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Mónica Van Asperen

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Feb 17, 2005
Location: Argentina
Topic: Interview with Mónica Van Asperen
Interviewer: Viviana Usubiaga

LatinArt:  When constructing your images, you often work with clothing and architectural metaphors. Can you on this a bit?

Mónica Van Asperen :  They both refer to spaces that work metaphorically while directly referring to the body. I use the metaphor of clothing because the first thing I made was clothing for people. Considering this work, I found – which may be basic in psychoanalysis - the need to define an "I". The first things people would tell me about were their limitations and desires. Thus, when preparing a representation, I arrived at architecture because I realized that empty space exists there, as it does in clothing, within which it was possible to project this desire of something that had not manifested itself. Some speak of a construction through absence. For me, presence is already represented by its limitation, it is not separate. Something which is limited or cut or fractured is already showing the whole.

LatinArt:  What covers the body in this sense? How does it manifest itself?

Mónica Van Asperen :  What interests me is to arrive at the construction of a more complete identity of the body: a holistic reformation of the body where things are integrated not separated. Its manifestations are round, they are feminine. I am not referring to feminism, but to the regulating of a curved space, a full space. Through my work I try to introduce small amplifications of the perception of the body through the constructive procedures of architecture, or the formal reflected representation of bodies facing each other, the inflating of a balloon, or by limiting the space that surrounds you with air itself, or with saliva. I also address the body through its relationship with a rhythmic space, the interaction with another body, or by introducing games within a hospital, for example.

LatinArt:  Is your interest in therapy as it relates to your work with the body recent, or are there traces of this in your earliest work? Does the work of Brazilian artist Lygia Clark function as a reference for you?

Mónica Van Asperen :  On the one hand is the preoccupation with my own body. I engage in practices ranging from psychoanalysis to alternative medicines, meditation, Zen. I have a relationship with the absent body but within the abstract. This is not a theoretical approach but implies considering the body from many angles of perception and eliminating ignorance, which is the illness. Let’s say that I arrived intuitively. I arrived because the constructions of an "I" and of an identity result in having to cure, repair, complete or reinterpret physical space. From my personal experience it is related to the extraction of the concept of illness. Illness is not bad. It is part of the body and can be reinterpreted and can be a place of learning. Our society has gotten away from that. Everything different is marginalized, and that is something suffered by art. My arrival at these considerations is inevitable and as you would expect, they gradually appear in my work.

On the other hand there is the work of Lygia Clark, who dedicated herself basically, I won’t say curing or healing therapeutically from a physical angle, but empowering the other within her work. Her work consists of practices used in 1960s psychoanalysis. I work with a social psychologist, because it seems to me that my work in connection with architecture and the body has more to do with a collective body and representation. As a result, photography and the visual image have a very strong presence in my work.

LatinArt:  How did you come to choose photography as a medium for your work?

Mónica Van Asperen :   It gradually appeared; I needed it to produce art works. My pieces were balloons filled with my own breath. To maintain these works as actions or these architectural gestures which deflate over time, you need help. My work always requires a certain amount of maintenance, except in the case of photography which freezes time, or the works in glass. That is to say, the possibility exists that the glass works can break, and that is good for the work. But in the case of the more solid, organic pieces, such as the latex ones filled with air or those requiring water, there is a need for a specialized servicing. In the case of the Semillas project, which I will carry out in a hospital, this is even truer because the work functions to the extent that it is used or inhabited.

LatinArt:  Do you believe that your training as a designer has in any way influenced your production techniques and the choice of the many resources you draw upon for your work?

Mónica Van Asperen :  I studied graphic design but my mother had a small patternmaking and sewing workshop and I worked with her for a long time because my father, who was a photographer, died when I was young and my elder brothers were exiled. I also studied music and mathematics, I continue to explore mathematics. I am very curious, I like being in several spaces. While I studied I also participated in parades and other events in order to express myself. I also studied painting with Ricardo Garabito, as well as dance. Dance reappears in my work; I often include choreographies I’ve prepared. Regarding design, I’m community oriented. For me, form loses its meaning if it is not connected with repairing something. I consider that creation is naturally at the service of improving something. Sometimes forms appear in themselves, but they are always in connection with a known space such as music or hospitals or games, they have a relationship to service. I think in this sense design influenced me.

We Latin American artists are alike in that we are self-taught and have a very complex formation. In my case I put the things I learned as a small child from my father and from my mother into my work. I took structures very close to me and developed them. The way to make works of art is not based on an academic background as in Europe, which proposes a closed figure. Latin American creations constantly produce open figures. The constructive system of art based on academics results in the possibility of expressing oneself as an individual, but are representative of a closed sense of self – a closed "I". By contrast, in Latin America works continue to be community spaces, open spaces involving others. The artist who buys the wood then sculpts it alone is dying out, though some still remain. To me, creating art is a life experience we share by building relationships with others who help in translation.

Is it part of a design experience? Yes, but it is something more abstract. Design can be resolved on a computer. What I do is to design the parts making up my construction. I design the balloons, the shaping of the glass and, afterwards, I design this in a space.

LatinArt:  Is there a culminating moment in your work?

Mónica Van Asperen :  My work follows a system which I relate to my knowledge of mathematics. It involves two major ways of thinking. The work is a system that articulates language, then it breaks apart and another stage begins. My pieces are diverging systems; they are constantly opening. They are formed by sums. On the other hand, the work is consistently at risk, it’s precarious. For example, none of the little tubes in the space are fixed into place. The parts are loose, as though the work was unassembled.

LatinArt:  In your work there is a permanent denaturalization of the relationship between the subject and the object. The object in some way becomes relevant, but solely through its interaction with the subject.

Mónica Van Asperen :  Yes, I believe in fact that it has something to do with a mental construction, with a subject constructed in the mind, as a project, as a design. It is like the recognition of a body beyond one’s own, but always related to another. Mental, but in connection with memory, with collective intelligence, with dreams. Spaces where the body exists but is not recognized by the system. What I want to form is an actual work, an integrated reality which is connected to bodily sensation. I search for an opportunity to find a more respectful relationship, knowing that we are something more than flesh. Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica’s experiences in the sixties are so important for this reason. I am interested in their manner of focusing in order to break with virtual two-dimensional space, and aim towards an interactive, collective space. It is almost like virtual reality, where there is a space which cannot be grasped because it is limitless. Something is generated that has no definable space and cannot be commercialized on the art market and, to me that is interesting. That does not apply to my glass sculptures, of course. I believe that Clark placed the dissection of the object in crisis. And by doing so she expanded a dimension which is the projection of the body. While I believe that this body is mental, the object is always between one abstract space and another.

LatinArt:  In any case, a belief in the transforming capacity of the object itself continues to exist.

Mónica Van Asperen :  Yes, of course. My Semillas project and the installation that was recently seen at the Borges Cultural Center act like a sort of hinge, a before and an after of the process. There’s the belief that it is possible, through experience with the object or with the object in the space, to involve not only the viewer’s critical attention, but for the visitor to enter the space, thus doubling the experience. There is a quantum presupposition that when you bring one object close to another in a changing state, it changes. In this sense, I believe in the alchemic object.

LatinArt:  Part of your work includes working with performers. Does that call for a directorial position on your part?

Mónica Van Asperen :  They are usually people who have a history. They are not actors. First I learn their stories and then give instructions. In the case of my first self-portraits and portraits, I worked with my program companions from the Kuitca workshop. In the case of Inclusión de mí hacia el otro and of Geometrías they are a couple. I looked for two people to work together on the body theme. They were acting at the Teatro de la Memoria, a silent theater, and also model. I was interested in bodies that were sculptural, monumental and almost identical. One of the tasks was to get into the same capsule, the same rounded balloon. Situations arise that resemble a struggle, but in fact, it’s like a dialogue. With respect to the women in El sistema es la fuente, I looked for a family where women were consistently present - three generations with many women. I looked for a very strong maternal, feminine line. I explored the concepts and gradually the forms appeared.

LatinArt:  What projects are you currently working on?

Mónica Van Asperen :  On March 8th I presented El sistema es la fuente installation at the "En busca de la belleza real" exhibition at the Borges Cultural Center in Buenos Aires. This is an itinerant exhibition which will travel within Argentina and then go on to Brazil. In September I have a solo show at the Luis Fernando Pradilla gallery in Madrid. I have an exhibition in Mexico next to an exhibit entitled "Civilización y barbarie" at the Carrillo Gil museum. In 2006 I have a show in conjunction with the British sculptor Richard Deacon, with whom I have had a regular exchange of works and ideas since 2001 within the framework of the Trama Project (international site of cooperation and confrontation between artists that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina. To learn more visit: This will show at the Ruth Benzacar gallery in Buenos Aires and later travel to Brazil. There will probably be a crossed intervention on our drawings, as a kind of correction or rereading of the space we’ve conceived. Deacon works a lot with Mobius strips. He constructs his works based on parallel, joining lines. He proposes the idea of a simultaneous interior and exterior, based on the reversibility of space. I will continue my line of work.

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