Bibi Calderaro interviewed by Rossana Martinez

The following interview was published on MINUS SPACE in December 2003 in conjunction with Bibi Calderaro’s spotlight exhibition.


Rossana Martinez: Faith, fertility, atoms, soul, and emptiness are some of the things you mention in your statement. I am curious to know what faith means to you in your work? What does fertility mean in your work?


Bibi Calderaro: The idea that forms carry an inner balance, strength, and the potential for provoking thoughts and feelings is neither new nor original. Some call it spirituality in art, and I guess the term “faith” is closely related to these concepts. Faith to me is informed by tons of micro and macro pieces of information that shape our individual systems of belief. Faith does not need a group of reference in order to exist; it is not related to any particular religion or creed.

In my current body of work, faith is the hope that some plastic pieces, when arranged and assembled in a particular way, will direct the viewer’s attention to a set of beliefs that will enable feedback, transformation, and change. This process — or any in which one’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences are not left inert — will occur not only within one specific realm of experience, but hopefully beyond it. This is what I recognize as communication.

Fertility in my work is deeply related to the above; it is the possibility for this transformation to occur.

I would say that faith is in the mind of the beholder, while fertility is in the piece itself. Both forces need to be there in order for some change (communication, dialogue, etc.) to occur and be sensed. Both terms also carry a strong acknowledgement of the other, a concept that I believe is deeply neglected and existing in oblivion.

In a broader sense, faith is the mental forces involved in the development of the complex set of ideas that we call contemporary art practices. The whole of contemporary life, as we perceive it, involves faith as well.

[Whenever I think of faith, the image of plants comes to mind. Mostly trees…how they stay upright. I guess it is the same in us — how we grow upwards against gravity, even how we evolved into homo erectus. Although these are physical forces and faith is a mental force, I think the image still applies, since there exists some kind of will to be that is certainly embodied. No matter how dark the future appears to be, life expresses itself in spite of humankind’s past and present efforts to destroy it. The words “construct” and “destruct” both carry the root word “struct” (as in structure) to which the prefixes “con-” (build/erect) or “de-” (annihilate/unmake) are added.]


RM: How did these abstract concepts become physical objects?


BC: It is hard for me to say which really came first. I think they were first physical objects, from which the abstract concepts sprang and then, in turn, transformed the physical objects. This process happened more than once and in multiple directions while I developed the work. There is a lot of back and forth in my practice.


RM: I know you move between video, installation, photography, etc. How did you determine which materials to use? How do each of these media relate to the other?


BC: In this particular body of work, I liked the idea of using banal, colorful, readily-available acrylic pieces. I think it strengthens the idea of the unavoidability of faith in every set of ideas and mental constructions.

I use various media to disguise my ultimate goal of deconstructing and exposing its particularities. I do this in order to acknowledge the systems of belief that sustain the specific medium, while inviting the beholder’s imagination to come forth and complete the pieces. This is something I don’t usually think about while working, but which is common to all my work no matter which medium I use.


RM: Your “Structures of Faith” were created over the past two years. How did your concept evolve during this time?


BC: In the beginning the idea of faith was not expressly present, although, in some ways, it was the only thing that glued the work together. I recognize, however, that I owe to the birth of my daughter not only the genesis of this project, but the inevitable push of that life force. At first the pieces were intended to be toys, with which my daughter could develop abstract concepts while playing with shapes and colors. After I realized they were my toys, they remained the same in form, but I suddenly didn’t know what to do with them.

They were not articulated with pins, but were just temporary forms held together by gravitational forces and tensions. They stayed like this for about a year until it became clear to me that I wanted the viewer to be able to handle the pieces. So I had to develop a way of keeping the pieces together on their own, otherwise it would have been frustrating rather than “fertilizing” for the viewer. At this stage it also became clear to me that the work as a whole was about male and female forces — how they interact and push one another. Thus, the pins and the shapes were developed accordingly as male and female parts that related to one another. It could also be said that the structures are about life and death and the transformation that occurs therein. I see the whole body of work as still in progress, and I want to explore further the scale, as well as the methods for standing and implementing the structures at various sites — institutions, public spaces, etc.

As for the video, my footage had been sitting around for two years without any ideas on how to edit it. One day, while rewinding the footage, I realized that I wanted the whole thing moving in fast forward. At that moment, it became clear to me how my artistic process can mature, develop, and change over time without consciously being influenced by the outside world.

Additionally, I am thankful for my garden and to the philosopher Gilles Deleuze for revealing to me the metaphor of weeds. Weeds grow underground, without our noticing, until they materialize one day as green subversive beings. The system that sustains things underground is nurtured by faith as well.


RM: I know you were born in the US, but raised in Argentina. I can’t help but think of the incredible and rich history of abstract, Concrete, and Neo-Concrete art in South America. I am specifically thinking of artists, such as the Brazilians Hélio Oiticia, Lygia Clark, and Lygia Pape, as well as the Venezuelan Gego, among others. Do you see yourself as a participant in this tradition?


BC: I hope so. Of course I think I am strongly influenced by them, and I hope that my work is reflecting upon contemporary issues, as well as rethinking paradigms set forth by them. I do see similarities in methodology, such as the use of elements like leisure, pleasure, and tactile/bodily experiences. I also believe that art is not there to illustrate, represent, or denounce the outside world, but rather to bring about different ways of exploring and experiencing it, both mentally and physically. I also use language as a creative medium and the idea of spirituality.


RM: The way you phrased your statement on the site is reminiscent of a concrete poem. Additionally, the spoken language you included in your “Structures of Faith” video is very abstract. Can you discuss how you use language?


BC: Language is the first tool we are given to mediate with this world. It is passed on to us, mostly through our mothers (thus the term “mother tongue”). To me language is one of the most fertile media available. I not only use it as it is given to us, but I like to invent words and structures, again following the tradition of Concrete and Neo-Concrete artists.

In the case of my statement, it is one of a series that I began in 1998 when I realized that language was as creative an element as any other medium I was working with. For this reason I do not follow the format of a traditional statement — providing answers or explaining ways of responding to a piece. Instead, I use this opportunity to add a new dimension to the work while revealing certain clues about a particular work. My statements are shaped more in the form of a poem, in which I may invent words or use other ways to trigger the viewer’s imagination.

In my video I start by using words to state an idea. Then the words become a list suggesting urban architectural constructions while questioning the relationship between words and their meanings. For the video, I also decided to have the text (in English) read by someone with a strong immigrant accent, thereby adding another dimension that points to post-/neo-colonialism issues.


RM: Finally, you intend the viewer to handle and manipulate your small plastic structures. How important is the viewer’s participation in your installations? What would you like the viewer to experience when handling your structures?


BC: In all of my work, the viewer’s participation is very important. In some pieces participation is less overt and simply used to trigger mental processes like imagination. In other works, such as my plastic structures, participation involves actual touching. In either case, the degree of involvement on the part of the viewer is not important, as long as the piece initiates a transformation in the viewer’s mindset from when he/she first arrived to the site of the work.

In summary I want these structures to work in the same way rosaries do — as pocket-sized, jewelry-like objects one keeps in the hands while the mind is utterly still — no actions, thoughts, or feelings. I believe this vacuum can be a fertile ground, in which to transform experiences, perceptions, and attitudes towards the world.