By: Catherine Camargo
Portrait of AC taken by : Julio Guzman

CC: I think it would be nice to start with hearing about some of your inspirations or references. Your work flows between visually vague and symbolic when you’re looking at the whole body of work like this (we are currently sitting in Alberto’s solo show surrounded by his recent works). What are some philosophies or overall ideas that influence your practice?

AC: Well first, thank you so much for taking the time to come visit the show and sit with me, especially during the day. I feel like this is the first time I have a visit where you can really see all the works in the day light, so, thank you Cat.
I think some of my philosophies would entail the idea of process over product which is an idea I have been pushing for a while now—sort of having my audience be present during the actual process that occurs in my studio. I think that focusing on how the object is made, where it's coming from, where it will end up, and essentially the life that it takes beyond the studio... and even beyond, like, my own hands as the artist, that to me is what it's about, it's not necessarily about the final product.
And we were even talking about that prior to you recording today, with how the objects I make continue to shift as you move them. Like, it begins to shed and dismantle, and have little bits of dust that come out from it, or even chunks like the plaster speaker piece sitting behind you. I never really have intentions of stopping those processes from occurring. But yeah, Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle is a big influence to me, I have the book in my studio and I like to keep it open for constant reference. I like having lots of books with mainly images for references, obviously I like to read, but I more so reference images for inspiration and read more for fun. Whether it's images from my phone, from job work sites I’ve been on in Miami, or even my friends and family.....all these things
around me. I feel that they drive and power the work.

CC: Your work generally spans across various spaces over the years such as abandoned construction worksites, the studio, or your front driveway. Do your pieces undergo change or morph when set in different locations? Do you view some works as a performance even in the absence of an audience?

AC: When I read this question, the word performance kind of popped out. I’ve been toying with the idea of my work being considered performance. The word performance is kind of like a medium for the work, right? Like it's a way to identify what's going on. But I feel like the work itself is not performative. I don't think that there's a start or finish, there isn't this theatrical nature to it that I feel is implied with the idea of performance. And I don’t know... I feel that in galleries you really only get to see point A to point B—a start to finish. I think I’m sort of demanding my audience to think about the before and after, right? To think about the philosophy of process over product. Whether it’s my front driveway or construction sites, it's usually a very relaxed setting. And its usually my friends and I tackling these tasks together—there’s no pressure of a live audience. It shifts into this demonstration for documentation. Then that documentation is handled post demonstration and that is what eventually gets showcased. This way I have full control over what the audience is receiving from the work.
I think that that's important because not every work needs to be showcased in front of an audience. I don't think it's meant for that, especially since some of them are really long. I've had performances last two to three days where I have the mold sitting in a room and I come back each day. For Pre Production 7, we were locked in the shop for like 3 days because we were filling up a block that was like five feet tall. So demanding my audience to be present for 2-3 days feels ridiculous and absurd which also kind of talks about the nature of the work in general. It is nonsensical, right, like that idea of futility and elongating this otherwise very simple process. So when people ask if I’m going to perform in a show, I tell them I am going to give an insight into my studio practice. And after that, I still have to clean up, pick up the molds, transfer them somewhere else, etc.

CC: Are the materials you work/perform with meant to be automatically symbolic or referential to your audience?

AC: I think, in terms of the material choices, it kind of ranges because the audience is so diverse, right? Like, we were just talking about my own family coming to the show and how they interacted with the objects and the idea that I'm utilizing a submersible pump. The submersible pump is typically used to, like, you know, either cycle water or take water out of, I don't know, a flooded area, or a bilge. I feel you have people that read these materials with the idea of “use” in mind, right? Like these materials aren’t meant to be used in this way, especially with the PVC. Like when I show my coworkers my work, they’re

Installation image of Amidst Twin Suns: Alberto Checa. Curated by Jean Chung at Oolite Arts Miami, FL.

like, “why are using the PVC like that??”. It just doesn’t make sense to them because it's usually more of an unseen material even. It's usually within walls or the floor and very rarely do you see PVC in the interiors of a home but its usually in the homes infrastructure. I feel like it's nice that it's up to my audience to read the material in the ways that they're accustomed to seeing. Every person that walks through the door is going to see the material in a way that is different than how I do because these are materials that are very accessible. You're constantly in conversation with them as, as a human in your everyday life.

CC: I asked you to share some notes, essays, or references with me prior to our interview. One quote that caught my attention, highlighted by you, was from Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: 'Don't look for the meaning, look for the use.” How does this quote translate for you?

AC: Haha this is like a perfect follow up question. Um, I think in a way it’s pretty self explanatory, right? Like I simply don't look for the meaning, I look for the use. like it’s essentially taking these objects and you're completely de-contextualizing them and using them in the best way to achieve or accomplish this goal. I reference a lot of technological disobedience by Ernesto Eroza which is kind of the way that Cuban people adapt to the Castro regime and how they utilize every day objects in different ways. Like they’re making a steak out of plants or you’re hooking up an engine to a motorcycle and that’s your mode of transportation. So all these household objects that get sort of turned into a practical, everyday use object, I feel is a philosophy for my practice. And therefore, I look at the objects and I'm not necessarily looking at them for how they're conventionally used, more so how I can adapt this use to/of them. And therefore, like, completely, dismantle their original meaning.
So yeah, I think the idea of bootlegging can also be sourced out in my work, like in the back of my speakers, right? Like this is not the way that you’re supposed to wire hifi sound systems, but it's made in such a way that it still functions. Though it's completely like taking away the meaning that the hifi sound system is supposed to be— this pristine, like acoustically inclined object. And I'm like completely covering them in plaster and material that is obviously not beautifully acoustic wood. It is covered in drywall plaster and all of the screws are completely showcased. It's all hand wired by myself, like I have no knowledge of this other than whatever I've taught myself. So that research and that bootlegging-ness of the work is what's meant to be showcased instead, like the process of looking up the ways that other people are achieving these things and then kind of having them be in conversation with my practice and how can I adapt that to the work?

CC: Yes, you really give a new meaning to the word bootleg in your work, its a good one to describe your practice. I’ve been following the work of Lebanese performance artist & composer Tarek Atuoi for several years, and I've noticed parallels between your practices, particularly in your use of gentle, sensory sounds like dripping water, low humming bass tones, and mimetic bodily movements. Both as performers, you’re wonderful at activating the settings where tangible artworks live/ are exhibited.
You’ve been consistent with this approach for as long as I can remember, including your recent first solo exhibition ‘Amidst Twin Suns’ at Oolite Arts. Can you talk about how your interest in activating works through choreography and sound led to you collaborating with DJ Nick Leon?

AC: I'm so glad you got you brought this guy's work up. I actually saw his work at the Venice Biennale in 2019 and he had this whole room just full of these kind of intricate sounds that were being made by the material and I thought it was so beautiful. Because at the time, I was studying in London and that's when I first started experimenting with sound coming out of material. I was making these plaster records that were all casted and laser cut prior to that and completely dismantling this process of what it is to press a vinyl record, bootlegging it in a sense. Like I would take an mp3 file and then turn it into an AI file that then would be laser cut. And then after that, I would pour silicone on top of that, and then after that I would pour some plaster. So again, it's like completely taking what should be a simple process and dissecting each bit of the process in order to actually make an object for the user of the performance. So yeah, I think that his work perfectly fits in conversation with mine in terms of like the sound coming out of the material, but my goal is to actually achieve an already pre made sound. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it,
but, they say in historic Greek vase making, they were able to capture surrounding conversations through the grooves in the clay somehow. And when you play them back with a needle, you can hear frequencies of those conversations. I think that is super crazy and beautiful. With the ice that I use as material, there are these really beautiful sounds that begin to happen with the crackling and then transitioning into a drip.

But yeah working with Nick! (laughs) Working with Nick was so lovely. This is my first solo show in Miami and Nick was the perfect individual to work with. He is a great representation of what Miami is and stands for, he’s really repping what it is to be a Miami artist right now and making music that represents us as a community. Nick is constantly in conversation with bootlegging—with techno jungle, with Reggaeton and Bolero. It was really beautiful that he was open to doing this live set, he was actually making all the sounds live that day. We didn’t run any rehearsals. It was a combo of him actively producing and then also switching to his phone at certain points which was a nice parallel to what Diego and I were doing during our performance/actions. He was in the studio and we were in the studio. Nick is a super disciplined artist and I really admire his practice so It felt really validating to have him.

CC: I didn’t realize he was producing live like that, that’s really cool. He also looked really cute sitting on the ground with his laptop haha.

AC: Yeahh haha and I think its nice and symbolic in a way too that he was doing it all on site because it represents that unseen labor I’m consistently referencing in my practice, right? I think it ties in really well.


CC: It seems like many, if not most, of your works engage withmaterials such as casting plaster and other utilitarian, quickly processed materials. Therefore, from a material perspective, you have to wait sometimes several days, like you mentioned, to see what you've made. Your process reminds me a bit of Alessandro Piangiamore's galvanized iron and concrete casted paintings, which I at least call/consider paintings. Can you relate to, and if so, discuss the importance of patience and time in your studio practice?

AC: Yeah well I’ll talk about that piece I did in 2019 where I had first begun working with the idea of sound and material. I think with that work, because of financial restrictions as well, I only had the ability financially to make one mold at a time. My goal was to make 6 molds and each once took about 3-4 hours with only the one mold. I spent like an entire 24 hours just locked in this room with a cctv camera ,some food, and the three structures I had set up for Pre Production 4. I learned a lot about the labor of waiting and what kind of happens when you’re not activating these structures which suddenly becomes more important than their activations.
I’m not sure whether you noticed but during this show, we were flushing the pump more than we were pouring. So like, the act of taking care of this machine— making sure it doesn’t get dried out or overheated on the inside, kind of like just caring for this part of the machine in order to fulfill this task, becomes more important than the task itself. Theres all these different things that can happen in between in the process with plaster as well which is also relevant to the work. It’s nice to observe its chemical changes and even feel it heat up. Through all the flushing, pumping, and catering to this material, we become users for the machine and without it we cannot perform. So through plaster even, patience has become more and more important in my work and it also allows me to
have moments of reflection during my performances. I think it's really cool, the conversation that happens when the plaster is cold. Usually, the user or like myself or Diego are very hot, right, like we're in this movement and act of pouring the plaster but then once the plaster begins to get hot, that's when we cool down. So you have these kind of like thermal conversations happening within the material and the body that I think are really interesting. Like, both cannot be hot and both cannot be cold. So yeah.

CC: Do you see these works as a functioning machine?

AC: Yes. I like to call them vessels. I think that these pieces are like vessels for production or for users to activate/ be activated. I really get sucked into this kind of different world when Im in my studio processing. I sort of become this user of these vessels and I have to...give in. And I think that they guide me. I think that’s where the beauty comes in because I just let go and allow myself to be fully immersed in this world that I’ve created for myself and this idea of world building, creating these different vocabularies with the material.

CC: Do you consider your work to have ideological narratives or do you view it more as commentary?

AC: I think a little bit of both. The more I develop my practice, the less I want to explain myself... its really nice when the audience draws conclusions for themselves about the work. In May of last year, Diego Gabaldon and I had a two person show and we had a lot of different responses to our work.
I think all I demand or ask from my viewers is that they really spend time with the work. Because when they do, there’s so many different layers that come up, you can see so many of the handmade marks that go into the pieces that you won’t notice until you spend time with them. You can see the actual body being involved in the work and leaving these marks almost kind of like fossils, right? So in terms of ideologies, I think the works that come next is always informed by the previous work.

And I feel like I'm pushing that with the Fibonacci sequence and how it's in conversation with the next one, but it relies on the previous owner to move forward. I feel like every single Pre Production piece that I've made, and I will continue to make, is always in conversation with the last. I really do resonate with the idea of world building—creating my own limitations but also creating my own opportunities. Its interesting seeing what I can generate when I am the one that’s constraining myself but also letting myself be.

CC: I like that you used the word “fossil” because I used it to describe your work in this next question...To someone unfamiliar with your conceptual intentions, I think it’s safe to say your body of works can be visually interpreted as grand science experiments. For example, in a gallery setting, your pieces look to me like the conclusive remnants or fossils of you testing the malleability of certain materials and displaying the data of those conclusions. Especially during performances, your works seem to function as stations which intertwine all three processes of unplanned organic generations, structured algorithmic generative systems, or perhaps the use of a binary systems. There’s an interesting dichotomy between the gentle museum- like arrangements of your pieces versus the labor-intensive materials themselves.
Could you speak to this interpretation and its relationship to your work?

AC: I couldn’t agree more and I feel like this question is exactly what’s in my head for making these works—with all these connections and networks being in conversation with the materials and never letting a single material stand alone. You know, while we’ve been talking, I’ve been sketching out this drawing and I feel like even this ties up with some of the material that’s in the show right now.

There's so many different elements that are in conversation with each other and I feel that it all belongs to its own kind of system & I'm constantly looking at the way that the ecosystem is functioning. I like the way that nature is in conversation with animals and how they each rely on each other to survive, right? There's like this chain that exists within our everyday life and I am putting that into the work, especially when like a lot of this material isn't necessarily living... it's not even organic material. But there's an organic nature to it, when you begin to, to like, push these processes, when you begin to move the material, the remnants and the negative spaces that they took up begin to form as if something was once living there. I was talking with somebody the other day, and they were like, “I wonder what this space would look like if you completely removed everything”. I’m sure a little rectangle of dust will form around the buckets and molds which would be cool.

I think through this we can also talk about the idea of taking up space in a different way, with the works being set up in these museum like arrangements, like you mentioned, in the typical white gallery space. I think brown and black people need to take up these clean white spaces and fully activate and showcase our process of labor making through them.... because it's not something that we’re necessarily exposed to on a day to day. I feel like the more space that we consciously take, the more the work becomes alive and can read better for the audience... I don’t know, I don’t know, this question is so good haha.

CC: You have spent a lot of time working on yachts here in Miami. Can you talk about how that has coincided with your practice?

AC: Yeah, I mean, materially it definitely has been big in my life. It’s what I’m exposed to on a day to day and what I reference from my every day life. I actually have this quote written down here in my sketchbook, its something like, “there is no division between life and work”, by Marisa Merz. I think its such a beautiful quote that I am to live by because you know, if this what I’m exposed to, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be applied in the work. The longer we live, the more our archives sort of expand, the more material and choreography you’re exposed to. I feel like as artists, we should aim to showcase like, what you're normally not seeing, right? Like, or at least that's what I'm drawn to. Like nobody other than my coworkers sees my work day to day.

CC: True, like I’m sure people like your coworkers can immediately recognize the material you use from their own daily lives but don’t translate it as art and cannot really imagine its meaning in a gallery space like this.

AC: Exactly, exactly. So, I think at the end of the day my work is a support system for my art work. I don’t think any of the jobs I’ve had whether in construction, furniture mover, or on the boats, none really define me. I think they just broaden my horizons for material and me as a human and what I’m exposed to.

CC:  And finally, what is next for you? What can we anticipate from your future work?

AC: I’m not going to be working for on boats for now, so hopefully I don’t have to go back to it but I’m sure I’ll pick up jobs every now and then. . I’m planning  next exhibitions, one is another solo show at Emerson Dorsch Gallery in Miami, FL which I’m really excited for, probably this summer towards the end of June. Another is a group exhibition and that'll be a little bit more of an insight as to the manipulation of like documentation, and how this plaster mixing process gets translated into the documentation. Right? So like, not really very performative or demonstrative heavy show like how this one is. This whole show is surrounded by the remnants of the performance so I feel like it’ll be a big shift and a different side of my practice that my audience can see.

So yeah, I think what’s next is definitely taking some time off after this exhibition and just go sort of be.
I’m gonna go site searching a bit in Europe in like April and May. One of my goals is really to eventually reach the Arctic Circle, I feel like I’ve been planning a trip there since like 2019. I’d love to just spend a year in a hut in Abisko and just see what I can make, working with freezing temperatures and water. I would love to be fully immersed in that environment. So yeah, that’s what’s next for my practice. I’ll definitely be working on deas for the Emerson show while I travel. But yeah, for now, I think it's a matter of taking some time for myself and kind of applying that level of self care that I apply to the work, into these machines, into these vessels onto myself for a little bit.

CC: That makes me really happy to hear, you deserve that. I’m super excited to see what you do next.

AC: Thank you.

© Q Magazine
Interview: Catherine M Camargo 
Editor: Catherine M Camargo
Photo courtesy: Alberto Checa