Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Interview with Sergio Rojas Chaves by Sheila R. Alonzo

Sergio Rojas Chaves is an artchitect-to-be studying art at the University of Victoria. When asked where he was born, he laughed. ‘Chepe,’ (Chaves calls San Jose) is the city where no one lives. The Costa Rican capital experiences a daily flux of people: from half a million to 400,000 day and night, he said. The irony of becoming an architect in a city where no one lives builds the case for Chaves in ‘re-thinking the city’ and its relation to the environment. Chaves remembered when mining and deforestation made an impression on him in high school, that in sculpture class, he shaped the stone to speak about these issues. He did not realize at the time that he would work with stone again, suspended at the fifty fifty arts collective in Victoria, BC, to challenge our thinking about materiality, space and environment in May 14-31, 2015. ‘Una Superficie Tangible / A Tangible Surface’ is his first solo exhibition in Canada. 

‘Sergio’s exhibition provides a thoughtful inquiry into the meaningfulness of our interactions with the objects of our everyday comings and goings –reminding us of the intimacy that informs even the most banal encounters with the surfaces of the natural world.’ –Megan Dyck, artist & educator


Why ‘Una Superficie Tangible / A Tangible Surface’ for the title?

To me a tangible surface is one that gives a sense of volume and weight without the need of physical interaction. It is a surface that can communicate its physicality by purely observational means. Our experience of extension is made through inference: that looks heavy, that seems thick. Mass, density, volume-- we only experience these as surface.

I believe that the objects in the exhibition communicate their tri-dimensionality just by being present in the space. They have rich textures and forms that draw attention and spark interest. The gallery context dictates the relationship between the object and the viewer, it is almost normative not to touch the art. You can only interact with it visually. I take advantage of this pre-established relationship to draw closer attention to surfaces.

How did you decide on what materials to use?

I work mostly with natural or discarded materials. I choose materials that convey a sense of their origin. I choose materials that I can relate to and that relate to each other.

To make the rope I chose the natural fibre that I felt most comfortable with. I used to make hemp jewelry when I was younger so the choice was simple. The rocks were an easy decision as it is a material present in all parts of the world. Rocks are part of our history and they compose our landscape, because of this I believe they convey universality. The marble I chose because of its aesthetic beauty and traditional use in the arts. I am also interested in the fact that we only truly appreciate marble we grind its outer surface and polish it. Raw marble is not appealing to humans. Finally I chose the metal because it is something commonly discarded. I enjoy how the metal sheet I intervened reflects the natural processes that occur here on the island.


You mentioned that you wanted to create spatial awareness and allow viewers to realize the capacity of material. Do you think you achieved this? 

I do think I increased spatial awareness to some extent. The Suspension Studies make the viewer aware of the dimensionality of the exhibition space (wall distance, ceiling height, spotlights, etc). The Shui- mo panels draw the viewer through the narrow space they are in. The surface intricacies and patterns on the panels are also present in Oceanscape, these details make the viewer aware of similar details on the gallery floor and walls. My intention is for people to come out of the gallery space and pay more attention to the surfaces around them.

What do the sound boxes have to do with 'tangibility' and space? 
The Whisper Boxes act as complimentary stimuli when the viewer is interacting with the other pieces. They contain parts of texts and thoughts that I have in my mind when I produce the work. They are also the only surface that the viewer is “allowed” to touch.


Some excerpts are:
· All creatures in the universe
return to the point where they began.
Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.
The way of nature is unchanging.

· Knowing the constant, we accept things as they are.
By accepting things as they are, we are impartial.
By being impartial, we are part of the Nature.

· Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

· What lies below the surface affects the surface.

Why did you choose the Visual Arts program at the University of Victoria and how does that relate to your environmental activism?  
I chose the Visual Arts program at the University of Victoria because it offers an alternative to the art education available in my country. I am being exposed to methods of creation and ways of seeing that, I believe, will allow me to develop a visual language that can communicate and create awareness about the environmental issues I consider pertinent.
I believe that art that wants to help environmental activism has to illustrate concepts in a more direct way. I don’t believe in art as propaganda or decoration. I want art that demands intellectual and emotional engagement from the viewer.

Why the shift from architecture to installation art? 
I started architecture school because I was interested in landscape design. That interest was sparked by my exposure to the works of Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long. I quickly realized that my interest in installation art was larger than my interest in designing a space for utilitarian reasons.
In 2012 I had the opportunity to participate in a collective public art action in San Pedro, Costa Rica. I was then given the advice to pursue a Visual Arts education by two artists I have much admiration for: Adan Vallecillo and Esteban Piedra Leon. Seeing their work and working with them I came to terms with the seemingly endless possibilities of exploration that contemporary art allows. After that experience my transition was simple. I still draw inspiration from architecture design studies; I rely on the planning and production methods I learned from it. I want my work to exist in between art and architecture in order to draw attention to the rich potential that exists in that space.
Is there a piece in the show that did not make it in the exhibition?  If so, why?
There are pieces from other series that had potential to be in the show but they did not sustain a dialogue in the same way the current pieces do.

Do you have any photos of past works e.g. sculptures that you made in high school?

I don’t have any right now, sorry.


You mentioned that at the opening reception people were afraid to walk through and interact with the installation. Why do you think that is and do you think this would be the case in Costa Rica as well?

I believe that the installation has a precarious look to it. The people might have felt threatened to go under it. Also, if walking around the installation, the proximity between some of the rocks requires a closer distance to the pieces; this proximity might be uncomfortable to some people.

I don’t know if it would have been different in Costa Rica, I think people would be more drawn to interact with it, as there is a larger tradition of interactive art pieces in my hometown.

Any plans for your next exhibition?

My next project is a public art installation in San Jose. It will be an interactive piece composed by many hanging strands of material that people can be immersed in. It will be in the site of a weekly farmer's market so the piece will adapt to the audience and the space dynamics that occur there. It will be ready for the beginning of August 2015. I am still in the process of working out details.


the fifty fifty arts collective is a non-profit artist-run centre that provides space for artists of all disciplines who have yet to be defined in the mainstream {intimate music, art and film programming}. Hours: Monday 1-6 / Wednesday 10-6/ Friday 10-330/ Sunday 9-12 Contact:

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