Artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle discusses the connection between climate and aesthetics in his work.
ART21: What is the difference between weather and climate?
MANGLANO-OVALLE: When I talk about weather, it’s about a broader definition of climate. Weather is about yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Climate is historical: its present moment is a state rather than a condition. One of the ways for me to get people to think about environment or climate is to have them recognize that they’re always in those states. Even when they’re in institutions that have set up parameters and structures to protect themselves from the outside, they are still in permeable systems that affect other systems. In order for a museum or home to sustain its climate, it affects the state—the politics—that surrounds it.
ART21: What’s the connection between climate and aesthetics in your work?
MANGLANO-OVALLE: I’m interested in the microclimates of museums or gallery spaces. Art has a climate—there’s pressure, temperature, precipitation, direction, velocity. And perhaps all buildings that we inhabit have microclimates. One of the things that we’ve asked architecture to do is to sustain a kind of continuity. So, museum buildings are equipped with HVAC systems, air conditioning, heating, dehumidifiers, and so forth. Our homes are equipped with the same thing. We’re all asking architecture to create these microclimates where things shift as little as possible.
I’m also interested in how museums and galleries are trying to attenuate the ups and downs of the art world—which is, in reality, a very turbulent sort of site. The exhibition tries to stabilize that turbulence—at least for a moment.
The weather station, when it’s in the museum or the gallery—it appears to cease to function, but it’s actually gathering data. It’s gathering very miniscule shifts. When we plug it into a computer or a video-generating program, we ask that program to look for subtle changes instead of changes from say, ten mile an hour winds to fifteen mile an hour winds. It’s just the subtlest little change that occurs in the space.
ART21: What was the inspiration behind taking weather conditions, like clouds, and turning them into sculptural forms?
MANGLANO-OVALLE: I’m more comfortable in quoting than I am in speaking. I am just quoting a cloud. Cloud Prototype No. 1 was a thunderstorm that erupted over Missouri and then progressed into southern Illinois, and was captured as three-dimensional data by the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We were watching twenty minutes of data flow, and I had to select a moment that I wanted. It was just before the storm erupted. It wasn’t about shape, although I ended up with a shape that was about that moment. But it’s a quotation. Cloud Prototype No. 1 is the moment just before the storm unleashes, Cloud Prototype No. 2 a moment before that, and so on, just receding away, backwards in time. The idea is not to go out and capture any more storms but just to stay with the same storm.
ART21: There’s also an interest in temporality in these pieces.
MANGLANO-OVALLE: Iceberg (r11i01) and Cloud are about stopping time. You take an animation and suspend it, so you have suspended animation of a frozen moment—a three-dimensional photograph of one moment. Iceberg and Cloud, and other projects I’m working on, are almost literally about capturing ephemera. In the end, it’s an impossibility. You really haven’t captured ephemera; you’ve made a thing—a sculpture. You’ve negated the notion of ephemera. Then, it’s only the public moving around the piece, experiencing it, that becomes the ephemeral moment.
ART21: Are you concerned with beauty?
MANGLANO-OVALLE: The beauty that I’m interested in is involved in high aesthetics, where you debate good and evil, the beautiful and the monstrous. At that level, it’s very hard to discern whether what you are talking about is the beautiful or the monstrous—whether what you are embracing is truly good or evil. So, when you stand in front of a Francisco Goya painting of Saturn devouring the sun, and you see this monstrosity, you look at the painting and say, “Man, that’s beautiful.” What does it mean? What’s beautiful? And what’s monstrous? Or, are they so intertwined that you can’t locate either one of them? This becomes the ethical dilemma, with both artist and viewer trying to clarify where they stand. To me, that’s one of the important parts of beauty. When I make a beautiful cloud, I still want people to think of a nuclear explosion.
ART21: Is there a story behind your piece Nocturne (White Poppies)?
MANGLANO-OVALLE: When I did Nocturne, it was a response to the bombing of Afghanistan and the poppy flower as a source of violence at that particular moment—a heroin poppy. I was interested in investigating the fact that this flower was not a natural creation: it was a cultural and historical creation. This flower contains both the beautiful and the ugly at the same time.
I’m really interested in those flowers that Warhol did—the way he found beauty in the mundane, reproduced object. It’s a similar sort of strategy, because now the news of war is actually an object of consumerism. It is no longer just news edification. And so, I’m repackaging the image.
ART21: You’re not the kind of artist who has a signature style or singular strategy for art making.
MANGLANO-OVALLE: I remember when I was getting out of graduate school, speaking to Guillermo Gómez Peña and interviewing him in Chicago because I found out that nobody was going to interview him. I didn’t write for any of the art magazines, but I was interviewing him anyway. I remember him saying to me that sometimes the most astute political and aesthetic strategy is to always be changing your strategy. The moment that somebody says, “You’re the artist that deals with genetics,” you should stop making works that deal with genetics and do something else. Now, even that’s a strategy. I don’t think I do that, but I know I do shift. There are moments where people have said, “Oh yeah, Iñigo’s obsessed with Mies van der Rohe.” And I remember them saying, “Oh, Iñigo’s obsessed with science,” “Iñigo’s obsessed with weather.”
ART21: If there’s a thread, it’s probably politics.
MANGLANO-OVALLE: All my work, even the most formal work, has an underlying politics to it. But I don’t want to reveal my position. The moment I reveal my position is the moment that art is about telling you something that I know and you should know. And I’m more interested in thinking about something, arriving at a position, and creating moments in which people have the possibility to think about something similar and take a position.
For me, art is a platform from which to speak, but not to tell you something. I give you a platform from which to think and debate. Because ultimately, for me, art does not reside in the object: it resides in what’s said about the object and what’s debated about it. That’s where art really resides; that’s where it makes change.
I think real political change happens when we screw with language. Language is where the most power has historically resided. How we name and define things, how we choose to locate things through language (and who has the power to locate)—that’s where change has a possibility of happening.
Language resides in two sites. One site is what we think of as the discourse of art, or criticism. The other site is the street and the home. And those things actually talk to each other all the time. When Spike Lee made the film, Do The Right Thing, there was a constant back and forth between the language of criticism and what was going on outside the theater or homes and other sites of debate.
I wish we could take something like truth and really debate it. I think we really need to debate what truth is nowadays. It needs to be debated in academia and philosophical texts, in art discourse, and on the street. And it is. But how do we get these things to meld together? I think there are some terms that have been brought on by either literary criticism or art criticism that are really important. And the reason why you know that they’re important is because there’s been a lot of effort to erase those terms.
ART21: Can you give an example?
MANGLANO-OVALLE: Like, the term the Other. A very incisive term like the Other has—since the L.A. insurrection and the Rodney King beatings—been reconstructed in the art world to be a more benign term. It’s now called community. We all know what community means; when we are reaching out from the art world to a supposedly larger audience, it still means the Other. But the Other was a way to criticize the center, and community is a way to erase that criticism. So, there’s a real battle being fought there, and I’m not sure we’re winning. It has to do with language and who has the power to supplant one language over the other language. And it shows you how important art language can be, when it actually moves out into the real world.
ART21: Your piece La Tormenta/The Storm—what’s important about where it’s installed?
MANGLANO-OVALLE: It used to be called the Immigration Naturalization Service Building, and now it’s part of Homeland Security. The General Service Administration came to me and asked me to compose a work for this building. I actually liked the idea because I’d been through the building that this building has replaced, many times. Whole hosts of people that I know have been through that building, as what they call clients. I liked the idea of making a project for them. But I got into some trouble because I kept thinking that what I needed to do was make a kind of site-specific response to that building. And then I decided not to do that. I decided to go back, to take a position that I usually take when I’m talking to a larger public.
If you’re an artist, you have to do whatever you think is the best thing you can do. And at that moment, I was working on these clouds. That moment was, for me—on a critical, aesthetic, and theoretical level—my highest. Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said—when somebody asked him, “You’re a formalist. I thought you embraced the masses. How can the masses have access to your work?” He turned around and said, “It’s very simple, you should never formulate your work to speak to a larger audience because you’ll end up talking down to them. Access is all about whether the book is in the library or whether that town even has a library. That’s access.”
ART21: What is the relationship you see between the storm and the act of immigrating?
MANGLANO-OVALLE: The storm has become site-specific. It’s the arrival. There’s a kind of critique that’s going on because it’s a storm system that arrives. Historically, all waves of immigration to the U.S. have been storms and have gone through turbulence upon their arrival and have caused turbulence.
All of those waves come with a great deal of hope and a great deal of anxiety. And that’s what a thunderstorm is; it’s one of the most destructive and most productive events. It wreaks havoc, and yet it makes it possible for us to eat and grow food. The piece in a sense reflects its public—they are the storm. La tormenta somos nosotros: We are the storm.
This interview was originally published on PBS.org in September 2007 and was republished on Art21.org in November 2011.