With the newly commissioned curators Lena Johanna Reisner and Sylvia Sadzinski, Galerie im Turm takes on a new direction. Their two-year curatorial mandate kicked off earlier this month with “Third Lung”, a solo exhibition of the Guatemalan artist Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa. The show resonates wonderfully with the general direction of the gallery's new program, which will evolve around a number of thematic interests, such as ecology, spirituality, queerness, affectivity, and the history of the place itself.
Working in drawing, performance, sculpture, and video, Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa explores a wide variety of topics with an anchor in the history of his country. His multi-part installation “Third Lung”, originally commissioned for the last year’s Venice Biennale, explores human-nature relationships and revisits a spectrum of anthropomorphic, hybrid, and zoomorphic forms from the Mesoamerica in the pre- and late classical eras. The installation arises in the context of a series of spiritistic séances in which the artist connects with the souls of extinct species of bird. Responding to sounds detected by participants in previous séances, the artist made a series of clay bird whistles and combined them with four sculptures to form the piece that is activated through performance.
We reached out to Naufus to find out more about his work and the installation currently on display at Galerie im Turm.
Looking at your oeuvre, I get the impression that your work is sort of unpredictable and wild. How would you describe your art practice?
I try to be free in it. I just do what I want with every project and don’t think about what people's opinion of my practice will be, whether it will fit within my oeuvre or not. I try not to think about it also because I think sometimes artists ask themselves that question in order to have some consistency within the art market or within the curators’ opinion of them. I really try not to let those questions go into my practice, and I've been like that throughout my work. Almost every show is different than the other. Although, if you look at different installations that I make, I think you can tell that they’re from the same person, but I don’t do it on purpose.
A friend of mine asked me yesterday why I make art, and I told him that I think I just want to be kind of ... You know, a bit crazy in a way. Not in the way a pop song would say crazy, but just in the way that – it is my practice, something that I'm doing in my lifetime, so I want to do exactly what I want every time. In that way it is kind of crazy. Maybe it's also anti-branding. When I was in art school, we had this professional artist coming in and giving us advice on what to do after we graduate. He emphasized making a brand. It's the reason why I don't have a website, I just have a launch pad. This idea of making your art into a brand... Apart from being tacky, I don't think it really works that way. So, maybe my way of doing things is also a reaction against personal branding, which people do on Instagram even if they're not artists.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Different things inspire me and I always go where the inspiration is, or where the idea is. Consistently, I seem to be going back to the period of genocide that my country lived in, from 1960 to 1996. I think I might be doing it as my own way of political activism, which reminds people that this genocide existed because there isn't much interest in this history. Even in Guatemala there are a lot of people who deny that this thing happened. But apart from whatever political agenda I might have, it does inspire me or I just keep going back to it because things keep going back to it. There seems to be no escape from that history. Of course, I'm not doing it on purpose, it just shows up. It is something that is consistent even though I have been inspired by other things, such as conspiracy theories or child psychoanalysis. My inspirations are varied, but they seem to always return to this history that I lived as a child.
How about your installation “Third Lung“ – what inspired you to do this piece?
I was interested in our relationship to spirituality and how we think about afterlife. Partly it was because I met a sound therapist in Berlin who had all this fancy equipment in his apartment that looked to me very science-fictiony, but also very unreal. It seemed like a weird combination of New Age and technology. And for the last 5 years I have been doing séances in various situations in which I try to communicate with the spirits of extinct birds. In this show, as I was making the ceramic little whistles that go inside the sculptures, I came across the information that whistles were very important instrument in pre-hispanic, pre-colonial world in the Americas, and in the Mayan area a lot of bird whistles were found in graves. The question of why would that person need a whistle, especially a bird whistle, was an inspiration for me to finish the aesthetics of the work. Even though my original inspiration was more about New Age things, the end result was about this relationship between whistles and the pre-colonial world in the Americas.
Can you explain us your art-making process – from the idea to the finished work?
It is very basic. Usually I have a bunch of ideas floating in my head. So, I just choose one that is most developed, or where the interest is most developed, and I go ahead with that.
With “Third Lung”, Christine Macel, curator of the last Venice Biennale, liked these bird seances that I did, but I couldn’t find a way to do them for six moths during the Biennale. I didn’t want to be there for so long, and the cost of having an ongoing performance for that long was really large, so I went with the installation reiteration.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I'm working on a piece for High Line Art in New York. It is a sculpture that will be there for one year. It's going to be like a bunk bed. I'm exploring a technique where I make the sculpture of polystyrene, bury it in a case of plaster, pour molten aluminum, then aluminum reacts with polystyrene and I get this sort of porous aluminum finish that is not very finished. It’s been a lot of work since I cast almost all by myself.
I also have solo shows coming up soon, and I'm in a group show that I'm really excited about, at Haus der Kunst in Munich at the beginning of March. I’m showing the piece “God’s Reptilian Finger”, which was an installation that I made originally for Gasworks in London few years ago.
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Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa – “Third Lung”
February 2 – March 11, 2018
Galerie im Turm, Berlin
"Blind Faith – Between the Visceral and the Cognitive in Contemporary Art" - Group Exhibition
March 2 – August 19, 2018
Haus der Kunst, Munich