Interviewed by Ann Dingli
On April 13th, Valletta Contemporary (VC) officially opened its doors to the public, inviting viewers to navigate through Territorios Soñados – dreamed territories – a pulsating infrastructure of radiating light, conceived and built by Spanish artist Carlos Coronas. Coronas was born in Avilés, Spain in 1964, and studied Fine Arts at the Salamanca University. He now works in education at the Asturias School of Arts in parallel with his art-making, and has been exhibited at the Asturias Fine Arts Museum, Oviedo, Spain; the LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación, Gijón, Spain; the Seoul Media Art Biennale, South Korea; the Biennale Cuvée, Linz, Austria; and the Centro Cultural Internacional Óscar Niemeyer, Spain.
The structures Coronas has modified for his solo show at VC work to mirror organic processes and force viewers to be aware of their own physicality. In turn, viewers are made to consider the physical traits of the walls around them, the floor beneath their feet, and the materials they are surrounded with. Ann Dingli from VC spoke to Coronas about his work leading up to the show, and the ways in which his dreamed territories relate to a Maltese context.
Ann Dingli (AD): Before we discuss Territorios Soñados, can you talk about how you came to use light in your work. Your early work has been described as chromatically-focused – how did colour progress into luminosity?
Carlos Coronas (CC): I have always been interested in the integration of the work with the architectural spaces, or the way a work of art inhabits a certain space. From a formal point of view, I have therefore developed my work in an expansive, or invasive, way, if you like. But that doesn’t just refer to colour, but the rest of the formal elements. The planes of colour and the lines or the fundamental gestures in a painting gave way very quickly to elements that were becoming independent of the basic structure of the square frame. When we stand before a painting or a conventional sculpture, communication depends on the attitude of the viewer – the viewer’s perspective directs the work. With light irradiation, light travels in space and acquires an active role in this process. The use of light has allowed me to interact in a double directional sense, similar to the way luminous advertisement signs work in large cities. The light of colour transects space and catches the viewer’s gaze.
AD: Can you also describe how your practice moved from painting into three-dimensional work. Is it accurate to say that you moved from ‘painting with light’ to ‘sculpting with light’?
CC: I’m not sure that would be the exact expression. Without light there is no vision, and therefore whenever there is a visual work of whatever category, there must be light to be contemplated. The art of the late twentieth century has broken with all the conventions of the nineteenth-century, as well as the type- castings of the plastic arts. Therefore, to speak of painting or sculpture no longer has any transcendence
in a strict sense. We could say that my work is pictorial on a conceptual level, although in reality it occupies the three-dimensional space that becomes the true support of the work. The difference is that in painting, three-dimensionality is simulated, as in a trompe l’oeil. But I do not see that difference to be transcendent. With three-dimensionality what has been gained is that you can inhabit the painting, you can circulate around it and feel the way in which the presence of these species of luminous creatures and their actions invade the neutral and inert environment of architecture. They appropriate that environment by impregnating
it with their same chromatic quality.
AD: The neon tubes used to build the structures in Territorios Soñados are simultaneously angular and fluid – angular in their shape and fluid in their pulsating, modulating lighting sequences. Could this contrast represent the built environments we live in, versus the organic territories our bodies occupy?
CC: That is one way of seeing it. I had never thought of it that way, although I am interested in a work open
to multiple readings. This angle-fluid duality is also present in the relationship between the geometric exterior and the random and chaotic interior of electrical cables. This contrast represents order and chaos, something that keeps together with something that changes or transforms, a coexistence between structure and change. The world we live in is governed by chaos, by totally unpredictable phenomena that, at the same time, endow it with meaning. Life is a fight against entropy, understood as the degree of disorder in nature, something
we can all observe in ordinary life. It is a way of representing those contradictions of the world. When I see
all these tangles of cables and electrical connectors necessary for the geometric and rational structure to illuminate, I think of the drawings of the neural systems made by the Spanish scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal. They are fantastic drawings that show us how all our neural systems are apparently anarchic in terms of their organisation; and how our rational and ordered world (like the Platonic solids from which my structures originate, for example), arise from neural connections that are completely entangled.
AD: This exhibition is concerned with ‘territories’ – the occupation of space is tangibly felt through the scale of the works. They fill the gallery entirely – suspending from the air, in some cases almost touching the ceiling. What does this seizing of space represent?
CC: I entitle my luminous sculptures Lampyridae (The scientific name for fire flies). The fire flies are Coleoptera that use light as a claim – in this case a claim of sexual attraction between the females and males of the species. My sculptures are reminiscent of zoomorphic forms. Sometimes they are exempt, separated from
the whole, and sometimes they are in a kind of symbiosis of organisms that have migrated here from different points to form a macro-organism. Constantly interfering with their own modulation of the light, the Lampyridae change their luminous intensity through electronic systems in cycles of several seconds – regular variations of a metabolism that powerfully evokes the slow breathing of hibernating or sleeping beings. The main theme of my works is the perverse use of beauty by power. Light also represents the issuers of mass communication and advertising. Like fire flies, the luminous signs of the big cities, television commercials, or computer screens use coloured light as a claim – an invasive light that creates an image that is evocative and beautiful. Here we’re discussing a malicious and interesting beauty exploited by power, be it economic, political or religious...
AD: Territorios Soñados showed at the Centro Niemeyer in Spain before coming to VC. You’ve made some changes – the reflective stainless sheets have been omitted, the composition of the structures themselves have changed. Can you talk a bit about these changes and whether there is a narrative reasoning behind your edit.
CC: In this exhibition I wanted to show, in addition to the large format pieces, a new series of drawings made expressly for Malta. I call them Grand Harbour because in all of the drawings’ backgrounds there is a view of Valletta taken from the sea – always as a subtle and slightly enigmatic image, barely recognisable. At times they are even rotated because I don’t intend them to function as real images, but rather as a kind of mental substrate – something that persists in our consciousness. What are the thoughts – or dreamed ideas – of the territory that those who come to the island have for the first time, whether they are invaders, immigrants, or simply tourists?
At the Niemeyer Centre I used reflective platforms to create a metaphorical image of islets or territories on which the pieces were re ected. The metaphor is the same as in the drawings. Light, on the other hand, moves in space, transcends boundaries and borders, provokes mirages and creates optical illusions – each of which can be seen from the other side of the wall, in all their splendour.
AD: In relation to Malta and its geo-political history, is Territorios Soñados commenting on “borrowed” space? Your structures are permeable – does this reflect Malta’s eternal position as a host for passers-through – whether visitors, colonisers or immigrants?
CC: Malta is a territory through which multiple cultures have passed. It is an island with a strategic and privileged position within the Mediterranean. It is attractive from many angles, yearned for over millennia by conquerors, tourists, immigrants; defended by its inhabitants with walls and complex defensive devices. The dreamed territories, with their coloured lights, represent all those illusions and evocative ideas. They are the idealised vision of the one who wants to arrive, of the one who is outside. They represent real spaces like Malta, or mental ones like Shangri-La, utopias where chimeras are deposited of something that is desired. The United States for wetbacks, Europe for Syrian refugees and African immigrants, or the imaginary islands drawn on the maps of the ancient navigators.