Yuan Space Museum interview by Kevin Holden Platt

Kevin Holden Platt: It seems you are perpetually in motion, crisscrossing the continents – you have a new sculpture exhibition in Mexico City simultaneously with a video premiere in Beijing.

Grimanesa Amorós: I just finished a new installation outside of Mexico City – this is a very interesting project for me because it involves the World Monuments Fund, which placed the site on its watch list because some of the sculptures there commissioned in 1968 [for the Mexico City Cultural Olympiad] were endangered by the expansion of Mexico City. The Route of Friendship [cultural organization] commissioned me to do one piece inside a work called Tower of the Winds done by another artist. This circular tower has a cupola, and my aim was to create a light sculpture called Huanchaco that would become one with the tower. This sculpture uses the latest lighting technology – it just came out this year – and the sequencing of the lights is very different from previous works – I love this piece. When the exhibition opens, there will be collaboration between the artist and DJs at the site.

Kevin Holden Platt: You grew up in Peru, the land of the Inca Empire and culture – are there any Inca cultural influences on your artworks?

Grimanesa Amorós: Yes, the incredibly bright colors of the Incas – pink and yellow and blue – are all around you, and they get embedded in your mind. I love the language of the Incas and the glow of the gold and all the shine and reflections of Peru. These colors have reemerged in some of my artworks, especially my light installations.


Kevin Holden Platt: Why have you returned to the Uros Islands in a series of sculptures – what is the attraction of Lake Titicaca?

Grimanesa Amorós: I am fascinated with the foam of the Uros, with the constant movement and the wind and the change in the currents of Lake Titicaca. The Uros people live on these floating islands that they create themselves. But now tourism in Peru and to Lake Titicaca – one of the highest lakes in the world – is increasing and affecting the Uros culture. Now a lot of Uros youths want to leave for the cities.


Kevin Holden Platt: Why do the Uros people live on these floating islands that they construct out of reeds and constantly have to maintain rather than live on the land around the lake?

Grimanesa Amorós: That is a good question. The Uros people during the time of the Incas always lived on these islands in the lake, which is so beautiful, and full of magic and mystery.


Kevin Holden Platt: The themes of oceans and islands and odysseys are constantly reemerging in your light installations and your videos – are you on an endless odyssey that is reflected in your artworks?

Grimanesa Amorós: I grew up on the coast of Peru, near the ocean, and have always been fascinated by the horizon line between the sky and the sea. I am always moving and changing, and have always wanted to move to an island.


Kevin Holden Platt: But don’t you live on the island of Manhattan?

Grimanesa Amorós: I mean an island that is quieter than Manhattan and surrounded by nature – I am still looking for that island.


Kevin Holden Platt: Your light installations seem to glow with almost pure joy, but the videos are quite different – when did you start making these short films?

Grimanesa Amorós: I have working on these videos since 2002 – all of the videos are a progression. Basically I didn’t sleep when editing the videos. The filmmaking of the videos is similar to a cinematic style.

The videos are much darker than the installations. I love living life in the moment but we live in a world of opposites, with a tremendous amount of wealth but also a Third World. These videos portray the darker worlds.


Kevin Holden Platt: So far you have immortalized the Uros Islands in your sculptures, but haven’t covered them in your videos. Do you have any plans to return to Lake Titicaca to film the Uros floating island culture?

Grimanesa Amorós: I have never done an art video in Peru, but now I want to film the Uros Islands – I will go back to film in Peru by the end of 2013.


Kevin Holden Platt: What were your impressions when you joined the Venice Biennale’s International Art Exhibition in 2011 as part of the Future Pass show that also brought scores of Asian artists to one of the art world’s most important venues?

Grimanesa Amorós: This was an amazing project in Venice. I created a light sculpture called Uros Island; first I analyzed the lighting and the colors from sunrise to sunset in Venice, and then in Lake Titicaca, and blended these in the installation. The water levels in Venice are constantly changing, and I thought if the whole area got flooded it would look great to see this Uros Island actually floating in Venice. [The organizers of the show quickly nixed that idea.]

It was great being part of this exhibition in Venice with Asian artists. I loved their animated videos – animations have become universal. Now I have started making an animation called Golden Connection, set in the NASCA lines of Peru, and decided to make it after being surrounded by so many animators in Venice. After Venice, the exhibition was set to go to the Wereldmuseum in the Netherlands, and to the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.

Kevin Holden Platt: Earlier this year, you travelled to the Seoul National University Museum of Art in the South Korean capital to mark the opening of an exhibition of a light sculpture titled Aurora – what is the story of this installation and its connection with the colored arcs of light in the Arctic skies?


Grimanesa Amorós: This is a great museum designed by Rem Koolhaas, and I gave an artist talk about my site-specific works around the world at the university before the opening the exhibition, which included my programmed light sculpture Aurora. This was inspired by the Aurora Borealis I was entranced by the Aurora Borealis during a trip to Iceland, and wanted to bring the magic of this aurora to new people through the installation.

Kevin Holden Platt: The United States government set up the Art in Embassies program after the mass destruction of cultures and peoples during the second worldwide war, and the Secretary of State has said that art and artists can play the role of ambassadors to other cultures and continents. Does the Art in Embassies project send your artworks on different tours of countries like the zig-zag travels of diplomats?


Grimanesa Amorós: With the Art in Embassies program, it is the individual ambassador who chooses the artworks that he or she wants to be exhibited at the embassy. Ambassadors are taken to an archive of all the works in Washington. So far two of my works have been placed in embassies – one in Ankara, Turkey, and one in Lima, Peru. Sometimes artworks placed through the program are exhibited in the ambassador’s residence, but it is better in many ways if the public has access to these works. I think it is cool that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing exhibited a Jeff Koons sculpture placed through the program outside the embassy – then it becomes public and everyone can see it. I would like to have the same opportunity in the future.


Kevin Holden Platt: Some contemporary painters and sculptors – like Jeff Koons – work with avant-garde architects to place their works in the renderings or structures of new buildings, especially cultural outposts. Wouldn’t your ever-changing light sculptures fit perfectly with the experimental architecture that has been emerging since Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain? Didn’t you exhibit a sculpture in a commercial Tribeca space in New York opposite a Frank Gehry installation, and do you have plans to team up with any architects in the future?


Grimanesa Amorós: I will be collaborating with David Adjaye to create an installation for a new building he is designing in Manhattan called the Sugar Hill Project. [The London-based David Adjaye, who studied at the Royal College of Art, designed the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and a contemporary art museum in Denver, and is now working on plans for a new Smithsonian museum in Washington.] I will do the piece – a light installation – while the building is under construction. It would be great to collaborate with other architects, especially with Zaha Hadid or Rem Koolhass, to create a piece together.


Kevin Holden Platt: One of your videos – La Procesion – alludes to creation and destruction, to life and death and rebirth in a continuous cycle of change. The Incas of centuries ago believed in reincarnation, and I was wondering if you believe in some form of rebirth?

Grimanesa Amorós: Energy is never destroyed – our essence remains after this life.


Kevin Holden Platt: After the opening of your Huanchaco light sculpture exhibition in Mexico City in October, you are set to touch down in Beijing for the premiere of your video project at the gallery Yuan Space and hold a dialogue with students and scholars at the Central Academy of Fine Arts – where does your odyssey take you afterwards?

Grimanesa Amorós: I would love to do a project in China so I can interact more with the students and artists at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Everyone I have met there – the artists and academy students and instructors – has been so positive. I still don’t know where my odyssey is taking me next – I live intensely in the present moment.