Interview with Emil Alzamora
By KATHERINE MANGIARDI, MAY 2015
For Emil Alzamora's first solo show with Marc Straus gallery, he has created sculptures of the human form through a process of reduction and omission. Forms are distorted, shrouded and blurred; lacking facial features and sex, yet remain universally representative. Alzamora's anonymous beings are at once intimate and nonspecific; emotionally charged objects of the present.
Katherine Mangiardi: Your sculptures lack recognizable features and are androgynous yet there is a sense each is individual. What is the significance of your choice to leave out detailed features void of gender?
Emil Alzamora: With these more recent works I have pushed that further. It has been a gradual process of “undoing." With sculpture there are technical processes associated with their making that either accumulate material or reduce it. One of the things I have been exploring is interrupting the process or intentionally sabotaging it in order to see what physics will do to alter or dictate the final aesthetic or narrative. At the root of all of this is a fascination with revealing and concealing, of exposing and protecting. The anonymity of these works appeals to me in their universality, their humanness and their distilled version of what we tend to think makes up our individuality. They are human, before they are individuals, before they are male or female.
Mangiardi: You were born in Peru. How does your own history inform the work?
Alzamora: I was born in Lima. My mother was born in Michigan, but grew up in Lima until she was 15 and my father is English. My stepfather is American and is an experienced sailor so I spent quite a bit of time on a sailboat. We spent much of my upbringing in Florida and in Majorca, Spain. Travel was always important to my family as was visiting all aspects of humanity by way of ruins and museums. In many ways I feel American, though I am a British citizen. I speak Spanish but it is an odd mix of Majorcan and Peruvian. In the end this has left me feeling rather without a country and more a person living in the world. This definitely has contributed to my interest in the universal be it cultural, geographical, religious etc.
Mangiardi: Giacometti and Brancusi have a strong relationship to your sculptures in the way emotion is conveyed through treatment of scale and surface yet your work does not seem to be derivative due to your unique treatment of material. What is the meaning behind your choice of surface?
Alzamora: Although I love a smooth surface, it isn't the primary reason for my making a sculpture. There is an idea or a feeling I want to explore. In this case, I was really into the concept of reduction both in the physical sense but also in a cognitive sense (they are clearly overwhelmed with something). The smooth sculptures, for example, come from a series of drawings I did last summer that really pushed the idea of erosion or reduction and distillation. The forms followed as I started making them. I knew they would have to end up smooth to be effective in this context so I went with it and really liked the results aesthetically and how charged they were despite and because of their limited content.
Mangiardi: If you could go back in time where would you go and why?
Alzamora: If it could be for 24 hours only (or seconds for that matter), I would first want to go forward about 100 years to see how we are doing. There is enough doom and gloom out there to finish off any feeble minded alien out there. I feel in the end that we will stumble along ok as we have done more or less since the weather was nice. But that's just it. Our "progress" is largely correlated with the fairness of the weather. Attaching the words "climate Crisis" with "Doomsday" somehow seems more alarming than the many other things we have associated with doomsdays of old. We will see - as for going back in time? You would have to really twist my arm.
Mangiardi: There is a tension between interior and exterior, solid and weightlessness. How is this significant?
Alzamora: This question nails so many of the things I have been exploring recently in my sculpture. It can be related more to the study of molecules and atoms than to art. In that sense I do try to make my work teeter on the edge of what is possible and what isn't. I have often felt like we are on this razor thin edge of existence. One tiny shift and it can all spin way out of control and out of existence. I feel our limited ability to perceive the world and the universe for that matter lies in our point of perception. There is an infinite spectrum of ways to see, be it human in our case, or dolphin or insect. The Once and Future King was a huge inspiration for me as a teenager. Merlin taught the young King Arthur about shifting perspectives and seeing things from places you would never think to look from. I think in this sense my work tries to slip just right or left of where we are, but not so much that it becomes unrecognizable.
Mangiardi: Are these beings immortal?
Alzamora: Part of me likes to think they are. I love bronze and other obdurate materials for their physical longevity. I feel this is a way of "manifesting the deathless self" to quote my ever-questing brother. But put me aside, yes. I generously think of them as mythological and in a sense immortal. They represent something bigger than myself, at least I am trying very hard to do that. WM
Katherine Mangiardi is an artist and writer based in New York. She holds an MFA in Painting from RISD and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org