Biennial Ambassador Cristóbal Gracia on History and Violence as a Force of Art

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For the next ten weeks Denver will experience the ways in which history, violence and three-dimensionalism intersect through the work of Cristóbal Gracia, who was selected to represent Mexico City as a 2015 Biennial Ambassador, alongside fellow Mexican artist Daniel Monroy Cuevas. The 2015 Biennial Ambassadors program is a ten-week artist-exchange program between Mexico City and Denver; on Thursday, February 19, ArtPlant will host a welcoming reception for Gracia at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

In searching for potential Biennial ambassadors in Mexico, ArtPlant director Adam Gildar explains, he looked for artists who were making contemporary work — work that could engage with the context of creating art in Denver. Gracia was chosen because he has an interest “beyond just his own object-making," says Gildar, "including an involvement in the community” that he's now bringing to Denver.

Westword caught up with Gracia on his second day here to talk about his artistic influences and his upcoming residency in Colorado.

Westword: How did you first get involved with the 2015 Biennial Ambassadors program?

Cristóbal Gracia:  Everything first started with my relationship with SOMA, a kind of school based in Mexico City. I say it’s kind of a school because it’s an independent program. SOMA was created by Yoshua Okón, who also created La Panadería in 1994. Both are exhibition spaces for artists, and SOMA is a step in the evolution of La Panadería.

The artists who are a part of SOMA were starting to feel a void of artistic education in Mexico City, including myself. As a SOMA artist, I was invited to participate and submit a proposal for the Biennial Ambassadors.

How do you describe your work?

I do a lot of specific media representation. I work with video, drawing, photograph, installation and sculpture. I can say that my real interest is in the three-dimensional, not as a complete, established sculpture, but in terms of the space. I am also really interested in history — again, not as a complete thing, but in sectioning it off and arguing certain things to make new connections and have a freedom to construct a new vision of history.

Other than history, what influences do you draw upon?

Modern influences include tools and humor. There is also always some sense of violence in my work, especially violence in history, social violence and violence as a force in art, a way of production. I’m also very interested with science fiction and how it goes along with history. I enjoy not treating history as an aesthetic thing, but rather something you can mold and change, and science fiction allows for that.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on a video installation. I’m videoing the sense of getting together all of my interests that I wasn’t able to transport in any other medium to this exhibition space.

What are you hoping to accomplish during your time in Denver?

My main interest has always been working with monuments in Mexico City. One in particular is from Herbert Bayer, The Articulated Wall. It was first built for the 1968 Olympic Games and was a huge cultural work. After 1968, a lot happened to the sculpture and it was rebuilt in Denver. I’m interested in what it means to move this sculpture in symbolic terms, as well as in economic terms and energy. I want to learn what it means to have had this sculpture in Mexico in 1968, and the context of what it means now to have it in Denver.

Do you plan on collaborating with any artists while you’re in Denver?

I haven’t had the opportunity to meet a lot of artists in Denver yet, so I can’t say for sure. If not a collaboration, though, I hope to engage in a dialogue and offer some sort of critiques and revisions. I’m excited to work in TANK Studios because there is the possibility of collaboration with other artists. I’ve heard other artists say good things about TANK, that it allows a creative collaboration to come to life in this space.

What else are you looking to share with the Denver community about your work back in Mexico City?

In Mexico City I run an independent art space called Bikini Wax with some friends. Besides the typical idea of showing artistic space, we really enjoy being able to take a look into the way other artists work, including the planning and construction.

The Biennial Ambassadors welcome for Cristóbal Gracia starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 19, at MCA Denver. Gracia will give a short presentation about his work and background before conducting a meet-and-greet with the community. To attend this free event, RSVP to ambassadors@biennialoftheamericas.org. 

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