As much about persuasion as indulgence, objects of desire depend on packaging and material matter for their allure. For London-based, Peruvian-born Lizi Sánchez, the careful design decisions made by conglomerates lead us to experience the world differently. She is interested in how such global judgments come to influence the substance of our lives and contribute to the disconnect between product and labor. Within this economy, color becomes a crafted currency. The same applies to shape, form, material, and display– formal elements as integral to marketing as they are to creative work. By appropriating commercial colors and graphic elements and transposing their associations and symbolisms into her work while removing any traces of recognizable packaging, Sánchez deconstructs commodity culture, manipulating the rules of branding to create enticing, but ambiguous objects that defy the cult of the finished product, in both art and merchandizing.
Rajesh Punj: Could you explain the relationship between your wall works and sculptural constructions?
Lizi Sánchez: I studied painting in Peru, but after I left university, I started a small business designing and producing functional art, like games and presents for companies and also tableware. I was working with different materials, including wood, MDF, tissue paper, and varnishes. It was then that I started working in a more design-oriented, three-dimensional way and stopped painting altogether. When I moved to Britain, to Bristol, I started painting again but in a far more graphic style. While doing my MA at Goldsmiths, I was perceived as a sculptor, because I was using cardboard, fabrics, and other materials to create three-dimensional works. In Peru, sculptural practice was quite traditional, so I had never considered myself a sculptor before.
RP: Even though you were initially labeled a sculptor, the nature of Goldsmiths–being able to move freely between departments and disciplines–encouraged you to be a painter, sculptor, and print-maker.
LS: Exactly. Without noticing it, I started working with wool and wallpaper, which meant that I was replacing painting and the two-dimensional with the threedimensional. I realized that what really excites me are materials, and that’s when things became much more interesting. I became interested in things that have some kind of materiality, in the nature of different materials and different textures. I completed my degree and presented a sculpture installation for my graduation.
RP: So, your works at Goldsmiths were freestanding, what we would consider in-the-round?
LS: Yes, they were freestanding objects, with pompoms, fabrics, ribbons, and plastic pearls. They were influenced by kitsch architecture. At the time, I did a residency in China, which encouraged me to combine my interest in kitsch with the modern in an attempt to see where they intersected.
RP: Has the scale of your work changed at all? Are you working larger?
LS: No, my works have never been very big. They have always been defined by my studio and the space where I work; you could refer to their size as “modest.” They are of a practical scale, and the materials I choose are equally practical. I can recall the excitement of going out at Christmastime and buying lots of decorations like baubles and pearls to use on my sculptures; those materials led to a series of works with plastic ribbons. I also started working with aluminum foil. All this time, I was living in London, disconnected from Peru, so I decided to reconnect with my country. I got funding in the U.K. and secured a solo show in Peru. I couldn’t take too many works with me, so I had to choose carefully. The aluminum foil was great as a material: it’s a great painting support, but it also has interesting sculptural qualities, like retaining the traces of its handling. For my show in Peru, I decided to show only work on aluminum foil because I could roll it up, and the creases from the handling and carrying became part of the work.
RP: It is a durable material that retains its history.
LS: Exactly, that is one of the things that I really like about it–it retains a history of the labor behind the work that the viewer might not know. It keeps all the traces of your own marks, and afterwards, when someone handles it while installing or packing, all those traces of transaction will be left as well.
RP: Did you manage to make new works in Peru?
LS: The whole show was a comment on abstraction, and I mainly presented the aluminum foil works that I brought with me. Before the Peru show, I had an exhibition at Standpoint Gallery in London. They wanted me to formulate a collaboration with an established artist I admired. I contacted Louise Lawler and asked her to lend some works for the show. I was offered two of her photographs, and I built a wall for one of them–the wall I built was mine, and the photograph on the wall was hers. Lawler’s photograph was of an Agnes Martin work with an Alexander Calder hanging in front. For my part, I was placing her photograph on my wall. I don’t know how to qualify my wall. Was it a display object? At the time, I was very interested in display objects. When I went to Peru, I remade the wall. But in this case, because I was talking more specifically about Latin American abstraction, I placed a painting by the prominent (French-born) Peruvian abstract painter Regina Aprijaskis on my wall.
RP: Going back to Goldsmiths, where you were labeled a “sculptor” rather than a “painter,” were you happier as just an “artist,” since your work involved both?
LS: Yes, but I don’t question it that much. I am definitely not a painter, though I had a painting in an exhibition in Liverpool for the John Moores Painting Prize. It was interesting when I met all the other painters in the show, because painters have very painterly conversations, which I would never have and have no interest in having. I am a worker, an artist.
RP: For you, the works are not paintings. Are they two-dimensional objects, closer to wall pieces? I ask because it is interesting to understand how you define them.
LS: It is tricky because if you think of my work as sculpture, you become aware that it is also very concerned with color in a way that is equally relevant to painting. But even when I take works off the floor and apply them to the wall, they are still preoccupied with sculptural materiality.
RP: By definition, a painting has limitations or boundaries.
LS: Yes, the frame creates a world within which everything exists. But, for me, the greater questions are raised outside that space. For example, the show in Peru developed from looking at different materials, from my thinking about something that could be readily transported and how I could do this or that.
RP:When determining the placement of your works, do you want to curate them into the space, or do you like to involve a curator?
LS: No, normally I decide that.
RP: I can see that when I look at the display of your works. It is obviously very much a part of their identity and of how you want viewers to see and understand them–as painterly objects applied to the floor and sculptural constructs for the wall.
LS: I think yes. It is all very specific. Space is very important, and what they do in the space matters–although they don’t need to be shown in any one way; they could be shown in different ways. But, if the work is shown in a different way, I want it to retain its character.
RP: So, your works are open to interpretation as objects. There is no definitive way for them to be seen, no defining solution to how we understand them.
LS: To make it clearer, I have a work called X, which is made from rubber. The X comes from Die Scheuche (The Scarecrow), a children’s story, by Kurt Schwitters, Theo van Doesburg, and Kate Steinitz, based on the letters of the alphabet. I am a big fan of Schwitters, and it is a beautiful book. The story is about a scarecrow who represents the old regime and how he is kicked out of the farm by the animals and the farmers; they take all his beautiful things–his scarf, his hat, his cane, his coat.
RP: So there’s a political edge to it.
LS: Yes, it was a political story for children. At the time, many artists worked on children’s books as an innovative platform for political statements; it was a space where they were allowed to experiment. So, my X needed to be animated but feel like it was dying. I left the work with a gallery in Peru, and they asked me whether I would mind if a collector hung it flat on the wall. I didn’t mind if it was hung, but I did mind if they put it on the wall flat, because that’s not the work. As long as a work retains its qualities, I don’t mind how it is displayed. At home, I had X falling from a chair.
RP: I’m interested in the notion that a work has possibilities beyond its completion, that it keeps evolving with each installation. Do you allow your works to be manipulated outside the studio?
LS: Yes, it was the same with the aluminum pieces. It is something I have been developing in connection with my materials. For example, I have shown Blu (2016) on trestles, but it can be shown differently. I don’t see the aluminum painting and the trestles as a whole, and the work can easily be deconstructed. I am also wondering why I always need to do new work for different shows. I want to introduce pieces from previous shows and exhibit them again, but in different configurations.
RP: Are you doing more of that now, showing works in altered configurations?
LS: Yes, where elements start to communicate one with the other, and they say different things in different spaces. I am responding to the space now much more than before.
RP: Do you need to be in a new space for a length of time in order to transfer and transform the works?
LS: That is the ideal, but it is not always the case. Sometimes I just work with photographs of the space and measurements. I use Photoshop, because I am clueless with architectural programs. With a computer, I can throw things at the space and then move them around. They start off very crowded, and then I clean them up.
RP: Do you consciously withdraw pieces?
LS: I definitely start with many more works and then take them out until I am happy with the exhibition. A lot of things I do in terms of display are propositional; I am not an artist who has a fixed idea of what she wants and takes it to its full conclusion.
RP: So, where others might see an exhibition as the conclusion of a body of work, you see it as an extended opportunity to experiment. You are showing works and then considering how you might show them again, as works within works.
LS: Yes, I like that idea.
RP: But doesn’t that work against the dominant culture of completion? Or is that not how we should look at your work?
LS: Yes, because I am not thinking that it isn’t complete; it is complete while it is in the show–for the time being.
RP: I am interested in this point, because many artists are driven by a desire for the “complete,” and their intention is to arrive at something that thereafter remains in a fixed state. But you appear to see works as objects that can exist in several states.
LS: I think the work develops with time, and I am much more interested in that now. It goes back to what we discussed before, of not defining whether a piece is a painting or a sculpture.
RP: Are you still being asked that?
LS: No. What I was asked in Peru–which is interesting in terms of contemporary art and cheap labor–was, “Who manufactured them for you?” In a country where cheap labor is available, lots of artworks rely heavily on the idea and are given over to someone else to produce. This can be problematic because, though the idea might be very interesting, it has likely been formulated many times before; there are many artists working in similar ways and exploring similar ideas. For me, there has to be some kind of personal investment in the process of manufacturing the work or it risks becoming incredibly dull.
RP: I think there is a conceptual conundrum of the artwork being entirely about the idea.
LS: I understand the history of where that comes from, but nowadays its development is problematic.
RP: Ironically Goldsmiths championed that as a house style in the 1980s and ’90s. But, for you, an idea that is finalized by someone else goes against your approach of constantly intervening in everything.
LS: Exactly. And your idea, maybe it’s a good idea, but how do you measure it? For me, the idea is as good as I can develop it through the making of the work.
RP: Is your hand important in the production of a work?
LS: Not so much the hand as the process of being in the studio working. It is that process of thinking and doing that hopefully comes across in the work. Many artists are doing the same thing, and I am not sure how the work becomes singular; without the making, it just becomes commonplace. For example, when I showed Blu (2016) in Peru, the accompanying trestles were taken from a workshop located in a poor area of Lima. They had traces of the fences and other industrial objects that had been painted on them again and again. So, they bore all the touches of other people’s workmanship. I wanted to bring that into the space and into a piece that, without the trestles, was very clean and precise. But I didn’t want to claim the trestles as part of the work, because I didn’t want to sell them for however much and present them as my work. For me, they were “props” that allowed my work to exist in the space.
RP: What is interesting about this is that whereas viewers in Peru might well ignore the trestles entirely, viewers in London are likely to read them as integral to the work.
LS: What interests me is that I could show you a picture of the work with the trestles and say, “This is the work,” but instead, for me, the aluminum banner is the work–it can be shown on the trestles, on a ladder, or by other similar elevated means, depending on the context and the place where it is shown.
Rajesh Punj is a curator and writer based in London.
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