Interview: Juan Carlos Vasquez
Luca Curci talks with Juan Carlos Vasquez during FRAGMENTED IDENTITIES, second appointment of BORDERS Art Fair 2020, at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space and at Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello.
Juan Carlos Vasquez is an award-winning composer, sound artist, and researcher focused on investigating intersections between music technology, heritage, and traditional artistic practices. His works are performed and/or exhibited constantly around the world and to date have participated in events in 29 countries across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Vasquez has received grants and commissions from numerous institutions, including the ZKM, the International Computer Music Association, the Nokia Research Center, the Ministry of Culture of Colombia, the Arts Promotion Centre in Finland, the Finnish National Gallery, and the Royal College of Music in London, UK. Some of the events and venues that have featured Vasquez’s works include Ars Electronica (AU), the Ateneum Art Museum (FI), the Lincoln Center (NY, USA), the Berklee College of Music, Matera Intermedia Festival (IT), Sonorities Festival Belfast (UK), and the Milan Furniture Fair (IT) along with frequent academic events held by universities across the globe. As a researcher, Vasquez’s writings can be found in the Computer Music Journal, the Leonardo Music Journal, and the proceedings of all the standard conferences of the field of sound art and music technology. Vasquez received his education at the Sibelius Academy (FI), Aalto University (FI), and the University of Virginia (US). His scores are published by Babel Scores, and his music is distributed by Naxos, MIT Press (US), Important Records (US), and Phasma Music (Poland).
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Juan Carlos Vasquez – What fascinates me about art is that it is an exclusively human activity. No other species seem to reflect on their existence and surroundings to the point to feel the urge to express it in either pictorial or sonic form. Art is the final form of language, an extraordinary evolutionary endowment that allows humans to encode and decode cultural meaning in representational and nonrepresentational shapes, sounds, movements, text and more. In a way, Art’s malleability is its strongest asset: there are (and should be) as many definitions of art as there are artists.
LC – What are you currently working on?
JCV – The predominantly digital nature of my work has made its diffusion survive the pandemic in relatively intact way, so I’m currently preparing materials for upcoming events in Austria, Canada, Germany and Italy. In general terms, I’ve become interested in investigating ways to face technological obsolescence when creating new media art, a line of research that intersects with the cultural value that we attribute to ”time” in artistic creations, especially in sound. In the coming years I’ll be producing works that deal with those topics, both as a composer and sound artist.
LC – What is your creative process like?
JCV – I like starting by reading related literature about overarching topics that I’d like to explore in my work. Then, a phase of hands-on experimentation occurs, in which I allow the selected materials and scattered ideas to tell me what kind of overall structure better accommodates them. Once a formal plan is defined, I proceed with a more systematic approach to the construction of the piece, based on the ”blueprints” resulting from the previous phases. At the end of the creative process I usually do a thorough documentation in the form of a paper with the aim of having some degree of objective perspective towards my own work, by presenting it to the academic community in peer-review instances.
LC – Are your artworks focused on a specific theme?
JCV – I’ve worked extensively with artistic appropriation; however, my work is not entirely focused on exploring the potential applications of that practice. The only constant in all my pieces is technology, either as a technique, tool and/or philosophical theme with specific consequences and results. The latter is perhaps due to my strong influence on postmodernist philosophers, and generally thinkers that evaluate and study the human condition in modern times.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
JCV – The global aspects of the modern world allow artists to have significantly more international exposure than before, but inevitably forces them to face exponentially more competition too. As recent studies indicate, emerging artists face additionally a great deal of financial instability, forcing them to reshape and plan their portfolio focused on building a better professional profile capable to win commissions, residences and other similar opportunities. However, as other studies also show, is currently not financially viable for the majority of contemporary artists in Europe and the US to survive solely on those opportunities, meaning that a supplementary financial activity would become a necessity. Artists can gravitate to Academia, in certainly different circumstances than before. The ”creation-as-research” paradigm that has gained traction within Academia in the past years represents both an opportunity for supporting artists to create (mostly) free of economic and aesthetic constrains, but paradoxically it request from them (and their pieces) a degree of standardization prone to be measured and justified in terms of academic impact, which ultimately translates in a financial justification of sorts, a matter of increasing importance among the modern Universities around the world. Most of the paid opportunities for creation occur at the doctoral, post-doctoral and faculty level, meaning that a more traditional approach to education in art has to be followed to be able to access this route. Finally, even if these opportunities represent a more stable platform for artists to conduct their activities on a long-term basis, they tend to be extremely competitive too. I believe that contemporary artists should be supported on the state level, following the example of strategies such as the ”working grants” given by the governments to artists in the Nordic countries, that provides monthly financial support for a determined time, without requesting a specific artistic output in aesthetic terms. Given that the benefits of art are meant to more related to human nature rather than providing a practical solution for everyday life, the financial support of art should rest on a centralized inclusive effort by the State, not scattered initiatives from individual organizations.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this exhibition? How is it connected to the theme of the entire festival?
JCV – The central figure of my piece ”Generative Sibelius” is evidently Jean Sibelius, who is a cultural icon in Finland and intimately linked to the construction of Finnish national identity before and during the early decades of the country’s independence. My audiovisual piece is part of a research project that investigates appropriation and digital fragmentation as a bridge between music technology and the classical tradition, in this case represented by Sibelius. Given the massive influence that both he and Finland have had in me, this is also a tale of personal identity, fragmented and altered in a way that only a foreigner could possibly experience.
LC – We were attracted by your last artistic production, has the artwork presented been created for the festival or as a part of preexisting works?
JCV – I revised the piece specifically for this exhibition, after premiering previous iterations of it that involved a more traditional concert setting. I intend it to be the first of a series of audiovisual pieces that perform similar reinterpretations of other classical composers.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
JCV – Absolutely. The efforts of ITSLIQUID are completely organized, professional and multifaceted. I believe that do positively contribute to providing critical exposure to artists all over the world. It’s been a wonderful pleasure for me collaborating with you for this exhibition.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
JCV – Very much, and I certainly hope to keep doing so in the future!
LC – What are your suggestions about our services? Is there something more we can provide to artists?
JCV – Specially for artists that are abroad in times of Covid, it would be fantastic having a short video overview of the exhibition, a virtual tour of sorts dedicated to the artists so they can have an idea on how everything looks like through moving images too.