ABSINTHE §2 Interview – Juan Manuel Salas Valdivia
Originally published in the ABSINTHE §2 Catalogue, published by Side Quest, produced to accompany ABSINTHE §2, curated by Billy Fraser, Charlie Mills and James Capper, 18.05.19 – 17.08.19, Spit and Sawdust Pub, Elephant and Castle.
May 2019

Hector Campbell : Having previously completed an exchange programme at Université Rennes 2 in Brittany, France, you’re currently engaged in the Air-Montreux residency programme in Montreux, Switzerland. How has the residency been going? Are they something you look to do more of?

Juan Manuel Salas Valdivia : The residence has turned out to be quite a spiritual experience for me. I know very few people here. I live in a kind of glass cage, with the most beautiful landscape I could imagine. I am also disconnected from other artists or people with whom I can receive feedback about my work. It is a place with all my needs covered, so all my attention is focused on myself and my paintings. All that is a very good combination for interesting things to arise in my work.

As my first artistic residence and it has worked quite well, I have produced a lot and I feel that I have found interesting resolutions in painting. The only disadvantage is that more than ever I feel conditioned by space or logistics; the studio is a pristine apartment where you have to be careful not to make any mess, in addition the art store is in another city so I have to move everything by train, plus the materials are very expensive in comparison to Mexico. Even so, it is an experience that is very worthwhile and that I will continue looking for in the future.

H.C : As well as your practical art education you’ve studied art and painting theory extensively. How do you look to marriage the academic and the material?

J.V : I think that this "marriage" is always in tension or in dispute. An excess of academia can end up sterilizing work, but an imbalance of the material leads to a lack of direction. Even so, I have always seen it as a very intuitive process, which develops organically as one studies and works at the same time.

I think a lot about the decision making that exists in painting, and with the risk of sounding delusional, I speak of a decision making in an almost cosmic sense. How each gesture or stroke that the body marks on the surface of the canvas is a decision that is caused by a web of events and moments; the materials that we decided to use, the visual and historical baggage that precede us and even the sensitive state that you are in.

I am also convinced of the existence of a creative fuel - an energy that is nourished through everything we study, observe and live - and how it is stored and embodied in objects or ideas. Of course, all this is unconscious most of the time, but it is important to stop and think about it from time to time in order to make decisions or take a step away from ourselves.

H.C : Your Imagen Posible series explores the possibility of painting in the digital age, incorporating and immortalising technological error such as glitches into your works. Could you tell us a bit more about this series? What are the conceptual ideas underpinning these works?

J.V : This series is mainly thinking about glitch as a pictorial phenomenon. It's one of my favorite series, and as I go on working and reflecting on it, I find more interesting things.

I think a lot about the Bacon-Deleuzian concept of diagram or catastrophe: a kind of pre-pictorial "loss of will" exercise, governed by manipulated chance, but in reverse. Instead of the body losing control and building the image from that chaos or diagram, here the machine is "humanized" and a data storm destroys all the figures that appear in the image. For a fraction of a second bodies tear on the screen, objects become saturated with color until they burn or a landscape is joined to a face that should appear on the next plane. Multiple spaces and times that inhabit the video merge to create a new image.

I also liked very much the idea of ’hunting’, waiting for the glitch to manifest itself and having to capture it immediately. Each of these configurations is unique and unrepeatable, so if I lose a valuable glitch, it’s gone forever.

Alongside this process I continue with the small landscapes that I call "articulations" as they are material links between large-scale works. These are not based on any glitch, but their structure imitates many of these resources, so they work as studies or experiments.

The most recent work axis of this series is to produce my own glitches through a method known as datamoshing, the process of manipulating the data of multimedia files to achieve certain visual or audio effects when the file is decoded or reproduced. Although this resource sacrifices the fortuitous or random nature of the first glitches, I can focus more on the symbolic dimension of the images. For example, crossing the portrait of a certain historical character with that of the landscape of a specific geography. This is my most recent issue, and I feel that I still have a lot to explore.

H.C : Alongside your own artistic practice you have also been the coordinator of ‘Lateral’ artspace, how did you balance the two? How did that project inform your own artistic output?

J.V : Lateral was one of the richest artistic experiences I have ever experienced. Started with Arturo Cerda in 2016, the project was conceived as an independent exhibition space, "lateral" to the mainstream galleries in the city of Guadalajara.

Although it was a space oriented to the production and exhibition of contemporary art, the important part was really everything that happened around the exhibition, more than the exhibition itself. It was very important for me in artistic terms for all the exchange of ideas between many young artists from the city, you could see how and where they started their ideas, how they were modified through dialogue, and how they resolved them in some piece or installation. The ‘Lateral’ space was also my studio and the artists who developed something, or exhibited, there also saw and talked with me about my work. All those experiences modify your ideas indirectly.        

H.C : You’ve previously exhibited in experimental curatorial projects such as Extended Call (curated by ABSINTHE’ Billy Fraser), what draws you to these projects? And can you give us an insight into the work you’ll be exhibiting in ABSINTHE?

J.V : For me, it will always be fascinating to see my work exhibited in another country, for many reasons. One of them is to see how your piece relate with other pieces or discourses that one might think are radically different from yours because they are in a different culture.

Something I like very much about this kind of projects, is that they represent a very interesting generation of emerging artists from the British scene, so, in some indirect way, by exhibiting there, you find yourself immersed in that cultural nucleus that otherwise it would be impossible to access. Then it becomes interesting to see your pieces there, to think of them as a familiar object in the midst of other strange objects, or as a strange object in the midst of familiar objects.

For this exhibition, I will be presenting two paintings, continuations of the ‘Possible Image’ series that I have been developing during the Air-Montreux residence. One is based on a glitch like those mentioned above, and the other is my own articulation. What I find most interesting of these two works in particular is that they were made at the same time, so you can see how they both dialogue and cross each other, although one is a face-body and the other, a kind of landscape.