Alex Villar interviewed by Erin Barnett

Erin Barnett: Your work addresses issues of architecture, public space, and audience, How do these ideas intersect and what interests you about them?

Alex Villar: I am primarily interested in how subjectivity is shaped at the intersection between the built environment and the many everyday activities that take place within it. So, it is not so much the practice of architecture that I am taken by as the usage of it as a public space; that is, how it contributes to the shaping of everyday experiences.

Erin: How does Upward Mobility relate to your work in general?

Alex: Until Upward Mobility, most of my work investigated situations in which movement was regulated horizontally—fences, gates, locks and chains are prime examples. I was somewhat surprised when I noticed there were not as many devices put in place to control vertical movement.

Erin: Many of your works, including Upward Mobility, are actually combinations of a performance, a video record of that performance, and the projection of this video. Why do you use projection rather than performance alone?

Alex: I prefer to dwell on the mediation of the event rather than on the event itself because I am convinced that the event's re-presentation, which is to say its repetition, provides an opportunity for the audience to experience and engage with the deviations proposed in the video. Projections also allow me to map the depicted image onto the supporting surface so that the particularities of the architectural space become an active part of the work's content Attaining a life-size projection scale also allows me to at least blur and ideally collapse the distinction between virtual and actual spaces.

Erin: It seems that your work shifts between general and specific sites, For example, Upward Mobility was shot in New York and London but these locations are more generic than particular. The video is then projected in a specific architectural situation and place. Can you speak about this intersection?

Alex: Rather than the physical, geographical, or institutional realms that artists usually invoke to articulate site specificity, my work has been preoccupied with how subjectivity is formed, and potentially transformed, precisely in the specific instances where a person meets his or her social environment, be it in urban spaces or institutional spaces such as the workplace. The re-presentation of the work is not bound to the site where the action was recorded. Site specificity is not irrelevant but the conjunction of the content of the video and the site of projection is far more important to me. New York and London were contingent choices in the making of Upward Mobility, This work is now being re-contextualized and hopefully reinforced by its presentation at the New Museum.

Erin: Why the New Museum space in particular?

Alex:: Though frequently involved in situations that exist in the world at large, my work has mostly been shown in art institutions. While art institutions in general have began to include more work that discusses the social world, the New Museum in particular has been there all along, which makes the showing of my work in their space even more significant.

Erin: I know that Michel Foucault and Michel de Certeau's writings on spaces inspire your work, How do you use these ideas in your work?

Alex: One obvious connection is De Certeau's notion that, in the City, walking presents opportunities to bring your subjectivity to bear upon the readymade paths that one is presented with I am also impressed by his sensitivity in identifying in this a proactive gesture of resistance where others before him only saw resignation and passivity. Foucault has been more critical in shaping my understanding of power and the production of subjectivity at the juncture of the body and its various mechanisms of control.

Erin: You have said before that your work aims to "locate temporary spaces of resistance and to propose deviations in usage.," Could you discuss this in the context of Upward Mobility?

Alex: Let me rephrase that to say that temporary spaces of resistance are found at the precise moment when the intended usage of a given space is subverted. Such conjunctions are not permanent but suggest a potential unravelling of an apparently fixed situation, shifting it toward a more positive orientation. Upward Mobility proposes once such unraveling through the absurdist pursuit of vertical dislocation in everyday experience.


Interview by project curator Erin Barnett, the 2003 Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo Curatorial Fellow at the New Museum. She has organized exhibitions of contemporary art and photography at White Box. the Whitney Museum of American Art at Champion, and the Spencer Museum of Art. She is currently working at the international Center of Photography.


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