Visual artist Almanza Pereda on materiality through objects in his work

The Mexican artist employs domestic objects and florescent lights in his satirical art installations referencing Dutch still-life painting tradition and surrealism.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Feb 19, 2022

Living in Mexico and United States of America, Almanza Pereda became interested in the idea of perceived danger and risk owing to the very distinct environments of the two countries. His large scale installation art utilises everyday objects that are easily recognisable. Pereda challenges the conceptual contexts of these objects and often their physicality by presenting them in unexpected environments like underwater. A sense of tension, fragility, transience, and satire – all at play in his works.

Spare the rod spoil the child, 2012. Fluorescent light bulbs and various objects; dimensions variable, Almanza Pereda | STIRworld
Spare the rod spoil the child, 2012. Fluorescent light bulbs and various objects; dimensions variable Image: Almanza Pereda

The use of fluorescent lights is a recurring theme in his recent light installation works. “I started experimenting on materials and objects like fluorescent lights in order to push their physicality to its limit. In the other word, it is to challenge our ideas of these familiar objects,” he says. The underwater photography series has its inspirations from Dutch still-life paintings and yet they are layered with the idea of surrealism, and often satire. “…if you do not take it with humour and satire, do not make art,” he says.

I speak with the contemporary artist on his practice and ongoing projects.

Rahul Kumar: You use vintage objects collected from flea markets and thrift stores. How do you use the mundane to express the duality of fragility and strength?

Almanza Pereda: Our first encounter with objects is in a domestic space. We learn how to interact with them. We learn if they are heavy, fragile, or if we can hit, roll and bounce them. We learn that some specific objects can be dangerous for us or valuable for other people. So, I try to use objects that have history and mainly some aesthetics that bring some nostalgia. We learn that, for instance, a light bulb is fragile and, then, live with this idea for all our lives. But, in another aspect of the fact the light bulb can structurally deal with a lot of pressure, depending how it is applied. These dichotomies intrigue me.

Carry on the carry on, 2021, Underwater photography. Archival inkjet print on cotton paper, Almanza Pereda  | STIRworld
Carry on the carry on, 2021,Underwater photography. Archival inkjet print on cotton paper Image: Alejandro Almanza Pereda and Lehmann+Silva Gallery

Rahul: Further, how does materiality with objects like the neon-lights add to your narrative? How does it come together in your large-scale sculptures?

Almanza Pereda: They are actually not neon lights. They are mass-produced fluorescent lights for consumer use. It is an important distinction since they are objects that people are familiar with. People are aware of its properties like they are brittle and can explode if mishandled. Also, though it is a lesser-known fact that they contain mercury and toxic chemicals.

Fragility and toxicity in their characteristic resulting in people cautiously handle the tube, is important to be recognised since they are connotations which are significant in how I use them as material. I started experimenting on materials and objects like fluorescent lights in order to push their physicality to its limit. In the other word, it is to challenge our ideas of these familiar objects. One of my earlier artworks was a solid block of concrete cast on top of some incandescent light bulbs. Although I did not make any scientific calculations on this work, I just tried it out as the same way as the fluorescent bulbs. I put a cinder block on top, and they did not break. I put two, and they were still intact. Then, I put three of them…and they were still there. I did not continue. I stopped. It is not because I was afraid of the bulbs breaking. I stopped because I did not want to know what was the limit of their resistance. This lack of my knowledge enthused me for building the sculptural art  on site.

The dilapidated pillars of society, 2021, pallet jack, pallet, iron heater, limestone capital, engineering book, and carrara concrete figure, Almanza Pereda | STIRworld
The dilapidated pillars of society, 2021, pallet jack, pallet, iron heater, limestone capital, engineering book, and carrara concrete figure Image: Almanza Pereda

A light bulb needs electricity to fulfill its function. I find this similar to any material that need their atomic structures bounded by electrons. As columns of a building or steel cables of a bridge, they always exist in streets by physical forces. I think the light that emits the tubes in my light-art work is the force that keep everything together.

Sticks and Stones N.4, 2015, concrete, bust, table, driftwood, brass, fluorescent light bulb, and found objects, Almanza Pereda| STIRworld
Sticks and Stones N.4, 2015, concrete, bust, table, driftwood, brass, fluorescent light bulb, and found objects Image: Almanza Pereda

Rahul: The aesthetics of your imagery straddles the Dutch still-life painting tradition and surrealism. How do you expect your viewers to ‘consume’ your work that has multitude of layers?

Almanza Pereda: I could say all of my work is basically still-life. Objects, materials, domestic settings, balance, and time are all with their own meanings and conceptions. It may be seen closely as surreal intentions but it is based on real facts. I think my approach is simple and straightforward. I am happy that any person who acknowledges materiality will understand my work. Of course, it has more layers with some personal narratives and that may make it more of conceptual art .

The constraint of the restrainer, 2016, Archival Pigment Print, Almanza Pereda | STIRworld
The constraint of the restrainer, 2016, Archival Pigment Print Image: Almanza Pereda

Rahul: Is there satire/humour at play, especially with your under-water series? Is it tedious to stage photographs under the water? ...and why under water, and why upside down?

Almanza Pereda: Always!... if you do not take it with humour and satire, do not make art.

Being a sculptor, gravity can be your friend or enemy. Sometimes it is good or sometimes it is bad, but you always need to deal with it. Carrying and using heavy objects, especially concrete, I have started to yearn for an antigravity device or even a better place with different physical laws. So, I started thinking of sculpture in space, like something that I may not be able to do now, but in future generations it would become possible. Then, I began to think about structures underwater. It was so liberating since you can create architectural structures that are not possible in our environment. I guess the thought comes from watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series and Jaques Cousteu documentaries.

Face ao caracter racional dos acontecimeintos que justicam tal protocolo, 2021, Gantry, chandeliers, concrete blocks, wood, chain hoists and rigging equipment, Almanza Pereda | STIRworld
Face ao caracter racional dos acontecimeintos que justicam tal protocolo, 2021, Gantry, chandeliers, concrete blocks, wood, chain hoists and rigging equipment Image: Alejandro Almanza Pereda and Lehmann+Silva Gallery

I do not think there is any tedious moment in art making. Well…other than all administrative work, writing email, and sometimes giving interviews. But, there is lots of frustration, difficult and heartbreaking moments, although all the ‘struggling’ feeling go away when you have slightest success of an idea working. It has been 16 years since I started working on my underwater series. Working in different medias/conditions where you cannot breathe or move normally is pretty challenging. Also, doing so you need to control and manage the space. So, I started working in small aquariums, jacuzzis, houses with pools, to the 27-cubic-meters tank with an inverted periscope system built at my studio. Personally, I find the underwater work more interesting when included with a part of the building and tanks, and all of it is behind the scenes, than the piece itself or the completed work.

Upside down? Well, isn’t interesting just to flip things to see how it goes?

Almanza Pereda | STIRworld
Artist Almanza Pereda Image: Courtesy of Almanza Pereda

Rahul: In your recent sculptural installations, you have contrasted the idea of perceived risk in built structures of Mexico vs. USA. What are the deeper ideas that you attempt to express through this metaphor?

Almanza Pereda: Actually, my work started when I was living in the border between El Paso, TX, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. I lived in Ciudad Juarez while going to art school in El Paso. With two different realities, one was one of the safest cities of United States and the other one is still one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America. In general, risk perceptions are quite varied between the two countries, societies, cultures, and times.

I am glad to have experienced these differences between two nearby locations at an early age of art making. I can say that both could be a reality of one’s life. Being in a dangerous environment is not at all good for obvious reasons. But it makes you more resilient and adaptive. Life has to carry on. On the other hand, in a super safe environment one not only thrives but is also less attentive to his surroundings. Meanwhile, under the social environment that almost guarantees your safety, you are more paranoid of ideas of dangers, in another words, fear.

06 mins watch Alejandro's interview for exhibition Everything but the Kitchen Sank at Walter and McBean Galleries, SFAI | Almanza Pereda | STIRworld
Almanza Pereda's interview for exhibition Everything but the Kitchen Sank at Walter and McBean Galleries, SFAI Video: Almanza Pereda

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