A Conversation with Grimanesa Amorós
Lilly Wei: One of the reasons your work has been so successful is that it has so many points of entry, that there are so many ways to approach your projects.
Grimanesa Amorós: Yes, there are, although it took me a while to realize how multidisciplinary my work is, how it touched so many different areas like architecture, landscape, sculpture, graphic design, light, theater, environmental sciences, physics, new technologies and so forth.
Wei: Would you discuss the connection between art, science and nature in your work?
Amorós: My work would not be possible without science, without the technology I use for my lighting sequences. But it is nature that inspires me, that makes me look at things differently. I want to share the tremendous impact that nature has on me and the best way for me to do that is to integrate technology and nature. I want to communicate what I see in as universal a way as possible to my viewers, an audience that is global.
Wei: Were you influenced by artists such as Dan Flavin, James Turrell, Keith Sonnier or perhaps Yayoi Kusama? Your sense of theater and the kind of immersion and interactivity you create differ, but you have in common installations that combine architecture and light.
Amorós: I wouldn’t say I was influenced by those artists, although I always do research since it’s crucial to know what’s out there. But I find my own way and develop my own language. In order to do that, I want to know what other artists are doing—and not do that.
Wei: The source for much of your work of the past two or three years has been Lake Titicaca, on the border between Peru and Bolivia and the floating islands of the Uros, an indigenous tribe that pre-dates the Incas who ignored it as too insignificant and then outlasted that great empire. It all sounds so ingenious, the islands lashed together by bundles of totora (a cattail-like reed) in a blue lake in the high Andes, and so poetic. You said the lake is the highest in the world?
Amorós: Yes, at least the highest lake that is commercially navigable. It has waves, and bubbles and sea foam, like the sea on the coast where I grew up. I especially wanted to show this work in Israel since for me, there are so many connections. One of them is that I’ve wanted to go to both places since I was sixteen, but my father wouldn’t let me go to Israel then. It was a sacred site for me. I also wanted to see Lake Titicaca since it is also considered a sacred site in Peru and it was important for me to know my own country in depth but somehow, something always prevented the trip. I had been all over the world but not Israel and not Lake Titicaca. Two years ago, in early 2010, I decided it was time. So I went to Puno. On the coast where Lima is, it was summer but in the Andes, it was still cold and inclement. However, I was lucky. It had rained for two weeks but stopped for the time I was there. The weather was perfect and so clear that I could see Bolivia in the distance.
Wei: It was destiny.
Amoros: Yes, I think it was. And I had to go. It’s a vanishing civilization, the environment has destabilized and the islands are disappearing. There are now about 42 of them left, and the Uros themselves number only 400 or so and are aging. The younger Uros all leave for the cities.
Wei: Don’t the islands require a great effort to maintain?
Amorós: Yes, they have to be constantly rebuilt by adding layer upon layer of new totora reeds over the layers that are rotting. I spent some time with the Uros on one of the floating islands and I was fascinated by the interiors of their dwellings. Uros House, which I made for Times Square, was based on them, with the light pulsing from the inside, as if it were breathing. I would like to make another Uros House in the future, one that is possible to enter. And I also wanted to capture the sunset and the sunrise on video. On one side there is the sunset and on the other you can see the sunrise; it’s really amazing to watch.
Wei: Would you describe what you will show in Light between the Islands, your Tel Aviv exhibition?
Amorós: I plan on showing the domes that represent the floating totora islands: one very large, one less so and the rest will be small. The interiors are illuminated and programmed so that the light is always changing, as light does in reality. And patterns that resemble the totora reeds are silkscreened onto them. I don’t know exactly how I will place them since my work is site-specific. Then there will be Miranda, a new video for the project room. I’m working in collaboration with Ivri Lider, a wonderful composer and one of Israel’s best pop musicians. He’s creating the soundtrack. I like to work collaboratively.
Wei: You said there would be a screen in the gallery window?
Amoros: Yes, it will be a drawing based on totora reeds which I scanned into the computer and vectorized. It is also lighted and at night, I thought of it as a way to draw people into the space, like a bridge between outside and inside, as an interesting way to link the two. I also thought of the [pedestrian] bridge that is immediately outside the gallery. My theme is always about layers of connections, about different ways to integrate my exhibitions. I am also going to use the niches in the gallery. They are elongated, trapezoidal, and similar to niches in Macchu Picchu. So again, it’s about Israel and Peru.
Wei: Will you be exploring Lake Titicaca and the Uros islands as a theme much longer?
Amorós: The show in Israel might be the last project based on them, at least for a time.
Wei: What are some other parallels between Israel and Lake Titicaca?
Amorós: They are both endangered zones, symbolic zones. But I don’t want to make a sociopolitical statement. I’d like the viewers to see what they can see, what they can discover. Most importantly, I want there to be something in my work that engages everyone, the ordinary viewer as well as the initiates, the intellectuals. When Uros House was installed in Times Square, for instance, I was so thrilled by all the wildly imaginative comments. They made me smile.
Wei: What does light signify to you?
Amorós: After working with many different mediums, I felt that light added the magic, the engagement and the clarity that I was looking for. I am inspired by natural light, whether it is the sunrise over the Uros Islands or the light of the south of France. Light is mysterious and allows me to tell my story with more profundity. The lighting sequence in each piece is customized and each shade of color, each transition is carefully engineered and unique to each sculpture and location. It allows me to share with the viewer my interpretation of light. My work is also very personal, its references often biographical. It is also organic, biomorphic, and different from the light installations of many male artists whose forms are almost always strictly geometric. Growing up in Peru, for instance, the sunsets and sunrises were always very rich in color. I want to share that richness. For me, light makes the piece come alive, makes it move, breathe. It took me years to figure out how to do it—I’m especially grateful for the new LEDs—but now light is an essential, inseparable component of my work.
Wei: Since you have so many requests, how do you decide on what projects to do?
Amorós: It’s basically if my schedule permits and if the location, the history, the people attract me, if they are interesting. If so, I’m there. I work all over the world but I work project by project and am intensely focused. Right now, it’s all about Israel. I’m going to Israel at last.