Adam Carr: How did it all start? What attracted you to the visual arts?
Alek O.: When I was a teenager, I received a big influence from my elder sister, who is now an architect. It was through her that many books and catalogues entered my house. She was so jealous of them, that I could browse them only under strict conditions. In a way, this limit gave an aura to these publications, full of fascinating images, and cryptic texts. That’s how I got to know Magritte and Ernst, and then came Duchamp and Jackson Pollock, Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman… But I didn’t think of being an artist myself… although I secretly desired it. My idea was to be an industrial designer. After high school, I did of my best to become one. But then I got bored… Meanwhile it happen that I met a number of Italian artists of my age, all together, in one shot… that was 2004, at Isola Art Center in Milan. It was a very exciting time. I felt like in the fairy tale the Ugly Duckling, where the ugly one finds out that he wasn’t that bad.
AC: You are originally from Argentina, what made you decide to move to Italy?
AO.: I was starting my studies in Industrial Design in Buenos Aires and I heard of Enzo Mari, Achille Castiglioni, Vico Magistretti…, most of whom worked in Milan. I decided to join such a brilliant city. But when I arrived here it was too late. It was 2001 and just a few of them were still active or still alive. Meanwhile there hasn’t been any generational turnover. It was a big disappointment… Italian design wasn’t that exciting any-more. I moved to Italy probably by mistake, I was young and misinformed. But then I liked the city, and I stayed.
C: Your work makes wide use of found objects. The notion of the readymade is of course an obvious reference here, though as opposed to Duchamp’s concept of the readymade where the object’s history is delimitated in favour of the context in which it is displayed, together with his idea of ‘visual indifference’, the objects that you use are rife with personal narratives. Could you describe your work in relation to this?
AO.: Once I read in a weekly that most of the gold that circulates today is the same from centuries ago. So if you have a gold ring, part of it may come from ancient Egypt or from the Incas. That is what fascinates me: materials that cross time and stories.
In many of my works, the object is not represented but directly present. Unlike in Duchamp’s works, you can’t recognise it immediately. The object has been transformed and what you see is its materials in a new order. This rearrangement is mainly determined by the nature of the object. The final form is the result of a simple assembling or compacting of its different parts. Although mainly given by the object itself, there is still a certain degree of composition: I make my choices – the format of the canvas, the geometry of the volume, etc. – having in mind the aesthetics of the final piece. I firmly believe in the importance of beauty, I look for it in what I do. In a way it’s an entrance door to the piece – the key is an aesthetic emotion.
AC: Your work could be said to take on the visual languages of a few key art movements, namely minimalism and Arte Povera. Is this a deliberate move?
AO.: At a first glimpse you can associate some of my pieces with Minimalism. Trying to use the simplest shape for each material, the resulting volumes or shapes are elementary forms of geometry, that today recall Minimalism. I imagine that this is the natural result, when you want to keep it essential… But at a second look, you will see that the surfaces aren’t straight, the vertex are bruised, the angles rounded. In these defects resides the emotionality of the piece. Somebody once defined my work as warm Minimalism. In a way, this contradiction makes sense to me.
AC: Could you describe your Tangram pieces? Visually they are about borders but also conceptually with their undertaking of shifting things from one domain to another…
AO.: In my Tangram pieces, a found parasol is disassembled back to its basic modules. The triangular canvas thus obtained can be combined in unlimited ways, and through these combinations sometimes a recognisable shape that recalls an animal appears. Among the myriad possible combinations, there may be some happy coincidences as a bird, a cat or a seal. But the sharpness and regular geometry of the shapes masks the material’s roughness, its untidiness – holes, scratches and stains are the track left behind by small incidents that objects suffer during their life time.