Remembrance of the two worlds, 2013. Mixed media, installation view. Photo: Marcelo Lomuto

Place of Memory: A Conversation with Andres Paredes

Andres Paredes, who was born in Argentina’s Misiones Province and graduated from the Faculty of Arts of the National University of Misiones, has made his home region a distinctive factor in his work. Driven by a systematic search to keep memory active by reworking the past, he creates an intimate imaginary world in works that share a common spirit, an unmistakable aesthetic, and a recurring iconography. “My work talks about my place of origin, the place of my memories. I always go back to them to create, not just copying the elements of nature that surround me but translating the emotions, the smells, tastes, and colors that nature provokes,” he says. The place where he was born and continues to live shelters him from information overload and urban noise while providing the ideal terrain for his personal and self-referential work to germinate.

Migrants, 2013. View of work as installed at Museo FAyD, Oberá, Misiones Province, Argentina. Photo: Andres Paredes

María Carolina Baulo: The province of Misiones has had a great influence on your work, particularly its flora and fauna. You depict insects and organisms that transform throughout their lives and use the butterfly as an icon of mutation. But the scale is often monumental, building a kind of fantastic, supernatural space. How do you represent human concerns through that world of small beings?
Andres Paredes: My main source of inspiration is the exuberant landscape of Misiones, where I was born and grew up. It gathers many of the memories that highlight my life, including how to learn, explore, and inhabit the wild places in nature. Misiones is like my fuel; it is vital for my work. This is also related to the scale: when you are a child, you perceive everything as much bigger and have the imagination to think that a butterfly or a cicada can carry you as it flies. All of my work is a contemporary rereading of this landscape and its inhabitants. I always go back to those childhood memories, which are related to that territory and to a space that is very important to me—the siesta, the nap. Of the vast spectrum of insects found in Misiones—which contributes a huge part of Argentina’s biodiversity—I choose only those that go through processes of great transformation. That is, they die in a different form than they had when they were born, and in that transformation, they express a typical human desire: the desire to transform and reinvent. I have used butterflies, cicadas, and dragonflies in different ways over the course of my career because of this particular characteristic—the need to transform and mutate in order to continue living. Nature acts as a great metaphor for ourselves.

MCB: You use papercutting techniques similar to continuous scherenschnitte designs to form silhouettes in paper and MDF, and you create objects in resin, wood, steel, and ñau mud (from the coast of the Paraná River) to use in installations. How do you decide on your manner of working, and why is the three-dimensional so important to you?
AP: There are two central elements that rule my work in an almost obsessive way: manual work—I do all the work myself—and rigorous beauty, harmony, and curved lines. Nature shows itself in a certain way, revealing its hidden equilibrium. The techniques come from craft processes that I have studied for a long time. I took a scherenschnitte course with a Swiss professor in Oberá, but I translated this method of cutting paper with scissors in my own way. I took it to another scale and then transferred the same concept to the three-dimensional plane: from folded papers to large, open wood works where the line is explored, which, in turn, weaves space to create a three-dimensional network. I also bring these concepts of beauty to installations in which I perform manual work with sculpture
and to large clay caves where other senses intervene.

Nymph (detail), 2012. Epoxy and MDF, 120 x 0.35 x 0.15 meters. Photo: Marcelo Lomuto

MCB: Could you explain the experience of “Gurí,” your 2013 exhibition at Palatina gallery? It seems to reflect the conceptual and aesthetic constants in your work.
AP: In the installations and exhibitions, I always try to go back to places in my memory to explore the past. In “Gurí,” I returned to my hometown of Apóstoles, where we had a wildly rampant garden, with huge plants, giant trees, horses, ponies, and a monkey. My father’s medical practice functioned as the village clinic, and my fantasy was to go from that wonderful patio full of insects and vegetation to a surgical place filled with other aromas and elements, such as showcases, a room of X-rays, and a second surgery room. I fantasized about playing in that forbidden place. In “Gurí,” I mixed these two worlds, one from science and the other from nature, re-creating and uniting them through objects and installations.

MCB: “Exuvia” (2013–14), a show at the Areco Museum in Posadas, Misiones, and at the Museum of Fine Arts René Brusau Resistencia in Chaco, echoed similar themes, but added mutation and the effects of the transformation.
AP: This exhibition was very significant for me. First of all, because it was shown outside the Buenos Aires circuit, in the interior of Misiones and Chaco, and second because the exuvia is the exoskeleton that certain arthropods, like cicadas, abandon once they leave the nymph state. It is the evidence of change and transformation, something that I was experiencing on a personal level in moments of great introspection, so I produced my own exuvia and left my skin abandoned in the museum. I took a giant cloth measuring 25 meters and put small holes in it so that viewers could see my memories through them and experience the construction of the person and the artist. I also began to work with aromas and original music, which I keep exploring.

Memorious Mud, 2016. Mud, desiccated butterflies, quartz, amethysts, and agates, installation view. CCK, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo: Laura Szenkierman

MCB: Barro Memorioso (2015–16), an installation shown at the Recoleta Cultural Center, the Contemporary Expressions Center of Rosario, and the Kirchner Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, takes up the theme of memory conservation by evoking the curiosity cabinet. How did you adapt this site-specific installation to different spaces?
AP: Barro Memorioso recalls the first connection that many missionaries had with our land through the ñau mud of the streams, which we played with as children. I carved all my loved ones who are no longer here, all the beings who left me emotional value—my grandparents, my horses, my dogs, the monkey that lived in the house. I re-created them in mud in a space of introspection that visitors had to access with their entire body in order to see. I made aromatized clay “caves” (with the smell of roses and rue), with music, hundreds of quartz elements, and butterflies representing the temporality of life.

MCB: Mutatis Mutandis (2017) and Memento Mori (2017), both at Ungallery in Buenos Aires, recall the vanitas, while Artifice (2017–18), at the Calvaresi gallery, reflects on ideals of beauty and nature as a source of happiness, another central concern in your work. How do these key themes from art history reinforce the personal search in your work?
Memento Mori is derived from Barro Memorioso. It also re-creates loved ones accompanied by butterflies, but it is inspired by the concept of the vanitas, which interests me a lot. I keep investigating this idea since it comes from the Baroque, and I’m a native of a Jesuit town—Apóstoles—cradle of the Latin American Baroque. The second part was Mutatis Mutandis, which means something like “changing things as they should be” or “making the changes that need to be done,” and I took it in the imperative sense of encouragement, inspired by some mutant insects that I created myself. In Artifice, I worked again with the idea of beauty, but in this case as a promise of happiness. I re-created a dream garden in the gallery. However, on this occasion it was carried out entirely in Buenos Aires, 1,200 kilometers away from my house in Misiones, which was almost like working with the idea of remembering how that garden was and reconstructing those idealized spaces at the Calvaresi gallery.

Memento Mori, 2017. Models with desiccated butterflies, mud, quartz, amethysts, and agates, installation view. Photo: Marcelo Cugliari

MCB: You mentioned the importance of manual work. Do you make each piece personally, or do you work with assistants? How long does it take to assemble an installation, and what about the complexity presented by certain materials?
AP: I like to work with my own hands. Everything starts with the drawing; I use brushes, pencils, and different colors. After the drawing is ready on paper or wood, an arduous hand-drawn job can last for weeks or even months (for example, a medium-size piece, 100 x 70 centimeters, takes almost two months of work). I use a simple cutter with paper; when I make sculptures in MDF, the process is similar, but I use a manual jigsaw. The wood works also go through many hours of sanding. At this point, assistants help me. The process of the installations is quite different because I work with mud—raw clay that I personally remove from the Paraná River. Barro Memorioso took a month of assembly work inside the room: first to build the exterior and later the interior, which was much more complex, with lighting, aromas, and many butterflies that I dissected, which came from a butterfly farm in Misiones.

MCB: What was it like to participate in Maurizio Cattelan’s Eternity project during Art Basel Cities Buenos Aires (2018)?
AP: Eternity was a collaborative project in which Maurizio Cattelan invited local artists to make “graves for the living.” I produced my own tomb and gravestone, with my name, date of birth, and a possible date of death. I made it completely in clay so that it would degrade with time, and I included representations of the skulls of my loved ones, mainly the dogs. The whole work was covered with morpho butterflies—the blue ones—which were degraded, highlighting temporality. My work won first prize among the contestants, and it meant a lot to me because, in some way, it was like a synthesis of all the things that I’d been doing, transformed into an ephemeral clay sculpture.