Primitivo Suarez has a BA in architecture from SCI-Arc (1998), and an MFA from UCLA (2000). He has demonstrated his dual training in all of his subsequent exhibitions, where he has evaporated distinctions between architecture and sculpture to create an exciting hybrid realm. Since 2000 he has been invited to exhibit at Blum & Poe gallery in Santa Monica, ACE Galleries in New York and Los Angeles, the 1R Gallery in Chicago, and the Luckman Gallery at California State University Los Angeles.
One of the hallmarks of Primitivo Suarez's work is how he manages to render the familiar fantastic. In his hands, the iconic attributes of the single family dwelling, from fenestration to foundation, are pulled, stretched, and prodded into abstracted entities at the breaking point of recognition. Houses splatter on the ground into prismatic Suprematist shards or are sucked into powerful vortices that twist them into Dali-esque follies. Ever wonder what would happen if the skeletons of exurban tract homes at the edge of the desert were left unfinished? Suarez has and he transforms these speculations into ambitious sculptural forms that become rollicking tumbleweeds. The young artist has a gift for bringing his viewers, who follow the welcoming signs of the banal, to the brink of unfamiliar territory. I, for one, am always interested in going for the ride.
- Introduction by Michael Darling for Archinect
Your production draws comparisons to architecture for the obvious reasons: the references you make, the materials, the scale of some of the pieces and the relationship to the human body. Yet, you're interested in making sculptural forms that push away from architecture; for example, by adding a level of ambiguity to the materials that they normally can't have when “properly” installed. What do you think this expansive approach allows a viewer/occupant to take from the pieces?
Well, I think that the push away from architecture is in attempting to relay something more of a physical, internal, or psychological nature. These pieces serve no function other than to be observed, there isn't the necessity of a program, nor are they intended to last. Because when the exhibition is over the sculpture is destroyed and thrown away.
These sculptures aren't necessarily working against or towards an architecture. They are the result of an attempt at addressing conceptual concerns through sculptural and architectural means.
So, as to what the viewer might take from any given piece: specifically, I can't say, given the nature of the situation everyone's going to have their own thoughts about it. But maybe there is some question or thought that may lead to something more self-reflective or intellectualized.
Could you comment a bit on specific vs. generic? I am especially interested in how you sometimes connect a piece to its context like Tumbleweed, which has a title that alludes to the surroundings, and there are signposts installed to also expand the boundaries of the piece to the highway. Other times, you draw on placelessness by way of off-the-shelf materials.
My interest in the generic quality of these building materials has to do with setting up a situation where, because the viewer is already familiar with the material content of the work, the focus then shifts onto what the sculpture seems to be doing formally. On the other hand, the symbol of home or building that the materials allude to is specific and so that might lead people in a certain direction when they're thinking about it. But that's part of it too.
With Tumbleweed, I thought that including the sculpture in that environment would complete the thought behind it somehow or that the landscape would further draw that association out from it. It already had the title so had it been put into a gallery situation maybe one would have imagined the desert and the highway anyway.
Please give us some insight on how you dealt with the detailing of Overturn. You've mentioned to me that you don't fetishize the connections and such. However, you do seem to be interested in making an effort where it's due. In other words, carrying the agenda of the piece down to the detail level. I'm thinking here of the wallpaper, for instance, that further disorients the viewer with the direction it seems to have.
In finishing the sculpture, the wallpaper was used on the inside to denote the walls and the painted drywall was used to denote the ceiling; it was done to establish what was up and down on the interior. I think what may have been most disorienting was that in the transition from right side up to upside down the material finishes begin to contradict themselves by trying to retain their relative relationship to one another, while at the same time covering surfaces they normally wouldn't. In a sense, by not having the materials turn in conjunction with the form, it would not be until one had gone through it and seen that the opening at the other end was upside down that one would come to understand that what may have seemed as some arbitrary shape was grounded in a formal logic.
Could you elaborate on some of the streams in your work? As Michael Darling suggests, you bring viewers to the brink of unfamiliar territory. Some times you do this with the associations that the materials bring up for the person. Other times, you achieve this with the arrangement of the pieces, like in Drunk Tank, where things get downright creepy (a claustrophobic space, a drain, a gutter, a bucket...not where I want to be caught!).
Formally, the work has taken on a more geometric and less visceral quality, though the psychological undertones are still present. If I had to distill something consistent in the work, I would say that it seems that I am attempting to mediate oppositions, formally and conceptually. And sometimes the viewer is the other end of that. The drunk tank is a good example of one of those where it is suggested that some activity is to or can take place and at the same time it is also suggestive as to the nature of that activity, yet it is not present. I sort of envision the viewer's ideas about what they infer to be what concludes the piece, it's what they might be imagining. That component that's suggested but not present. It may also be about wanting the viewer to go somewhere they might not want to or admit that they have in their thoughts or experiences.
A bit connected to the last question, there is a point in the work when a viewer won't be able to find a frame of reference anymore. Do you want to experiment with where that edge is? How do you know when you're “there”? Do the computer models allow you to test that edge?
I'm not sure as I don't have a clear sense of where the work will end up.
Four years ago I wouldn't have thought I would be making “these” sculptures, that's too specific. The general idea is to continue working.
I find myself trying to straddle that line between abstraction and representation, maybe in the same way that I'm trying to negotiate an area between sculpture and architecture. So, I think that to depart into complete abstraction would be an altogether different project which would require other ways of dealing with forms and materials.
As to the computer allowing me to test that edge, I think it would depend on the project. It would have to somehow deal with the computer's properties, its advantages, limitations, and output in terms of fabrication possibilities. I have used the computer in the past but it has always been after the initial idea was already in place by way of a thought, note, or a sketch. For me, the computer has served as a tool that has been employed when it has seemed the most appropriate application for the task at hand. There are some sculptures that I can generate a visual representation of much sooner on the computer than I could by hand or model, and some that just aren't worth the time it would take to do on the computer. So, whatever method can get me to building the actual sculpture sooner wins out.
Steal the Mic:
The following question(s) have been submitted by the Archinect audience...
Assuming you're somewhat familiar with the work of Gordon Matta-Clark, I'd be interested in hearing what you think about the similarities between the 'cognitive result' of his work and your work. It seems to me that, despite working from opposite directions formally, the end result is a disorientation of the occupant, and the reassessment of the status of the house as an object. In both cases, the concept of 'home' is disrupted, and the building suddenly becomes more obviously an object in a sculptural sense.
Well I think that the disorientation is a temporary result of trying to figure out what's going on and which direction things are ending up in. I don't think that this lasts for long as one is able to take in what is going on in a short amount of time, since the piece is not so large as to require hours to walk around and decipher.
As to the similarities between this work and that of Matta Clark, I think that one can't help but make that connection because of the house. But where as Matta Clark was using an existing House or vacant structure I am using the house as symbol and so what the work brings up or presents in both cases is influenced by that.
I research and write about architecture, space, and culture. My dissertation at Berkeley Geography (in progress) is on California's post-military landscapes and parks as mediums of remembering and policing national identity. I am a Lecturer at California College of the Arts in San Francisco ...