Every day, 2015–ongoing. Acrylic on plywood,
15 x 14.5 x 10 cm. each. Unique sculptures presented
on a folding trestle. Photo: Andy Keate, Courtesy Domobaal
As much about persuasion as indulgence, objects
of desire depend on packaging and material matter
for their allure. For London-based, Peruvian-born Lizi
Sánchez, the careful design decisions made by conglomerates
lead us to experience the world differently. She
is interested in how such global judgments come to
influence the substance of our lives and contribute
to the disconnect between product and labor. Within
this economy, color becomes a crafted currency. The
same applies to shape, form, material, and display--
formal elements as integral to marketing as they are
to creative work. By appropriating commercial colors
and graphic elements and transposing their associations
and symbolisms into her work while removing
any traces of recognizable packaging, Sánchez deconstructs
commodity culture, manipulating the rules
of branding to create enticing, but ambiguous objects
that defy the cult of the finished product, in both art
Rajesh Punj: Could you explain the relationship between
your wall works and sculptural constructions?
Lizi Sánchez: I studied painting in Peru, but after I left
university, I started a small business designing and producing
functional art, like games and presents for companies
and also tableware. I was working with different
materials, including wood, MDF, tissue paper, and varnishes.
It was then that I started working in a more
design-oriented, three-dimensional way and stopped
painting altogether. When I moved to Britain, to Bristol,
I started painting again but in a far more graphic style.
While doing my MA at Goldsmiths, I was perceived as
a sculptor, because I was using cardboard, fabrics, and
other materials to create three-dimensional works. In
Peru, sculptural practice was quite traditional, so I had
never considered myself a sculptor before.
RP: Even though you were initially labeled a sculptor,
the nature of Goldsmiths--being able to move freely
between departments and disciplines--encouraged
you to be a painter, sculptor, and print-maker.
LS: Exactly. Without noticing it, I started working with
wool and wallpaper, which meant that I was replacing
painting and the two-dimensional with the threedimensional.
I realized that what really excites me are
materials, and that's when things became much more
interesting. I became interested in things that have
some kind of materiality, in the nature of different
materials and different textures. I completed my
degree and presented a sculpture installation for my
RP: So, your works at Goldsmiths were freestanding,
what we would consider in-the-round?
LS: Yes, they were freestanding objects, with pompoms,
fabrics, ribbons, and plastic pearls. They were
influenced by kitsch architecture. At the time, I did a residency in China, which encouraged
me to combine my interest in kitsch with the modern in an attempt to see where
RP: Has the scale of your work changed at all? Are you working larger?
LS: No, my works have never been very big. They have always been defined by my studio
and the space where I work; you could refer to their size as "modest." They are of a practical
scale, and the materials I choose are equally practical. I can recall the excitement of
going out at Christmastime and buying lots of decorations like baubles and pearls to use
on my sculptures; those materials led to a series of works with plastic ribbons. I also started
working with aluminum foil.
All this time, I was living in London, disconnected from Peru, so I decided to reconnect
with my country. I got funding in the U.K. and secured a solo show in Peru. I couldn't
take too many works with me, so I had to choose carefully. The aluminum foil was great
as a material: it's a great painting support, but it also has interesting sculptural qualities,
like retaining the traces of its handling. For my show in Peru, I decided to show only
work on aluminum foil because I could roll it up, and the creases from the handling and
carrying became part of the work.
Installation view of "In a World that Laughs," 2015. Photo: Andy Keate, Courtesy Domobaal
RP: It is a durable material that retains its history.
LS: Exactly, that is one of the things that I really like about it--it retains a history of the
labor behind the work that the viewer might not know. It keeps all the traces of your own
marks, and afterwards, when someone handles it while installing or packing, all those
traces of transaction will be left as well.
RP: Did you manage to make new works in Peru?
LS: The whole show was a comment on
abstraction, and I mainly presented the aluminum
foil works that I brought with me.
Before the Peru show, I had an exhibition at
Standpoint Gallery in London. They wanted
me to formulate a collaboration with
an established artist I admired. I contacted
Louise Lawler and asked her to lend some
works for the show. I was offered two of her
photographs, and I built a wall for one
of them--the wall I built was mine, and the
photograph on the wall was hers. Lawler's
photograph was of an Agnes Martin work
with an Alexander Calder hanging in front.
For my part, I was placing her photograph
on my wall. I don't know how to qualify my
wall. Was it a display object? At the time,
I was very interested in display objects.
When I went to Peru, I remade the wall. But
in this case, because I was talking more
specifically about Latin American abstraction,
I placed a painting by the prominent
(French-born) Peruvian abstract painter
Regina Aprijaskis on my wall.
RP: Going back to Goldsmiths, where you
were labeled a "sculptor" rather than
a "painter," were you happier as just an
"artist," since your work involved both?
LS: Yes, but I don't question it that much.
I am definitely not a painter, though I had
a painting in an exhibition in Liverpool for
the John Moores Painting Prize. It was
interesting when I met all the other painters
in the show, because painters have very
painterly conversations, which I would
never have and have no interest in having.
I am a worker, an artist.
RP: For you, the works are not paintings.
Are they two-dimensional objects, closer
to wall pieces? I ask because it is interesting
to understand how you define them.
LS: It is tricky because if you think of my
work as sculpture, you become aware that
it is also very concerned with color in
a way that is equally relevant to painting.
But even when I take works off the floor
and apply them to the wall, they are still
preoccupied with sculptural materiality.
RP: By definition, a painting has limitations
LS: Yes, the frame creates a world within which everything
exists. But, for me, the greater questions are
raised outside that space. For example, the show in
Peru developed from looking at different materials,
from my thinking about something that could be
readily transported and how I could do this or that.
RP:When determining the placement of your works,
do you want to curate them into the space, or do you
like to involve a curator?
LS: No, normally I decide that.
RP: I can see that when I look at the display of your
works. It is obviously very much a part of their identity
and of how you want viewers to see and understand
them--as painterly objects applied to the floor and
sculptural constructs for the wall.
LS: I think yes. It is all very specific. Space is very important,
and what they do in the space matters--although
they don't need to be shown in any one way; they could
be shown in different ways. But, if the work is shown in
a different way, I want it to retain its character.
RP: So, your works are open to interpretation as objects.
There is no definitive way for them to be seen, no
defining solution to how we understand them.
LS: To make it clearer, I have a work called X, which
is made from rubber. The X comes from Die Scheuche
(The Scarecrow), a children's story, by Kurt Schwitters,
Theo van Doesburg, and Kate Steinitz, based on the
letters of the alphabet. I am a big fan of Schwitters,
and it is a beautiful book. The story is about a scarecrow
who represents the old regime and how he is kicked out of the farm by
the animals and the farmers; they take all his beautiful things--his scarf, his
hat, his cane, his coat.
RP: So there's a political edge to it.
LS: Yes, it was a political story for children. At the time, many artists worked
on children's books as an innovative platform for political statements; it
was a space where they were allowed to experiment. So, my X needed to be
animated but feel like it was dying. I left the work with a gallery
in Peru, and they asked me whether I would mind if a collector
hung it flat on the wall. I didn't mind if it was hung, but I did mind
if they put it on the wall flat, because that's not the work. As long
as a work retains its qualities, I don't mind how it is displayed.
At home, I had X falling from a chair.
RP: I'm interested in the notion that a work has possibilities beyond
its completion, that it keeps evolving with each installation. Do you
allow your works to be manipulated outside the studio?
LS: Yes, it was the same with the aluminum pieces. It is something
I have been developing in connection with my materials.
For example, I have shown Blu (2016) on trestles, but it can
be shown differently. I don't see the aluminum painting and the
trestles as a whole, and the work can easily be deconstructed.
I am also wondering why I always need to do new work for different
shows. I want to introduce pieces from previous shows and exhibit
them again, but in different configurations.
Blu, 2016. Acrylic on aluminum and metal trestles, 90 x 100 x 300 cm. Photo: Pablo Hare, Courtesy Domobaal
RP: Are you doing more of that now, showing works in altered
LS: Yes, where elements start to communicate one with the other,
and they say different things in different spaces. I am responding
to the space now much more than before.
RP: Do you need to be in a new space for a length of time in order
to transfer and transform the works?
LS: That is the ideal, but it is not always the case. Sometimes I just
work with photographs of the space and measurements. I use Photoshop,
because I am clueless with architectural programs. With
a computer, I can throw things at the space and then move them
around. They start off very crowded, and then I clean them up.
RP: Do you consciously withdraw pieces?
LS: I definitely start with many more works and then take them
out until I am happy with the exhibition. A lot of things I do
in terms of display are propositional; I am not an artist who has
a fixed idea of what she wants and takes it to its full conclusion.
RP: So, where others might see an exhibition as the conclusion
of a body of work, you see it as an extended opportunity to experiment.
You are showing works and then considering how you might
show them again, as works within works.
LS: Yes, I like that idea.
RP: But doesn't that work against the dominant culture of completion?
Or is that not how we should look at your work?
LS: Yes, because I am not thinking that it isn't complete; it is
complete while it is in the show--for the
RP: I am interested in this point, because
many artists are driven by a desire for the
"complete," and their intention is to arrive
at something that thereafter remains in
a fixed state. But you appear to see works
as objects that can exist in several states.
LS: I think the work develops with time, and
I am much more interested in that now. It
goes back to what we discussed before, of
not defining whether a piece is a painting
or a sculpture.
Park, 2017. Acrylic on aluminum and rubber,
aluminum panels: 76 x 113 cm. each; rubber
piece: approx. 150 x 150 cm. Photo: Courtesy Domobaal
RP: Are you still being asked that?
LS: No. What I was asked in Peru--which is
interesting in terms of contemporary art
and cheap labor--was, "Who manufactured
them for you?" In a country where cheap
labor is available, lots of artworks rely heavily
on the idea and are given over to someone
else to produce. This can be problematic
because, though the idea might be very
interesting, it has likely been formulated
many times before; there are many artists
working in similar ways and exploring similar
ideas. For me, there has to be some kind
of personal investment in the process of
manufacturing the work or it risks becoming
RP: I think there is a conceptual conundrum
of the artwork being entirely about the idea.
LS: I understand the history of where that
comes from, but nowadays its development
RP: Ironically Goldsmiths championed that
as a house style in the 1980s and '90s. But,
for you, an idea that is finalized by someone
else goes against your approach of constantly
intervening in everything.
LS: Exactly. And your idea, maybe it's a good
idea, but how do you measure it? For me,
the idea is as good as I can develop it through
the making of the work.
RP: Is your hand important in the production
of a work?
LS: Not so much the hand as the process
of being in the studio working. It is that
process of thinking and doing that hopefully
comes across in the work. Many artists
are doing the same thing, and I am not sure
how the work becomes singular; without the making, it just becomes commonplace. For
example, when I showed Blu (2016) in Peru, the accompanying trestles were taken from a
workshop located in a poor area of Lima. They had traces of the fences and other industrial
objects that had been painted on them again and again. So, they bore all the touches
of other people's workmanship. I wanted to bring that into the space and into a piece that,
without the trestles, was very clean and precise. But I didn't want to claim the trestles as
part of the work, because I didn't want to sell them for however much and present them
as my work. For me, they were "props" that allowed my work to exist in the space.
RP: What is interesting about this is that whereas viewers in Peru might well ignore the
trestles entirely, viewers in London are likely to read them as integral to the work.
LS: What interests me is that I could show you a picture of the work with the trestles and
say, "This is the work," but instead, for me, the aluminum banner is the work--it can be
shown on the trestles, on a ladder, or by other similar elevated means, depending on the
context and the place where it is shown.
Rajesh Punj is a curator and writer based in London.
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