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In Conversation with Pablo Castañeda Santana

Pablo Castañeda Santana speaks to Alexander Stavrou about his most recent work in the group show Substance Bundle as well as what he has been up to during lockdown due to COVID-19.

Q.  The painting Cmd_de los harapos (2020) is made up of a number of acrylic paint sheets which are physically pieced together to create the whole of the work. What lead to you constructing the work in this way, is this a new intervention in your practice?


Pablo Castañeda Santana:  Originally, the idea came recently to me as a pragmatic solution to enlarge my works.  The glass I work with is 200 x 150 cm big, which implies that the pieces made by one single acrylic paint sheet can not exceed that limit.  I did spend a long time searching for alternatives that could allow me to do bigger paintings, that might interact differently with its space.


The use of zippers was just another option amongst a wide range of possible solutions, but it will probably remain as a key resource in my work.  This could be mainly due to its logistic features, such as its mechanical strength, how it facilitates the install or the deinstall of the work and, especially, the chance it provides of playing with different outcomes without damaging the painting.


Nevertheless, it also carries important consequences conceptually.  For instance, it evokes the ephemeral architectures of theatre which links with how I approach the use of space in painting.  This allusion to baroque characterises my recent body of work.  Additionally, it offers a visibly physical parallel to the digital combinations of different images and fragments that reinforces one of the recurrent topics in my work, which is the reflection on the dialogues and intersections occurring between the painted picture and the pixel based image.

Substance Bundle 2020_PabloCS1.jpg

Q.  Why have you chosen to hang this work from the ceiling as opposed to on the wall as would conventionally be the case for a painting?


PCS:  As I said before, in my recent body of work I am getting more concerned with how painting interacts with its surrounding space.  I am not only interested in the virtual spaces that happen within the painting or how the work is contextualised by the blank wall to which it is usually attached.


As happens with a work hanging on a wall, my painting defines a space through its outer shape, the reflections of its surface and its painted representation.  But it also modifies its context through the empty spaces in it, its translucent parts and the shadows and refractions that these areas project when the light comes in contact with them.  Therefore, the space left behind becomes as important as the space on the sides, the front or even the image.  It does not mean abandoning the representation and embracing presentation; why choose one over the other, when we can compose with the two of them?

Substance Bundle 2020_PabloCS2.jpg

Q.  Do you think that this non-exclusive approach leads to a range of different materials being used?  We’re confronted by an amalgamation of painting; the kind of zips we’d expect to find in everyday items of clothing; as well as a bar of steel which we’re more likely to come across on a construction site.


PCS:  Every single material that you use in an artwork carries different connotations, that enrich the formal and conceptual topography of the work but may also be misleading.  Even if I try not to be restrictive with the use of materials and I have a tendency of experimenting with new resources, I consider them to be crucial elements in the final composition and its potential readings, so I am very selective with the media I use.  As you said, the use of zippers might allude to fashion or to different sorts of containers that we find in everyday life, such as jackets or bags.  This reference complements the imagery of the painting, where the folds refer to both paint(ing) and drapery.  It also reminds us of the history of painting and the use of canvas, that enabled the transportation of the work and liberated it from its previous site specificity.


It is ironic how in the same work painting is enhanced as an architecture while the foundation of easel painting is reverenced.  Nonetheless, in both cases I am dealing with the transportable, with the ephemeral.


This painting is something that can (and is) transported in separate pieces and put together when required.  That has a temporal and fragmented unity.  It doesn't merely allude to construction sites, it is an actual construction.  The use of the steel bar reinforces the link with architecture, while its visibility reminds us of something provisional or in progress.

Q.  You touched on the painted imagery of folds in this work.  They appear to allude to the kind of drapery that can be found in a Baroque painting as well as the creases that can be found in everyday items of contemporary life such as a discarded plastic bag, or the shine of an inflatable toy.  Is the juxtaposition of a historical tradition in painting and the incidental of the everyday of interest to you?


PCS: The strategy of embodying simultaneously the Art History and the everyday is carried both by the use of the materials and the representation.  Despite this might seem dualistic, I do not intend to contrast the High Art to the everyday objects, but to create a vocabulary of references that comprises entities of what we understand as our real life and allusions to the representational, both from past and contemporary depictions.


These references are not only images, but strategies and materials.  My recurrent allusion to Baroque imagery might be due to my fascination for the impressive effort in creating incredible realities and credible depictions during the Counter-reformation.  Moreover, there is a shared interest in matter and its depiction or in representation and its matter.


It is the sense of the tactile, the tangible image, that transcends its spiritual and political subject matter.  The martyrs of Zurbarán, The Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa are more intriguing to me because of their palpability, or its feeling, rather than their sanctity.  This sensuality reminds me of inflatable toys, plasticine or the folds of the bed sheets. We can see it in the still life paintings of that same period, even in Zurbarán.


This blurred distinction between representation and its matter is the focus of this work.  Rather than aiming to achieve a trompe l’oeil, my aim is to reflect on and display its artifice.  This painting reminds me of the story of Zeuxis and Parrhasius, where the latter wins the competition to discern who is the best painter of their era by doing a trompe l’oeil, imitating the curtain that was meant to cover his work.  Nevertheless, my work is enhancing its condition as a representation while displaying its materiality as a piece of paint.

Substance Bundle 2020_PabloCS3.jpg

Q.  How may your work relate to the arguably flattening affect of the internet and your use of it as a source of information?


PBS:  As happens to me with paint, internet is a source, a tool, a medium and a subject matter to me.  In that digital environment, I extract other fragments of reality and fiction, that are enmeshed within an impressive flow of images.  Because of this saturation of other sorts of images, we tend to think of painted images as unique objects.


The material distinction between the pixel-based and the pigment-based pictures shapes the way we approach them; ones can be copied, edited, reproduced and exist simultaneously, while the others have a fixed and perishable material attachment and is unable to copy or reproduce.


I am very interested in this contrast, so this concern is visible in my revision of the materiality of painting, in the use of references appropriated from the web and in the simulation of digital tools, aesthetics and procedures, some of them simulating the painting resources.  However, this simulation accentuates the contrast, as it relies on a long and manual procedure that I find traceable in the final result.


The size of the piece, its relationship with light and the way it interacts with its surrounding space are also motivated by the influence on the digital and the increasing immersive environments, such as virtual reality.  Mine is not a reactive approach, but a way of questioning about our experience of image and space, using both ways of producing and reproducing pictures, the painted and the digital.


Q.  Do you have have anything else planned for the future?  Have you been able to make work during the lockdown caused by the pandemic?


PCS:  Despite I haven't managed to paint during the lockdown, I have been working on ideas for forthcoming works, making sketches and researching.  Departing from the piece we are discussing in this interview, “CMD_de los harapos”, I plan to keep developing the relationship between my paintings and the space.  That’s why I intend to create installations made of compositions of acrylic paint sheets, generating “rooms” where the viewer would be surrounded by the painting. 


The two faces of each paint sheet would be painted, so the work could be appreciated from the outer space as well as from the inner space.  In the first case, the installation might be seen as an object in the space and the viewer could surround it as a sculpture.  When experiencing it from the inside, it would enact as a place in which the spectator has to turn around, or to look up and down, to have an idea of the entire composition.  In both cases, the work does not offer any first sight comprehension.  It invites the viewer to be active and mobile, to come closer and to challenge the conventional approach to painting.


This would mean to go further in the idea of painting as a container; as it would act as a representation that contains visual references, an object contained in the space and an architecture that contains the space.  Therefore, the relationship between inner and outer in a painting would be contorted.  The installations wouldn’t be defined just by vertical walls, but also by different sort of “ceilings” made with paint.  The translucent areas, such as the ones that I already included in “CMD_de los harapos”, would become key in the way light affects the paintings, as they would turn into windows that link the outer space with the interior. 


Moreover, these windows would also integrate the space of the gallery with the painted image.  What is understood as the real would be absorbed by the image.  Additionally, the works, while referencing and simulating the digital imagery through their painted representations, would simulate the appearance and substitute the function of the artificial space through its matter.


I am very excited with these ideas, as they might be a considerable step forward in my practice and, successful or not, they will surely bring unexpected outcomes and resources.  These new challenges are usually very affective ways of learning what to do or, more frequently, what not to do.  I value the importance of the accident in the creative process and I consider that it greatly feeds the artistic development, but I am also quite fan of planning works beforehand.  It keeps me interested and, during this crisis, having an aim in mind is helping me a lot to continue working passionately. 

Interviewed by Alexander Stavrou

All photos by Rocio Chacon at The Koppel Project Central

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