Guillermo Kuitca at Hauser & Wirth
Mousse Magazine I understand your upcoming exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in London is inspired by Vivant Denon’s novel ‘No Tomorrow’ (1777).
Guillermo Kuitca: Yes. It’s a beautiful novel. I probably stumbled onto it about a year ago, when most of the paintings you see in the exhibition were already done. So it’s not really based on that, it’s just one of those associations between text and images that don’t happen to go in the same direction, but when they cross each other, you find out that they are meant together. I think there is an element of seduction, certain strategies, some mirror-esque, and certain angles that in the novel are quite playful and exquisite. The paintings are not a literal translation of those elements, but I hope they maintain a similar geometric trajectory.
Mousse Magazine: There is also an interesting analogy between the interaction among the four characters in the book and the genealogical structure of your maps.
GK: Absolutely. Actually, as I started reading the novel more carefully, I realized that ‘Les Amants’ by Louise Malle (1958) was vaguely based on ‘No Tomorrow.’ There is also a relationship with the ‘Carte de Tendre’ (‘The Map of Tendre), which was like a blueprint for feelings, emotions and relationships put on a map made in the 17th century. I’m not sure if I want to fill my work with so many references – sometimes I think it doesn’t help, but I agree that these maps represent a connection between people and encounters.
MM: The feelings that emerge from reading the novel are very ambiguous. There is passion involved, but also revenge, hatred, deception, and a general sense of loneliness.
GK: Can’t argue with that. Painting, after all, is a solitary activity. It’s as if both the artist and the viewer are on a mission. Artist’s have historically been loners at the moment of creation, but I think the viewer is too at the moment of fruition. Photography, at least for me, offers a very different kind of experience. There is a certain consensus about what you are looking at in a photo that you don’t get in a painting. I think painting embodies a degree of solitude per se that it bigger than in other media.
MM: Which probably brings us to why some people have problems with the idea of paintings being made by assistants and not by the artist. They almost feel as it if breaks a pre-established code.
GK: So you think it’s not strictly about market-driven repetition or authorship, it’s about the fact that it represents a betrayal in a personal relationship. I like that theory. I don’t know, I always felt that standing in front of a painting provides a particularly private, personal relationship to which other people don’t have access at all. We don’t know what the person is thinking or what he or she is looking at.
MM: Do you think this awareness of the viewer is something that can be traced to your theater background?
GK: It’s possible. Many years ago, when I was doing theater, I experimented with rotation from the stage to the audience, thinking that the actual drama was where the public was and where the actors were. Maybe what stemmed from that experience was a renewed awareness of the viewer.
MM: How did the transition from theatre to art take place?
GK: It happened naturally. I started painting when I was very young. Theater somehow happened in between. I found that painting was a bit limited, and theater was a very open creative platform – it almost felt as if everything was possible. But then I found out it was the opposite. At the time I wasn’t really doing any stage design, though. I was more involved with the acting and the writing. My connection with theater wasn’t visual in a conventional way. There was never a transition. Painting was always there, it was always in my roots. Theater was something I embraced at some point as a bit of a lifesaver, but eventually I decided I could swim in those waters, and I let it go. I guess the idea of working with city plans from the very beginning was probably my way to stay connected to the theater while getting all the freedom I needed to do painting. Maps are a very attractive subject. They are so rich and yet so abstract and concrete.
MM: You mentioned the works in the show are from the past two years. What do you think ties them together?
GK: Well, the option of having the show in two gallery spaces that are not connected was good for me because as I was working on two separate bodies of work, I didn’t have to make any sort of links between them. I’m sure there are some, but they don’t have to be forced. In the south gallery, the works are made in graphite and are based on marble flooring plans, mostly from the 18th century. They look very fragmented and classic, but also very futuristic. The north gallery is more about the works we were talking about earlier on – maps and large paintings. They look like modernist topography because in some there is a bit of a Cubist feel to it. I wasn’t thinking about this, it was totally subconscious. The lines on top of it are like highway lines. They are fragmented but fluid. In the past I used to have names, numbers. Over time I started to get rid of all these elements and work with a form of cartography that doesn’t have geographical and political references.
MM: The structure of the exhibition, with two adjacent galleries not directly connected to each other, seems to reflect the fragmented nature of your maps as well.
GK: Yes. It wasn’t planned or anything, but it works fine.