EXTRACT is a section in which we share excerpts from texts published by Temblores Publicaciones, Terremoto’s publishing house. We present our third extract, “Drawing by Removal” from Lead Season, the first thorough monographic catalog of Argentine artist Mauro Giaconi. This is the first publication launched under our Monograph Collection and is produced with the support of Arróniz Gallery.
A conversation in motion between Mauro Giaconi and Sol Henaro
(Oaxaca to Mexico City, October 21st, 2019)
SOL HENARO We are in the middle of a side road because we encountered a roadblock so let’s not do anything chronological… let’s take the hinges as a starting point and allow fluid conversation literally drive us as we drift… let’s begin with the place that drawing holds amongst your interests, since it’s a sort of common denominator throughout your work.
MAURO GIACONI I believe drawing to have cut across every stage since I was a kid. I was always curious about it, perhaps through some sort of influence exerted by my mother. She is an artist, a great ceramist, and I remember spending hours, entire afternoons, playing and drawing in her studio. I also remember swapping my drawings for homework from other assignments in primary school. Later, in the early haze of choosing my professional training and without having too clear references, I began my architectural studies with the only excuse that it was a career choice that wouldn’t drive me too far away from drawing as well as, of course, being a career with a clear professional perspective. I remember then, at the FADU (Architecture, Design and Urbanism Faculty), the debate between drawing blueprints by hand or using AutoCAD… there was something unique about that debate, in the physical relationship of drawing versus the use of technology for drawing that I was terribly interested in: the analog relationship (or lack of relationship) of the body with drawing.
S.H. You didn’t finish your degree in architecture. Why?
M.G. I only did three years. At some point, I realized that I wasn’t interested in the average job of the architect. What I mean is that I was interested in the formal and social aspects of architecture, but that conversation was absent from the degree’s curricula which was, then, more focused on the functional aspects. I had an issue with that and I lost interest in becoming an architect, which led me to combine the end of that period with a second course of training at Prilidiano Pueyrredon’s art school. I studied at both schools at the same time, but soon I understood that to sustain them both simultaneously would not be a simple task, and I opted for arts.
S.H. There is a transitional piece that I find relevant, Construction of a Drawing Under Construction,1 where there is a pairing between some facets of your architectural training and your decidedly artistic exploration…
M.G. I finished that piece in 2005 and with it, I appropriate a gesture common in building sites, when workers draw on windows using limestone, where people leave marks or drawings by scratching on the paint. Since then I liked to draw by removing, unveiling. That is when I started using the technique of drawing by scratching and started to wonder about what lies behind drawing: if, as a visitor, you weren’t curious about peering through the glass an important part of the piece would be left unseen. I understood the possibility to manipulate or control that kind of distance, of layers, and make the relationship with the other’s body evident.
S.H. The photographs taken of the piece don’t really allow for any detail to be seen about how the drawing on the glass created a play with shadows and drawings that were projected inside the cube.
M.G. Of course, that object is a prism, a closed space made out of four glasses that measure 250 x 200 cm each, painted with limestone, each bearing those scratched drawings on its surface. They were pretty simple and cold drawings, somewhat architectural in nature: a sofa, a rubble container, a bed, and a shattered staircase. Each side had a light projected onto it at 45 degrees that generated a fifth drawing, made out of lights and shadows, within the prism and that could only be seen by coming very near the glass and looking through the scratches. I enjoyed the duality of this mechanical, rational, cold drawing that resulted in that combined image that was hidden in the center.
S.H. Time has gone by and although your work has shifted and matured, there is something that persists not only for the sake of the exercise of drawing but also for the sake of that playful relationship with it. I hear you loud and clear, drawing had already appeared there through shadows and drawing by removal. Do you remember having seen something in particular that ignited your curiosity in that direction?
M.G. There must be many referents that I can’t bring to mind now, but the clearest one to me is when I started working in restoration in 1998. We used to clean up in order to see what lied behind as we exposed layers of paint and of the history of a building. We also made ample use of the eraser which, as you can see, is an element that I integrate and use widely in my work. I remember a 200 sq. mt. mural by Centurión at the A.C.A (Argentine Auto Club) building that I helped restore. Since it was a watercolor it couldn’t be washed, so we had to erase the entire surface with rubber… there was something about the repetition, something mantra-like, which I still come back to in my work.
S.H. Thinking about your Argentine origins, with Uruguayan foundations, and your residence in Mexico, what are your thoughts about symbolic and physical rootings? Symbolic, for instance, in your attachment to drawing. Do you feel somewhat foreign outside of drawing?
M.G. I think I feel insecure outside of drawing, rather than foreign. Despite regularly stepping outside of it, I constantly come back to drawing. It retains some sort of domesticity for me; it is like when you need affectionate warmth and you return home. Drawing is more like that, like a shelter, but a portable one. This turns drawing into my place of contention where I can think more comfortably.
S.H. It is a good partner, but although drawing is a sort of common denominator in your work, you constantly turn to three dimensions; as you did in Moorland, for instance.
M.G. Moorland was a revelatory experience for me. When I returned from my first trip to Mexico in 2007, I invited José Luis Landet and Omar Barquet to an improvised residency at my house in Buenos Aires, which was to be followed by an exhibition. We were working through that experience for an intensive month and a half, day and night… I learned a lot from them; I remember we sketched on the wrapping paper of sweetbreads, which we then used for the exhibition’s invitation. The three dimensions appeared much earlier than that piece during a time that I faced many spine issues which prevented me from doing truly physical work because I couldn’t remain standing for long. With that impossibility as a starting point, which demarcated my work, I began to use drawing as a tool, maybe similar to how one architect sketches while another one builds. Drawing allowed me to communicate what I meant. What I believe becomes unveiled in Construction of a Drawing Under Construction in relation to that physical experience was working with the fragility of the material. I found using glass as support to be potent.
S.H. We return to the relationship with the body but, precisely in that translation of ideas to sculpture to the object, what happens with the ruin? This is another constant element in your work: ruins, rubble… they appear in several projects such as: From the Depths of Time, Seeding Doubt or It Has a Cloud’s Fate.
M.G. Yes, those are recent and perhaps more evident, but I had been interested in thinking about “fragile architecture” before them; of course, much earlier than really understanding what fragile architecture was during the 19S earthquake. Before that experience—which changed my perception—I was interested in the fault, the fragility of the container, the contradictory body that sustains and imprisons. This tension was recurring, I thought about ruins more as a spiritual metaphor, but also as a political one. I come from an exiled family with relatives who were political prisoners… I don’t know; I believe that ever since I was a child I thought everything to be broken, upset and that in order to fix things I had to keep breaking. Even my body broke one day.
S.H. Which year was that?
M.G. It was around the year 2000, more or less. I used to backpack a lot before that and I truly mistreated my back. I thought I could manage everything, but I had an accident while I worked in the restoration of the Buenos Aires Courts building. That was my last restoration job and I’ve been living in a very fragile body since then.
S.H. You operate under a certain economy of elements, a certain practicality. A good example is Foolish Line, where you spent four hours nailing a thousand pencils against the wall, which must be no small feat for your spine… When did you become detached from the frame?
M.G. That practicality in the materials progressively stemmed from my spine issues; I don’t think I was ever encased by the frame. I remembered Helena Almeida, a Portuguese artist who questioned the frame and went outside it, who was one of my referents for my final project during my degree, in Carolina Antoniadis’s class. I don’t reject the frame as a possibility, but I’m very interested in the economics of a certain scarcity of the materials I’m working with, their memory, employing their remnants, the corner that already exists, discarded materials. Most of the pages of the books or publications that I use in my last drawing series I purchase by the kilo. They are residues no longer sold for their contents since they are used for filling libraries. I’m very interested in this residual characteristic of the materials because it allows me to re-signify them, read them differently. As far as traditional support materials, I resorted to them in different stages.
S.H. Within a logic of personal circulation…
M.G. Yes, within a logic of practicality in order to explore and build a certain glossary of gestures that would later move into a different experience. Many of those works were never shown and were even transformed into something else. For example, Break, a wall intervention I made, simply emerged by transferring all the images I had been working on in “traditional” support media to the wall itself. Transforming a drawing into a three-dimensional thing was an important revelation for me, breaking the wall, the architecture, the space. I have always explored architectural interventions, even when I was a student: interventions with drains, with the ruling pen —a construction tool for drawing lines with chalk—, always seeking to fracture the perception of the wall. However, in this case, several interests became intermixed in quite an organic way.
S.H. The one with the cut-out partitions? Do you mean Impermanence?
M.G. That is a later one, even though it is related. I mean the wall interventions that were later continued in 2012 with Lead Season, where we drew and then erased what was on the other side of the wall for 20 days, playing with the idea of vanquishing limits until they become invisible until they are tricked. During the mornings we drew what we remembered to be on the other side of the wall and erased it at the end of the day, and did the same thing the day after. Then, that landscape was composed out of layers and of the material’s own process of decomposition. The drawing ends up acquiring an almost apocalyptic spirit as if you paused a detonation or something similar: a state between awake and dreaming. I have always been very interested in grasping that tension between two states; Mexico was right in the middle of a war against Narcos, and at the same time everything in Colonia Roma was clean and in place, so I became interested in those contrasts fractioning. When the exhibition closed, all the walls were painted white and there it ended, it was an experience. That’s when these more ephemeral situations begin to appear, with a reaction to a specific context and by making a temporal notation about that reality.
S.H. But what do you do with that? Because you usually respond to the specific context, it’s not like you bring one of your works and place it anywhere… You work with these conditions, with this space, with the limitations as well as with the possibilities. I was actually thinking about the moment after: how do you deal with market and circulation issues? What happens with the mural that you made on-site and is canceled as soon as the project or the exhibition ends? If anyone buys one of these pieces, what does the set-up instruction manual look like? This transaction always brings about a second challenge… how do you solve it?
M.G. I choose not to solve it since many of the pieces can only exist in situ. There is something about physical presence that is very hard to convey in a manual’s logic, and would even be counterproductive. Many of these experiences remain in circulation through memory, mouth to mouth, or the archive. It is okay that they are not long-lasting, and I don’t necessarily think about them with “the ephemeral” as a mindset; I rather do so with a fundamental condition for the piece’s physical experience. It is one more layer of meaning that is added to the piece and that comes into direct dialogue with the other’s body. In the end, I like this condition: it seems that if a piece can’t be perpetuated it is a failure. I understand it as an even greater commitment to the images being produced, to bet on the right people seeing them.
S.H. Like a wish…
Find this full text in the printed version of Lead Season here.
Translator’s note: the Spanish words obra (work, also meaning work of art) and construcción (which implies both the building site and the process of construction) are interchangeable and in this work’s title work is a pun between the work of art and the building site.