Interview: Alexandre Canonico

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Canonico's studio, 2020.

Interview: Alexandre Canonico


12 January 2021

Artist Alexandre Canonico interviewed by Programme Curator Séamus McCormack about the work selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2020 and his wider practice.

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Gulp!, 2019. Webbing strap, steel tubes, screws and steel washer. 370 x 405 x 190 cm

How does the titling of the works, allow for a particular reading, I am particularly thinking here of the onomatopoeic Gulp! and the addition of the exclamation mark in the title of this work, is this a way of creating a specific reaction from the viewer?

I wanted to be true to the onomatopoeic use in comics’ speech balloons, used in this context to illustrate a feeling of suspension, surprise, fear, anticipation or discomfort. This large and empty structure, precariously held by the leaning tubes evokes both an oversized speech balloon and a freestanding billboard. This work was first shown in Brazil in 2019 and Gulp! sounds a bit like golpe (coup d’état) in Portuguese so there was this circumstantial reference to the empty, loud and precariously held discourse of the far-right. Gulp! is quite a unique example in my work of a title engaging with an external narrative.

I have some untitled works, others have descriptions which in a way are just another kind of untitled (e.g. Black Strap and Washers [25m, 9S, 7L]). Here, the title just points back to the work, the parts, it doesn’t bring anything from the outside. Sometimes the titling is found for the work, either during the making thus informing and/or directing the process or, as is the case with Gulp! after it’s been made. For me, titling work has to bring some air, create some space for the work and provide multiple entry points.

Have your studies in architecture had an influence on your current practice, perhaps through your use of industrial or construction materials, and the juxtaposition of surfaces and layers?

It has certainly influenced my choice of materials and the way the works are made by putting things together, always made up of parts. Also, in the way I look at things, how things get flattened into drawings and how these drawings unfold into things. Most materials I use come from hardware stores, and the colours are from a palette found in building sites and urban spaces. The orange of road barriers; the yellow of tools; the red of road signs; the blue, pink and green that scaffolding companies use to mark elements; and the white, yellow, green, blue and red of road markings.

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Canonico's studio, 2020.

From the works selected there seems to be repeated motifs of voids and cutaways, evident through using line to create shapes and the removal of elements. What is the work’s relationship between the visible and the subtracted?

Something that has always interested me is the capacity of things to hold a certain space around themselves, their gravitational pull or their ‘personal’ bubble. The space in between works and how far they expand outside of their own boundaries have always been a key consideration, so bringing this empty space into the work is a way to point to the outside of the work. For instance, the wall inside and outside of the strap in Gulp! is the same, but might be perceived differently when contained in the work, and I hope this invites some sort of contemplation of what is or not the work. It is also a way to make the work more translucent, to stick it back into the world.

In works such as Glow Hole and Nesting, your use of spray paint and use of block colours lends it self to the language of colour field abstraction, what is the works relationship to painting?

The introduction of paint is a fairly recent addition to my practice. Previously, the colour was always from the raw materials. The spray paint found its way in as a marking device, first in the Dig series (Dig#7 also selected for New Contemporaries). In this series, I mark masking tape pieces which are then removed to create nodes around which a line is drawn with a hand held router. These works, which I refer to as paintings, are made in a process of removal, more commonly associated with a sculptural gesture.

Colours are mostly flat and often applied to different parts and cut-outs. Holes, voids and cuts between them make their three-dimensionality apparent - their ‘thing-like’ quality. This colour of one element next to the other, potentially playing beyond the flatness is common in colour field abstraction. They can be seen as painting, but they are also thin sculptures (or sculptural reliefs). They are structurally interdependent and can be taken apart, their impermanence also interests me. I like to think they sit in this space between sculpture/painting. The introduction of colour and a nod towards figuration added a certain space in how the work can be perceived. It seems that a new set of words started to be used to talk about them. Words relating to emotions and intensity. They seem less ‘solvable’, a bit warmer than some of my earlier works.

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Fountain, 2020. MDF, spray paint. 31.5 x 36 cm.

Our current context has brought upon particular viewing conditions for artists’ ’works, meaning that often works that are not digitally native have been pushed through this lens of our screens. As an artist who has an interest in materiality, can you comment on how your work being viewed in alternative ways might change how it is read, or indeed may change how you approach making?

I think seeing my work on a screen is always a compromise. On the positive side there is the possibility of reaching more and further viewers and to quantify the views, also this way of looking, can emphasise specific viewpoints and/or juxtapositions ,juxtapositions. However, the screen is an airless (non) space, it is either the work or something else - a different image or a different window on your browser. There is no approaching or looking away, no reflections or echoes in the space around and therefore experience becomes restricted. Having said that, there are works that can travel more successfully into the digital realm. Glow Hole and Nesting work well as digital images, better than Dig#7 I think, but they do loose some of their ‘thing’ quality, the imperfections of the surfaces, the scratches and marks. Everything gets flattened out when it becomes a digital image. I don’t think that, for now anyway, this shift to the digital will affect my approach to making, I’m still making things and want them to be experienced as such but it is a happy coincidence that some of the more recent works can perform more comfortably just as images.

Alexandre Canonico: BNC2020 Artist Page