What might the final art made by humans look like before they disappear from the face of the earth? This is the question the 31-year-old Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas asked himself when preparing to execute his grand installation at the current Venice Biennale. Located in the Artigliere at the Arsenale, his project consists of a group of giant site-specific sculptures made of clay over an armature of cement, burlap and wood, and enigmatically titled "The Murderer of Your Heritage."
Argentina was the first Latin American nation to participate in the Venice Biennale, in 1901. This year, the nation has been granted a permanent pavilion in the Arsenale's Sale d'Armi, which it will undertake to restore. (Argentina has also mounted a group exhibition off-site, at the Ca' Giustinian, titled "Memory and Freedom in 20th-Century Argentine Art.") Its choice of Villar Rojas, a rising star though relatively unknown, was a bold one for a solo slot.
Villar Rojas's sculptures crowd into their 250-square-meter space, running vertically from floor to ceiling. They are emphatically handmade, defying the more conceptualist traditions of Argentinian art. Smooth areas alternate with passages that are highly textured, as if giant hands had violently kneaded the material. Villar Rojas's fascination with parallel universes, alternative worlds and evolutionary detours permeates the work. The sculptures take on the form of hybrid beings-part plant and part machine, often fantastical-as if they were beamed from a future time or faraway planet. Though the scale of giants, the sculptures close-up appear almost delicate, their clay surfaces cracking in places, and they look as though they are gently communing, though in a wordless manner inaccessible to our understanding.
A.i.A. spoke with Villar Rojas at the Arsenale, where his exhibition opens to the public this Saturday.
FAYE HIRSCH: The space seems small with these giant sculptures in it.
ADRIÁN VILLAR ROJAS: It's actually not such a small space-250 square meters. But what I wanted to do was alter the space dramatically, and have the sculptures change the relationship between the viewer and the space. We shortened the height of the entrance door, and put all this drywall construction around. And we changed all the lighting. The works were meant to appear almost like an act of magic, as if this enormous group materialized perfectly in place. Each one of them weighs two tons.
FH: So you made them in situ.
AVR: Yes. We were here two months, seven days a week, 16 hours a day. No holidays, no weekends, no nothing. We calculated more or less 8,000 hours of labor.
FH: Did you have the whole thing planned before you came?
AVR: Just the first five sculptures. We started at the back of the room. We built the first five, then the next one, and the next one, and the next one. We created a strong dialogue among them. As I designed them, I designed the dialogues.
FH: They are quite a pastiche of different forms.
AVR: What I wanted to do was work as if I was not human. As if the human species didn't exist any more. I mean, as far as we know, for 6,000 light years around us, the only beings that are producing symbols, that are thinking-in the planets, in the universe-are humans. So when humans disappear from the face of the earth, then there will be no more art. What could you do in those last moments? What would the last art look like?
FH: Clay is an interesting material to use at so vast a scale.
AVR: That's why they look so fragile. And at the end of the exhibition, we will destroy everything. We have photographs, and books, to keep the stories of these works alive.
FH: Do you do project drawings?
AVR: Yes. For these I did doodles, and some very detailed work, but mostly sketches. And there's a guy that takes care of the engineering of the project, and we have meetings and talk. And from those talks, the work arises.
FH: Could you explain the title?
AVR: I just want my titles to be very emotional. My projects are collective efforts that involve 10-15 people: engineers, carpenters, sculptors. It's almost like making a film. But when it's time to put a title to the sculptures, I bring the work back to me.