La indiferencia del cielo, 2020. Site-specific installation with aluminum foil wrapping of the artist’s legs. Created during the residency Portal de Luz, Punta del Este, Uruguay. Photo: Analía Zalazar

Involvere: A Conversation with Analía Zalazar

The work of Argentinian artist Analía Zalazar is dominated by one characteristic action—the wrapping of objects. With this gesture, she seeks to establish a kind of link that serves to conserve and protect while managing to achieve volume with the most diverse and unlikely materials, from paper to textiles and aluminum foil. Her objects and installations, paintings and performances, videos and photographs emphasize key existential questions, exploring time and the possibility of protecting a portion of what transcends us, the fragility of things, and memory as the other side of oblivion. Zalazar, who has exhibited in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, spent more than a decade in L.A.; she currently lives and works in Buenos Aires.

Debajo del cielo está el viento (detail), 2019. Tissue paper wrappings, 300 x 100 cm. Photo: Dante Cosenza

María Carolina Baulo: Your artist statement is titled Involvere. This Latin word seems to hold the conceptual essence of your work. What does it mean to you?
Analía Zalazar: When writing my statement, some questions arose such as: Why wrap objects? Why save the wrappers? When I traced the etymology of the word “wrap,” its root helped me to find answers: I wrap to remember, I keep the wrappers as empty containers, full of absence. Involvere means “to wrap (in),” “to return,” “to roll.” I wrap the objects with tissue paper as if in that act a diffuse return were being played, a secret passage back to the past, toward my history and my path through time. I keep the wrapper to preserve fragile and imprecise traces.

MCB: Although you trained in painting, from early on, you used textiles and other materials that allowed you to engage space in different ways, creating objects, sculptures, and installations, as well as parades and performances. How do you choose materials? Do you start from a concept that guides the choice, or the other way around?
AZ: Sometimes it starts with the material choice. Matter is full of content, full of information—it produces sensations. Already in that choice, there is a hidden meaning that must be revealed. When I do the reverse path—that is, when I start with a finished idea—I let the doing lead me away from the original direction and take another path. I listen to what the work has to say independently of my will, and thus find new layers of meaning.

Sin título, 2004. Enamel and marker on gauze, 140 x 200 cm. Photo: Analía Zalazar

MCB: Sin título (Untitled, 2004), a painting that takes on three-dimensionality, makes clear your interests related to time, fragility, and protection. How do you materialize these themes?
In the early years, I made three-dimensional paintings that resulted from painting in layers on gauze. I replaced the canvas with translucent gauzes that I painted with enamel and then superimposed, enclosing them inside a kind of box or black frame, so that the painted image was suspended. Now, from a distance, I see that the images themselves were not the important part, but the emptiness that surrounded them, the space that was trapped between layers. Over time, these images suspended in the air inside black frames became videos.

MCB: In 2005, you created a performance collective called Maison TRASH. What was the motivation for the parade work Queridas (Dears, 2005) and Boutique itinerante (Itinerant boutique, 2006)?
Maison TRASH is a collective that I formed with the artist Mirtha Bermegui, a tribute to fashion and haute couture in which we appealed to irony. We developed timeless collections of non-serial designs, randomly sewing scraps of uncut fabric, buttons, and fine rhinestones. We presented thematic collections in parade format with artists, gallery owners, and other actors on the art scene collaborating. Queridas, a performance parade, was inspired by the work of Gustav Klimt. It was presented in several places in Buenos Aires: at the former Central Post Office (the Kirchner Cultural Center), at the APPETITE gallery, and at the Borges Cultural Center in 2006. The project included a gold cloth boutique pop-up that we installed in different locations, such as the legendary Mercado de San Telmo, the Periférico contemporary art fair, and the Belleza y Felicidad art gallery, and where we exhibited the different collections for sale. Maison TRASH also presented its collections in galleries in Santiago de Chile, Venice, Los Angeles, and Long Beach, California.

Queridas, 2006. Fashion show performance by Maison TRASH, Correo Central (currently Centro Cultural Kirchner), Buenos Aires. Photo: Leticia Bobbioni

MCB: This experience also led to paintings in satin varnish to which you applied small objects to form collages.
Since 2010, I have worked on a series of painting-collages. I begin by projecting shadows of plants on satin, which I then draw and paint, and on top of that I apply the Maison TRASH process, using thread, wool, and embroidery together with an assembly of small, colorful elements and stickers—all this in a slightly chaotic but at the same time orderly way. Finally, I varnish the empty part of the canvas, giving it a paper consistency. Those chaotic universes, full of matter and color, function like a single spot in white space, like a noise, a scream in the silence, a moment in time.

MCB: Your interest in time becomes much stronger in acrylic and graphite works such as You (2011). In these works, the collage-paintings lose almost all their materiality, leaving the varnish as a trace.
Yes, over time the collage-paintings began to lose their materiality, giving way to more austere, flatter works that nonetheless retain their protective varnish. In the process of getting rid of that materiality, the action of covering to protect became relevant and the interest in somehow crystallizing time became a constant. From there, I began to wrap objects or parts of my body so that their mark remains engraved on the paper and preserves the emptiness, the absence of the wrapped object.

Sin título, 2018. Video installation and tissue paper wrappings of different parts of the artist’s body on a table. Photo: Dante Cosenza

MCB: In an untitled work from 2018, you literally applied the concept of involvere to your body. Was this a precursor of what would come later?
In 2018, I was invited by the artist and curator Marcelo Pelissier to participate in “Copias imperfectas” (“Imperfect copies”), a show at Walter, Casa para Artistas, in Buenos Aires. I presented two videos and two installations. They were the first wrappers. One of the videos is a journey with my feet wrapped in skin-colored paper, which begins at the door of my house, runs through the streets, and ends 800 kilometers away, in the Paraná River in Paraná, the city where I was born. In the other video, I wrap my face and paint eyes with mascara and a mouth with red nail polish, then snip both places. The installations were wrappers of parts of my body, like skins, the remains of it. At that time, I was reading Georges Didi-Huberman’s essay “Ex-Voto: Image, Organ, Time” (2007).

MCB: In Debajo del cielo está el viento (Beneath the sky is the wind, 2019), the wrapper protects the body but also activates questions about space and the number of bodies we inhabit throughout life. What is this work about?
AZ: It’s a 300-by-100-centimeter column made up of empty skin-colored tissue-paper wrappers of parts of my body. The pieces are trapped between the floor and the ceiling. Here, the concept of “layer upon layer” from the first paintings appears again, where the void is relevant. Perhaps that emptiness is associated with time, with our passage through it, with the question: How many bodies, how many skins have we inhabited? How many times have we died and been reborn in this short fragment that is our existence?

Debajo del cielo está el viento, 2019. Tissue paper wrappings, 300 x 100 cm. Photo: Dante Cosenza

MCB: In 2020, in the context of an international residency, you made the site-specific works La indiferencia del cielo (The indifference of the sky) and Sin título (Untitled). In both cases, the work interacted directly with nature. Do you take the specific space or context of your works into consideration? How do you think place affects them?
AZ: In this case, the works were specifically designed for these spaces. In The indifference of the sky, I wrapped my legs in aluminum foil and made a photographic record of the wrapping floating in a pool. I used a different material to reflect the landscape on the mirrored surface where the morning mist blends with the sky. I am interested in placing these pieces in new contexts, in how they interact with water, nature, what other layers of meaning open up, what else these objects can narrate. In Untitled, I used black tissue paper to wrap some stones that I found. I placed these light, but heavy-looking wrappers in an open field, abandoning them to their fate, letting the wind spread them and allowing them to modify and create a new landscape.

MCB: Fragmentos de una enciclopedia imposible (Fragments of an impossible encyclopedia, 2020) is an artist book that introduces the theme of fragmented memory from photographic records of empty wrappers. It’s a catalogue of emotions that establishes a new order through its disorder. Your installation Sin título (2022) alludes directly to Fragmentos. What can you tell us about the radically different notion of time and space proposed by these works?
AZ: Fragments of an impossible encyclopedia is a compilation of childhood memories whose images are photographs of empty wrappers of what is remembered. It emerged during the pandemic, when the perception of time was modified and a crystallized present gave rise to a whirlwind of memories that appeared in a disorderly manner. These stories follow each other as fragments organized in a random and capricious way, just like memory. At first, it was a digital book; then in 2021, it was selected in its printed version for the UADE University Visual Arts Award. So far there is only one volume and one copy. In 2022, I was invited by Marcelo Pelissier to participate in “Algo roto” (“Something broken”), a show held at Jolie Bistro in Buenos Aires. The proposal was to make an installation based on the encyclopedia, displaying these stories in space. To do this, we chose five stories with their respective paper wrappers, which we placed on small white platforms.

Fragmentos de una Enciclopedia Imposible, 2020. Book compiled with memories from childhood and photographs of empty wrappings of remembered objects, 30 x 30 cm. Photo: Dante Cosenza

MCB: Absence, emptiness, and fragility all look for different ways to express themselves through your work. In the installation Ya es ayer (It’s already yesterday, 2022), you generated a collection of wrappers from kitchen utensils that belonged to your mother and presented them in a way that gives the sensation of imminent collapse. What is this work about?
AZ: After my mother died, there was the stage of dismantling the family home, with all its implications. What to do with the objects of a lifetime? I wrapped some pieces of her crockery and multiplied them until I achieved a great volume, like the memories and emotions that gush forth in the absence of a loved one. I decided to support the wrappers on a platform smaller than the volume of the pieces so that it cannot contain them, which forces them to maintain a precarious balance. These fragile white wrappers are full of emptiness, ethereal as ghosts that rise in a present that is already past.

MCB: The installation Cuando se deba renunciar al mundo (When the world must be renounced, 2022) combines a video from 2020 and objects from 2017, all produced while you lived in Los Angeles. There are enameled camellias that bring us closer to a theme that runs through all your work—the durability of beauty between life and death. How did you go about making this subtle and moving work?
AZ: When the world must be renounced began as an action in Los Angeles in 2017. In winter, my street turned into a beautiful red carpet formed from camellias that, for reasons unknown to me, fell from the bushes just after blooming, leaving the sidewalks covered with buds and new flowers. I imagined witnessing a secret pact, a mass suicide, and picked some flowers. To preserve their freshness and beauty, I dipped them in black paint. I chose the color as the absence of light, a closing of eyes. When I returned to Buenos Aires, I brought the flowers with me and later made a video. I wrapped the black flowers with red tissue paper, a bright red that evokes their moment of fullness. I dropped the empty wrappers as a reenactment of that secret drama. As they fall, the papers make a dry and heavy noise, like stones, a noise that is intended to alert us to the indifference and pain of that private act.

Ya es ayer, 2022. Installation with tissue paper wrappings on platform, 100 x 130 cm. Photo: Dante Cosenza

MCB: In the case of the work-in-progress En el lago hay fuego (In the lake there is fire, 2022), the starting point was a phrase from the I Ching. This work serves as an excuse for me to ask you what you have in mind for the future. Will you continue investigating ways to “wrap” memory, or will you move on at some point in the not-too-distant future?
AZ: Looking back at my work, I see that the themes that summon me now, in the present, have been the same from the beginning—time, the fragility of our existence, death disguised as emptiness, absence, and memory. Perhaps when I was painting, I didn’t know it and let myself be carried away by what the materials provoked in me without taking into account what they had to say. I will surely continue to address these issues. I am currently working on several videos, each one developed around a text.

One of them, I dreamed that it was inhabited by an immeasurable number of things, began in 2021, and that is the one that generates the most expectations in me. It is an endless list of things, things of all kinds, from the name of a street and the joy of drinking soda to the tracks of a pigeon left in fresh concrete. It alludes to everything that makes us up and gives shape to our personal universe—fundamental things and those without any importance. The words or phrases run through the screen from bottom to top, layer upon layer, transparent, multiplying in quantity and speed until they are impossible to read. Aesthetically, it takes us back to the early paintings, when I layered gauze to form a three-dimensional painting. The list is so, so long that I don’t know if it will ever end; there are more and more things to name. Perhaps the work is that—a text never to be read.

I am also working on the ephemeral installation In the lake there is fire. I found this phrase in the I Ching randomly, and it led me to the realization of these fragments. It is a feedback between the word and the image, each nurturing the other. I wrap parts of my body with tissue paper, I use black paper to refer to fire, to something that might have been burned and is at the moment just before it turns into ashes. I spray the pieces with water, which drips on the wall, dragging some of the ink from the paper and leaving a trace of what it was and will soon cease to be. Here, the title plays a fundamental role; it is an irreplaceable part of the work. I am interested in building a kind of landscape that accounts for the evocative power of the word, the reality that it is capable of creating and the multiple interpretations it generates. This work is still open, I do not rule out the possibility that it will grow and/or that it will cross paths with a video. As for the wrappers, I must say that these precarious paper objects still move me because of the imprint that remains of the wrapped objects that are no longer there, because of the absence that becomes visible. I’m sure they have more to give me. I would have liked to wrap up my mom’s house before it sold, but that was an impossible project, so best to forget about it.