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Juan Garaizabal: “When the mass mobilizes under a slogan, the nuance, the humor and most likely the talent disappear”


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Juan Garaizabal (1971, Madrid), artist. He is known for his monumental public sculptures, which he has taken to the center of cities such as Paris and now to China, and for works that recover disappeared places. Now he opens a monograph at the Museum of the Fish Market in Alicante.

You work a lot with memory, you recover through your sculptures the skeletons of disappeared spaces and buildings, such as the Bohemian Church of Bethlehem in Berlin. Why is it important to remember what no longer exists?
Because a brutal energy is released that has remained in that place. I discovered it precisely with the Berlin Urban Memory in 2012. At the inauguration, hundreds of people hugged me, some crying. Until then, he was not aware of the magnitude of the phenomenon. The hangover lasted for months. This was not ‘my’ sculpture, it was part of ‘his’ legacy. Memory is an instrument of infinite force.
The artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi mixed fantasy and reality in his engravings to create a lavish memory of the Roman Empire. How do you choose the pieces of memory that you want to rescue with your sculptures, based on what criteria?
As it happens in life, in relationships, I look for something out of the ordinary, but then the version that that element or person takes from me is essential. Very powerful features must be combined. For a while they are possibilities and only if I notice that I have been able to come up with a materialization that has stuck and surprises me, do they become works that absolutely must be done. At that point there is no return. Many people think that successful artists stop executing their revolutionary ideas. Artistic dreams for a long time are extremely fragile, very easy to break down. But my experience is that when an artist has something of his own, different and powerful in mind, if he has the means on top of it, it is one of the most difficult things to stop.
You build bridges with the past with your works. What does the past tell us about the present and about the future?
Everything returns, and yet human ingenuity has created better scenarios. My mission focuses on highlighting forgotten facts that help to understand this evolution for the better. I also do it with a language that is as contemporary as possible that it tries to scratch in the future. Past, present and future tell me that we owe a lot to people who dream and strive. Only the extraordinary really exists. If there have been decisive moments and elements in a place, even if they physically disappear, their energy remains recorded. It’s the only reality I believe in, in life and at work. A moment is a whole. Linear time has no value next to this.
The BlackLivesMatter movement is carrying out attacks against statues that it believes are a symbol of oppression. Although statues have always been demolished in history – with revolutions, conquests, regime changes or protests – what do you think is done now? Can we assess the past with criteria of the present?
When I was looking for my own speech in the 90s, the victimhood was already there. My art does not go against anyone. I am more about creating and uniting. I would find it much more interesting to intervene in these sculptures and transform them. Art is one of the few things that can be valued from the present. In other areas it is much more confusing to judge. In addition, I am very attracted to the individual critical spirit and nothing to groups and aligned thinking committees. When the mass mobilizes under a slogan, whatever it is, it is inflexible. The nuance, the humor and most likely the talent disappear.
His sculptures are fundamentally urban memories, interventions carried out in public spaces. What is the most difficult thing when it comes to making public sculptures in big cities?
The really difficult thing is to make the coexistence between sculpture and the city so natural that it seems that it has always been there. When a piece breaks into a space it is essential that people make it their own. I am interested in having an interaction at all levels: debate, physical … Paradoxically, if it really is art, it must also generate a certain degree of doubts and criticism. Nothing that does not generate it is really an evolution.
Spain has been filled with roundabouts in recent years, and many roundabouts have in turn been filled with sculptures that leave a lot to be desired. Why? Do we lack artistic education?
Very little is said about the destruction of the landscape in Spain. Anyone who does not understand that making public sculpture is extremely difficult will inevitably end up doing mediocre things. And many of us who know it, at first oversight, too.
He has carried out interventions in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, at the entrance to the Louvre Museum. Is it difficult to intervene in a city with architectural elements as important as the French capital has?
It is just as complicated as in any city. That is to say: very complicated. With the addition that I feel an additional weight because in Paris is the essence of many of the things in which I believe. It is the only city that continues to overwhelm me. But the process is the same. If I can’t think of anything that adds value to that city, whatever it may be, I quit the project.
Many classic sculptures still work, while there are current pieces that age very badly. Is contemporary art ephemeral?
It doesn’t have to. In all ages there has been ephemeral art. In the current one, more, because there is more of everything. But time will continue to sift as it always has. What comes to us from the past has already passed the national team.
In recent decades architects such as Frank Gehry or Jean Nouvel have opted to make sculpture-buildings, dynamiting the separation that historically existed between both artistic disciplines. What do you think?
From the 1950s on, both in architecture and sculpture, a work that excites and revolutionizes is a statistical exception. In percentage terms, few are able to do so. However, current sculpture owes a lot to the ability of these exceptional architects who have shown the way by combining forms with the ability to create spaces..
What should be the role of the artist in society today?
I believe that society is already very receptive to artists, and that is dangerous because everyone knows that artists have no limits. On the one hand, if we try to standardize the role of an artist, by definition he is no longer an artist. On the other hand, an artist as I conceive him is an explorer, and must be attracted by lands that have not been trodden. Its role is to broaden horizons.
How is collecting in Spain healthy?
Private collectors have enormous merit in our country. In many cases they are ahead of the museums, which is incomprehensible. They are isolated heroes who have invented themselves, without any examples and without any support. And about the difficulties of galleries to survive in Spain, let’s not even talk …
You are from Madrid but your roots lie in the Basque Country, where there is a great tradition of sculptors such as Ibarrola, Chillida, Oteiza, Pello Irazu or Txomin Badiola … What is the reason for this deep relationship of the Basques with sculpture?
Well, it is going to be that the water gives it … Outside of jokes, I think probably the Basque artists and their work have an enormous relationship with the force of nature, of water, of mountains, of trees. I have many more than eight Basque surnames and I want to think that my work carries that strength. I do most of it with blows, quite violently. On the other hand Garaizabal in Basque means height and width. I am passionate about the global arena and competition where the best ideas triumph no matter where they come from.
He has just made some public sculptures in China. What is it like to work in that country?
Impressive. I believe in effort. I feel very good among people who make an effort. On the Chinese side, I am discovering an ambition to do great things and a search for excellence never seen before. For mine, I am reciprocating with a genuine interest in their culture, which has even led me to handle Mandarin well. I am participating in the artistic scene of the country creating debate based on my works through the media, interviews … etc. For me at the moment this matter is an inexhaustible field of inspiration.

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