Leopoldo Estol – Laboratory Art

Buenos Aires, June 2005.

He is very young (born in 1981) and represents a new generation of artists who seem to have come out of a Salinger’s tale, going around with their cap in big, thin, and existentialist pants. In his recent show “Parque” (“Park”) at Ruth Benzacar, he filled the room with Coca Cola bottles, milk containers, laboratory lamps, and tupperware, and caused absolute bewilderment in the audience. He was selected for the arteBA Petrobrás Award for visual arts for his work “Enfante” (“Infant”) which is now being exhibited at the Art Fair. Laura Batkis interviewed him to try to understand part of what is coming in today’s art world.

Laura Batkis (LB): You know that people see your works and don’t understand anything. 

Leopoldo Estol: Yes, I know. But it seems to me that understanding is not the right way to approach my work. This show is much more sensual than people think. 

LB: Tell me what is sensual for you. 

LE: Coca Cola bottles cut in half, shampoos, the experimentation table that is full of mixtures and very particular smells. Also, the shapes of the objects or the lighting. I use mixed light lamps, the ones used in gardens or in the street. You can’t stare at them because they saturate you. 

LB: They provide a sense of surgical asepsis. How do you set up your installations? 

LE: These last two years, I started to work with everyday images and objects that are around me. These things refer to very specific situations. For example, when there is just a little bit left of Coca Cola in the bottle. It’s a very concrete image, loaded with a whole circumstance. When you open the fridge and you see a lot of Coca Cola bottles that only have a little bit of drink left at the bottom, it’s very unpleasant; it’s hot, and it’s flat. 

LB: What reaction would you like your work to produce?

LE: The idea is to take scenes that are very distant from one another, that are on the verge of having nothing to do with one another. I try to see if during the month that an exhibition lasts, all these things together make sense.

LB: Things are accumulated all over the room in an apparent mess.

LE: But there is a very precise arrangement. I choose a lot of objects and define which relationships of all these objects interest me. Once I have those two things, all that is left is to find a place to put each thing. The place where the crackers are couldn’t be any other but next to the two empty sinks.

LB: A visitor comes up and asks you to give him a hint to enter your show, what would you say? 

LE: It’s a question of attitude. I would ask him to be relaxed. I am aware that there are many objects, many things, but I would like that person to focus on five or ten details that have caught his attention, that have made him think or remember something, even if it is not something important. 

LB: What is your intention when you choose an image or a relationship between things?

LE: In general, the images I usually call on are quite banal.

LB: Point me to a scene that appeals to you 

LE: One that works like a mathematical operation: the table, above it there is a jack that pushes up towards the ceiling a pile of VHS videos, a format that is on the verge of extinction – in two years it will all be DVDs. They are compressed into a column. The table on which this rests consists of two tables held by 10 Kinder Eggs, those chocolate eggs with surprise toys inside. It’s not the chocolate that holds the table but the plastic capsule inside, where the little toy is. It is a very rare operation, the cricket pushes up and makes the wood go down, the wood yields crushing the chocolate as far as the plastic surprise allows. 

LB: An absurd operation. 

LE: For me, the absurd is a very broad domain in which there are a lot of relationships between objects that have not yet been thought of. That is the stuff that interests me in people’s heads. There are relationships that we make every day, which are functional and serve for daily life. All these objects that I include can be subjected to that order that we use in everyday life. And that’s where the questions come in: in the contrast of those two orders.

LB: What kind of questions?

LE: Not very important ones, but all together and in this landscape of details, they start to work and get stronger. I write down situations in a notebook, very powerful images and I try them out. This way I gather the ideas for a show. For example, the stove under a table, “heat in the center of a table;” it doesn’t make you think about anything, but then when all those shifts in meaning begin to accumulate, that stove, the column of VHS, that’s where the logical universe of my work begins to unfold. It doesn’t aim to close off meaning but to open up the reading possibilities without a defined function. It’s like visual dyslexia. When you feel that you are entering the rhythm of the work, it is cut off. And it starts again.

LB: They are relationships from your private world, from your creative imagination. 

LE: Yes, I find a function for them in this universe, which is not utilitarian in the modern sense. I establish what is useful for this universe. 

LB: Describe a moment when you find an image or formulate a relationship between two things. 

LE: Mineral water bottles. I went to dance at a rave where people consume ecstasy and need to drink water so as not to become dehydrated. At those parties, I saw very large accumulations of water bottles. Days later in the same week I see a similar image, but in a different context. On the internet, images of a tsunami and hundreds of bottles of water to help the victims. The idea obsessed me aesthetically. Why does this image repeat itself in such different contexts? And I created a third place to house that accumulation of water. That’s how the half-ton of water bottles I put in this exhibition came about. 

LB: Do you make the final design of a show during the setting up process?

LE: Yes, in “Parque” (“Park”) I had two weeks to occupy the space; I had to think about the circulation of the people. 

LB: Don’t you think that the experimental art proposals were exhausted with the avant-garde movements of the last century? 

LE: No, for me there are things from Dadaism that are worth taking up again at any time. Objects that were commonplace at that time are now a museum date. Artists like Duchamp or Schwitters give me concrete tools. Moving things out of context is an operation that I use all the time and that somehow I inherit from these people, but I cannot avoid raising doubts based on my cultural consumption, which is inevitably that of today. They can’t be exhausted because I go back to making proposals that they worked on that can awaken similar things or not. I think artists periodically ask themselves questions about similar things. It’s the spirit of the times. 

LB: Can you repeat a show?

LE: No, because each one responds to the space in which I install it and to my interests at that moment.

LB: How would you avoid entering the market demand? 

LE: I would love to enter the market demand; it would give me more means to work with. I don’t worry too much about whether my work in a collection is representative or not. The meaning of my work is disputed in exhibitions, not in collections. Keeping the freedom to be the manager of my own style, if I need to repeat myself I do it. I don’t mind as long as it gives me more resources to develop my next project.

LB: Do you take the audience into account?

LE: All the time. Not only do I have to define how my work is going to be, but also how the audience will walk through it.

LB: This has something of art as a laboratory. 

Yes, the idea of a laboratory always fascinated me. It’s even something that artists I like and follow work on, such as Thomas Hirschhorn. I saw his work (“Critical Laboratory”) in the Jumex collection show at Malba last year, and I was very impressed by how he puts together such a theoretical discourse with such low resources. Other artists that interest me are the Argentines Diego Bianchi, Pablo Siquier, Jorge Macchi, Marcelo Pombo, Suscripción, and Eduardo Navarro. From Grippo, there are very specific things that interest me. In my show, the watermelon with batteries inside is an absurd wink to his work with potatoes.

LB: People who enter your show start to have bodily sensations because of the cold of the fan, the smell of orange juice in a jug, the light effects, the music…

LE: It’s about entering another atmosphere. There are things that are uncomfortable; I could not think of a show where everything was pleasant to the audience because I seek to create a universe that has broad values, from cold to heat and so on. In the sound I did what in the world of dj’s is called a back to back, a kind of confrontation between two massive artists with compilations of their hits. I chose Beethoven and Paul Oakenfold because of the schematic nature of the opposition.

LB: What is sold? 

LE: Installation photos. They are not registers of the objects but of the punctual relationships between objects that I’m interested in. Putting them all together, these photos can enter again into the logic of the installation of this show, ”Parque.” 

LB: Tell me about your idea of entering the home of your buyers

LE: I would like to work in collectors’ houses. The idea of collection already implies a very arbitrary order, by trend, by generation. I would go to a house to install a “rearrangement” from their objects and others that I would take. 

LB: Facts for an Estol Biography

LE: Leopoldo Estol was born in Buenos Aires in 1981. He studied Art History at the University of Buenos Aires, and attended the workshops of Martín Kovensky, Pablo Siquier and Jorge Macchi. Since 2003 he has been part of Guillermo Kuitca’s Workshop Program with his project “Tupperware,” which can be seen on the Web. Last year he presented “Tempranos intereses personales” (“Early Personal Interests”) at the Alberto Sendrós Gallery. This year, the Ruth Benzacar gallery’s season began with “Parque.” He was selected for the Petrobrás Award for his work “Enfante”, which is exhibited at arteBA 2005. He lives in Flores, likes Peruvian food, Wes Anderson’s movies, and electronic music.

LB: Estol by Orly Benzacar, his marchand

“He is a very young, free artist who is exploring and is part of this stage of his production. This show implies the challenge of anyone who dares to move this proposal to a corner of their house. It is difficult to find someone in Argentina today who dares to do something like this, but I do not rule it out. It’s hard to imagine because the Argentine public is very conservative. In my house I have a mural of Siquier and a projector hanging permanently projecting art videos, and I like to live with that. Besides, it is educational, I hold many social meetings -it is part of my work- and I bring people closer to living with contemporary art in a house.