Interview with Jorge Alberto Perez by Qiana Mestrich

QM:  Previously you told me you were given advice to think of the MFA solo thesis show as just another studio visit.  Have you applied this philosophy in preparing for your show, Visions and Revisions?

JP:  Yes, Josh Lutz, my thesis advisor once told me that in order to take some of the pressure off of presenting a completely resolved solo exhibition, one can choose to look at it, not as just another studio visit, a special one to be sure, (where you even take the time to sweep the floor!), but more importantly where there is room for the process to be revealed, for imperfections to linger unashamed.  I really took that advice to heart.  

He went on to say that because of the fact that the show doesn’t take place in a Chelsea gallery there should be some risk-taking.  And that is why I decided to proceed with new work this semester, despite not knowing what it would lead me to as a final presentation.

Your recent work emerges from a large archive of hundreds of cutouts from magazines and other resources.  Describe for us your personal process of selecting and cutting out images. What’s your personal investment in this physical act?

Let me just say that recycling day is difficult for me.  I walk past stacks of magazines and books that people tossed out and I want to search through it all for interesting images.  I do, in fact, collect some material this way.  But most of it comes from second hand stores or printed matter that friends pass on to me for my cannibalistic needs.  I try to look through most things twice before recycling it myself.  In those two passes I chose whatever appeals to me with few filters on.  

It is partly unconscious work, a meditation of sorts.  So many things run through one’s mind, as when driving, that are ghosts in comparison to the task at hand, and yet, they determine how the task unfolds, what direction it will take.  This is just for tearing out pages.  Later I will look through the stacks of pages and decide what to cut, using a similar tactic, partly random, partly aware.  Rarely will I search for a specific shape, color to satisfy a puzzle in process, but it does happen .

I would also like to address the fact that I hunt for images only from printed matter.  I make this distinction because of the investment of resources to make an object that will circulate in the world.  As the internet continues to evolve, the need for printed material wanes and thus what does make it onto the printed page by the market forces tell the story of a culture.  This is a very interesting moment in the history of image-making as we feel the drag of the ebbing tide of certain economies.  The detritus left behind from that tide is what interests me, and how how those representations can become new allegories of an unknowable past through the agency of the artist.

The physical act, the labor I invest in this ostensibly tedious task of collecting, fragmenting and revisioning is of the utmost importance to me.  I take these market-driven images and draw out from them their illogical conclusion, or their essence.  I will let the viewer decide.   

Are there common themes or categories that exist within your archive? Do you have a formal classification system?

JP: The themes are there but I try not to think about them too much in order to allow myself to feel that repetitive instinct afresh each time.  But they are there.  I don’t categorize by any classification system per se, but many small groups of fragments will create temporary constellations, however, that when slipped into a transparent holders becomes its own unit until I undo it and reformulate the parts.  The ‘archive board’ is an informal classification system; one without any hierarchy.

Why was it important for you to show the artist’s process?

For this presentation of the material it made sense to complete the scenario with the source material as an a kind of index.  I wanted to let people experience the fragments more than once, to think about repetition, the copy, the original, the fragment, the vision, the revision… to question how imaged meaning is made.  

How do your cutouts then become larger, composite images like the piece in the MFA group show up now at the ICP school?

I simply photograph them like performers cast in a dance that happens once.  I document it.  They are not scanned.

How much is this new work in dialogue with other artists that employ collage and/or photomontage?

I don’t think I am in direct dialogue with any artist in particular, but there certainly are some whose work speaks to my sensibility.  Wengechi Mutu is high on my list.  I have trouble turning away from her work, it is so arresting.  Hannah Hoch was my introduction to collage.  Her work still thrives today.  I find that so amazing.  Also Jess Collin’s work has provided me with much scopophilia.  

Right now I’m reading Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in which he discusses the authenticity and reproduction of art thus introducing the idea of the “aura” of a work of art. I know you’re a big fan of his writing. Given that you are working in the reproduction and subsequent reinterpretation of appropriated images, what do you think Benjamin would say about the aura of your work?  

What Benjamin would say about my work?  Madonna!  If only I could channel him for a day!  I do think, however, that my archive of fragments would appeal to him, and that its aura would trump the mechanically reproduced images presented alongside it.  I think the ellipsis of meaning would be instantly clear to him, but so would the infinite mathematically extrapolated combinations that could just as easily follow.  He was a fan of detritus and the kind of aside that sort of material offers, and my work certainly has no shortage of that.  But as for aura, there is a loss of it, I feel, as a work transitions from its initial vision in my hands as fragments to its photo-montaged revision end-product.  

How would you sum up your ICP-Bard MFA experience and what’s next for you?

Each person makes his or her own journey through a rigorous academic program like the ICP/Bard MFA.  For some it is negative and tiresome and filled with a reinforcement of the alienation that feeds the classic model of the anti-social angst-ridden artiste.  For others it is an opportunity for clear-minded reinvention, that only leaping into the great unknown eyes wide open offers.  

For me this has been an amazing personal and professional transition.  I have been humbled and I have shone brighter than I ever hoped I would.  This program has assembled a faculty of artists, writers, scholars of staggering talent and devotion to pedagogy all of whom possess passion for image-based work that they share with unparalleled generosity.  The freedom I felt to explore what lies outside the frame of the image was both liberating and daunting.  I was forced to decide for myself what gets put in front of the apparatus rather than simply use it to capture what parades past its lens.  I find that after all is said and done, I am a more sensitive reader of both text and art works, a better writer, a better public speaker and a better collaborator.  

Next?  I have recently begun a new body of work.

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