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Interview with Chantal Peñalosa
Mexico, Tecate and Tijuana

An interview with Mexican artist Chantal Peñalosa about her daily practice, the construction of desire, and the border cities of Tecate and Tijuana, in-between which she works and lives. 

How would you describe your daily practice and work routine? That depends on the particular project I'm doing, although I always devote three hours a day solely to production. The rest of the day I use to read, research or consult about the things I'm working on, to write, go for a walk, spend time on the Internet, having conversations with friends and colleagues, etc. I cannot think of my work as something that happens in the same way every day, to me my work is unnatural in the sense that it has nothing to do with discipline; instead I look for every moment to become an experience beyond work.

Atrapar La Mosca 2015

Chantal Peñalosa "Atrapar la mosca" (Catching the Fly), 2015

Hemeroteca 2016

Chantal Peñalosa "Mañana, mañana" (Tomorrow, tomorrow), Installation View, Casa Maauad, 2016

What are your aims and dreams – desire means work, which is one of the main concerns of your artistic practice? I am not interested in starting a project in terms of having aims or dreams a priori. Once I start to think of an idea or produce something, I let things go their own way, I do not work with the illusion of an idea that I do not know will work until I do it and I can see if it works or not.

Desire and reality, why do we confuse them, can the former be fulfilled at all? These two concepts are linked to each other and one complements the other. “It takes a bedrock of ‘reality’ to guide the construction of desire. One of the aspirations of desire is the need to land somewhere within a specific place of some reality. My work takes place within that tension, on the one hand there’s an interest and a way of approaching reality to see how things work, but, on the other, there’s an idea of future or hope that is constantly appearing in what I do.

In your case – the artistic practice – work and meaning meet. Do you understand life better by dealing with certain subjects? In this regard, I like to remember what Jesus Gardea says: “All art has a moral dimension or I suppose it must have. Writing such as to simply agree with how we live does not force us to do anything, to write otherwise – to fly in the face of how we live – does indeed force us to adopt a specific personal stance on how we live.” Sometimes working with a particular stance on a specific topic leads me to better understand my ideas on that topic, although sometimes the opposite happens and I understand things less, which prompts me to embark on a different search.

Work as a possibility to find things, or simply as a self-sustaining system that gives you a job? My work or the things I do outside of art or being an artist are totally necessary for my work in art. In this case, for example, one experience I had using my time as an employee in a restaurant, has enabled me to understand some of the dynamics and mechanisms within a system of labor, such as routines, time, repetition, etc. Not only as regards my own work but also from what others experience.  

To address your work itself: as well as waiting and delay, “repetition is a crucial element in your process, functioning as an allusion to the absurdity, weathering, and alienating effects of work”. Are you yourself searching for a certain point or do you accept that fortunately life has no meaning? No. In recent years, the economic crisis around the country has moved many things from their given places. In the city where I live, I noticed that an element of inactivity or stagnation began to set in that could be seen reflected in work and especially in how time was used. That's when I began to work with the particularity of the idea of waiting, which, contrary to being thought of as a transitional moment, actually stayed with us for a long time due to factors such as drug trafficking and violence that have in particular shaped life in border cities. Therefore, performing daily activities in the hope that they will happen effectively and in the way they were originally planned only for this not to happen means that the repetitive operation becomes absurd, but not because of the situation itself, but because something in that system has stopped working, and yet continues to persist with the idea that it will prosper again.

One of your artworks bears the title Las que aqui sequimos somos como fantasmas (Those that we are here are like ghosts) and your solo exhibition at Proyectos Monclova El panorama, sobre todo si uno lo ve desde un puente, es prometedor (The picture, especially when you see it from a bridge, is promising) – I perceive your art as tempting careful gestures or cautious attacks against the prevailing system. Seducing us to abandon our own standpoints might be the appropriate label. Would you agree? For me, it is important for it to be clear from which position things are spoken, the narrative forms with which ideas are presented is something that interests me. Much of my work speaks in the first person, although in some pieces I get support from the point of view of others people and their perception of things. In contemporary art, a very common mechanism is to appropriate the Other, the experiences of the Other, speak of the Other as if the artist were a voice which provides a criterion of representation over what is represented and so often is not even heard.

Studio

Which art influenced and changed you the most? I like a lot of different artists and processes, but honestly I'm interested more in other fields than contemporary art. The approach to other worlds and realities that I find in literature is often the launchpad for taking a different perspective on what I see in everyday life, authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Daniel Sada, Jesus Gardea, Roberto Bolaño, Juan Rulfo and many others Latin American writers. Naturally, I was influenced by the visual arts realized in the north of Mexico, where I work most of the time. It has been important for me to take into account the history of border art and to know the language and representation that has been carried out. Dance and theater have been two fields that have influenced me a lot recently and have made me change the ways in which I think of my work now, artist like Arkadi Zaides, Cecilia Lisa Eliceche or Radouan Mriziga.

You have already exhibited internationally e.g. Antwerp, Berlin, Bucharest, Spain, Karlsruhe ZKM, Venice and – you participated an exhibition in Vienna in 2016 “Grenzerfahrung”; did you go? In case you did, how did you experience it? No, unfortunately I did not go.

You live in the north of Mexico, can you tell us more about your surrounding and your relation to Mexico City? I live between Tecate and Tijuana, the dynamics between these two cities is very different, even if they are 25 km apart. In Tecate, life is very quiet, it's a small city of 100,000 inhabitants and for me, it is a good place to work. In Tijuana many things happen all the time at the same time, you have to have several eyes to see everything, as a city it has a very particular dynamic and also in some way a decadent aesthetic that has evolved from the relation between Mexico and the US and is something you can find in the very center of the city. 

Compared to Europe and US, what do you experience as unique about Mexico? The energy.

Thank you Chantal!

Interview: Dajana Dorfmayr