Juan Camilo Guzman is interested in shopping. He works with mixed media as a medium and as a subject as well.
His interests include art history and theory, painting, philosophy, design, advertisement and the role of the artist in the material world. He was born in Bogotá, Colombia where he lived until 2014. He received his MFA in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
I am a cat person, actually cats are my favorite animals, they’re stealthy and unpredictable, I am intrigued by way they position themselves in the world, how they interact with everything, and the way they look at you, there is a big mystery in every single cat, or maybe not, but you’ll never know, and I like that. I am a very academic and institutional person, and you can see that in my work. I did all my undergrad studies in Bogotá.
My background is in art history and theory, and I also studied philosophy and design. So by that time I was more interested in words than in developing a visual language. But there was a lack of poetry and rules I didn’t want to follow that made me move to Chicago to pursue an MFA in painting and drawing. I have always been a creator (or maybe a stealer),
I enjoy making art, but I don’t like to get dirty, as a kid I always refused to get into the sandbox. Probably the only “crafty” labor that I enjoy is drawing, which is also my habit. So I guess I still work a little bit like a designer, and off course, writing is a very important part of my practice. On the other hand, being an artist is a little bit like fiction and it is also a privilege, I believe everyone is a potential artist and I wanted to be one.
Tell us about your work.
I shop as an artistic practice. What I like about the things I buy is their attitude. My work looks like something from now, something commercial, like a poster or a postcard, cold, playful, and attractive at first sign. I am interested in ambivalence and contradiction. I talk about the world in a paradoxical way. I choose images from mass culture to talk about politics, art, painting, cultural issues, taste, the material world, pleasure, power, sexuality, gender and the role of the artist’s external life in the larger culture. I’m interested in images and how they are a construction - in cosmetics instead of aesthetics - in the nature of all of these issues as images. By adding more and more layers, I distort what is already distorted. If the world is so twisted at times, why not view it with a little bit of humor? I’m able to make jokes without smiling.
"I shop as an artistic practice. What I like about the things I buy is their attitude."
What is unique about your work?
Throughout my life, I haven’t found a more intriguing and mysterious conversation than the one about taste. Understanding taste as something that is experienced between knowledge and pleasure, or between the illusion of truth and beauty.
I want to play in that mysterious space where a knowledge that is enjoyed and a pleasure that is known can articulate. As I just said I am interested in contradiction and ambivalence to question frames of reference and models of thought.
With my work I intend to approach from a historical perspective, and using referential tools within art language, the "enigmatic" relationship between knowledge and pleasure. "Where this correspondence suggests not only a historical fact about the development of the western philosophical tradition, but also a kind of an utopian perspective: a possible "realization of knowledge" in the "double salvation" of beauty and truth, a tradition in which this promise of salvation implies not only an aesthetic-ethical position, but also a political one , or even an "aesthetic state" in which all the old philosophical oppositions would finally be abolished.
Why your work is a good investment?
Because people still live between walls… so there’s room to hang stuff hahaha. I also hope it increases its commercial and cultural value over time.
What are your sources of inspiration?
That’s a hard question because I do believe in inspiration but not as something that possesses you and makes you create a masterpiece.
I’m not the kind of artist that spends a lot of time alienated in his or her studio struggling and suffering while making. I always think about work and language as the space and tools we use to create. In my case, I’m always working, because I’m always alert of what’s going on in the world I’m experiencing. Fortunately, (or not?), I have many different interests, so I guess my “inspiration” comes from all over the place equally. All these sources can include a soccer match, an art exhibition, shopping malls, lectures, propaganda, magazine articles, small conversations, dinner with my parents, etc… That is also why to have conversation and institutions are important for my art practice to exist. So as a part of my process, I’m not only experiencing, I also collect objects and “random” images from the internet, that I may or may not use latter in the studio, it depends on “inspiration” and if it finds me working…
What you are you passionate about?
As I mentioned before I have different interests, I like to read, to watch stuff, to get information and to acquire experience and knowledge in general.
But probably my single favorite thing in the world (beside burgers) is tennis.
I consider myself a very rational person overall, and of course, when it comes to tennis, I like the game, the tactics, the technical matters, the equipment and its aesthetical extension. But I'd say that my approach with tennis is less rational and more visceral than my approach with art, for example. I also enjoy other forms of poetry like written poetry, Its my favorite form of literature by far. And I do write poems myself, I played tennis since I was a kid.
Share with us the back-story of some of your projects.
My work in the show “Painting in Time Part 2” at the Sullivan Galleries was a minimalistic white cube filled with thousands of colored bouncing balls which were then to be released at some point by members of the crew during the performance. For me it was really important that the balls would spread freely through the gallery and the visitors were welcome to kick them, throw them against the walls, play with them or take them home. And I also wanted the balls to “invade” other people works and spaces, but off course, that was something I wasn’t going to mention ever. So aware than it would be hard for the curators to accept something like that, and because I had been rejected before with this same project, I applied with a totally different thing and then started the “negotiations”. In the end they accepted the balls whit its hazardous component, but they wanted them to be contained in a
specific arena, I wasn’t ok with that because it would change the conceptual approach of the work, so the solution was to bring some people from the staff that were supposed to prevent the balls to spread too much and enter other rooms. The result was so funny; those guys became a key component in the whole situation. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
How do you feel about art and its role in the world?
The very notion of art is determined by decisions you don’t make, this becomes more evident if you are not from the Northern Hemisphere, the limitations to make decolonized decisions in the art field, show us that there is no way to alter the system or to be outside the system. Once assimilated the impossibility to make truly decolonized art. I explore these difficult matters not in order to solve them, but to implicitly highlight their deep entanglement with social relations of power and exploitation. As an artist I feel that I need to understand what my place is in history and in the institutional system of production, the contemporary economic system in other words. As Latin Americans we understand our condition in external terms, so it is a problem of representation. We can only use the media of representation that are available, and to use and question the media of representation you are already making a political decision. What are the possibilities of the medium?
It is hard to capture a subject through image, to show the content of the representation but the tools of representation itself. That’s why I try to bring everything to the surface and makes it look explicit. I also find huge limitations of the art world’s identity politics, relational aesthetics, social practices, artistic activism or however you want to call it, that lies precisely in the fact that it overlooks contradictions. The social and cultural positions that we occupy as cultural producers are far more complicated and determine a lot of changes we just can’t enact. For that, because art is not the best way to say anything with big precision, and many other reasons, I see a clear impossibility to make art that can truly contribute to a tangible political change.
How you want your art to affect the viewer?
Well I treat my art as I treat my Facebook profile.
My work works in different ways. I think about different viewers when I make it; I want the people from outside the art world to enjoy it, and they might, because I use design and advertisement language, and pop culture imagery to make beautiful things. But I also see my work as philosophical propositions; I’m interested in proposing ways to getting to things. To question, to refuse the social system and to play with expectation.
I try to adjust peoples frames of references, and in that case, to establish an antagonistic position against the viewer. I want to give the viewer an active role and contrast what they see with their own experiences and preconceptions.