken narrative that objects have in everyday life. What I consider subversive is a twist in a narrative that most of the time we are not even aware of, and we are even less aware how subjected we are to that narrative. As for the surreal part, after a while I have unwillingly to admit that there is a surreal component to my work, probably “à la Magritte” as in “This is not a pipe”, which I like very much (as oppose to “à la Dalí”, which I dislike; too spectacular for me). Anyway, I’m not trying to open a door to the unconscious world but to a more obvious and factual world that is still surprising because it actually exists and is just hidden in plain sight.
KS: Your work is based on photography and, since the early 2000s, also on the medium of video. Your earliest video work includes Crack, Line, Twig, Red, and Hole. Time, movement and action have gained a different quality and relevance due to the new medium. How did this transition come about, and what possibilities has it opened up?
MA: I moved into video from pure necessity. I didn’t have any specific agenda to do video work, it just happened that what I wanted to say needed movement; that’s why some of my videos could be thought of as photographs in which something happens. I was trying to be as efficient with the medium as possible partially because I was inexperienced and partially because I had a very specific thing to say. Those two elements turned out to yield elegant little pieces. After that, working with the very feature that photography lacks, I mean time, made me understand the nature of both mediums even better. I came back to photography with a better grasp of how time works in photographic representation.
KS: From today’s perspective, how would you characterize the videos in the context of your artistic work?
MA: That’s very difficult to answer because the way I see my previous works keeps changing. I like them, I guess, in the way anyone could like them. I can still be an audience to those videos, which could be considered an achievement. It rarely happens, but when it does it means that there’s enough openness in that work to keep it meaningful. As an artist, those videos probably set up a way of working for me. They taught me to be as truthful to my intuition as possible throughout the process, from conceiving an experience up to delivering it in the right medium.
Interview conducted by e-mail, July 2014.
Colección Daros Latinamerica. Fundación Proa, Buenos Aires, Argentina. July - September 2015. With texts by Rodrigo Alonso, Katrin Steffen, Hans-Michael Herzog (et. al.). Buenos Aires, Fundación Proa, 2015.
Dark Mirror. Art from Latinamerica since 1968. Works from the Daros Latinamerica Collection. Exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany, September 26, 2015 - January 31, 2016. Edited by Ralf Beil and Holger Broeker. Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2015.
Dark Mirror. Lateinamerikanische Kunst seit 1968. Werke aus der Daros Latinamerica Collection. Exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany, September 26, 2015 - January 31, 2016. Edited by Ralf Beil and Holger Broeker. Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2015.
Schirinian, Victoria. Esto no es Latinoamérica. Colección Daros. In: Barzón. Explorando el mundo contemporáneo, September 2015, pp. 82-91. Buenos Aires, Revista Barzón, 2015.
MUAC. 2008-2015. Collection catalogue. With texts by Olivier Debroise, Graciela de la Torre, and Cuauhtémoc Medina. Mexico City, Museo Universitário Arte Contemporáneo MUAC, 2015.
Illusions. Exhibition catalogue, Casa Daros, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 9, 2014 - February 13, 2015. With texts by Orlando Britto Jinorio and interviews by Katrin Steffen. Rio de Janeiro, Casa Daros, 2014. (www.illusions.casadaros.net)
Ilusiones. Exhibition catalogue, Casa Daros, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 9, 2014 - February 13, 2015. With texts by Orlando Britto Jinorio and interviews by Katrin Steffen. Rio de Janeiro, Casa Daros, 2014. (www.illusions.casadaros.net)
Ilusões. Exhibition catalogue, Casa Daros, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 9, 2014 - February 13, 2015. With texts by Orlando Britto Jinorio and interviews by Katrin Steffen. Rio de Janeiro, Casa Daros, 2014. (www.illusions.casadaros.net)
Identidad provisional. Primera entrega = Provisional identity. First delivery. Exhibition catalogue, Casa Vecina, Mexico City, 2005 - 2010. With texts by Pilar Villela, Francisco Reyes Palma (et al.). Mexico City, Casa Vecina, 2011.
Don't stare at the sun. Works from the Daros Latinamerica Collection. Exhibition catalogue, Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu, Torun, Poland, June 6 - September 13, 2009. With texts by Agnieszka Pindera and Johanna Zielinska. Torun, Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu, 2009.
For you / Para usted. The Daros Latinamerica tapes and video installations. Exhibition catalogue, Daros Exhibitions, Zurich, April 25 - September 6, 2009. Edited by Katrin Steffen and Domingo Eduardo Ramos. Zurich, Daros Latinamerica AG, 2009.
La cooperativa de arte en video (DVD). Curated by Fernando Llanos and A. Salomón. www.video-mexico.org, 2009.
Latin America. Auction catalogue, Phillips de Pury, New York, October 3, 2009. With texts and an interview with Vik Muniz by Karen Wright. New York, Phillips de Pury, 2009.
Informe. Collection catalogue, MUAC, Mexico City. With a text by Olivier Debroise. Mexico City, Turner, 2008.
Videoman. Catálogo de la exhibición de Fernando Llanos. Exhibition catalogue, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Alfredo Zalce, July 18 - September 7, 2008, Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. With texts by Fernando Llanos, Laura Baigorri, Mauricio Alejo (et al.). Mexico City, Ediciones Necias, 2008.
Puntos de vista. Zeitgenössische Kunst aus der Daros-Latinamerica Collection. Exhibition catalogue, Museum Bochum, Bochum, Germany, June 2 - August 26, 2007. With texts by Michael Nungesser and a dialogue between Hans Günter Golinski and Hans-Michael Herzog. Bochum, Museum Bochum, 2007.
Casa del Lago Juan José Arreola. Memorias de exposiciones 06. Exhibition catalogue, Casa del Lago Juan José Arreola, 2006. With texts by Itzel Vargas Plata (et al.). Mexico City, UNAM, 2007.
Arriaga, Guillermo. Fernando Llanos. Cursiagridulce. Dibujoterapia impresa para apapachar obsesiones. Mexico City, Trilce Ediciones, 2006.
Prieto, José Manuel. México D.F.. Paris, Toluca Project, 2004.
Octava Bienal de la Habana. El arte con la vida. Exhibition catalogue, 8th Habana Biennial, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wilfredo Lam, La Habana, Cuba, 2003. With texts by Rafael Acosta de Arriba, Hilda María Rodríguez Enríquez (et al.). La Habana, Consejo Nacional de Artes Plásticas / Centro Wifredo Lam, 2003.
BIF 1999 Frontera. 9 Bienal Internacional de Fotografía. Exhibition catalogue, Centro de la Imagen, México DF, 1999. With texts by Patricia Mendoza (et al.). Mexico City, Centro de la Imagen, 1999.
Mauricio Alejo. Objetos ajenos. Exhibition catalogue, Galería OMR, Mexico City, July-August 1999. Mexico City, Galería OMR, 1999.
Octava Bienal de Fotografía. Exhibition catalogue, Octava Bienal de Fotografía, México, 1997. With texts by Patricia Mendoza (et al.). Mexico City, Centro de la Imagen, 1997.